8 Pollen Street
London W1S 1NQ
Nearest Tube Station: Oxford Circus
While we were in London last month, we visited Pollen Street Social to celebrate our anniversary. Pollen Street Social is owned by Jason Atherton, a pupil of El Bulli’s Ferran Adria and an ex-Ramsay protege. Pollen Street Social has been making the rounds since opening its doors in 2011. It was awarded its first Michelin star in the 2012 Michelin Guide and was also named London’s best new fine dining restaurant in the Time Out Eating & Drinking Awards 2011. Outside of the UK, Jason has also had a busy year, opening up Pollen, Esquina Tapas Bar and Keong Saik Snacks in Singapore.
We visited for lunch, and as first impressions go, it made a pretty good one. Despite its proximity to bustling busy Regents Street, Pollen Street exudes an unhurried, laid-back vibe quite uncommon to central London. The restaurant shares this oasis of urban serenity with several independent, franchise-eschewing cafes.
Like its esoteric neighbours, Pollen Street Social’s philosophy to food is an inclusive one. As with any Michelin-starred outlet, strict standards are observed, but the restaurant stays close to its social ethos by striving to keeping prices sensible. Jason Atherton’s new cookbook: Gourmet Food for a Fiver is an extension of this philosophy, and is chock-full of recipes for people living on a shoestring budget.
The restaurant interior is relatively large and was awash with natural lunch-time light. There was space enough for two bars: a reception-cum-cocktail bar up front and its signature dessert bar at the back of the main dining area and overlooking the kitchen. Service was warm and attentive, and we liked how staff had room to show off their personalities. The sommelier noticed us toting cameras and asked if we wanted to take some shots in the kitchen, which was really nice of her!
The dining experience at Pollen Street Social was an enjoyable one, but the food was a mixed bag. We had the set lunch (£24/2 courses, £27/3 courses) and the main of lamb from the ala-carte. The meal started with a truffled hen’s egg and cured salmon in a watercress soup, topped off with a dollop of creme fraiche. It wasn’t an attractive plate of food. Salmon-pink and water-cress green have never been the best companions in terms of colour. The dish tasted like the way it looked – an unappetising salty-creamy-slimy mulch that didn’t go anywhere.
18-hour braised Angus feather blade, baked celeriac, marrow crumbs
The Angus feather-blade tasted woefully normal. The 18 hours of braising gave the meat a good texture but the flavour in the beef was simply lacking. The dish also looked like it had been hurriedly put together, consisting of a formless piece of celeriac, and a glop of fast-separating jus that pooled around unceremoniously on the plate, and garnished with a sad-looking unidentified green object.
Rack of salt marsh lamb, braised shoulder, creamed spiced aubergine, savoury & black olive reduction
Our visit wasn’t a complete gastronomic disaster. In dramatic contrast to our tragically off-target set lunch was the salt marsh lamb rack ala-carte (£27.50), served with a subtly balanced black olive reduction and a gorgeous cumin paste, a reminder of Beijing’s ubiquitous lamb skewers (chuanr) that we once nursed as our artery-choking guilty pleasure. The black olive and cumin blended with the natural fattiness of the lamb chop to deliver savoury redemption upon our taste-buds.
Selection of sorbets & ice-creams
We then adjourned to the dessert bar for our final course. We were attended to by a trio of dessert chefs, working with manifest purpose but with wits enough to welcome and have a short chat with us. Pre-desserts included a scoop of passionfruit and blackberry sorbets (pictured above), and nitrogen-frozen strawberry panna cotta with matcha powder.
Nitrogen Frozen Strawberry panna cotta with matcha powder.
The panna cotta was was an interesting and not unpleasant marriage of sweet-and-sour-and-bitter, with the frozen strawberry and matcha playing games on our taste buds. So far, so promising.
Autumn Kent apples slow cooked in London stout beer caramel, stout sabayon, vanilla ice cream
The set lunch’s slow-cooked Kent apple in beer stout packed a good boozy punch, and the vanilla ice cream and sugared pastry crisps prevented the beer from becoming altogether overwhelming. The ala-carte mango dessert presents mango done three ways, in different textures and in a variety of chemical states: solid, liquid and gas via aeration. We found the freeze-dried mango powder quite fun to eat. The trick is to coat it around the yoghurt and the pudding, let the powder stick to the roof of your mouth and then lick the fast-melting remnants off for added kick. It’s like having fun fair candyfloss, just cooler and mango-flavoured.
Asian mango pudding, mango sorbet aerated yoghurt, freeze dried mango
Fastest fingers first
Now, we have to say that the food at Pollen Street Social was not the best we’ve had. The ala-carte was fine but the set lunch was a let down. However, the restaurant deserves notable mention from us for its down-to-earth service and general lack of pretentiousness. We enjoyed our time there and we’re sure you would too. But if you’re going for lunch, please consider getting the ala-carte instead.