*Paris in the morning, London by midday. Two cities that could not be more different. In Paris there are waif like women, gliding around in high heels. Here, all styles are go. I saw a young Japanese girl on the tube wearing glasses with no lenses and so much mascara that about 1/3 of her eyelashes were on the other side of the frame. On my way home, two girls in hot pants with miniature dogs and Amy Winehouse do’s, were saying they were ‘stylists’.
In London there is creativity, a proclivity to gravitate towards anything new and money. The combination results in a constantly changing and evolving restaurant scene, no way would you find a restaurant you used to eat at 20 years ago like I did in Paris.When I used to live here, Jason Atherton was in the Gordon Ramsay group and ran Maze, in fact I think it was at Maze that I had my penultimate meal before Layla was born. Since then Atherton has left Ramsay and this is his first solo venture.
I went in expecting small overpriced dishes, mostly because of the review I had read by AA Gill* in the Sunday Times. But actually, even though I love AA Gill’s wit, I think it was a very poor description of the place. I ordered 3 starters and although they weren’t big, they were rich and filling, how many slices of foie gras can one person eat? My friend Flori ordered the rib-eye, a 300g piece of expertly grilled meat with a side of Atherton’s fat rectangular chips.I felt like we were led astray with dessert recommendations which were the “Ham & Cheese” plate of watermelon granita, basil ice cream, we couldn’t be bothered to eat the rest of it let alone deconstruct it. We were told the rice pudding with hay ice cream and lemon jelly was a favourite, but we found it pale, flat and lacking in flavour. But the PBJ I ordered, peanut butter and jelly was incredible. I wanted to order another 3 when it was finished. Maybe that is why they came up with the Dessert Bar, the only one in London, where you can.The place has a great vibe, it is busy and noisy in a comforting laid back way. When I asked the hostess to be seated closer to the kitchen and dessert bar, she obliged with a smile. We had a young German waitress for our meal but for bill settlement, a polemic man took over who seemed intent on being a knob and used Madame as if he was actually saying “asshole”. But his bad manners just highlighted how well everyone else did their job. It was nice to see Atherton at the pass, looking a bit crumpled and worn but turning out beautiful food.
I can see why a table at Pollen Street Social is very coveted, book well in advance. Or if you want to experience it but are short on notice, have an early dinner in Soho somewhere (I suggest Barrafina) then visit the Dessert Bar, it’s got the best view of the kitchen and is probably the best seat in the house.
Pollen Street Social
8 Pollen Street
London W1S 1NQ
020 7290 7600
*”We sat in a light, bright, attractive room, decorated with the sort of contemporary British art that is cloned from marketing-agency foyers and modern restaurants. The waiter arrived and said he needed to talk. He was going to explain Atherton’s “concept”. The most dread phrase in all of catering, worse even than “By the way, what happened to your plaster?” or, “Michael Winner’s ordered the Heimlich manoeuvre”. Oh, suffering Jesus. I thought we were over concepts. I assumed we had put a stake through the hearts of waiters as gastro-Sherpas. It’s not as if we need the concept explained. It’s always the same. You choose too much; they serve it too small; and you go home and eat cornflakes.” AA Gill review of Pollen Street Social for The Times.
* I will be writing from various cities in Europe for the month of June and will be back to Berlin and Berlin based posts from July. In the meantime check out “Places I’ve Eaten in ” for more reviews on restaurants in Berlin and “Berlin Favourites” for the places I recommend. And of course, I always love your comments and your emails so write!