At first sight the interior seems tasteful but unremarkable. White walls,dark blue banquettes, wood trim, lights like dangling fruits, some nifty contemporary art. So far, so ordinary, you might think. Casual. Contemporary, comfortable. Nothing what you might call fancy about Pollen Street Social.
And then, as you settle at your table, feeling at your ease, cheerful and relaxed, your mouth beginning to salivate at the prospect of food, you start taking a closer look. You see the wooden trim to the banquette seats is just so, precisely judged. And the seats themselves perfectly comfortable and the banquettes are of real leather, not your ersatz leather-effect. It’s elegant, dammit, the proportion of wood to leather, the grain of the wood, the buffed surface of the leather. And the table clothes, thin, delicate, are of the most refined linen. And what about the front of house guiding you expertly through the menu? they look unusually well decked out. And so they should be. Spencer Hart did the tailoring. Saville Row and all that.
And then it begins to dawn that everything about Pollen Street Social, everything, has been thought about, meticulously thought through, polished to precise effect. Pollen Street Social could just be the most elegant, most accomplished dining room in London, but it doesn’t shout about it. It’s almost a meditation on what a restaurant ought to be. Even the lavatories are a model of their kind.
And finally there’s food. I reported on some of the dishes that Jason Atherton proposed to serve at PSC. I have now eaten twice at PSC, and things have moved on, even in the few weeks since the earlier tasting. Each visit confirmed that Mr Atherton is one of the most remarkable chefs cooking in the UK at the moment, and that makes him one of the most remarkable in Europe.
Let’s take just one dish as an example. This is listed on the menu as cauliflower and squid, clear roasted squid juice. Hmm. That’s a bit bald for what actually appears, which is a risotto of squid, in which the squid had been cut and cooked to look, feel and taste like, more or less, rice cooked in squid stock. The cauliflower had been cut and stained with squid ink to look like slices of black truffle. There were wafers of raw cauliflower, too. All this might seem a bit effortful if the finished dish, itself, was anything less than a delight to eat. And it is. It’s just a dish to leave you smiling. It is clever, witty, and above all delicious. It is the apotheosis of squid, squid raised to a higher level, with a scintillating intensity, sweet with the essence of cephalopod, fascinating with a spectrum of contrasting textures.
This is immensely technical cooking, not for its own sake, but to produce effects of flavour and quality. It is a succession of effects, each of which might be remarkable in itself, but each facet is deftly integrated, in what you might call complex simplicity, quite unlike El Bulli’s sleight of hand or the Fat Duck’s playful brilliance. It is food of a quite different personality, and of quite distinct individuality.
The squid dish, incidentally, costs £10.50. £10.50! It fair takes the breath away. It’s a mark of Mr Atherton’s purpose to bring the hautest of haute cuisine down to earth, to make fancy cooking accessible to all at distinctly unfancy prices,, and to make high end dining inclusive rather than exclusive. In fact, there is something positively idealistic about Pollen Street Social. There is only one flaw that I can see in this masterplan – getting a table. PSC will be the hottest place in town for the foreseeable future.
Of course, not everyone wants wizardry. Indeed, it can all get a bit breathless after a while, keeping up with Mr Atherton’s considered bravura. So something like Cotswold lamb sirloin, braised belly, peas salad and sheep’s milk curd is reassuringly plain and old fashioned. It’s made notable by the exceptional quality of the meat, which has been hung to precise effect in the meat ageing room down stairs (like the beef, incidentally), to produce a rich, almost gamey flavour, by the simplicity of robust gravy and the lactic tang from the curd. It’s an exceptionally intelligent chef who knows when to leave alone.
I could go on, but I won’t. This is beginning to feel like gloating. There was the odd slight lapse, in terms of production from the kitchen, not in terms of the concept of each dish. But considering that both the meals were eaten in the first week of operation, that is remarkable.
There are other things to note, the enthusiastic delight of the sommelier, the flexible structure of the menu, the pudding bar, the little present you get as you leave.The point is that Pollen Street Social is a brilliant addition to London restaurants. It’s a very nice place to eat. It serves tip-top tucker. Stay on the line until you get a table. Relax and enjoy the ride.
Pollen Street Social Restaurant. 8-13 Pollen Street, Mayfair, London, W1S 1NQ
Tel: 020 7290 7600