Pollen Street Social – Mayfair
Two things caused me the hump on arriving at Pollen Street Social, the new restaurant from Jason Atherton: 1) they had no olives for a martini and 2) we were sat in the naughty corner.
I say naughty corner, it was actually a hidden nook behind the back-slate of another table. The restaurant was less than half full and we’d made our booking over the telephone weeks in advance.
After our martinis (with a twist, no olives!) we were led to the hidden table, away from the dining room and the action. Nothing to look at except a white wall. We asked if we could be moved and to the waiter’s credit he shifted us to another, more central, more ‘sociable’ table. They couldn’t forget about us here.
The menu is split: starters and mains. Nothing abnormal there, but we’re advised to pick from the starters to create a tasting menu. An eclectic splash of sexed-up European ingredients with Asian-inspired twists create posh tosh. Smart tapas. Small plates are divided into cold and ‘warm & hot’. There are 16 plates in total.
They are the kind of plates that proved popular at Atherton’s previous restaurant, Maze, and no doubt include some of the skills he picked up from his period under Ferran Adrià at elBulli, for there are foams and swirls and presentation of the highest.
Fowey oysters are served “hot & cold” in a dish that explores beyond the standard serving of a cold, fresh oyster. It’s a success in as much as it educates you in what can be done with a single ingredient, something you’re used to seeing served with simplicity. Oysters are not easy to improve on. I preferred the ‘hot’ oyster, served in a spiky dashi broth. The cold oyster blended eel and was reformed as a sorbet, clever but not as tasty.
Service remains a work in progress. While the general manager, Michael West (previously of Maze), is charming and top-rate, and head sommelier, Laure Patry (also previously of Maze) is one of the best in the business, some of the staff appeared overwhelmed, one in particular appeared to have entered a couple of feet behind his smile.
I asked for his recommendations, he suggested four plates he felt were most suited, I added, “Can you please include the ‘full English breakfast’ as I’ve heard good things.” His response, sharply, “Well, do you want to pick the rest?” “Erm, no,” I thought, I simply asked for your advice as you work here and I’m about to invest in the region of £200 and someone who I think very highly of suggested that I try the ‘full English breakfast’, so I’d like to order that and as I don’t know the contents of the rest of the menu I’d like you to recommend for me. Capish?
None of that previous sentence I said, but his response seemed aggressive and unnecessary. I think he warmed to me throughout the evening?
The ”Full English breakfast” arrived but it’s not as ‘full’ as you might imagine, more a deconstruction of the Great British ingredients you’d expect. Roasted tomato puree bedded a slow-cooked egg, when pierced, oozed its glowing yolk across the plate. On top was crisped Alsace bacon and all finished with a toasted bread sauce. It’s the kind of dish you expect from Atherton; considered, constructive and amusing, while typically British. We sunk it all down with a Bulgarian Pinot Noir, Edoardo Miroglio, Nova Zagora, 2007 (£35.00), as recommended by Richard Vines.
Scottish halibut was served as Catalan paella in a copper saucepan containing crunchy broccoli, lip-smacking pork-ham fat and a mussel stock. It’s distinctive, a fine mix of fish and pork. Braised Irish ox cheek with tongue & onglet is something else I recognize from Maze, there it was just called ‘tongue in cheek’ served with ginger carrots. Here it’s served with, well, ginger carrots, and raisin purée and horseradish mash. It’s not just the staff Atherton’s taken with him from Maze but dishes too. The horseradish mash was fragrant and light, very different from the mash and bacon at Maze.
For dessert we moved to the Dessert Bar. Yes, a bar solely erected for puddings and sweeties. PSS suddenly becomes ‘social’ and it’s the best part of the restaurant where the staff is of a much higher quality. They are real people: talking, prepping and sharing in conversation with you. Tiramisu is decadent, served with a hot chocolate coffee served in dinky espresso cups, while “PBJ” Parfait is expertly crafted with cherry jam, creamed rice puffs and peanuts. It’s beautiful and could hang in MoMA.
Dishes prior were plates intended for sharing, but rather amiss. They were all delicious but challenging to share: too small, too formal and too expensive (mains start at £19.50). None of the other tables were sharing or reaching across to pick at plates.
It remains early days and Atherton himself has admitted to a few needed tweaks. Box-up the bar with olives, fill-in that void corner of the restaurant (perhaps with the boxes of olives?) and decide which plates have a future as sharing initiators. Nothing should be altered with Atherton’s cooking however; he’s a chef of the highest quality weaving British, Spanish and Asian nuances with flair to produce some of the tastiest, most vibrant plates you’re likely to find.
All photographs were taken by Paul Winch-Furness.