When the Queen of England sits down for dinner, we imagine her at the head of a long, mahogany table and being brought a 14-course meal of delicacies from around the world. If she doesn’t like what’s in front of her, she simply waves a hand and a team of waiters dressed in tuxedos removes the offending dish and replaces it immediately with something even more impressive, probably covered in edible gold flakes. While most of us will never experience anything quite this luxurious in our lives, dinner at Laurel gets you pretty close.
Laurel is a 24-seat, tasting-menu-only restaurant on East Passyunk that serves some of the most creative and beautiful food in the city. When you tell people you made a reservation here, they act like you’ve been invited to some super-exclusive dinner party with the original cast of Hamilton. And while it’s a bit quiet and may feel overly formal and stuffy at times, as each dish comes out - you can do six courses for $85 or nine for $125 - you’ll realize that this is one of the best meals you can eat in Philadelphia.
The menu here is always changing and the food generally skews French, but each dish seems like it could be a from a different part of the world. Whether it’s a simple piece of sea urchin with blood orange and finger lime that you’d expect from an excellent sushi spot or a tender slice of venison topped with mustard and a juniper jus, the seemingly contrasting flavors come together in ways that will make you want to go home and see what happens when you cover an Oreo in jam and then dip it in chili powder. While every meal here is different, there’s one thing that we’ve seen over and over again: the Philadelphia-style ice cream on top of a pile of caviar and topped with potato crisps. It’s both sweet and salty, and it tastes exactly like dipping french fries into a milkshake. If we had a greatest hits list of dishes in Philly, this would be right at the top with two stars and a big circle around it.
Each course also makes us think there’s someone in the kitchen whose title is something like “Food Architect” and all they do is find creative ways to put a scallop on a plate. You never know what your next dish might look like, and you’ll keep finding yourself staring at the kitchen door as if the next M. Night Shyamalan twist is right on the other side. Depending on the night, you might see a row of oysters sitting on a bed of stones in a wooden box or a small bowl of soup topped with colorful drops in a spiral pattern that makes it look like an optical illusion, each of which is set in front of you and explained by someone who might as well be the curator of a modern art museum. They’ll tell you about each course in detail, and then disappear only to come back as soon as you finish the last bite of sea urchin and replace it with your next dish.
While most of the food at Laurel is truly excellent, every once in a while we’ll encounter a dish we don’t love. Maybe the snapper isn’t quite cooked right, or the horseradish “snow” on our halibut comes off a little too harsh. But even in that rare instance, the staff will practically trip over themselves trying to make it right. They might take a round of drinks off your bill, or bring out an extra dessert, but they’ll make sure you leave happy with the three-hour marathon you just participated in.
Walking into a meal at Laurel is like arriving at a dinner party with a bunch of really important diplomats. You'll feel like you have to be on your best behavior, but if you can conjure up an occasion worthy of dropping a few hundred dollars on dinner, there’s no better place to impress an out-of-towner or your partner of five years. We think the queen would approve if she ever made it here, but we already had the Pope so we probably shouldn’t push our luck.
The menu is constantly changing, but here are a few examples of things you might see.