Last week I went to a blind wine-tasting in a stuffy carpeted room on the top floor of a Mayfair pub. On the table, columns of bottles were massed, awaiting palatal analysis and identification. One of the sweaty, post-work crowd sidled up to me and refused to leave my side the entire evening. Not for any flattering reason: he had arrived drunk at the alcohol imbibition. The sole potential benefit of his presence was his vaunted knowledge of wines, gained from downing over fifty years’ worth of ethanol. Wine after wine he sipped, swirled, glugged, holding each up to the window despite the fading light. Glass after glass he swigged and squirted from one side of his mouth to the other, patting his lips, flipping his tongue up to his palette in order “to catch the aftertaste”, sucking and squelching. “Taste the vanilla in that”, “feel the syrupy smoothness of this”, he said, nodding sagely. 1/9 of his answers were correct…
To me, this is all a manifestation of the emperor’s new clothes syndrome which may sometimes be applied to Michelin-starred restaurants. Do I really want to dine on fussy little squiggles of substance that I have to chase with another globule of something or other so that the perfect scientific reaction can effervesce at the back end of my tongue? However, Jason Atherton’s soon to be double Michelin-starred flagship is not in this category. An idyll amongst the raucous, tourist-ridden bustle of Regent Street, Pollen Street Social sits opposite its sister restaurant, Little Social (see review here). Its style is unfussy, open, and clean, with attention to detail: even our bags were given individual stools.
Before we had even turned the page of the menu, a selection of amuse bouches materialised: dainty sweet corn muffins topped with delicate swirls of dill and cucumber cream, beetroot and blackberry filled tuiles that burst with sweet vinegary freshness, and my favourite, a Jerusalem artichoke crème. These were followed by cups of mushroom consommé topped with delicate parmesan foam, salty and meaty while being vegetarian.
To start, I chose the neeps and tatties in a mushroom ragout- a wonderful coil of tender turnip ribbons generously grated with umami Berkswell cheese. I could have easily devoured my dining companions’ portions as well.
Out of the whirr and buzz there then appeared the sprightly figure of Tiziano, the junior manager, who filled the room with his energy and excitable charm. He whisked me off to view the upstairs kitchen and the pass – a dark, orange- lit forge, tantalisingly situated behind glass.
It was sprung with energy but, unlike the amped up drama so often portrayed on TV, it was at the same time controlled and calm. Whilst fixing plates, advising chefs on the pass, and approving the dishes that flowed past us on wooden board, Dale (Head Chef) talked me through the dishes.
Our main courses were served as soon as I returned to my seat: the juiciest of chicken breast with a skin so crisp that even I (spurner of skin) couldn’t resist – its earthy savouriness was contrasted with the little pops of peas and broad beans, underpinned once more by the seasonal buttery, almost molten, girolles. The wild garlic flowers added to the dish with their fresh savouriness. My dining companions’ lamb and gnocchi dishes were also successes, although if there were any criticism it would be the mushroom theme that was developing throughout the vegetarian dishes – a non fungi fan would have had difficulty. In addition, my companion found some of the mushrooms somewhat too heavily salted.
We decamped to the dessert bar to watch the pastry chefs practising their craft. First, a palate cleanser which was one of the highlights of the meal, straddling the line between savoury and sweet, and without risking losing stomach room for dessert: light yogurt foam with fairy-thin shards of meringue and a verdant and astringent basil sorbet.
We watched as cylinders of tempered chocolate were filled with an aerated milk mousse and crumbled sticky and crunchy caramelised puffed rice. A chocolate disc was delicately placed on top like a lid, and adorned with a gold leaf foil, and then accompanied by a rocher of honey ice cream. My dining companions' poached berries with lime and cream cheese sorbet with honey sugar tuile were also a hit. These were chased by a velvety chocolate mousse, and an almond and cherry financier, and a passion fruit and blood orange pâté de fruit, as well as a hazelnut crème entremets for the road…just in case.
Delicious, unfussy, comfortable and exciting – this is one of the finest dining experiences I have had in the last few years. And I can say that without any fear of an emperor’s new clothes diagnosis.