Making my booking 4 weeks ago I had, during that time, built up a flurry of excitement about visiting the new venture from chef Jason Atherton; Pollen Street Social. Having been head chef at Gordon Ramsey’s Michelin-starred Maze restaurant, I was expecting good things from Jason and Pollen Street. Over the 4 weeks I actively indulged in the plethora of rave reviews that were emerging about it and continued to delight in the expectation.
So, after all the self-whipping into a frenzied state, how can I sum up my experience of Pollen Street Social?
In one word: ‘meh’.
It all started when we arrived, on time, for our table. I’m the sort of person who is used to arriving at restaurants to find a exasperated host or hostess standing there wringing their hands together impatiently as they exclaim “THERE you are!”, rolling their eyes and hurrying me to my table. At Pollen Street Social however, I actually managed to arrive bang on time. Unfortunately we appeared to arrive a tad too early for them, perhaps 3 or 4 months too early, before they’ve had a chance to hone their front of house skills. We were received pleasantly enough, however we were then left, ignored, standing at the counter, for a good 10 minutes as everyone hurried around in small circles in front of us. Eventually another pleasant member of staff asked if we’d like an aperitif whilst we stood waiting to be told what to do next. ‘Sure’ – we replied, relieved we were still visible at least – ‘A gin and tonic and a glass of Prosecco please’. She then turned her attention to the touchscreen till and tapped away furiously for a couple of minutes, I began to become concerned she’d been distracted/confused and actually begun to type an email to a friend. After far too long, she eventually raised her head, smiled and enquired “Was it gin you wanted?”. My heart sank.
That pretty much summed up our experience of Pollen Street Social. The staff were friendly enough and our waiter was incredibly pleasant, however you just didn’t get the feeling that any of them really knew what had hit them. The place was heaving. Full of people who were there ‘to be seen’ there it felt.
The sommelier appeared and requested our drinks to accompany our meal. I asked for his recommendation based upon our choices and I must admit the guy really knew his stuff. He was very knowledgeable about the wines on their menu and patiently described them to us ensuring we were happy and supporting of his choice. Top marks go to him!
The menu appeared somewhat tantalising for an ‘informal bistro dining experience’, unfortunately however the prices didn’t appear quite so ‘informal’.
For starter I opted for the Pressed téte de porc, rabbit & foie gras, piccalilli and mustard gel. It was ‘ok’. Nice, but didn’t really stand out as being something made by someone with Jason’s credentials. D ordered the Light cured Shetland salmon, avocado, smoked herring roe cream with various radishes. He was quite delighted with his dish.
For main I ordered a 10oz rib-eye Black Angus aged beef steak with duck fat chips and green salad. Again, it was ‘ok’. I’d probably rather opt for a Gaucho steak if given the choice; truth be told.
D had the Roasted Cornish hake, razor clam and cockle emulsion, English pea & lettuce potatoes in seaweed. What arrived was a dish completely covered in a blanket of foam. I’ve had foam in certain instances where, used sparingly, the infused subtle flavours really add something tremendous to a dish. Deliver me a bowl covered in the stuff where I have to dig around in it to discover my food underneath however and that’s a no for me. I’m led to believe it was ‘ok’.
When the bill arrived at just shy of £140 for a gin & tonic, glass of Prosecco, 2 starters, 2 mains and 2 glasses of wine however, that wasn’t really ‘ok’. There are, I believe, many other places in London you could visit where you’d pay the same money but have an overall far superior experience.
I am genuinely bemused by the professional critics adoringly high-praise for this place. For the first time I’m actually feeling that AA Gill giving it 4 out of 10 stars was less about him being a mardy old sod, and actually about him getting it spot on.
I imagine that once the hype has died down over Pollen Street Social, when enough people have paid through the nose for essentially ‘ok’ food, this venture’s fast paced and hectic approach may just need to slow down a bit, focus on whether its about the food, or a ‘place to be seen hanging out’ and position itself accordingly. If the focus is on food and they intend to keep charging those prices, I’d suggest they pay a bit more care and attention to the standards. I probably won’t bother returning, but judging by the buzz of West-Enders in the place that night, I probably won’t be missed either.