Tucked away in a quiet side street attracting a bare minimum of passers by is Jason Atherton’s long-awaited contribution to the London restaurant scene. After his well-publicised and (allegedly) ‘amicable’ departure from Maze and Gordon Ramsay holdings, Jason has spent the past 18 months working towards the launch of his own restaurant, Pollen Street Social. It’s official opening was Monday 18th April and with a group of friends in tow, we beat a path down to Mayfair to be among the first to try Jason’s food.
A clue about the concept, lies in the title under ‘Social’; the very crux of this new establishment is built upon a foundation of informality and an unpretentious venue and staff serving good drinks and food, much of which is meant for ‘sharing’. God how I bloody hate sharing. I am an only child; I never had to share anything as a kid and I’m not quite certain I am ready for the trauma of having to share anything with anyone as an adult. Especially not my food!
The restaurant is tastefully decorated and although trading on the sociability factor, it does still have an element of fine-dining, both in the décor and the rather formal service. Guests are enjoying Tapas in the bar area as we are seated at our table covered with a delicate linen cloth (fine dining alert!) Our waiter is French and explains things to us a little too quickly which when paired with his otherwise nice accent, was a little too difficult to catch in such quick succession. He volunteers to us that he is ‘very nervous’ and apologises, which was very sweet although he probably didn’t need to reveal his nerves to us.The menu is a bit strange… half a page of cold starters (or ‘sharing’ plates, as they are referred to) and another half a page with all hot dishes. A very minimal selection of just five main courses with an almighty fail for me who was looking forward to the Turbot with Paella which has now been replaced by Halibut (Boooooooo). Another five dishes are listed under the heading ‘vegetarian; although I was thinking that perhaps they were more side dishes being touted as vegetarian just because they coincidentally were? Per the waiter’s suggestion, we each decide to order three starters each as our meal to get a good selection of different dishes and combinations.
.The wait staff circle our table at least 4 times offering us bread; at first, we weren’t entirely sure why but as the meals came out, the reasoning behind the excessive generosity of bread service became apparent. The portions are pretty tiny in some dishes which baffles us as to how and why these dishes could possibly be shared? Luckily none of us were into sharing, but there were some big disappointments with many of the dishes. My ‘Tomato and tomato with vanilla’ was a small bowl of 5 small half slices of different tomatoes at fridge cold temperature (the worst way to serve tomatoes, as you know) with a splodge of tomato pulp and a last minute immersion in ice-cold Gazpacho and no detectable presence of vanilla. It was fine but at £9 you do have higher expectations from a dish like this. Similar icy temperature comments came from those eating the crab and also the smoked foie gras dishes too.My next dish was the Cauliflower and squid with clear roasted squid juice; The dish was explained to me as a ‘sort of risotto’ but there was no rice present. In principle the dish was absolutely delicious and something I would happily eat again but despite being chosen from the ‘hot’ selection of starters, the dish was rather cold and the squid juice consommé poured over the top was luke warm, which was a shame. More feedback coming from my fellow diners regarding more ‘colder than necessary’ dishes as well as ‘Full English Breakfast’ – a ‘deconstructed’ (I HATE that word) dish of egg, with a few lardons and the promise of a ‘fried bread’ sauce… I’m told this dish didn’t hit the spot and when quizzing the waiter, the fried bread sauce was just buttered toast blitzed with milk. So not actually fried then? **sulks**.
My last dish was the a crab salad with almond and crab sorbet and pickled daikon radish. The dish was again far too cold; for those who don’t know why I keep rambling on about cold temperatures is because when food is too cold, the depth of flavours are masked and you cant really pick up on the true and intended taste of the dish. I couldn’t fault the dish otherwise, except for a rather unpleasant almond and crab sorbet, the bulk of which remained uneaten on my plate. My friends Mackerel was again ‘fridge-cold’ as she put it and not up to it’s best potential but the resounding ‘no-no’ of the evening had to be the ‘Red gambas seaweed tea consommé, dumplings & ginger’. Served on bed of rather pongy seaweed that we were expressly told was inedible (begging the question as to why it was on the dish) on a bamboo steamer with two small prawns, not quite the large gambas I am familiar with, concealing a bowl underneath with two dumplings filled with scallops and mussels. A broth was poured over the top layer (yes, through the bamboo steamer basket and the seaweed) and the smell was so off putting that two of my friends barely touched it.
Rather than retreat to the dessert bar, a novel area that you are moved to after your starters and mains, we retreated to the main bar for another cocktail before heading out to Hix restaurant in Brewer Street for a few more drinks, where shamefully we order several plates of fish and chips with curry sauce as we ended up being rather hungry!
I know we should have stayed for dessert as I have been hearing excellent things about many of the sweet treats on offer but we were a little underwhelmed by the savoury part of the evening, especially as we had all gotten so excited for the big night. I wouldn’t write Pollen Street Social off by any means although attention to detail is a little lacking. People say “Oh but it’s the first day” and “It’s just a soft opening” but we paid full price for dishes that did not deliver as much as they should have and to be honest, I think more restaurants should place extra emphasis on perfecting dishes during opening because that is when the bulk of people come flooding your way. So, I am divided and not sure what I feel about Pollen Street Social right now. I am a huge fan of Jason Atherton, of that there is no doubt and perhaps I will return to the bar for Tapas and cocktails but would probably need to return a little later on in the year when things have settled and I can have another go at getting the best experience for my money.
Pollen Street Social - 8/10 Pollen Street London W1S 1NQ
Tel. 020 7290 7600