Whether you’re a lover or a hater, you cannot deny that Gordon Ramsay has influenced some of the finest British chefs around. Without Ramsay there’d be no Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley, neither Angela Hartnett’s Murano, nor Jason Atherton’s Pollen Street Social. Now, however, each chef has left the Ramsay nest, and seems much the better for it. They’ve realised that the old dog has given up on the new tricks, and it’s time for them to shine. And indeed they do. This week there are no quips, no jibes, and no cynicism. Pollen Street Social is my favourite restaurant in London. Well, probably.
Don’t be fooled. It’s not a working men’s club. But it might just be the modern equivalent. Five years after Atherton successfully took the helm at Maze, he packed everything up (including most of his staff, it seems) and opened his own restaurant barely a stone’s throw from Regent Street. It’s not a hush-hush Ramsay Mayfair spin-off, as it could so easily be. In fact, Gordon could learn a thing or two. It’s glamorous, but at the same time relaxed. The restaurant revolves around two spacious rooms. The first, a reception area and bar. The second, a more formal dining room. An enormous glass panel fronts the whole side of the building, etched on it the restaurant’s name and logo. Everything is as highly polished as the restaurant’s exterior. Particular kudos to bar manager, Gareth Evans, not only for an excellent Eastside Julep (£12.50) (Bombay Sapphire, vermouth, lemon, elderflower, mint), but also friendly conversation and very personal attention to detail*.
Atherton’s stint at El Bulli in 1998 means that you can expect playful, but precisely executed cooking (as well as high, but not unreasonable prices). Indeed, each of the starters has a creative bent: roasted quail “brunch”, cereals, toast and tea (£13.50) saw the bird atop pearl barley with a mini scotch egg, as well as beautifully smooth duck liver parfait and brioche. ‘Tea’ came in the form of a duck and mint consommé. Slow cooked egg, full English breakfast (£12.50) was simpler, but no less brilliant. A runny egg nestled under wafer-thin bacon strips, girolles, croutons and (an overly-sweet – we’ll forgive him) tomato purée. The mains read more conventionally. We chose rack of salt marsh lamb, braised shoulder, creamed spiced aubergine, savoury & black olive reduction (£27.50) and West Country ox cheek with tongue and sirloin, carrots, caper & raisin puree, horseradish (£25.50). Nothing fancy, no deconstruction, but accurately presented, flavoursome dishes. I could have eaten any. Unfortunately, we had no room for desserts at their famous dessert bar, but that’s what next time’s for.
Wines by the glass start at £7.50, with bottles coming in at £24 and sharply rising. I enjoyed Head Sommelier Laure Patry’s recommendation of two very different glasses of red: Spätburgunder, Friedrich Becker, Pfalz, 2010 (£10.50) and Moss Wood Pinot Noir, Mornington Peninsula, 2009 (£12.50). One ever so slight criticism: the French staff need to speak up in order for diners to have any chance hearing what they’ve said. Aside from this, service was attentive, friendly and precise.
Since giving-up the initial tasting-menu-come-tapas approach, the restaurant seems to have fared a lot better. The press has been kinder, and reservations don’t come easy. We’re not talking Dabbous madness, but you’ll certainly have to wait a few months to eat on a Saturday evening. Instead, you might fare better trying your luck on a weekday lunchtime. The three course lunch menu for £27.50 is a godsend, especially considering the cheapest of the carte mains will set you back just under this. All in all, Pollen Street Social will be special, whether you go for a drink, a business lunch, a romantic evening, or even if you dine alone. I hope you’ve been listening, Gordon…
(*Gareth had overheard we were celebrating a birthday, and ensured the kitchen had made an extra little surprise for us to take home.)
£170 for two (with service)
Food; 9 Service; 9 Ambience; 10