Pollen Street Social deserves its star
Pollen Street Social is the brainchild and new home of Jason Atherton, an alumnus of Gordon Ramsey and the celebrated former headchef of Maze Grill. The rough idea here is to provide a combination between the casual, sharing-plate style of restaurant which is so in vogue at the moment, and something more traditionally Mayfair. Basically it’s up to you. If you feel like a three-course meal then so be it, but if you feel like a drink and few light nibbles, then that is perfectly acceptable as well. As such, it is set out with a large bar seating area and a dessert counter, as well a regular dining area, with well-spaced tables and a central serving island. The décor is nice and simple, with wooden floors, white walls and nice, modest artwork providing a pleasant, inoffensive setting in which to dine.
My partner and I were seated in the bottom left corner of the restaurant, on a small strip of four tables, slightly raised and separated from the rest of the room. This is a great place for couples to sit, being more intimate and quiet, while still remaining part of the whole. Cocktails were summarily ordered, the highlight being the Negroni, which complete with a frozen blood orange ice ball, was a charming example of the drink. Of the bar snacks which came at the beginning of the meal, the most interesting was the Crispy Pig Skin, a carnivorous version of a prawn cracker, and unlike any piece of crackling I’ve had before. I am a self-confessed bread addict, so an honourable mention must be made of the lovely bread on offer here. Bad bread at the beginning of a meal is like a cruel omen of things to come, whereas good bread, well, is enough to put a smile on my face.
Being greedy we had a Colchester oyster each, with a side of chorizo as a pre-starter. I am not a fan of oysters, but felt safe in the knowledge that if it were too vile, I could dispel it with strong, salty chorizo. As it was, it turned out to be a highlight of the meal, transporting me back to the rock pools of Normandy, where I hunted for crabs as a child. It is one of the great sensations in life, when a smell or a taste conjures up a vivid memory, and for whatever reason, this oyster did it. I might well be a convert, though I am yet to have another since.
The starters themselves were delicious, the cauliflower and squid dish being light, fragrant and elegant. Like the oyster, this dish may well have changed my opinion on something I previously disliked, namely the squid. For one meal to change my opinion about two foods has to be a rarity, particularly for a person as stubborn as myself, so praise has to be given to the restaurant if only for that. I opted for a Deer Tartare with a Broken Egg Sauce, which was basically smooth egg yolk poured on the dish at serving. As tartars go, this was excellent. The meat was delicate and well textured, with pickled beetroot providing a nice acidic counterpart, and the egg adding its delightfully rich viscosity.
The following dish was a Lamb with Creamed Spiced Aubergine and a Black Olive Reduction. If I were to be critical, I would say it was ever so slightly over-seasoned, though it was cooked perfectly, the lamb tender and pink. Interestingly enough, the creamed aubergine and black olive reduction, mentioned in the menu’s description of the dish, were not particularly interesting or memorable, whereas an unmentioned cumin paste was. Without that the dish was well executed and by all means delicious, just not anything out of the ordinary. The Duck with Jerusalem Artichoke, purple sprouting broccoli and mandarin and clementine conserve was lovely, too. Both dishes were beautifully presented, looking clean, rich and well sauced. Some have criticised the size of the portions, which must have been addressed, because though not huge, they were right within the context of a three-course meal. The aim here is taste and presentation, not the satisfaction of extreme hunger. Besides, delicate things are eaten with delicacy, and one will take as much time savouring something small and delicious, as they will consuming something larger but less complex, and in the end you will feel better when at the end of the meal you are still capable of movement without feeling nauseous or lethargic.
Next came a lovely selection of cheeses and biscuits from the cheeseboard, all introduced and well explained beforehand. They came with a tart, chunky piccalilli, which was lovely with the stronger hard cheeses. I am of a savoury persuasion and rarely bother with desserts, but on this occasion it seemed only right to go all out.
For those looking for a little visual excitement, you could sit at the dessert bar and watch the chefs. Being sat at a perfectly lovely table however, we declined this offer. I settled on the apple caramel puff, which was basically a deconstructed Tarte Tatin, comprising of a hunk of caramelised apple with some artfully aranged sticks of puff pastry, and a calvados cream. The apple was a little too cold in the centre, though the overall flavour of the dish was fine, with the calvados adding a sharp alcoholic edge to an otherwise sweet dish. Although nice, there was nothing particularly exciting here, and the other dessert comprising of Blood Orange and Beetroot Sorbet, Poached Rhubarb and Basil Ash Meringue easily trumped it, the slightly bitter, dry tasting meringue providing a crunchy counterpart to the sweet and sour of the other components.
Along the way there were additional bits and bobs, such as a lovely, light passion fruit pre-dessert and to finish, a selection of mini macaroons, truffles and chocolate-covered pear pieces, all of which were produced from a fun little wooden chest.
We were also given a little pasty to finish things off, a Pumpkin Financier to be exact. This was a wondrous thing, both cakey and moist, with the sweet juiciness of a Baclava, though far more subtle and soft. It was truly one of the highlights of the evening.
Overall this was one of the best meals I have had in London for a while, not least because of the service, which was exceptional. It occasionally happens that excellent cooking is let down by sub-standard service, and would return a thousand times quicker to a restaurant with good staff and moderate food than to one with Olympian cooking but an abhorrent workforce. Where there might have been a few below-par dishes during the meal the service – from the moment we entered – was friendly, consistent and professional, which being as we took the best part of three and a half hours to get through our meal, was a positive feat. The sommelier was also affable, and kind enough to pick out a lovely, sweet Clos du Val, Cabernet Sauvignon, which went perfectly with the lamb, and didn’t cost the earth. The total for two of us came to just under £300, including cocktails, wines, coffee and service, plus the extra cheese course, as well as the oysters and chorizo which we could have done without, if not for our gluttonous instincts. I recommend this place wholeheartedly to anybody looking to have a marvellous dining experience in London.
Pollen Street Social: 47/60