The buzz around Pollen Street Social has been so acute it has even reached the backwaters of Henley on Thames. So on an excursion to the capital with Mrs HT, that also took in a light lunch at Books for Cooks in Notting Hill, saw us on the off chance wandering into PSS, (as it shall now be known) in the early evening.
As Olive magazine pointed out this month, go early and choose the day of a major sporting final. So thanks to Barcelona and Man Utd we were happily seated in the bar at 5.30 enjoying a couple of cocktails, with a table ready for us when the kitchen opened at 6pm.
PSS is divided into two large oblong rooms. The bar area with comfortable modernist brown leather sofa’s and chairs with stools at the long bar is discreetly decorated with modern artworks against pale walls and a lowish ceiling. The dining room is slightly larger, decorated in similar fashion with dangling futurist globe lighting. The unusual feature is the dessert bar at one end, borrowed from the New York trend. Where, in other restaurants you might find a seafood bar, here you can perch on a stool, stare longingly into the adjacent kitchen, with its huge glass wall and Star Trek like sliding glass door, and engage the dessert chef in conversation about what to have.
Seated happily where Mrs HT could watch all the machinations in the room, service was exemplary, knowledgeable, friendly and at the right level between discreet and familiar. It is this affable service that makes a visit to PSS such a pleasant experience. The other is of course the cooking of Jason Atherton.
Famously named by Faye Maschler as the best chef in the Gordon Ramsey empire at Maze and with a self financed stint at El Bulli also in the bag, Atherton cooks with intelligence and obvious passion, you can taste it in his unusual but precise dishes. Out straightening chairs in the bar when we first arrived he obviously cares too.
Almost every dish on the menu prompts a question. This is a good thing, not only providing intrigue it allows the waiting staff to raise your desire too with neat descriptions of all the dishes.Sated with information but not yet by food, my starter of Squid with Cauliflower Puree, shards of Cauliflower, Squid ink puffed rice and roast squid juice looked pale and interesting on the plate and was soft and comforting in the mouth, but given some depth and crunch by the rice, which of course isn’t rice at all. The idea of cutting the squid into tiny pieces and serving almost as a risotto is inspired.
The Full English Breakfast bore virtually no resemblance to that served at a greasy spoon, yet tasted exactly how you want it to. An egg poached for 1 1/2 hours topping earthy mushrooms and roast tomato puree is unctuous but puts a broad grin on the face.
It is possible to have half portions of the main courses and turn the whole menu into a tasting menu we went tradtional though. Ox Cheek, Tongue and Sirloin was good without being exceptional, unlike the Roasted Halibut with a remarkably rich and moreish paella, steeped in ham fat, which was just wonderful.
Our request to sit at the dessert bar was happily accommodated, though I imagine later in the evening it might not be so easy. Watching Atherton at work through the glass was fascinating as was the conversation with the pud chef over the merits of full portions over mini tasters.
None of the descriptions, Ham, Cheese & Herbs, Sangria or PBJ do justice to the micro menu’s selection of light, delicate flavours prepared in front of us. Suffice to say that the ham is made from water melon and the herbs are tiny pieces of candied basil and sage, which the chef kindly told us how to make.
Pollen Street Social has been praised to the hilt since opening, with good reason, it is the most relaxed and entertaining dining room with some of the best food in London and top quality staff to match. Go while it’s still new.
Total cost for 2 Cocktails, 2 Starters, 2 Mains, 3 mini puddings, 1 bottle Chilean Haras de Pirque Cabernet Sauvignon: £153.56 inc service.
Pollen Street Social, 8-10 Pollen Street, London W1S 1NH 020 7290 7600