Posted on Friday, 17th May 2013
An Italian Restaurant aptly named 5 Pollen Street previously occupied the address of 5 Pollen Street. The cooking was good, but the portions were miserable and the prices were exorbitant. I remember my meal there as being one of the worst value-for-money that I had ever had in my life and I left the restaurant feeling wracked with guilt that my friends had to fork out so much money for so little. It is therefore unsurprising that the restaurant closed down last year. On a Saturday night not long after I had eaten at 5 Pollen Street, I walked past it to discover that it was bordering on empty. Clearly, the restaurant had gotten its pricing formula wrong. But it has now been taken over by Jason Atherton and converted it into a charming French bistro endearingly named Little Social.
Little Social sits across the road from Pollen Street Social, Atherton’s flagship restaurant that he established after leaving Maze and the Gordon Ramsay fold. Pollen Street Social registers on the upper end of the scale. It’s fine dining through and through with a one-Michelin star to boot.
A pork head and foie gras terrine starter (£11.50) packed a meaty, rustic flavour, but was also strangely a little tangy. The piece of foie gras holding centrepiece in the middle of the terrine was delicious, but meanly portioned as it was quite small. In fact, the slice wasn’t particularly generous. The tea and prune purée was a good match for the pork, and the sourdough was springy and tasty if a little burnt. As our second starter, half a dozen oysters (£15) from Cornwall were fresh and delicious.
A main of roasted Cornish cod (£19.50) was moist and pleasant but a touch small compared to what you could get at other restaurants for the same price. It came with cockles that were robust and tasty but which were unfortunately gritty as they had not been cleaned properly. Rounding out the plate were some fantastic butterbeans, a beautifully cooked soft spring cabbage and a cabbage pesto that really worked with the fish.
Roasted halibut “BLT”, portabello mushrooms with a sauce bois boudran (£22) was ‘the’ most ‘Jason Atherton’ of all the dishes on the menu and it reminded me of the ‘deconstructed’ full English breakfast dish that I had at Pollen Street Social. The size of the fish was passable but again a little small (recurring theme?). Nevertheless this was a beautifully made dish. The fish was nicely cooked, and the “BLT” consisted of some crispy bacon, gently braised lettuce and a delicious tomato confit that completed the dish nicely. The mushrooms were meaty and flavoursome, and the sauce added a lovely piquant touch to the dish.
A steak bavette (£15) was impressively chunky. It was cooked to the requested medium rare but the steak remained a little chewy. Crispy French fries and a well-made peppercorn sauce accompanied the steak.
A brown sugar tart (£7) was absolutely glorious. Its texture was creamy and smooth, and the accompanying crème fraiche sorbet was a great match against its subtle sweet flavour. A black sesame crumble was also fabulous and provided a light crunchy texture to the dessert. This was a really classy, high-end dessert.
A pink peppercorn meringue (£7) was tasty with a crunchy exterior and a soft, gooey interior, albeit badly cracked. There was a hint of the peppercorn flavour coming through the meringue that gave it a nice little kick. The centre of the meringue had been filled with a lime curd and some passionfruit, both of which were good, but which were slightly too acidic for the dessert.
An apple and blackberry crumble with mascarpone and cinnamon ice cream (£7) sat a little flat. The flavours were fine, but the apple was too soft and mushy for my liking, and the crumble did not crumble. All in all, this dessert was a bit dull.
The cooking was highly respectable, and with dishes such as the wonderful haddock “BLT” and the sublime brown sugar tart, there were aspects of the ‘interesting’ in the menu to embody the fact that this is a Jason Atherton restaurant. But Little Social isn’t meant to be a visionary fine-dining experience, and while its respectable, its not necessarily inspired. It’s not particularly overpriced, but portions have been meticulously judged and bordered on the small side for the prices charged. Perhaps challenging pricing is a curse that plagues this Mayfair address of 5 Pollen Street, a property that no doubt incurs exorbitant rentals. We found the service to be decent and all in all it was a good meal. But Little Social does not make for a special ‘Go-To’ restaurant.
Food rating: 3.5/5
Service rating: 3.5/5
Price range: £33 to £44 for three courses. Excludes drinks and service.