Pollen Street Social: Refined yet relaxed

4 May

Jason Atherton’s Pollen Street Social is the latest high profile opening of 2011. Tucked away on a strikingly small alley off Regent Street, Pollen Street Social sets out its relaxed intentions from the off with a huge glass frontage.
On entry we were led through the bar area into the restaurant proper. The two are separated with a small wall dotted with cutaways creating a nice balance between the two whilst also allowing the buzz of the restaurant to seep through into the bar.

We sat near the now famous dessert bar, which takes pride of place at the head of the room. Flanked on the left by the glass-fronted kitchen, you can see chefs moving with a practiced calm. Further evidence of Atherton’s desire to break down the boundaries of formality and create a more relaxed atmosphere. Indeed I spoke to a chef working behind the dessert bar who said that whilst she missed the adrenaline of the kitchen it was nice to be able to chat to people about the food.

The room itself is light and relaxed with the lights a personal highlight. Being free with my words and careful with my cash I opted for the set lunch. This was accompanied by glimpses of the food gliding through the room on trays, all of it beautifully presented. A charming young man brought us a choice of bread, with the brown sourdough being preferred by both my friend and I. We chomped down on this as we watched service unfold. Our appreciation of the General Manager’s dapper double breasted waistcoat was curtailed by the arrival of the first course.

The first course for me was fish soup with saffron and garlic. The fish came nestled in a bowl with a scallop resting on the top. The waiter then flooded the bowl returning the fish to its natural habitat. The soup itself was rich in flavour with the fish perfectly textured. My companion’s choice of salmon, jersey royal and avocado was met with a flurry of praise, the particular highlight being “How does this potato taste so much of potato?”

The salmon appeared to have been cooked sous vide producing a texture that was apparently more reminiscent of sashimi and vibrantly flavoured.For me this demonstrates, that despite the technical wizardry in the kitchen, from vacuum sealers to a Thermomix, this is still ingredient lead cooking.

At this point I’m going to make a brief confession. I love looking at the toilets in restaurants. Not in a pervy way but because I’m a sucker for design. The toilets often appear to be where the designer has run riot. I think this is because nobody can see them. They are hidden oases of beautiful madness. Take Nopi for example. Reviews focused on two things; The prices (slightly high) and the toilets (a mirrored wonderland that almost makes up for the cost).

The downstairs of PSS is amazing. Again leaning heavily on glass, there is a private dining room, a prep kitchen, and a meat aging locker. I stood staring at this for slightly too long, entranced by the hanging cuts. The toilets themselves were nothing special, classy but no match for allure of the meat.

I returned upstairs for the arrival of my main. Shoulder of lamb with pasta, broad beans and peas, garnished with edible flowers. In all honesty the shoulder was tiny, its diminutive scale further emphasised by the unusually large amount of pasta that rested in the small silver pan on the table.

The lamb and accompanying jus were fantastic, resisting the tendency of the pasta to overpower them by virtue of their sheer strength of flavour. Whilst churlish to complain there was too much food, especially given my tendency to feel less than full at restaurants like this, the problem was really one of balance. Also if you are going to make lamb that tasty, give me more of it.

For dessert my friend had decided at the beginning she was going to have the Eton mess. She pronounced it excellent. I was more enticed by the basil sorbet with fruta cru.The highlight of this dish was the lime and ginger scented steam that rose from the bowl as a waiter poured liquid onto the ice. It perfumed the air and whetted my appetite. The sorbet was excellent and much better than my homemade attempts. The only flaw was the small bits of ice that fused to the fruit. The visual effect of the steam was almost worth this error, drawing gasps from the table opposite.

The staff, whilst slick, were still getting used to the menu on my first visit. This is understandable given the initial complexity of the menu. Whilst it has since been slimmed down somewhat, there still remains a dazzling variety of options. The efforts to create a relaxed atmosphere needs staff who exude confidence and help the diner to relax. In all honestly they seemed slightly unsettled on the first Saturday. Having dropped in again more recently you can definitely see the team gelling and I have every confidence that things will soon be seamless.

For me, Pollen Street almost completely succeeds in its ambitions. The room buzzes with no hint of stuffiness. I turned up looking disheveled to say the least and nobody batted an eyelid. The care and attention to detail are transparently obvious as is the passion of all the staff. The food is almost there and once things are fine tuned this is going to be a restaurant to be reckoned with. In many ways it already is.


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