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|Address:||8-10 Pollen Street, London W1S 1NQ|
|Tel:||020 7290 7600|
|Price: £73.00||Wine: £24.00||Champagne: £60.00|
|Opening Hours:||Mon-Sat 12N-2.30pm 6-10.30pm|
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Someone much funnier than me described the current phenomena of small plate dining as “50% of the food for 75% of the cost”. I see a more worrying trend… The revival of nouvelle cuisine. Think about it. Austerity budget, mass unrest in Egypt, rising unemployment, strikes, riots and a royal wedding. We're back in 1981. With iPhones.
The menu at Pollen Street Social makes the point heavily. A full two pages of small plates (or starters as I uncoothly call them) followed by 5 or 6 large dishes (or mains, keeping up?). We were told that it was entirely up to us, we could create our own menu. Maybe to go with 3-4 plates to begin, then to either take a main, or a few more small plates, or leave it there should you so wish and have a dessert or two instead. At least so decreed the man in the kitchen in the pre launch PR, but this insouciant attitude doesn't translate to the insistent restaurant staff and anyway, I really can't see anyone going to the bother of getting a table here only to pop in for a light snack. Except maybe the models flocking on the arms of their Mayfair monied rich boys, fairly joyless, overly gussied up rich people who don't really want to eat.
And that brings me, finally, onto the food. A few notable exceptions aside, it was sadly also fairly joyless, overly gussied up, rich and model thin. I wanted so much to like it, but just couldn't find enough to praise. Reading some of the critics and other bloggers who have been already I may be in a minority of one, but while they're preparing the way for the pitter patter of tiny Michelin stars, I spend my life entertaining at these joints, hence the need to know the latest places and I really know what I love, and don't love, about restaurants.
With the air-con off and a hotter than average London early evening outside, we went for some of the lighter plates. Despite being designed for sharing, they're not all designed to share. Fowey Oysters, hot and cold gave us only 2 crustacea, one submerged in a dashi broth, the other blended with eel and reformed as sorbet. An interesting concept, but the lukewarm mushroomy broth took more than it gave the oyster and the sorbet was a small scoop of non event, a slight and subtle briny tone overwritten by the eel. A single scallop, again with the sharing plate!, came with two denuded Jersey royals, their royal skin flayed, crisped and presented on top. The cabbage pesto alongside was interesting, big and bright. The scallop sadly was rubbery and overcooked. Crab salad was bright, sparky and everything a small portion of fresh shredded pearly white meat should be, the thinest slices of pickled daikon (a Japanese radish) gave it crunch and the look of a deconstructed Chinese dumpling and the quality of the meat shone through. The almond and crab sorbet accompanying it was a ferocious own goal, I left most of mine.
The low point came with a miserly pair of emaciated red prawns, sat in a bamboo steamer on a bed of seaweed. a teapot of consomme was poured through the slats of the steamer, the ‘reveal’ coming after we'd eaten the two prawns – a pair of dumplings sat underneath in the rapidly chilling ‘tea’. blitzed fish in odour, scrambled egg in texture, nothing to tell of in taste.
The kitchen almost, almost redeemed itself with the final two dishes. The only two I would go back for from the menu we sampled, a simple onglet steak with a tiny cube of dauphinoise and a platter of smoked foie gras on thin slices of preserved apple with a raisin ‘jam’. Perfectly sourced, perfectly cooked and near as damn it faultless. This was the meal I was looking for from Jason Atherton. It was clever without feeling the need to shout about it, still clearly containing the perfectionist elements and subtle twists, but these supported, surrounded and shouted the quality ingredients that deserved to be centre place, and that we should have been there to enjoy.