Little Social is the younger sister of Pollen Street Social and is located directly opposite; it opened in March 2013. The formula here is rather different, with the red banquettes signalling “French brasserie.” The long, narrow dining rom has a low ceiling and wooden floor, with half a dozen tightly-packed seats at the bar in addition to the main dining area. This takes the total capacity of the room, which in this case could perhaps be called the Pollen count, up to 55 diners at any one time. On the walls are Michelin maps of France, just in case you were in any doubt the place serves vaguely French food. There is one further, rather odd, décor touch. The words “silence – logique – securite – prudence” in lights above the staircase are a reference to a signboard with those words seen near the beginning of the Jean-Luc Godard film Alphaville. I guess the designer was trying for some hint of French art film chic, but in the movie the sign demonstrates the sinister Orwellian atmosphere of Alphaville, a city controlled by a computer, which seems rather at odds with the ambience that the restaurant is presumably trying for. Fortunately the friendly staff at Little Social are much more welcoming than the sign might suggest.
The head chef is Canadian Carey Docherty, who was head chef at Foxtrot Oscar, and had previously trained with, amongst others, Clare Smyth at Gordon Ramsay, and also at Zuma. The main menu had starters ranging from £9.50 to £15.50, main courses £15 to £23.50 and desserts mostly at £7.50. In addition there was a three-course lunch available at £25. Despite the décor, the menu itself offers more modern British dishes than Parisien bistro fare. It was a little strange seeing “pea and broad bean risotto, mint ricotta and peppered bacon” being classed as vegetarian, though I suppose that bacon is the nemesis of many vegetarians. The fairly short, almost entirely French, wine list had selections such as Mourgues du Gres les Galet Rouges Costieres de Nimes 2011 at £33 for a wine that you can find in the high street for £8, Domaine Cosse Maison Neuve Fa Fagge Cahors 2009 at £56 for a wine that retails at £15, and Fanny Sabre Beaune 2010 at £75 for a wine that will set you back around £39 in a shop. The excellent Alion 2007 was a steep £165 for a wine that you can find, albeit with difficulty, for around £52 retail.
Bread was supplied by the local Marylebone bakery Boulangerie, and was decent if unexciting. My starter was a salad of crab, radish, tomato and marinated beetroot, with tomato miso dressing. This had fresh crab, some unannounced apple providing a nice balance of acidity for the crab, the beetroot adding an earthy flavour, though the radish was sliced so thin its taste was rather lost. The crab and apple worked well with the miso dressing, but the beef tomato slices were rather tasteless, and seemed out of place (13/20). Papardelle pasta had very good texture, served with a game Bolognese sauce topped with Parmesan. The minced meat was nicely seasoned and had good flavour, the overall dish hearty and enjoyable (14/20).
I was less taken with an apple and blackberry crumble, which turned out to be a rather unconventional take on the classic dish. A plate with marscapone and a scoop of ice cream was presented, with a waitress then spooning the fruit crumble from a pan around the ice cream. I am not sure what this really added, but more to the point there was hardly any crumble relative to fruit, and the apple was rather undercooked. The ice cream was very nice, but this was more a fruit compote than a crumble, and compote with undercooked apple at that (12/20).
Coffee (£3) was from The Drury Tea & Coffee company, and was decent enough. The bill, with just tap water to drink, came to £42 for one. Clearly with a modest wine a typical bill would be more like £65 a head. Overall Little Social was pleasant enough, but the cooking rather more uneven than I was expecting.