It was my 5th wedding anniversary on the weekend, so while my husband was on a stag do having fun with the lads, I thought I should be having fun too!!! Some of my favourite things are the arts, food and theatre so months ago I booked to watch The Book of Mormon in the West End. Surprisingly for me, I hadn’t yet booked anywhere for lunch literally till the morning of the show, just before I got the train. This doesn’t mean I hadn’t been thinking about it though, I’d been scouring my Michelin Guide, Good Food Guide and using my other usual methods to find my yummy food fix for weeks. After looking through my ‘where next’ list I remembered a meal that one of my best mates and I had a couple of years ago where we ate at the Pollen Street Social, just before it gained a Michelin star. I knew I wanted to try Jason Atherton’s food after watching him win the starter and main course on the Great British Menu a couple of years before. Having previously worked with culinary heavyweights such as Pierre Koffman, Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsey, and even more notably at the World Famous elBulli working with Ferran Adrià, this was a chef who obviously had skill and an imaginative creativity to his food. That first encounter was memorable for both of us, so I thought a special day deserved a lunch that befitted the occasion.
The Pollen Street Social is found just off Regent Street and a couple of minutes walk from Oxford Street tube station, away from the hustle and bustle of all the shoppers and traffic.
Today I chose from the set lunch menu, for Michelin starred cooking they provide a short but still an excellent menu of £26 for 2 courses or £29.50 for 3.
For the starter I chose the slow cooked egg and main course the pork belly. Even though I wasn’t initially going to choose a dessert, I couldn’t help myself and the lemon verbena sorbet was just crying out to be eaten.
The main dining area is very sleek and stylish and from my table I could see into the kitchen where dishes were being finished off on the pass before being sent out.
I was brought over an appetiser to start with – crackling with salt cod brandade and an apple and English mustard dip with some green olives. Wow the crackling was something else, when you snapped it the sound produced reminded me instantly of twisting a sheet of bubble wrap, so all the bubbles pop at the same time, it was that loud. It was quite amusing listening to the dining room, as table after table you would hear this sound repeated across the room. On its own I could have eaten bags of the stuff, but the accompaniments were delicious, both working in harmony with the crackling.
I couldn’t decide which one I liked more to be honest, the salt cod brandade was light and delicate, while the apple and mustard was more punchy, with the mustard coming through. I’m not a big olive fan but I did have one, straight away you got hit of umami savouriness and helped to cut through the richness of the crackling.
The starter was brought over by my waiter who described the dish to me, I kept having to ask him to repeat it to me so I could write it down. The egg was cooked superbly and once the yolk had been split its vibrant orange content oozed out acting as a sauce. The delicate mushrooms on the thinnest toast were delicious and underneath the egg there was a mushroom puree (for want of a better word) which was very intense in flavour and provided a very woody note to the dish. The crumb made from chicken skin was lovely, with its crunch gave it another texture and added savouriness.
The main course of pork arrived, the dish looked extremely elegant with each element placed with immaculate precision. If you’ve read my blog before you should know by now how much I love pork belly!!! This was amongst the best I’ve ever eaten, just the slightest amount of pressure and the meat just fell apart. The pork was so tender and moist it really did melt in the mouth and there wasn’t even much need to chew. The pig cheek was also very delicious, lightly spiced so it didn’t overpower the flavour of the meat. For pig cheek to be cooked well, it must be slowly cooked so the gelatinous nature of it melts away leaving a wonderful texture behind. The accompaniments were also superbly cooked and all added to the overall dish. Such as the apple, which everyone knows is a perfect partner with pork, its tartness cutting through the richness of the meat. The black pudding was really tasty, I’m not usually a huge fan of the stuff when the flavour is too concentrated, but this was very tasty and a lot more subtle, it didn’t mask and overpower the star of the show which was definitely the pork. The potato fondant were buttery and soft and the sauce was glossy and deep in flavour, working fantastically well binding all the individual components together. The whole plate was a real winner and I loved each mouthful!!!
The pre-dessert: My waiter then brought over something to help cleanse the pallet, he once again described it to me, and again I had to ask him to repeat it to me as each dish seemed so complex I couldn’t remember everything when I wrote it down!!! At the bottom of the glass there was a canteloupe melon and camomile tea sorbet, covered with a yoghurt foam which had a sprinkling of lime zest on the top. The foam was light and airy and the sorbet was intense and punchy, I loved the combination of the melon with the tea, it really worked.
The dessert: The dish looked so pretty it took me a minute to decide how I was going to tackle it, I didn’t want to grab my spoon and start demolishing it. The sorbet was packed with flavour from the lemon verbena, it had a lovely delicate sharpness and the meringue shards made with bergamot had a more intense flavour of orange, the texture of the meringue was wonderful, you could snap the pieces of meringue, but as soon as you put one on your tongue its moisture would help it to dissolve away. It was wonderful. I used to do exactly the same thing when I used to eat a bag of skips, but these were much thinner, lighter and more gorgeous. The olive oil gel was a good accompaniment to the other two components, to me it seemed to hold to other two together, with its own distinct but more savoury flavour that it provided to the dish, balancing out the lemon verbena and bergamot.
Some gorgeous little financiers were then brought over and the waiter said ‘ooh, these are really good’, just before he walked away. I’m not a baker but I do know that a good financier is supposed to be moist, light, golden in colour and have plenty of almond. The waiter may be biased, but he didn’t exaggerate….. they were spot on, little gems of heaven filled with a very yummy strawberry jam. As I was eating on my own I got to have both of them too, so I was especially pleased about that!!
Anniversary gift: I remember the first time I came to eat here they gave a little foodie gift to leave the restaurant with, my waiter brought this to my table and I waited till I got back on the train to Leeds to eat it. I’m not a chocolate fan, I’m much more a savoury person but I loved it. When I opened the box there was a large cube of soft sponge, layered with some sort of chocolate mousse which was packed full of air, then covered in a glossy chocolate ganache. It was wonderful, I spent the next ten minutes eating it (I know that’s a long time for most people, but it takes me forever to eat anything with chocolate!!) If all chocolate products were of this quality I could even be converted!!
In my opinion when you go to any restaurant of quality, Michelin starred or not of course the food is important, but it’s also the experience as a whole which is important too. All the staff that came to my table were very friendly, in particular two who served the dishes to me were particularly chatting and made me feel very relaxed. Service was very efficient without being robotic and the dining room had a lovely atmosphere to it, as I watched it seemed that the staff all worked with purpose and were certainly a well-oiled machine. It’s what you would expect in a restaurant of this standing. From the moment I stepped in the front door the service was impeccable, every part from the front of house to the waiters were superb and really made my anniversary lunch very special.
The total cost for my meal was £43.31 including service charge. I know it’s not the cheapest of meals, but for a dining experience of this quality it is well worth every single penny. I couldn’t help but recommend the Pollen Street Social, it definitely gets 10 on all fronts!!!8/10 Pollen Street Social Pollen Street Mayfair London W1S1NQ 020 7290 7600 http://www.pollenstreetsocial.com