With all the restaurants Jason Atherton's opened recently, one might wonder what's happening over at his original restaurant, Pollen Street Social, but even this place hasn't been left behind. With a refurbishment and a menu overhaul, the place has been given a refresh. I was invited to try it out, though having only been once before and a very long time ago at that, I can't say I could easily tell you what the differences are. There's still a dessert bar, and the stairs still lead you down to the meat dungeon - one wrong turn and you find yourself face to face with a side of beef, rather than the bathroom as you'd originally intended.
We were seated in row of tables for two, one of us on a banquette. The waiting staff encouraged us to order cocktails, and the 'Slap and Pickle', a sweet / sour / savoury riff of a pickleback was received well. A box of amuses appeared - a pig skin wafer, reminiscent of a Quaver and involving the same dentally adhesive nature was a favourite.
An egg cup on a tall stem was an ugly thing - the splayed web of a duck's foot forming the base. But the egg itself, filled with a mixture of egg and an intense mushroom jam, reminded me a little of Heinz cream of tomato soup. In a good way.
Once presented with the menus, my eye immediately zoned in on the roast lobster with girolles, Iberico ham and leek. Surf and turf! Our waiter brought the lobster out so that I could give it a good poke here and there, ensure it was alive and quite sleepy, before it was whisked off to the kitchen to be despatched. I named him Herbert. He didn't die in vain, as a beautiful and rich dish of lobster claw and tail arrived in an intense, meaty stock. The lobster was perfectly cooked, retaining some bite, the roasting treatment concentrating its flavours. Across the table, I could smell the smokiness of the smoked Lincolnshire eel soup, made green with a truffled parsley puree.
I'm not entirely sure as to what made me ask for the vegetarian menu when we were ordering, but I did. I found it slightly peculiar that you'd need a whole new menu that's not presented to you until asked - does it indicate a lack of confidence in the vegetable dishes, which is why it's kept off the main menu? Our waiter himself intoned that you need a lot more imagination with vegetable dishes to keep them interesting. Anyway, my potato gnocchi with wild mushrooms, baked potato emulsion and summer truffle was... nice. Perhaps I was expecting something more decadent, more creamy and rich - or perhaps it was the fillet of beef, braised short rib, and bone marrow crumb that was set down opposite me that distracted me somewhat. The gnocchi itself was well made, but it was all a little disjointed - crispy bits here and there, woody bits too - without much seeming cohesion. Of course the fillet of beef was totally stunning; the mouthful I got of it made me grimace with food envy.
On to desserts, and the frozen guava, English plum, and Pecorino cheese wafer was a cheese wafer too far. It felt a little out of place, and the fruit jarred with the cheese. Better was the PBJ (below); peanut parfait, cherry yuzu sorbet, and 'nitro peanut'. All sorts of ices and dusts and foams made this dish up, so it was a textural fun fair.
Dinner at Pollen Street Social is not a cheap affair with starters around the £15 mark and mains hovering in the low £30s. Dishes similar to the Creedy Carver duck are also on the Berners Tavern menu, though here a little more expensive. Pollen Street Social is Michelin starred so one might imagine their version of the dish might be fancier. The service was exemplary; everyone we had dealings with, from the bar staff to the sommelier to the waiters were lovely. The barman didn't bat an eyelid when we sniggered at our drink being described as having "a sugared rim" (yes, yes, I need to grow up) and I particularly loved our waiter when, asked what 'compressed celery' might be, responded with "er... it's... celery... pressed." Ask a silly question...
We left feeling incredibly well looked after, despite my error in ordering. If I've learnt one thing from this, it is this: never order the vegetarian main.
Pollen Street Social
8/10 Pollen Street
London W1S 1NQ