If you were to look up what Jason Atherton was up to at the moment, you may raise an eyebrow. This is a busy man. Within spitting distance of his Michelin starred original, Pollen Street Social, sprouted up Little Social, a more casual bistro-style joint. Next came the confusingly named Social Eating House, on Poland Street - not Poland Street Social, or Social House Poland, both of which I've both stumbled on. Then just as the paint was just about to dry on his last place, Berners Tavern snuck in under the radar and opened last Wednesday. And that's just in London - Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong also have restaurants with his name over the door.
We went along to the press preview and a bouncer waited at an nondescript door with a black canopy, barely giving away what was to unfold before us. Stepping through the door, your breath really is taken away - it is a very handsome dining room. I stood there slack-jawed for a minute, regretting my choice in shoe. High ceilings hold up two enormous chandeliers. A bar lines the right hand side of the room while banquettes for larger groups dominate the middle of the room and tables for couples line the walls. Between 185 and 200 pictures depending on who you ask adorn the walls.
Head Chef Phil Carmichael's menu was a hefty page of A3. It read like a British take on the all-day-dining brasserie menu, detailing seafood platters, sandwiches, salads, 'Fish Fridays', Sunday roasts and then the classic starters and mains. Oh! And a steak section. Phew.
A couple of oysters to steer us into dinner were jazzed up with a Vietnamese-style dressing, a spicy citrus thing that sweetened the oyster further. My starter of scallop carpaccio was light and inventive; the sweet shellfish was scattered with Little Gem lettuce, shavings of radish and creamy blobs of avocado. The quenelle of jalapeno and lime sorbet made an otherwise perfectly nice dish more exciting. The 'Ham, Egg, Chips & Peas' was brilliant; a soft-yolked breadcrumbed egg was sat on top of pea shoots and shavings of jamon. The 'chips' aspect were frites with a spicy tomato chutney, though better dipped inside the egg. I ground my teeth that I hadn't put dibs on ordering this first.
It took a lot of uhm-ing and ah-ing to decide on main courses. I swung wildly between a steak, or a delicious-sounding seabass with seaweed and cockles, or perhaps the chicken? Or lamb? The patient serving staff guided me gently, offering me assistance to my frustrating decision-swinging. I finally decided on the Creedy Carver duck, mainly because it had kale in it and I freaking love kale. Perhaps I'm a secret Californian. Beautifully cooked to pink, it was served with roasted plums (or nectarines? I'm not up on my soft fruits) and a plum puree and it was heady with Autumnal spices. Towards the end it perhaps veered on too sweet for my tastes. Across the table, the ribeye steak was being very well received, though I questioned the point of serving it on a board for you to then drag / flop it on to your plate. Creamed potatoes on the side were, indeed, creamy and rich - the perfect mashed potato really. I gazed over in awe at the couple next to us that ordered the seafood platter - with lobster - and then went on into main courses.
Feeling fully stuffed but not one to pass up on dessert, I went for the lightest sounding option - the chocolate doughnut. Ahem. But we also balanced it out with this goat's cheese sorbet with blackberries. It was a joy to have something so surprising and unusual; slightly goaty, slightly salty, fruity tartness.
I loved Berners Tavern. I loved the room and the sheer glamour of it; it reminds me a lot of places in New York. The menu is a nightmare for people like me who live in fear of Food Envy, given that there's so much choice, but I think that's more to say about me than them. The whole place ran like clockwork on it's first night, which is no easy feat - our lovely waiter told us they'd be in full training for two weeks - and we left feeling incredibly well looked after. And more joy! It's a five minute walk from my office.
10 Berners Street,
London, W1T 3NP
Tel: 0207 9087979