Pollen Street Social

5 Pollen Street, London, England, W1S 1NQ, United Kingdom

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Chef interview

Jason Atherton is chef/patron of Pollen Street Social. He was previously head chef at Maze, and also Verre in Dubai.

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This is Jason Atherton’s first solo venture after many years in the Gordon Ramsay stable, for example at Verre in Dubai and most recently Maze in Grosvenor Square. In addition to the main dining room there was a bar area serving tapas (Jason spent some time cooking in Spain) and included a couple of tables that are not reserved and set aside for walk-in guests. There is also a separate dessert bar in the main dining room. The tapas were mostly in the £6 - £9 range and included pata negra from Joselito, but I was here for the main menu today.

The décor is clean and modern, with wooden floor, plain white walls with some original art, low-backed chairs, hanging filament lighting and a view into the kitchen. There was also a prep kitchen downstairs, and there was a large brigade of 22 chefs working in the two kitchens, for a restaurant serving around 70 covers at lunch and 90 in the evening. Starters were priced at £8.50 - £11.50, mains at £19.50 - £30 and desserts £7 - £8. You can construct a tasting menu of your choosing from a mix of these (with cut-down versions of the main courses) or just go with a conventional three course approach. There was also a lunch menu available at £23.50 for three courses.

The wine list stretched to 500 wines, and had selections such as Chevrot Pinot Noir 2009 at £43 for a wine that costs £14 retail, Trimbach Cuvee Frederich Emile 2004 at £99 for a wine that you can pick up in the shops for £31 and Chateau Talbot 1988 at £210 compared to a retail price of £65. The prestige wines were hardly bargains: Chateau Mouton Rothschile 1985 was £1,150 for a wine that can be bought for £303, and Romanee Conti Eschezaux 1986 was £1,550 for a wine you can pick up for £397, but perhaps if you can afford wines like this then price is not the main issue. We drank the refreshing Bott Geyl Metiss 2007 at £36 for a wine that retails at around £11 – an excellent suggestion from the sommelier, who directed us away from my initial choice given our selection dishes to a cheaper wine; how often does that happen? Bread was a choice of white or brown sourdough and was (hurrah) made from scratch in the kitchen; it had excellent texture and flavour, in particular the brown sourdough (17/20).

Smoked foie gras had smooth texture, the smoking giving a less rich effect than with a conventional terrine, while the black sesame puree on the side had enough depth to easily stand up to the foie gras, the dish garnished with smoked golden raisins (16/20). Barbecued mackerel was served with cucumber chutney, frozen ajo blanco (white gazpacho made with almonds) and scallops. I found this the least good dish of the meal; the cucumber chutney worked well, but while the scallops correctly cooked but rather lukewarm by the time they were plate, and the mackerel lacked the distinct flavour you get with the very best, freshest specimens (14/20).

Lightly cured loch Duart salmon was prettily presented, with avocado and smoked herring roe cream; the salmon itself had good flavour and worked well with the little blobs of avocado cream and the stronger taste of the herring roe (16/20). Full English breakfast consisted of a slow cooked egg resting on a base of small pieces of fried bread mixed with puree of tomato and slivers of bacon, with some lovely morel mushrooms to add an earthy note: this was a hearty, comforting and thorough enjoyable dish (16/20).

My favourite dish was the halibut, garnished with sprouting broccoli, pork ham fat and served with mussel stock; on the side paella was served in a copper pot. The star for me here was the halibut itself, having very good flavour and being beautifully cooked, the other elements adding some richness and complexity without detracting from the main dish component (17/20). Cotswold lamb sirloin was served with braised belly, pea salad and sheep’s milk curd, the lamb carefully cooked and working nicely with the pea salad and the restrained milk curd, which mainly left the lamb to speak for itself (16/20).

We did not try the cheese today, but it is supplied from Fromagerie. A pre-dessert of Eton mess had a few wild strawberries as well as the usual variety, and it was the wild ones that really put some flavour into the dish, whose meringue was skilfully made, light and airy: a refreshing dish (17/20). PBJ parfait was a series of rice puffs, dots of cherry jam and some fresh summer fruit; the fruit was of good quality and the cherry jam had nice depth of flavour, the intensity contrasting well with the light rice puffs (16/20). Vanilla cheescake had an excellent base, decorated with rhubarb that had been carefully prepared so as not to be too acidic, flavoured with ginger and offered with rhubarb sorbet and nut crumble (16/20).

Service was extremely good throughout the meal, with a knowledgeable sommelier who used to work at Maze. This was a very enjoyable meal, with a lot of skill having gone into the dishes but done in such a way as not to feel over-worked with too many elements. While the restaurant is still in its early days it is already operating very smoothly, with virtually no technical issues. It was completely full on this weekday lunch. The bill came to £88 a head, and prices here which seem to me reasonable given the quality of the cooking.


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User comments

  • Amol Parnaik

    Pollen Street Social is a very busy restaurant tucked in a corner of central London. You’ll rarely stumble across it simply by walking the streets of London. My meal began with ‘An English Breakfast’. This was a take on the classic ‘Chef’ episode where he serves an English breakfast in a gourmet fashion I think. This could have been great but the balance was all over the place. The tomato puree simply over powered everything and you couldn’t taste the bacon at all. The croutons added a nice crunch but no enough to carry it. A real shame, I feel this needs some work. The next course however was far more pleasurable. Ox cheeks with carrots and horseradish mash. The carrots were a bit over which was clumsy however I easily dived in and devoured the whole plate. The whole combination was rich and tasty. The horseradish mash was particularly good and really added to the experience. Next was an excellent sorbet palate cleanser followed by equally excellent desserts. I had a refreshing lime meringue which could have been easily over acid but the combinations and balance had clearly been carefully put together. Very enjoyable. My friend had a chocolate and ice-cream dessert which was equally as good. Overall, the food was great except for the starter. Service was attentive but very slow in parts which distributed the momentum of the meal. Having not been to such a restaurant for such a long time, I was pretty easily entertained by the whole thing so this didn’t really damage the evening that much.

  • Name unavailable

    A week or two later, I was there after Mr. Alan Fowle. I agree that this is 9/10 level restaurant, based on the premise that the atmosphere and cooking is relaxed and unofficial. The execution was unsophisticated, but excellent. The squid "Risotto" starter and Steak and Venison mains were divine. Andy please review the restaurant again, because they have improved since April 2011, that is for sure!

  • Name unavailable

    Wondered what to expect here as we journeyed here for a 12 midday lunch last Saturday. initial reviews were mixed. We were a little early, greeting at reception welcoming , we liked the clean spare look of the bar area then to the main restaurant in a simiiar style , the lunch menu was excellent , my wife had the crab "melange" a slightly enhanced version of one of our favourite small dishes at Maze with avocado sorbet- delicious-then the cod and for me the halibut as Andy had recommended it -both were perfectly cooked, dessert small and delicious, Service by extemely smart waiters was spot on, the sommelier had been at Maze. All in all for us a 9/10 experience without doubt we will put on our regulars list-the little gift at the end was an unusual touch.