Sunday, 8 May 2011

Pollen Street Social, Pollen Street, W1S

Sorry for the lull - three- and four-day weeks make for laziness, and then returning to work makes for high stress! Plus I've been helping out a friend by subbing her master's thesis, as you do, so when I have a moment to myself, all I want to do when is sit in front of the telly playing Playstation (damn you PS3 network, when will you be back up?!) But anyway.
The hype that surrounded the Pollen Street Social before it was opening was quite incredible, so I was desperate to go. And with good reason - former shining star and top chef at Gordon Ramsay's Maze, launching a brand new restaurant just off Regent Street in Mayfair, promising a gorgeous bar for tapas-style munching, or a mix-and-match style menu so you can create your ideal meal from, and a dessert bar? Oh my God. But we'll get to that. All in good time. 
Inside - dessert bar on the left and glass-fronted kitchen on the right
We arrived for the lunch menu, on the day of the Royal Wedding (no comment) and made our way inside to a surprisingly empty dining area. Considering how fraught the booking process seemed to be for many trying to secure an evening table, on a bank holiday, this seemed pretty surprising. It was pretty nerve-racking trying to take some covert snaps, as we were so well attended to by the staff. The main room was as promised - huge, light and airy, decorated tastefully.
What I absolutely adored about the décor above all other things was the use of glass-fronts. The front of the main kitchen is entirely glass, so you can watch the chefs skilfully smearing a teaspoon of purée, or mashed potato across a plate, then carefully building the meal around it, intensely wiping stray drops of sauce from the dish. For me, it was an utter joy to be able to watch it (the best view is from the dessert bar). Then, head downstairs to the bathroom and there's the second kitchen. A glass fridge visible from the corridor to the bathroom acted as a window into the kitchen, with big meaty hocks of lamb and pork hanging off gruesome-looking butcher hooks. All in all a totally fun experience. 
Before we sat down we were given a key - for something to take home at the end? We didn't know! It was a novelty I really liked. To start things off we enjoyed some complimentary bread, for which we were shortly after given a dip which I cannot remember the name of - the waiter said something about smoked trout, and potato, I believe? It was definitely a little bit weird, but quite an interesting addition to the usual butter-and-olive-oil fare.  

Salmon with jersey royals, avocado
The three course lunch menu (£23.50) offered a nice variety, although dishes were almost slightly under described. Ordinarily a restaurant will faff about with pan-fried this and locally sourced that on a bed of whatever. I ordered salmon with jersey royals, and was presented with a thick slice of cured salmon with cucumber, slices of potato, some ice shaving (I think?). It looked incredible, but I would have liked to have known what I was actually having. Also, as a fan of strong flavours I desperately found myself wanting more seasoning. This may be a side effect of drizzling every piece of sushi I eat in soy sauce, but I kept looking for a smokiness or a sweetness, and found very little. It was tremendously refreshing, and a lovely light dish though. 
Salad Lyonnaise
My boyfriend's starter on the other hand - Salad Lyonnaise with roasted quail was fabulous. I kept nicking pieces off his plate. A gorgeous tower of creamed egg, game and salad with some thin crispy bread, oh it was truly amazing. Probably my favourite dish of the entire experience. Ooh la la. 
Shortly after we finished up, the mains arrived. I opted for spiced braised pork cheeks with turnip, celeriac and a coffee purée. The pig cheeks were divine, cooked to perfection and melting off the fork, and the whole dish was presently beautifully, with tiny little purple flowers atop a little mountain of meaty goodness. I didn't discover any coffee-flavours, which was disappointing as I was very curious about it, but a lovely well-rounded dish. 
Braised spiced pig cheeks - the gravy was poured over at the table, beautiful presentation.  
Boyfriend was temped by the Cornish brown crab risotto, with seaweed and samphire. It packed an incredibly salty punch and was right up his street, and again was beautifully presented, in a silver pot that was left on our table for top-up as and when needed. It was a nice touch - it's always fun to feel involved in looking after your food. 

We finished up, and ordered a dessert each - me opting for Eton Mess and boyfriend being brave and going for the Fruta Cru (we'd no idea what it was) with basil sorbet. "Would you like to eat your dessert at the dessert bar?" Why hell yes, we would. 
And it was the total highlight, 100% fantastic. Sitting on a row of bar stools, six or seven or so, full kitchen view, in front of us a lovely chef, working away, chatting intermittently. "What I'm doing here is .... ", "and this is a little drizzle of balsamic syrup..." and so on. It was an absolute delight, as were the puddings. 
Over-exposed shot of our dessert chef making my Eton mess
The basil sorbet in particular was outstandingly delicious. Highly recommend it - plus the presentation of the fruta cru, which turned out to be a compressed fruit dessert drizzled with ginger syrup and caramelised herb leafs tarragon oh my god, was placed in front of us with quite a dramatic flow of dry ice over the counter. My Eton mess was fantastic, quite complex creation for a simple dessert.
Fruta cru. Not pictured: dry ice wafting out bowl

Overall, the Pollen Street Social served really excellent food, but the portions were incredibly small, particularly compared to the Riding Street Cafe, which was where I last reviewed.  Still though, quality over quantity, and that's what you get with fine dining though, I find. Plus, big flavours can often more than make up for small sizes. However, I'd be lying if I didn't mention how the prices were pretty damn high. Although we went with the lunch menu, wine and coffee prices were very off-putting - two black Americanos (not even a froo-froo cappuchino or anything) coming in at £4.00 each, and £7.50 for one fairly small glass of wine, meaning that the Pollen Street Social is most definitely a budget-buster, and best saved for a special occasion.
But the addition of the dessert bar, and the other extra touches, means that you're definitely getting more than the food - like at the end of our meal, we presented our key, and got two little brown scones with some tea, "Afternoon tea, on us". Lovely! There's a wonderful atmosphere, so if that doesn't make it up for you, it'd be wary to recommend going. But you could easily drop in off the street on an afternoon, and enjoy a drink and pudding without spending your life savings, and still enjoy the lovely kitchen view as well. 
The Pollen Street Social, 8/10 Pollen Street, London, W1S 1NQ, 020 7290 7600

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