Pollen Street Social
‘Marriage is a dinner that begins with dessert’ – Toulouse Lautrec
This be the quote found on the glass wall that divides the two sets of restrooms of Pollen Street Social – the long-awaited brainchild of chef-owner Jason Atherton – he who was the first UK chef to work at El Bulli and then was part of the Gordon Ramsay empire as head chef of Maze Restaurant. K and I were especially looking forward to our meal here as we’d dined at Maze when Jason Atherton was still helming it and had thought the food very inventive and exciting, with its tapas-style together with French and Asian cuisine elements.
So allow me to begin with my best memories of our meal – dessert.
I must say I hadn’t realised how sought after the seven seats at the dessert bar were. There was us, and another 2 couples, whilst the rest of the packed dining room of customers looked on, enviously perhaps. We must have sat there for at least 45 minutes, speaking to the very friendly patisserie chefs who prepared each dessert dish behind the bar; every single one of which looked colourful, fun and plays on the imagination – “ham, cheese and herbs” for dessert, anyone?
Both the “PBJ” and “Tiramisu” we ordered brought smiles to our faces – the PBJ a good combination of textures with the peanut butter parfait, cherry sorbet, strips of cherry jam, blackberries and creamed rice puffs; whilst the Tiramisu was rich and indulgent with tempered chocolate pieces melting away when served by pouring steaming hot-chocolate and coffee espresso on to it from a mini cafetière. A joy to watch.
Going back to our main meal, I’m not quite sure if the way in which we were encouraged to order really makes sense from a timing perspective. You get two pages of an a la carte menu with starters on one page and mains on the other – pretty standard, right? Our waiter explained that we could order either 3-4 plates of the smaller starter dishes to form our own tasting menu or to order the ‘traditional’ way – a starter and a main (a larger serving, of course) for our meal. We could, if we wished, also order the mains as starter size portions to make up our tasting menu. Still with me here?
K ordered the ‘traditional’ way and I chose to have 3 starter dishes. K had his starter at the same time I had my first dish. Then whilst he went off to the washrooms, I was served my second dish. Poor boy had to watch whilst I cleaned-off my plate of quail, with nothing much to do except to drink more wine (not a bad thing I suppose) and keep asking for more bread. Then his main course was served with my final dish and whilst he slowly made his way through that, I’d polished off my 3 mouthfuls of Full English breakfast in less than 5 minutes. So then it was my turn to have nothing much to do except drink more wine as I’d had enough bread by now. Yes, we did chat but that only prolonged the whole process.
That said, our a la carte dishes brought back memories of Jason Atherton’s style we remember from Maze – beautifully plated with a plethora of textures, tastes and tones.
Both the light cured Loch Duart salmon and Full English breakfast were really clever dishes. The soft yet firm texture of the salmon being perfectly complemented by the crunchy strips of daikon dipped in beetroot juice (at least I think it was beetroot juice) which in turn was complemented by a strip of jelly that had been made from salmon skin (!!!) and slightly salty and fishy taste of the smoked herring roe cream. The Full English breakfast was a posh take on one of my favourite hangover cures – similar flavours, beautiful colours (the egg yolk was a deep yellow, almost orange colour) but I wanted more!
My favourite dish though was the escabeche of quail, chicken liver cream, nuts & seeds. A whole quail that had been perfectly roasted and coated in a sauce with smoky undertones. The dish was topped with a really thin slice of fried/toasted bread was spread with the silky smooth chicken liver cream.
K had the cauliflower and squid with clear roasted-squid juice to start followed by a main of Scottish halibut, Catalan paella, sprouting broccoli, pork-ham fat and mussel stock. Again, the dishes displayed the genius of the chef – what you think is risotto isn’t really. We felt though, that both dishes were over-seasoned with the halibut in the main slightly over-cooked. The Catalan paella was delicious, though, with a really strong kick of seafood flavour.
There certainly is a lot to draw in the admirers to PSS – well-cooked food; sleek and plush décor; shiny, handsome kitchen; thoughtful ‘door gift’ and most importantly, the charm of a truly talented chef that is Jason Atherton at its helm whom I heard has been there almost 24/7.
But if I’m being completely honest, the dishes that we tasted and vibe at PSS didn’t knock my socks off. I think it says something about how our personal culinary journey has progressed over the last few years rather than Jason Atherton’s cooking. A couple of years ago, I’d have been completely blown away by PSS. Now, it’s the least I’d expect for the amount of money we paid for the meal. I suppose my whole experience was also slightly marred by the fact the temperature in the dining room (but not the dessert bar area) was quite a bit warmer than what I would consider comfortable.
That said, I believe Jason Atherton has the genius, pride in and devotion to PSS to make it the rip-roaring success it can be in the near future.
Price for plates as above including a bottle of Rosé and still water, and a 12.5% service charge came to circa £150.
Pollen Street Social is located at 8-10 Pollen Street, London W1S 1NQ which is a five minute walk from Oxford Circus station and just off Regent Street.