Looking back at a more Innocent time!
Now that we are into the second full week of our new lockdown, it got me thinking of all the things I enjoyed back in the summer, in particular, getting out and enjoying some good food. “Alex, all you enjoy is wine!” I hear you cry and you would be quite right! I am also a serious food lover and when given the opportunity to enjoy the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme in London, I jumped at the chance to try some of those top London eateries, which have been on my list for some time! ‘There are so many, where on earth do you start!?’, I hear you say! I chose my targets, courtesy of the National Restaurant Awards, which had some of the best restaurants in London on its list.
One of my first picks was Pollen Street Social, Michelin starred and the flagship of Jason Atherton. I pick up from when I entered the building at 12:30 pm for lunch!
I walked on in, just after lunch opening and was immediately greeted by the reception staff, with a warm smile. First impressions were great, especially how chatty they were. I was the first there, so had the entire bar to myself and enjoyed a quick aperitif, whilst I waited to be seated. I was shown to my table by the head waiter, which gave me a great view of the entire restaurant and the chefs beavering away in the kitchen.
I went for the 3-course lunch menu, which was full of summer goodness. I asked if Jason was in the kitchen today and if I could have a quick chat. For those of you who follow Jason, you will no doubt have enjoyed his ‘Social isolation’ cooking videos on Instagram. I wanted to say “hello” and thank him. My waiter dashed away and two minutes later I had the main man himself standing at my table, resplendent in whites and a mask! I thanked him for the videos, which were great to watch and have certainly helped my cooking. Jason was genuinely charming and was delighted to hear that I had enjoyed his series.
A lovely warm couple of slices of bread came first up. Now I am a sucker for bread and butter and done properly, it can set up a meal perfectly! The first course arrived shortly afterwards, with a fish and egg combination, with a stunning warm soup surrounding it. Light and delicate, but enough to calm my rumbling stomach, an excellent start!
The main course was a beautifully put together chicken breast, with wild mushrooms and vegetables. Juicy and full of flavour, it was a serious main course, which certainly did the trick. Throughout all this, the restaurant was filling up nicely, but the best thing was the atmosphere: bustling staff, focussed but more than happy to stop and chat. Several large lunch parties came in who no sooner had they arrived, where ordering a bottle of Pol Roger. This was a restaurant in full flow, so great to see in these tough times!
A glass of the house white, the ‘Les Combes Grenache Viognier’, from TerraVentoux, was what I enjoyed throughout the meal. Fresh, zippy, full of wet crushed stone, a hint of spice, which went perfectly with the food!
It was around this time, that placed in front of me, was a double plate, which you will see in the pictures, involving crackers with a vinaigrette and balsamic drink, I suppose you could call it. When I asked what this was all about, I was informed it was something different and special to try! I didn’t really understand what this was and what it represented, for me, it didn’t really fit with lunch. I mentioned this to my waiter, who agreed that it was a love it or loathe it dish. I’m pleased to say, that it was, for me, a rare mis-step, in what was a great meal!
Whilst waiting for dessert and enjoying a palate cleanser sorbet, I got chatting to my server, who turned out to be the restaurant manager of The Betterment, another of Jason’s restaurant Empire. It was great to be social and talk about what has been happening to all of the restaurants and how staff have been coping throughout the whole thing. So often I have found that staff are very good, but clinical in their service, as if it is a tick-box exercise. I’m pleased to say, that this was definitely not one of those occasions and he told me about a few other tucked-away restaurant gems to try next!
Lunch was finished off with a delightful fresh red berry, compote and jelly dessert. Fresh fruit, full of juicy flavour, perfect for a fruit hedonist such as myself! Towards the end of the meal, the head waiter introduced himself again and asked if I had enjoyed my meal. As you may have guessed, it was a resounding YES, but I added in the comment about the social nature of the staff, the warmth of the welcome and how un-stuffy the atmosphere was, unlike some Michelin restaurants. I was told that this is something they like to project and look for in staff. If the staff are having fun and enjoying their job, very often the customer is as well! This one certainly was.
Pollen Street Social was a great experience. Full of panache, creativity and great cooking, which you would expect from a Michelin Star, but also a healthy dose of ‘being social’ and realism about it. I look forward to coming back again, where it will be very high on my list! BRAVO!!