Pollen Street Social

Well, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? There’s been lots going on that’s rather drawn my attention away, but I hope to get back into the blog now. I might do a backlog of things that I’ve been making but not writing about, but for now: Pollen Street Social.

I like to eat out, but I’m not exactly flush with money most of the time, so I tend towards the little Korean diner (I’ve been eating a lot of Korean food of late) or Taste card discount end of the market. However! I was treated to the experience of Pollen Street Social. It’s the restaurant of Jason Atherton, who was under Gordon Ramsay at Maze, but has now (well, a while ago) broken off on his own.

The (extraordinarily generous) friend who treated me has been wanting to go for a Fine Dining (I think it needs the capitals) meal together for ages, and we finally got around to doing it. The original plan was to do the tasting menu, where you receive a series of dishes that the chef … well, that the chef thinks you should have, basically. It’s a way for the chef to show their range of dishes and give an idea of who they are as a chef. But that’s really only available in the evenings, and we were there for lunch, but we said that we’d hoped to do the it. So they had a word with the kitchen and brought us out around half of it, which, in terms of quantity, was more than enough. I kind of feel that really good food that you savour leads you to feel more full than cheapo stuff you shovel in, and the portions were perfectly generous, so we ended up eating, well, a lot of food.

While we waited, we had brandade (salt cod puree) and some extraordinary pork crackling. It was unbelievably light and airy – it almost seemed like bubble wrap (in a good way) – crisp, and yet melting. It’s perhaps not necessary to describe every single detail of the food, but it was all far beyond what I consider myself capable of as a cook. It was simple, but elevated and genuinely made me think again about what can be done with food. An example: tiny slivers of cauliflower, sliced vertically down the floret to give miniature ‘tree’ shapes. They retained their bite and flavour, but frankly looked far more sophisticated than little chunks of cauliflower could ever hope to. They were served alongside a crab vinaigrette and Nashi pear and peanut powder, and the sweet and sharp and earthy flavours together worked perfectly.

Cauliflower returned again with halibut, in the form of a cauliflower and cheese puree and a cauliflower and clam chowder. This was the only tiny misstep of the meal, as far as I was concerned. The fish was of such good quality, and cooked so expertly, that it was slightly drowned out by the broth it was served in. The individual components were all absurdly good quality, of course, but for me, they could have benefited from being separated to let them truly shine.

Then came Black Angus fillet, with bone marrow, charred onions and salsify. I’d never had salsify before (it always sounds like a verb. Perhaps it means ‘add salsa’. ‘We need to salsify that meal immediately!’), nor, come to think of it, bone marrow served in its own right. It was a dark, iron-tinted plate of food, and a perfect progression from the lighter dishes that started the meal.

After that, we moved to the dessert bar, where we sat and watched them be compiled, and were aided in our choice of dessert wines by a massively knowledgeable and attentive female sommelier. (I feel that it bears notice that she was a young, friendly woman. The word sommelier always conjours up snooty cartoon men with pencil moustaches, rightly or wrongly.) There we had pear sorbet, an intensely rich chocolate ganache and banana ice cream. Plus, I assume as a thank you for taking the tasting menu, Jason Atherton himself told them to make us up an additional two desserts, the most memorable component of which was a curry ice cream. That worked far, far better than it had any right to – it was a Japanese curry flavour, rather than an Indian, but the warmth of it was perfect and paired with exactly the right wines as recommended to us, it was the highlight of all the desserts.

And that was without the other three courses that the tasting menu would have given us. I have no doubt that I would have found a way to fit them all if it came to it, because when you’re eating some of the best food you’ve ever had, you’re hardly likely to say no. Financially, I don’t see myself making a habit of the tasting menu, but Pollen Street Social also has an extremely reasonable set Lunch Menu, and I definitely plan on making a return.