Set lunches at high end restaurants can sometimes be problematic. How much are people willing to pay for lunch? How many courses should be served? How much time will they spend eating? Great British Chefs guest blogger, Essex Eating, went along to Jason Atherton’s first solo venture,after moving on from Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant empire, to find out. Discover how he concluded the set lunch menu at Pollen Street Social could be used as a case study in how to perfectly utilise cheaper ingredients and turn them into something amazing.
Photography & Review by Essex Eating
Jason Atherton’s, Pollen Street Social was one of the big London restaurant launches of last year. Opening to a mixture of mostly rave reviews and a smattering of less positive takes on the small plates menu, I somehow missed visiting it entirely. But last week, proving that stuffing my face is more of a marathon than a sprint I finally made it for a solo lunch.
Chef Jason Atherton’s first solo venture after moving on from Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant empire, is very slick indeed. Beautifully laid out, light, airy, sleek and modern.
On Monday lunchtime, my fellow diners were a wealthy looking crowd of sharp suited media types, no doubt spanking those expense accounts, hard. I studied the menu, noting that its layout had evidently changed from the ‘cold, warm and hot’ of earlier reviews to a more standard and less confusing ‘starters, mains, desserts’ format. To be honest, I wanted to order everything from the a la carte, the whole shebang. There wasn’t one dish that didn’t appeal. But feeling perhaps a little less flush than the majority of my Prada suited neighbours, the set lunch menu at £25.50 for 3 courses looked infinitely more enticing.
Warm bread and butter
Good warm bread, with butter, and a glass of Manzanilla to ease me into it. Generosity with the bread was mentally noted and approved as I made yet another raid on the proffered tray.
Sicilian green olives and salt cod brandade
A small bowl of verdant Sicilian green olives and a delicious smear of salt cod brandade also appeared.
Smoked Hake, slow cooked egg, wild garlic and curry puffed rice
Smoked Hake, slow cooked egg, wild garlic and curry puffed rice. The wild garlic element in the form of a soup ceremoniously poured over the beautiful assemblage of ingredients. The egg, slowly cooked sous vide was at first off putting in it’s apparent rawness but, just then, it broke, a golden pool of yolk starbursting through the bright green liquid wild garlic, and it tasted amazing. Combined with the soft Hake and the salty, curry spiciness of the puffed rice it was beautiful. It wasn’t long before I was scraping the bowl and looking around for a refill from the waiter serving the bread.
Marrow bone stuffed with ox-tail meat
My main arrived in two parts, a plate of braised Irish Ox Cheek, smoked mash potato and salt baked onions and a wooden stand with a small piece of marrow bone stuffed with ox-tail meat complete with tiny spoon to scrape it out.
The concept of this dish surprised and delighted me. It’s such a fantastic idea and a really inventive use of cheaper ingredients. I decided that my first priority was to scrape all of the oxtail out of the bone, to a soundtrack of me, unknowingly at first, making the sort of noises more likely found in a particularly graphic porno film. I’m happy to say that it tasted as obscenely decadent as a bone stuffed with sticky oxtail meat should.
Braised Irish Ox Cheek with Smoked Mash Potato
The accompanying dish of Ox Cheek was also superb, meltingly soft and sticky, the addition of smoked mash potato and salt baked onions was inspired. Basically high-class comfort food, all of it was fantastic.
Lime & Cream cheese palate cleanser
Plates cleared and a few moments to relax, I was ushered over to sit on a stool at the dessert bar. A seat, which allows you to directly overlook the pastry chefs working just inches away. First up, a Lime & Cream cheese palate cleanser. Gorgeous stuff.
Whilst eating this, I looked to my right and noticed the kitchen for the first time and did a double take. It’s got to be one the most high-tech looking culinary workplaces I’ve ever seen. Entered through an automatic sliding glass door, the interior is seemingly entirely black with strategic spotlights over every workstation. If the assembled brigade of chefs ever decided to swap their whites and butcher stripe aprons for black bodysuits, it’d be like watching disembodied heads in some kind of bizarre contemporary theatre. I spied Jason Atherton himself working the pass. I have to say, full marks to see the chef who’s reputation the restaurant is built on, actually cooking.
Pineapple and Kafir Lime granita
Next, a pre-dessert of, wait for it, Pineapple and Kafir Lime granita, lychee foam, passion fruit sauce and freshly grated kaffir lime zest. Luckily for me, it’s harder to say than to eat and I’d stuffed the lot in no time. Once again, it was absolutely delicious.
Yorkshire Rhubarb Sorbet, Pistachio Financier and Ginger
Dessert proper was constructed in front of my eyes, Yorkshire Rhubarb Sorbet, Pistachio Financier and Ginger. A draw droppingly beautiful looking plate of food. Ginger and rhubarb is a classic combination. The rhubarb sorbet was amazing and the moist comparatively unsweetened pistachio financier took the edge off all that sugariness nicely.
Spiced Pumpkin Jam Financier
If all this wasn’t enough, a spiced pumpkin jam financier followed and Jason Atherton, likely spotting me snapping away at my desserts, came out of the kitchen to say hello.
To be honest, I was surprised and a little star struck. I have a couple of his recipe books and pinch ideas from them regularly, they’re bloody awesome. He came across to me as surprisingly modest and quietly spoken. He was keen to stress that Pollen Street Social is really hitting its stride now after the opening last year, and that he spends almost all of his time cooking there, and as a result, couldn’t be happier, reeling off a list of upcoming seasonal ingredients that he was looking forward to laying his hands on.
Chocolate covered coffee beans, Hazelnut Chocolate Praline & Macarons
It was a nice personal touch, and a lovely end to lunch. As were the selection of petit fours, chocolate covered coffee beans, a Hazelnut Chocolate Praline and three different types of Macaron, Japanese Pink Peach, Bitter Chocolate and finally Matcha Green Tea. They were so nice, and the meal such a bargain that I almost didn’t begrudge the outrageous £4.50 I paid for a double espresso.
I absolutely loved Pollen Street Social. The food is absolutely beautiful, inventive and delicious. The set lunch menu could be used as a case study in how to perfectly utilise cheaper ingredients and turn them into something amazing. The profusion of desserts was an unexpected surprise at that price, and almost left me wondering where they make their money ahem…*£4.50 espresso, I’m looking at you* Nevertheless, at £25.50 the set menu really is a bargain and if you haven’t been yet, I urge you to go try it. Altogether, with a glass of sherry, a glass of wine, ‘that coffee’ and service my bill came to a very reasonable £48.
Pollen Street Social, 8-10 Pollen Street, Mayfair, London, W1S 1NQ Telephone: 020 7290 7600
What’s the most you would be willing to pay for a set lunch menu? Which restaurant have you had the best lunch at? We’re discussing these questions over at Great British Chefs Facebook Page.