A recent ‘girls day out’ in London with mum forced me back into foodie mode; I had promised I’d take her somewhere new, and with a growing list of still-to-try restaurants and a host of lunch offers from chefs around town, the decision making process had become more than a little confusing. After much deliberation and some rather heated discussions with myself (no, I’m not crazy) I finally decided on Pollen Street Social, the brainchild and recent venture of top chef Jason Atherton; previously of the Gordon Ramsay Group and El Bulli. I’d heard some fantastic reviews of Pollen Street and had been meaning to go for a long time; however, living in Africa over the past year and a half has made this quite a challenge, as you might imagine. It feels good to be back in London, and although I miss the African sunshine, there is something to be said for the energy in London and the amazing food culture and vast array of wonderful restaurants in this city. Jason Atherton has been making some serious noise over the past few years and has had food critics and food lovers singing his praises more and more; in accordance with his growing popularity his flagship restaurant is still packed to the rafters after more than 18 months since it first opened its doors in April 2011. The interior is calming, clean, traditionally laid out and smart without being stuffy; the lunchtime clientèle consists mostly of business lunch groups, older couples, a few ladies lunches and several out-of-towners, which lends a nice buzz and an air of sophistication to the place – although I’m sure this is largely due to it’s fabulous central London location, mere metres from the hustle and bustle of Regent Street.
The food itself is simple, understated and yet fabulously indulgent; the subtlety of the flavours and clean, uncomplicated presentation make for an altogether pleasurable experience. The staff at Pollen Street are exceptionally knowledgeable, and even the unusual wine list is well presented and thoroughly explained. To start I ordered the Jerusalem Artichoke Soup served with braised roast duck leg, sautéed mushrooms and truffle oil (I find it hard to turn down anything with ‘mushrooms’ and ‘truffle’ in the description); the contrasting lightness of the soup and richness of the roast duck and truffle were surprising and delightful at the same time, as were the contrasting textures of the crunchy artichoke and soft mushrooms. The dish was portioned perfectly and the entire experience left me wanting more; my mothers starter however, left something to be desired. Not quite what I was expecting, the oily mackerel itself was lovely but the accompanying flavours were lacking a certain sharpness, and the ‘smoked’ cucumber was a little too subtle. It seems there is a fine line between subtle flavouring and blandness, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to call it bland, I do think it could use a little more consideration.
Following this fantastic start to the meal, I ordered the Roast Hake with lemon conserve; I felt in need of some something light and refreshing to counter the rich flavouring of the artichoke soup I had just devoured. The fish was beautifully cooked and although the citrus flavouring was not a sharp as I had been expecting, the tiny capers served with the dish managed to balance the whole thing rather nicely. My only complaint is that the potato purée the fish was served on was completely unnecessary and had clearly been over-puréed as it was thick and sticky from the release of the starch. The Beef fillet dish my mother ordered was melt-in-mouth, orgasm-inducingly tender and flavoursome, the deeply rich sauce it was served with was silky-smooth and perfectly balanced, and the carrots were cooked exactly as they should be; again, the only complaint was the potato purée side which let the dish down just a little, although being served on the side made it easier to avoid and it really is a small price to pay considering the high standard of the rest of the meal. Following lunch I caught up with the charming Jason Atherton and thanked him for the fabulous meal; it’s always nice to see the Head Chef in his place of work, and so rare these days among the ‘celebrity’ chefs as so many of them seem to be more preoccupied with stardom than keeping an eye on their kitchens. The experience was altogether an enjoyable one and we will definitely be back; the restaurant is reasonably priced and the staff here make the entire experience extremely relaxing. I hear the tasting menu they serve in the evening is really what the place is all about, so if you are going to go then perhaps that would be the better choice.
Pollen Street Social | http://www.pollenstreetsocial.com | 8 Pollen Street London, Greater London W1S 1NQ | 020 7290 7600