Posted on Monday, 5th September 2011
Jason Atherton broke away from the Gordon Ramsay stronghold last year by leaving Maze and going it alone. Pollen Street Social – one of the hottest restaurant openings of 2011 – was the result. The décor is sleek and modern. Tastefully done, it exudes understated elegance. The furniture is dark and the tablecloths are crisp and white. Located on Pollen Street, it sits directly opposite the very expensive (and bad value for money) 5 Pollen Street.
I have been dying to try this place. I was a big fan of Maze and wanted to see if the food at Pollen Street Social would live up to its predecessor. However, the concept here is meant to be more social (hence the name) than it was at Maze. There is a large bar area open for both drinks and food. And at Pollen Street Social, Jason Atherton has introduced London’s first ever dessert bar.
But we decided to station ourselves in the spacious main dining room instead. The menu presented an interesting read with a strong ‘deconstructed’ theme running through it, in particularly with the desserts. We kicked off with scallop ceviche, cucumber and radish, yuzu soy dressing and apple (£11.50) which was absolutely beautiful. The scallops were of the highest quality and the acidity in the yuzu worked wonderfully with them. The icy cold effect of the horseradish snow was a clever complementary addition to this starter. This was a lovely, classy dish – delicate, light and well judged.
Less successful was the pressed tête de porc, rabbit and foie gras, piccalilli, and mustard gel (£12.50). The terrine was bland, little helped by the addition of salt at the table. The piccalilli lacked for a good acidic punch, and what should have been a gutsy dish turned out to be a limp and lifeless.
A third starter of a ‘deconstructed’ full English breakfast (£9.50) was conceptually interesting. Consisting of an intensely tomato-y tomato compote, mushroom purée, a beautifully runny hen’s egg (cooked at 65C for 1 hour and 50 minutes), crispy Alsace bacon, morels and croutons, this was a heady mix of concentrated beautiful flavours.
To mains, and a rack of Cotswold lamb was accompanied by braised lamb shoulder, creamed spiced aubergine, artichoke and a black olive reduction (£23.50). A very brown looking dish, the lamb was very tender although it had been cooked medium rather than the requested medium rare (a poor faux pas at this level of cooking). The combination of the creamy aubergine, soft artichoke and the sharpness of the black olives worked well with the lamb.
Roasted Dingley Dell pork with beetroot, pine nuts, seeds, grains and beer sauce (£23.50) was a disappointment. The dish consisted of three cuts of pork: loin which was a little rubbery; belly which was extremely fatty; and braised cheek which was bland. The plate also looked rather clumsy with pieces of puffed up pork crackling crowding the plate. But the use of seeds was a nice addition to the dish.
Traditional English goat’s milk rice pudding (£7.50), hay ice-cream, lime jelly and tarragon candy was a luscious combination of creamy rice, zingy lime and aromatic tarragon. The subtle flavour of the hay in the ice-cream helped to cut the sweetness of the rice pudding. This was a highly enjoyable dessert.
A ‘deconstructed’ tiramisu consisting of mascarpone cream, chocolate ganache and chocolate mousse, and chocolate and kahlua jelly didn’t taste like a tiramisu. Instead it tasted like a well executed chocolate mousse served with mascarpone cream (surprise, surprise). What it seemed to lack to complete the tiramisu effect was the shot of ‘hot chocolate coffee’, a dense, thick liquid of chocolate and grainy coffee, which was served as a side drink rather than forming part of the core dish. Maybe cleverly, this was meant to be perceived as the final piece of the deconstruction. Or maybe I wasn’t clever enough to get it. Or maybe there was just no point.
The bread took a while in arriving, but otherwise the service was polished. It was nothing less than what you would expect from a team of people who had previously worked with Jason Atherton at Maze.
I have been to Maze on a number of occasions and loved it every single time. Sure it was pricey, but the execution was second to none, the flavour combinations well-judged and the presentation stylish. While I never expected Pollen Street Social to be Maze reincarnated (in terms the type of food being served), I had expected the talents of the one time one Michelin star holder Jason Atherton to shine through again (in terms of the quality of the cooking). However Pollen Street Social didn’t quite live up to expectations. Sure there were some classy acts with the scallop ceviche and the rice pudding. But the pork dish was a right mess, and the terrine starter lacked soul. This was a hit and miss affair for not particularly cheap grub.
Oh Jason! Whatever happened? I don’t recall this level of inconsistency at Maze. Or could Gordon Ramsay have had a greater influence at Maze than I had previously thought? Difficult to want to rush back to Pollen Street Social as it just wasn’t as good as I believe it ought to have been.
Food rating: 3.5/5
Service rating: 3.5/5
Price range: £38 – £57 for three courses. Excludes drinks and service.