With a couple of free weekdays available during my holiday, I booked a lunch at Pollen Street Social, Jason Atherton‘s new restaurant that only opened a couple of weeks ago to great excitement. Their menu online showed a set lunch menu, certainly a more affordable way that I generally use to experience many of the capital’s more expensive restaurants. Booking for lunches is also easier than booking for dinners. I was hoping to have some of the exciting dishes from the a la carte menu too; this was, of course, holiday eating!
Last Thursday, we made our way to the restaurant for our lunch booking. We were led through the bar (gotta try those tapas one day) and brought to a generously-sized table in the middle of the dining room, close to the much hyped dessert bar (we never got to sit at it) and with a great view of the kitchen.
Lots of sourdough bread and butter arrived soon after we ordered and not long after that, we also received a little dish of brandade de morue, a delicious salt cod puree, as a little amuse. The bread was lovely too but the butter tasted a bit off; good thing we had that brandade.
Our waiter was unperturbed by our sharing everything and gave us individual plates from which to eat with the shared dishes set in the centre of our table. Their a la carte menu (also online) changed recently and instead of calling them sharing dishes, the smaller dishes are now just called starters (from which they say a tasting menu can be created). From the starter section of the a la carte menu, we chose an Escabeche of quail, chicken liver cream, nuts & seeds (£10.50). A whole quail (2 legs, 2 breasts) had been roasted and served in a zingy sauce that complemented the other elements in the dish perfectly. It was delicious and was a good sized portion (though I did see some quite worryingly tiny starters on other tables, a complaint I’ve seen on other blogs).
From the set menu, we had a Salad Lyonnaise, roasted quail, creamed egg and onion. Yes, two quail dishes but both very different. Again there was a whole quail but here it was roasted and served as the base for a salad of frisee, herbs, crispy bacon and crispy onion rings. Underneath it all was a terrific sauce of soft boiled egg, a great play on the egg that’s traditional on top of a salade Lyonnaise.
Our mains both came off the set lunch menu. The Cornish native brown crab risotto, finished with seaweed butter had us first staring at a small bowlful of crab and samphire while our waiter ran around the room looking for a spoon to serve our risotto which came in a separate pot. The creamy risotto was delicious with lots of flavours of crab and the sea and was also a generous portion (risotto always fills me up!).
Our second main course was a dish of Spiced braised pork cheeks, turnips, onions, celeriac & coffee puree. While I don’t recall the coffee, the cheeks were tender and moreish. The vegetables on the side could have been cooked a little more – though perhaps it’s just me who’s not fond of crunchy onions and turnips.
I had been looking forward to the desserts as I was keen to see what the dessert bar was going to deliver. Due to an error, both our desserts came off the set lunch menu (but it did take a while for the cost to be corrected on our bill).
The Fruta cru with basil sorbet was gorgeous to look at but was a great letdown execution-wise. The sorbet was amazing with its fresh and strong basil flavour but the accompanying fruit was quite boring, even with whatever spice sprinkles they had matched with it (anise and chilli was too powerful). As well, half the fruits were not ripe – not good at all.
Our 70% bitter chocolate sponge, grapefruit sorbet, tea jelly was better but still not show-stoppingly good. The grapefruit sorbet was wonderfully challenging with its bitterness but I’m not sure it paired well with the chocolate sponge, which was much more dense than its name led us to expect. The tea jelly was delicious but again, seemed to sit by itself rather than be part of the overall dessert. I suspect we didn’t order very well as others have been more positive about their sweets.
At the end of the meal, I returned a key that was given to me at the beginning of the meal. The key was used to unlock a little locker at reception to reveal a gift.
I’ll keep the gift a surprise but you can see what it was here. Sure, some might see it as a gimmick but it was certainly a cute one. Despite a few slight goofs with service and the dud desserts, we enjoyed our lunch and I hope to return. And next time, I hope we have better luck with the desserts. With the set lunch quite fairly priced at £20.00 for two courses or £23.50 for three, it’s certainly possible to afford to return again!
Pollen Street Social
8/10 Pollen Street
London W1S 1NQ