Never having been one to jump on the bandwagon, I usually find myself firmly on the other side of the road waiting for said wagon to pass by. Compared with Jason Atherton‘s chi-chi Pollen Street Social, demure Little Social, and glam Berners Tavern, Social Eating House strikes an odd tone. Debatably, it’s Atherton’s most popular launch to date, yet something doesn’t sit quite right with me.
Yes, it’s another faux-vintage Soho venture: it’s dim (you’ll need a braille menu), loud (a self-proclaimed “speakeasy”? – ha!), and has the sort of excruciating chairs only rivalled by ringside seats to Dante’s Inferno. For those trying to cling onto some yoof, then, it’s perfect.
But the menu provides salivatory enticement and then some: smoked Black Angus tartare (£9.50), saddleback pig “head to toe” (£8.50), confit lamb neck fillet (£22.50). Whilst we’re in a fishy mood, I can’t resist a gamey pasta dish. Yet, there’s none of that punchy, sticky richness assured by its billing of raviolo of wild boar bolognese, Berkswell, peppered hearts and kidneys (£8.50) – instead, what arrives is a perfect parcel (of which any Italian mamma would be proud) trounced by an ersatz tomato puree. Today, it seems, is my Dolmio day. The offal, unhelpfully, comes in ungrindable form in a pepper-mill. And a paltry portion of monkfish loin with St. Austell mussels, cucumber, bok choi, roasted chicken juice (£24.50) is cooked to kingdom come. Most of it is left. Nothing is asked.
However, we coo over a solid starter of Loch Duart salmon, miso crème fraîche, BBQ cucumber and summer truffle (£11.50) and my main, roast wild sea bream, saffron farfelle, artichoke barigoule, carrot (£17.50), sees me forgive the kitchen for any past misdemeanours. All is fair in love and boar. But neither the staff nor I are any the wiser as to what “barigoule” is. A recommended Gruner Veltliner, Messwein, Stift Goettweig, 2012 is far less dry than was sold us, but charming sommelier Boris Poliakov assures it can be returned at any point. It’s first-rate. So we order a second.
Aside from the wine team, service comes across overly-affected, and yet in places simply doesn’t try hard enough. It’s all rather “meh”. Perhaps those ill-fitting, designer-branded uniforms are something to blame. Social Eating House veers this way and that between a down-to-earth bistro and an upmarket none-ity. Naysayers will snipe that it has recently graced Michelindome – but I’m less than starstuck.
£120 for two (with service)
Food; 6 Service; 6 Ambience; 6
Social Eating House, 58 Poland Street