pollen street social
Whenever I plan the eating itinerary for city re-visits I get a sense of déjà vu as I find myself considering a list of venues very similar to that of the last trip. It’s easy to forget how spoilt we are here in London, with new openings almost weekly, and as a blogger it takes real dedication (not to mention an iron stomach) to keep up. I’ve long since given up – evident in my tardy arrival at the sleek floor-to-ceiling glass-panelled facade of Jason Atherton’s Pollen Street Social, a good month after its launch.
I was greeted with a smile and bestowed with a mysterious numbered key (more on that later) before being led to a table for two, just a little further down from the mile-long bar. Upon taking my seat I immediately asked for the cocktail menu; B was running late and I wasn’t about to wait empty-handed. Wanting to choose wisely I sought help from the waiter who suggested the Marmalade Martini. I looked doubtful and waited for more recommendations but after a long pause it ensued that none were forthcoming so I just went with the martini. Luckily (for me, and him) it was delicious and zesty as promised and the slightly chewy marmalade toast garnish, a moreish bonus.
I had almost drained my glass when B finally made his appearance. He laboriously ordered a drink (with the same waiter) – “I’d like something refreshing.” “A mojito?” “I don’t fancy a mojito.” Silence. “Which gin cocktails would you recommend?” Silence. “Er, I’ll just have a G&T then, thanks” – then we set about dissecting the menu. It read well, with plenty that I’d happily eat, but as always we gravitated towards the small plates and decided to share seven of them as a tasting menu of sorts. It may be pertinent to note here that it’s a standard starter/mains/dessert set-up and not a sharing plate concept à la Maze. Of course like us, you can opt to share, but the portions aren’t intended as such so don’t be disappointed if you find yourselves fighting for spoonfuls should you choose to follow suit!
First to arrive was a beautifully presented quartet of Colchester Oysters, served “Hot and Cold”. The hot version (poached and served in dashi) was a real winner – the simple and elegant preparation showcasing the plump briny mollusc perfectly. We were less enthused with the cold version which wasn’t an oyster at all, but a quenelle of oyster ice cream served with a silver brandade “pearl”. Although whimsical, it was far too cold, shocking our taste buds and leaving only the taste of cream on the palate.
A plate of Innes Farm Goat’s Curd, Beetroot and Pinenut was an explosion of jewel tones on the plate, and a burst of vibrant flavours in the mouth. Sweet piquant beetroots tamed by creamy goat’s curd and peppery leaves. A clean, fresh and appetising plate.
The firm oily BBQ Mackerel had a lovely texture and a smoky aroma similar to grilled unagi. I did feel that the accompanying Cucumber Chutney lacked punch but B countered that it was added to freshen, not flavour. Likewise, the hidden Scallop played a supporting role and the frozen fragments of Ajo Blanco, that sadly melted before I could capture it on film, melded everything together harmoniously.
A pretty fat-laced tranche of Light Cured Shetland Salmon, Avocado and Smoked Herring Roe Cream was another solid offering. Not wow, but truth be told salmon dishes rarely excite me. What did impress me though was that our waiter, after a fumbling start with the cocktails turned out to be extremely well-versed with the food, describing each in great detail and eager to find out our thoughts on each.
The Escabeche of Quail, Chicken Liver Cream with Nuts and Seeds however was a real knock-out. Tender pink quail on the bone and velvety liver on toast may seem disparate on the plate but ate wonderfully together; the richness of the liver tempered by the mildly acidic onions and meat. With the crisp toast and crunchy nuts, it was texturally sound as well and definitely one of the best quail dishes we’ve come across in awhile.
‘Full English Breakfast’ was a downsized, refined interpretation of the classic fry-up: tantalising soft yolked egg resting on a spoonful each of sofrito-like tomato sauce and earthy mushroom purée, sprinkled with a confetti mix of bacon, croutons, mushrooms and parsley. Odd that it may sound, we both found it almost too tasty – the pool of tomato in particular really overpowered everything else. A less generous serving, or maybe a softer element to tone it down would for us, improve it dramatically.
Squid and Cauliflower is a permutation I’ve seen often, probably because the mild nutty vegetable gels so well with the equally delicate squid. While I enjoyed the combination here, I found the roasted squid juices a tad salty, overwhelming the subtler flavours. Execution otherwise, was on point – soft yet springy squid, finely cut to resemble risotto, thin slivers of raw cauliflower, and more trickery in the form of squid-ink coated cauliflower ‘truffle slices’. It’s close, but like the last dish, could do with some refinement.
Savoury plates done we adjourned to the intimate seven-seater dessert bar in the main dining room. We propped ourselves up on the stools and cleansed our palates with scoops of lime and passionfruit sorbet while the pastry chef explained the menu to us.
Everything from the Rice Pudding with Hay Ice Cream to the Tiramisu sounded enticing, and it was only after much debate that we finally settled on the Micro Menu – petite portions of a selection of three desserts.
Before the trio of micro desserts we were given a plate of Tomato and Strawberry Gazpacho with Black Olive Sorbet and Sweet Bread (fresh, well-balanced, light and refreshing) built at the bar right in front of us. It was fun to watch it all come together and we appreciated the interaction with the chefs who were clearly very talented at what they do.
Sangria Mousse, Blood Orange Granita and Milk Curd Jam was an intriguing combo. It certainly worked – the cloyingly sweet milk curd jam (very similar to condensed milk) calmed by the sharp citrus ice and tart pink foam.
“Ham, Cheese & Herbs” with Watermelon, Candied Goat’s Curd and Basil Sorbet was incredibly inventive, with the watermelon, cooked sous-vide, masquerading as ham but I wasn’t quite sold on it as a dessert. I did love the PBJ though, consisting of peanut parfait, cherry sorbet, cherry jam and jelly and creamed rice – annoyingly my camera died at this point so I don’t have an image for you of the little stunner.
We finished with handmade chocolates presented from a custom box and a pot of Jasmine tea (I did have a wee moan about the absence of any green teas from the list, but have been told since that this has been rectified). On our way out, a flash of our key gained us something to take away with us. I won’t spoil the surprise but it is something for the morning after (no, not an aspirin). Some may find it gimmicky but I thought it a lovely way to prolong the PSS experience, and hey I’m a girl, so little bags of free things always thrill me.
Aside from some precise and playful cooking, Jason has created the kind of place that London has long been lacking – very polished, yet relaxed and buzzy, with a real New-York vibe. I loved that while we chose to create our own tasting menu, our neighbouring table just ordered a bottle of wine and got stuck in for steak and chips while others gathered around the bar catching up over drinks. In fact I had such a great time I’m already booked in again next month. Will I be grazing, feasting on meat or doing the conventional 3-course? I have no clue. But I do know, that at Pollen Street Social, I can have it all.
Pollen Street Social
8-13 Pollen Street
London W1S 1NQ
t. 020 7290 7600
~ by gourmettraveller on May 27, 2011.