Pollen Street Social is the origin of Jason Atherton’s global restaurant empire, and it remains the jewel in the crown. Whether you're here dining on the a la carte, or the £190 chef's experience, you can come to Pollen Street Social knowing that your money is safely invested in one of the most exceptional restaurants in London.
As with any restaurant, it’s the team who give you a first taste of what to expect. The buzzy bar and cosy dining room are run like a well-organised ship. One team member seamlessly segues into the next so that you are warmly looked after from beginning to end.
That attention to detail carries through all of the cooking too. Atherton's signature 'afternoon tea' opens proceedings, and includes a crisp, confit potato chip, with vinegar powder and taramasalata emulsion - a salty seaside treat that smells and tastes like the best chippy you’ve ever had. The 'tea' - a mushroom broth with Parmesan foam - coalesces two powerful umami flavours into an intense, heady broth that sets a very high bar for what's to come.
Every other course clears that bar, or gets extremely close. Later plates settle into more classic flavour combinations - the sole meat course on our visit was an aged Cumbrian beef fillet with ceps, foie gras and truffle, for example, which doesn't win much for innovation but does score full marks for absolute no-holds-barred flavour.
Other courses delve into a much deeper, more intriguing bag of tricks. A dish of Brixham crab comes with ajo blanco ice cream, a perfect claw of crab meat, and a bisque reduction. It's simultaneously sweet and savoury, hot and cold, and throws a barrage of different textures at you. And yet, it all hangs together, perfectly balanced like an enormous house of cards.
From front to back, this is a superb meal, from a slick kitchen that doesn't even appear to break a sweat. Wine service is just as accomplished, and wine pairings are willing to delve into the more interesting, rather than sticking to the tried and tested. The tasting menu does focus on fish and seafood and so the pairings by consequence lean towards whites, the highlight being a rich, buttery Côtes de Beaune that stood up to a magnificent tranche of turbot. As you leave, there's one last treat for the road - a cube of truffled fudge, with a last sliver of truffle on top. Money aside, Pollen Street Social is a masterclass in how to execute a tasting menu, and it sets a high benchmark for the rest of London.