There’s something quite misleading about the name, Pollen Street Social. It conjures up images of working men’s clubs, not a smart, fine dining restaurant off Regent Street. Or is that just me? Throw the word ‘social’ into the mix and somehow it lowers the tone. But perhaps that’s exactly what owner/chef Jason Atherton intended. Is this his way of removing the stuffiness out of fine-dining, stripping away the pompous air that we’ve all come to assume is part of the deal, with the ‘social’ being the kick up the backside that ‘pretentious’ needed?
Mr Atherton may be of fine stock, having earned his stripes in Ramsey’s fold, not to mention a stint at El Bulli, and what he puts on a plate may be a million miles away from social club grub; but he’s not courting the whole fancy fine dining thing with this concept and visually, first impressions don’t impact me the way I thought they would. However, once you ease yourself into this space (a ‘Pere Asino’ cocktail helps) and take in the understated, no-nonsense styling, the subtle detail pulls you in – handsome, practical furnishings and lots of earthy oak. It’s smart but comforting and banquette seating de-formalizes the main dining room further, with a relaxed buzz that’s a clear indication of un-intimidated, relaxed folk, loving this new approach to the fine dining scene.
Contemporary art punctuates plain cream walls and floor space - there are some really quirky pieces here including a bronze sculpture of a ‘cote de boeuf ‘ a nod to Damien Hirst perhaps? But Jason’s creativity and flair really shines through in his food, and that of course is the whole point. The meticulous attention to detail and original, clever, often fun combinations; this is art, his art, on a plate.
So, the art we chose for our lunch was from the set lunch menu at £22.00 for 2 courses. Reasonable we thought, considering the artist! Slow-cooked egg, (which appeared under-cooked but certainly didn’t taste it) with home-smoked haddock and curry puffed rice suggested something more substantial but was instead a delicate little mound of perfection and a modern take on kedgeree. The haddock, flawlessly smoked, flaky and moist, and content under the oozy rich, silky yellow yolk, was delightful and moorish. But this is fine dining, so put any ideas of generous portions out of your head and embrace quality over quantity! Next up, for me, a rather plentiful portion, I thought, of braised ox cheek with charred eggplant and smoked potatoes. Whoa, they’re good at the old smoking malarkey here; the baby spuds were just perfect. The meat too, was faultless; a rich and unctuous knoll of juicy cheek that fell apart under the gentlest pressure. My D.P had the Yorkshire partridge which was luscious, plump and pink, although the skin could have been a little crispier we thought. An unusual sauce of game Bolognese came with this and neither of us knew quite what to make of it. The flavour was good, but the grainy, quorn like texture let it down I thought.
On to dessert and the opportunity to move to the dessert bar to enjoy it. Ordinarily I can’t imagine leaving a comfortable table just to sit up at a bar and eat dessert (innovative perhaps, but it felt a little unnecessary to me – dessert & digestif lounge, maybe!) but the advantage of this is, shift your eyes to the right and the glass-fronted kitchen reveals a tight, calm and talented brigade at work, with none other than the man himself, Jason, on the pass. For a chef groupie (not in the ‘actual’ sense, of course!) like me, this was a real treat! Men, in a kitchen, cooking….ok, enough said! We tucked in (decorously, naturally, just incase Jason glanced our way) to complimentary lime & fromage frais, and passion fruit sorbets – beautifully light and cleansing. Then just when we realized we’d underestimated the impact of these fine dining portions and prepared to call it a day, a pretty little tiered creation in a glass appeared before us of citrus posset, blackberry granita and sangria foam, drizzled with olive oil. Hold on, olive oil on dessert you’re thinking; well, yes, olive oil on dessert; and lovely it was too. The creamy, zingy punch of the posset with the cold crunch of the granita was an ideal partnership; but somehow the sangria foam and olive oil brought it all together - totally ingenious and instinctively natural.
All the while we drank some excellent wines; there’s a good selection of wines by the glass, so ideal for lunchtime lightweights like us! A German Pinot Noir and a fuller-bodied Spanish Tinta Fina were wisely suggested as good accompaniments to our meaty mains, and they were exactly that. With our desserts a plummy-pinkish, slightly fizzy dessert wine, Pétillant Naturel de Raisin, wasn’t too sweet and dangerously quaffable at 9% vol; whereas the Muscat de Rivesaltes was golden, honeyed and more alcoholic. The wine list was predominantly European (but the New World isn’t forgotten) and interestingly, even Greece gets a look in, which I suppose they could do with right now!
Service is, as you’d assume, precise and polished, although our waitress lacked the ability to be anything else and struggled to engage on any ‘real’ level. Efficient is no good without a little charisma, but their sommelier demonstrated the two, which served her well when she was nudging us up towards those unlikely and unexpectedly elegant (pricey!) wine choices.
Of course, the likelihood is you’ll be taking a trip to the bathroom while you’re there, so you’ll pass the meat ageing room, where spectacular cuts of meat are boldly and proudly displayed, opposite a 14 cover private dining room where all sorts of things go on apparently – mostly wine tastings and dinners though I’d have thought!
So, as we tore ourselves away, when so many look settled for hours to come, a departing gift was presented with our coats - a charming little bag containing ‘afternoon tea’ – a tea bag and delicious frangipane cake – an endearing little detail that leaves you smiling and keen to get home to put the kettle on.
So, at £121 for two it isn’t cheap, (and that was with complimentary desserts – not sure how we swung that!) but hey, this is food to get excited over people, it’s not just any old social, this is Pollen Street Social, where a world class culinary artist resides.
Pollen Street Social firstname.lastname@example.org
8-10 Pollen Street www.pollenstreetsocial.com
London W1S 1NQ
020 7290 7606