"Glimpses of brilliance...just not at the dessert bar!"Review Rating: Reviewed by James Whiting
Jason Atherton has tried to shake up fine dining in the capital with his first post-Ramsay/Maze solo venture tucked away on Pollen Street. “Relaxed and comfortable sociable vibe” is the claim, with total menu flexibility the attempt to make fine dining more accessible. A bustling Saturday lunchtime was the setting to put Atherton’s new venture through its ‘chilled out’ paces.
The excitement begins on arrival with a welcome at the reception, including the handing over of a numbered key and the promise of a gift on your exit. Being led through the impressive bar (with an equally impressive bar menu) to your table lets you gain a real feel of the place before sitting down. White linen tablecloths are lit up by the light streaming through the wall of windows looking out onto Pollen Street. Bread is sadly not warm but tasty nonetheless accompanied by vivid yellow butter and a not too overpowering cod brandade. At £23.50 a head the lunch menu seemed too good value to pass up. The starters of goat’s curd with beetroot, and cured salmon with cucumber and horseradish were intricate works of art. A goat’s cheese and beetroot salad can be a somewhat predictable drab affair, yet the different texture of the curd, the myriad of beetroots and most crucially the depth of flavour provided by the pine nuts elevated the dish from a mere visual feast to one that awakened the taste buds. The salmon was distinctly Asian in flavour, a deconstructed sushi of sorts. The freshness of its components screamed summer, and the icy temperature of the horseradish snow was particularly refreshing. A middle course of Atherton’s take on a full English breakfast was an indulgence out of curiosity. The taste was intriguing, certainly capturing the essence of a greasy fry-up minus the grease, yet disappointingly the poached egg had burst before the dish hit the table, a surprising oversight by a kitchen of that calibre.
The main course lamb chops were succulent and tender, working well with the creamed potato and smokiness of the garlic purée. The braised shoulder was flavoursome yet not quite melt in the mouth, furthermore perhaps some of the richness of the slightly salty jus could have been cut through by a vegetable of the green variety. The hake on the other hand was by far the standout dish, one that could grace Michelin starred tables countrywide. Here was a clear demonstration of Atherton using modern techniques, in this case the previously fashionable and slightly overused foam, to improve a dish rather than an act of hubris. The pea and cockle emulsion was light, bubbly and bursting with flavour, the fish perfect and the shredded sea lettuce adding that extra crunch bringing the dish together.
With dessert to look forward to it was time to try out “London's first standalone dessert bar.” Firstly the complimentary sorbets, tarragon and loganberry respectively, served up by the friendly, charismatic pastry chefs were pleasant surprises. There were no set lunch menus and it was unclear whether we should have moved from our table at all, however, there was no problem when asking the pastry chefs for the lunchtime desserts, and the experience of watching all the puddings plated right in front of you was definitely interesting and engaging. Although, this may have been a case of style over substance with the deconstructed lemon meringue largely tasteless save the lime sorbet and lemon curd. The candied beetroot was lacklustre, and the carrot granita had little to no flavour - the overall impression of the dish being one of using up ingredients as opposed to well constructed combinations. Lastly a sickly vanilla syrup, used to garnish both plates with a flourish, was extremely strong in flavour and tended to overpower.
The slightly disappointing end to the meal was compounded by a mix up with our bill, and a feeling that our table had slowly been forgotten about as the meal progressed. A little bag of afternoon tea (consisting of two scones and a large tea bag) was the little surprise awaiting in our locked box. This was a nice touch and perhaps smoothed over the billing error, however, the scones were stuffed with olives opposed to currants, a strange combination and unclear whether deliberate or not.
Atherton has the building blocks to nurture Pollen Street into the relaxed atmosphere he desires, the food will certainly draw in the crowds, desserts can be tweaked. A restaurant is about an experience, the standard of food plays a pivotal role in that, and a chef of Jason’s renown will deliver. Yet perhaps he needs to keep a close eye on the front of house to ensure his sociable maxim permeates throughout the establishment. These are minor points, Pollen Street Social will most likely be in Michelin’s little red book come its next publication, and the lunch menu is a great value way to try out one of the hottest new places in town.
James Whiting reviewed Pollen Street Social on Wed 06 Jul 2011