Friday, 13 July 2012

Pollen Street Social

An artist's impression of Pollen Street Social

We couldn't think of a more fitting way to start our food blog than with a celebration. Jamie turned 26 last week and the surprise venue for the birthday meal was Jason Atherton's Pollen Street Social, which won Time Out's best new fine-dining restaurant award last year. We have admired Jason since he won Great British Menu in 2008 and subsequently became a judge for the show (albeit a very stern one); so you can imagine our excitement at finally being able to try one of his menus.

Compared to somewhere like Pied A Terre, where we went two years ago for the same occasion, Pollen Street Social is more sleek and showy yet maintains a modicum of intimacy, despite the seemly endless processions of staff. Admittedly, it was surprisingly busy for early evening on a Tuesday; a good indicator of things to come, we thought. We were sat at a table from which Anna had a bird's eye view into the kitchen and near to which was the epicentre of all the waiter's activity - so no complaints there!

It was pretty much a foregone conclusion that we would have the tasting menu. So, after a brief perusal of the à la carte menu, we opted for the 7-course menu à degustation and ordered a couple of cocktails to whet our appetites. Anna's 'Curiously Clear Manhattan' was, well, curiously clear, being as it was made with unaged whiskey; and my Dry Martini (made, incidentally, with Death's Door - a very fine American gin) was expertly mixed.

Our amuse-bouche was a trio of olives, cod brandade, and the airiest of pork scratchings (imagine, bizarre as the image is, a pork skin meringue, only lighter). The meal began with the Cornish crab vinaigrette: a perfectly dressed crab with wafer-thin pear, pickled cauliflower and a small mound of peanut powder. Delicious. And the delicate crab wasn't overwhelmed due to the mildness and sparsity of the other ingredients.   

Scallop Ceviche

The same cannot be said of the scallop ceviche (above). It's always a pleasure to eat scallops (in fact most seafood) in a fine-dining restaurant since the best quality ones are usually prohibitively expensive to buy from the local fishmonger. When grilled, scallops take on a fuller flavour due to those lovely Maillard reactions; when 'cooked' in yuzu, the flavour is so subtle that even radish and cucumber drowned it out. The micro-planed horseradish snow was, however, sublime.

Slow-cooked egg

Next came a dish that could not fail to please. Chorizo. Patatas Bravas. Slow-cooked egg. Baked Potato Foam. Combine those four ingredients and you have in my humble opinion some of the best comfort food ever made. The best thing is getting all the flavour of a buttered baked potato without any of the stodge. 

Turbot next. More excitement at having a fish that is also particularly expensive. Perhaps the novelty of the flavour combinations was the reason for my not enjoying this dish. The fish was slightly under-seasoned but it was the coco beans with their pungently perfumed taste that really got in the way. The fish was well cooked, the bisque delicate and flavourful, the courgette nicely al dente, but my palate could just not comprehend those strange little beans.   

Cornish Turbot

The choice for the meat course was then between the duck or lamb. So, naturally, we chose a different dish respectively in the interest of culinary adventure.

The lamb (below) came with aubergine puree and olive reduction and a unappetizing swirl of brown stuff (what were they thinking!). It was described by Anna as tasting like a Turkish kebab. No bad thing obviously, but not much more interesting than that.

Salt marsh lamb

The duck was better but we couldn't help feeling a lack of imagination when it came to the main courses (and that the standard had started to slip in the kitchen). The braised leg and breast were both tender and moist, the purple sprouting broccoli looked a bit like felled trees, the mandarin and clementine jus wasn't as sharp as expected, and the jersualem artichoke was incredibly salty. 

Creedy carver duck

Hooray for the desserts! The food that came before could have been of the most mediocre sort and the meal would have been rescued by what followed. 

A beetroot and strawberry sorbet of the most exquisite texture was just what we needed after such rich main courses. The sorbet was adorned with the tastiest English strawberries I've ever had (apparently due to our mild spring) and a basil ash meringue (still not sure what this is, see photo).

Beetroot and strawberry sorbet

 It's always great to finish a meal with a panna cotta or a crême brulée - the creamy, unctuous mouthfeel is so satisfying. This time the panna cotta, a white chocolate and coconut version, was the best dessert we've had in recent memory. Served in a bowl, which is apparently customary since if it could support its own weight it would be too set, the rich panna cotta was dotted with mango, candied pistachios and topped with lemongrass granita. I can still taste it now. Simply amazing!  

White chocolate and coconut panna cotta

We ordered coffees feeling not as uncomfortably full as anticipated but then were undone by the smallest and cruelest of petit fours. We were presented with a single, tiny, innocent Madeleine that tipped us both over the edge. Damn you madeleine! Sluggishly we paid up and waddled to the nearest bar for a nightcap. 

The consensus among critics is that Jason Atherton is at the top of his game in London - a strong start and a stellar finish meant it certainly lived up to expectations, with informal and welcoming service throughout. If you can't or don't want to plump up the cash for the tasting menu, there's a very reasonably-priced lunch option.

A satisfied customer

Pollen Street Social on Urbanspoon