Michelin-starred chef Jason Atherton put together a tasting menu especially for Emily Rookwood. She reports back on the eleven-course meal that almost (but not quite) defeated her near-endless appetite
On Wednesday I decided to dine solo at lunch. A brave social move, but given the conveyor belt of food that passed over my table, an incredibly wise one. The couple to my right seemed very concerned for both my health and any hopes of my being able to walk back to the office. The reason for this was that Michelin–starred chef Jason Atherton had put together a tasting menu especially for me. As anyone who knows me will testify, offering not one but eleven dishes in one sitting will ingratiate you with me no end. The food was also superbly good, which helped.
Pollen Street Social has just been given 9/10 in the Good Food Guide, placing it in the top 3 or 4 restaurants in the country. Open just over a year, Atherton’s first solo venture since leaving Gordon Ramsey after a decade of working together is a relaxed, stylish place: black, white and wood dominate and although there are white tablecloths everywhere, they are soft linen ones, no starched edges in sight. The place is heaving with happy diners from all walks of Mayfair life, and they are, inevitably, as chic as the restaurant is.
British produce and good humour run through all of the dishes
Normally the only attention you get as a single female in a restaurant is of the unwanted variety, but not in this case, with Atherton (who I was there to interview) bringing out course after course, explaining each one before returning to the pass. Salted cod brandade, olives and super-light puffed crackling with apple sauce preceded oyster ice-cream in a cleaned out shell, scattered with sea herbs and a finger of lamb pressed with seaweed and deep fried with a lovely little caper tartare.
These little amuses are based around the idea of snacks (see my interview with Jason Atherton for more on Snaxs – his new restaurant in Singapore) and are firmly grounded in the British Isles. British produce and good humour run through all of the dishes — epitomised in two dishes in particular: the full English and quail brunch.
The full English is the most theatrical dish on the menu. A little eggcup complete with white porcelain chicken-foot-base is placed in front of me, before the restaurant manager comes from the kitchen carrying a crate full of hay. Nestled in the middle of the crate is my egg with its crispy bacon soldier poking out of the top. Inside the carefully blown out egg is unctuously goopy scrambled egg, a little further down you come across a whiff of tomato sauce that tastes like the very best baked beans and then a few delicate mushrooms. So clever and delicious that I couldn’t help but smile as I ate.
Pictured: Jason Atherton’s full English at Pollen Street Social
To my right a table of four were busy making noises of appreciation for their pudding — always a good sign and one that fills me with hope as my meal progresses. Before we reached the brunch there was a little fishy intermission: a delicate fillet of mackerel with vibrant beetroot discs, tiny pansies and a horseradish cream — delicious. The chef then brought out the brunch: three dishes on one tray and all beautifully presented.
Part one is the ‘cereal’. This is made of toasted pearl barley, cooked as a risotto with earthy wild mushrooms and a generous amount of parsley. Perched atop this is a little assortment of quail leg and breast and a deep fried egg. On a side plate is my toast: a crisp disc of thick bread with a quenelle of soft liver parfait, topped with little flecks of sea salt. This is then all washed down with a special tea — a sprig of thyme attached to a little string that sits in your cup, which is filled with lapsang souchong and stock tea. The dish is inventive, clever and perfectly executed.
I had three puddings — being a lady, four seemed greedy
Two more courses came and went before I was whisked to the ‘pudding bar’: a translucent piece of roasted turbot with a shrimp and langoustine minestrone — a delicate coral pink foam with paper thin baby courgette disks and delicate white beans — and a deep pink duck dish with just cooked turnips and a rich jus. Everything was exquisitely balanced and cooked with great precision.
The Pudding Bar is arranged exactly as a cocktail bar would be, and just as you would watch your expert mixologist make your beverage of choice you can watch the skilled pastry chefs construct your dessert. I had three puddings — being a lady, four seemed greedy. (There was a little cake too, but that doesn’t count as it fell into the bracket of petit-fours.)
Magical things happened at that pudding bar, peanut butter brittle emerged from clouds of liquid nitrogen fog, towers of fruit, sorbet, fruit papers and meringues rose from very simple porcelain beginnings and I gained four stone. The puddings are really beautiful little things, a little sweet for my palate, but that said, I am not a pudding girl.
Overall, I have very few criticisms of Pollen Street Social, a little too much sugar in the pudding is hardly a major flaw and comes down to personal taste anyway. The rest of the food was truly outstanding, very much deserving of its recent accolades, and the staff are delightful — one explained to a couple next to me that they pour the gravy in such a way that it resembles them ‘giving you a hug’. Rather nice, I thought, rather nice indeed. I’ll be going back and recommend that you do too.
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