The Social Life – Pollen Street Social

Good evening,

Let me start by explaining exactly what this isn’t. I love the whole fine dining experience but this isn’t a review for foodies, food snobs, or just snobs. My food knowledge doesn’t stretch much further than knowing the difference between a morel and a mussel. My palate isn’t intelligent enough to identify the majority of the individual herbs used by the modern day chef, or even the earlier ones for that matter. I’m relatively positive that Matthew Fort will not be quaking in his boots at the thought of me challenging for his position as judge in The Great British Menu. I actually thought Sea Buckthorn was a Grand National winner. You get my point right.

I do however believe that I have been to enough fine dining establishments to gauge what is required for a top night out. I’m not for one minute suggesting that I frequent these places on a weekly basis, it’s normally a special occasion such as a birthday or anniversary. This year however has seen her indoors turn 40, my sister turn 50, my brother getting married, and of course the obligatory visit to a Gordon Ramsay restaurant for our wedding anniversary, ( 12 years in case you were wondering ).

Over the last two months I have been extremely privileged to be able to dine and drink in three incredible places. I’m not saying it didn’t take a lot of saving up, trust me it did. If we did have children they’d have been for sale on WeeBay or something similar. The thing about it is, because we save up so hard to visit these places, we maybe expect a bit more from what is, sometimes basically a 3 course meal. It’s a treat, Like going to the opera, or in my case going to see The Arsenal. Thinking about it, these days going to Arsenal is probably the dearer of the two!

A “review” is maybe the wrong description. I know grammatically it won’t be perfect. I can also confirm my terminology isn’t always the best but come with me and who knows, you might even like it. It’s just my view of certain places that I have been lucky enough to visit. There’s also only so much you can write about the IOW Festival. For details on that see previous posts.

This particular blog ( and the next two, although much shorter ) are dedicated solely to one man and his restaurants. The wife and I started to follow his career after visiting Maze in 2007. I think it was for my birthday. The food simply blew us away. Geraldine had the tasting menu while I chose individual dishes off the a la carte menu. She basically had a mini version of what I had. It was the attention to detail. To try and explain it would take me a year but it must have had an impact because here I am seven years on trying to write about it. It was the best grub I had eaten in about a year. It was my first “official” outing after a serious illness. There’s a back handed compliment. Best food in a year – but haven’t been out in a year. My wife had booked it as a treat. I remember the weather being pretty cold and not eating that much but my diet up until then had literally been soup and water so….

Since then, the man in question, Jason Atherton has gone from strength to strength. The culmination of which was the opening of Pollen Street Social in 2011. I do remember Mr. Atherton winning Great British Menu with two courses in 2008 as well. In fairness I’m sure he wasn’t unemployed in that gap between 08 and 11 but this was supposed to be a short review!

My lovely young filly and I have visited Pollen Street Social a couple of times now. The most recent being September 4th. Wifey is a huge fan of Mr. Atherton, not pictures on the wall stuff, although it’s been a while since she let me in the cellar!..and so I took the liberty of contacting the Head Of OPerations ( ignore that big P ) to try and arrange a meal wherein the man himself would be present. A surprise for my best friend and banjo, both of which are my wife. . To cover this particular bit swiftly Sarah ( the H.O.O ) was absolutely amazing and really went above and beyond the call of duty to try and help me achieve my goal.

If by ridiculous coincidence you at some point do find yourself reading this Sarah Hutchins, I thank you. Your personal nature of responding is a credit and an asset. Thank you for all your help and input.

I would love to go into detail about how shocked my darling wife was when I appeared at the window at 11am on the day in question but I’m not sure we have the time. She was expecting her boss to collect her to take her to a meeting about Neuro – Linguistics in Croydon. It’s almost the same I guess. After whacking our gladrags on, Scottish Alex collected us at 11.30am and our carriage took us up to Hanover Street, a thirty second walk to PSS. We were running early so dipped into House Of Hanover. A quick browse and a cheeky photo of a BMW i8 later we were heading into the reception at Pollen Street. Coats off, we sought a place at the bar. It’s quite a big space for a London restaurant. Very relaxing.

A cheeky cocktail followed, sadly no “Wonky Donkey” which is my personal favourite but you can’t have everything, before being shown to our seats in the main dining area. We were sat by the walkway close enough to the kitchen to see a glimpse of what was going on, far enough away from the kitchen so that Geraldine couldn’t get distracted by certain persons if by chance they were in attendance.

I should point out that we BOTH like Mr. Atherton. Admittedly in my opinion with that quiff he has a ropey haircut, and I am an expert in dodgy barnets having owned one for the best part of 40 years, but that is literally all I can fault him on. The striking thing in our opinion is his down to earth and humble attitude. His ability to create that relaxed laid back atmosphere in his restaurants whilst producing food fit for the gods is such a talent.

What makes a great day/night out?…Most certainly the attention to detail places like PSS continually strive to achieve to ensure all parties have the best experience possible. For instance, a minute after being seated, a small table type thing appears for the wife to place her handbag on. A minor thing maybe but. While taking in the wine list and studying the menu ( PRIORITIES! ), a lovely young lady in a suit appears and presents GEraldine with a personally signed birthday card and a signed copy of Mr. Atherton’s new book ( along with a much smaller E to put in her name ).

In the meantime , ( not only a great word but a great lager served at PSS ), Mr. Atherton’s calm northern accent fills the air as he walks through the restaurant ( fully quiffed ), and Geraldine starts grinning. ” He’s here isn’t he ” blurts out the stunning looking forty turned fourteen year old opposite me.

We order our starters and mains along with a beautiful bottle of red wine. Have you ever been somewhere when you feel as though you are being treated just that little bit more special? I’m not for one minute saying we were treated better, but it certainly felt that way. Our amuse Bouche ( is that spelt correctly? ) arrived, an unexpected dish. A mushroom tea. I can most definitely remember the taste buds tingling with delight. It was so flavourous. I know that’s not a proper word but I heard some bloke say it on Come Dine With Me so!

The starters arrive. Geraldine had the Quails Brunch and I had the Goosnargh Chicken with Egg and Truffle. The smell was incredible. If I recollect it the right way the Quail was presented with full on bells and whistles. There was definitely a box involved. Brilliant. In fairness the food was pretty damn tasty as well. I am being a little harsh there, as it was 10/10 cooking. I apologise if it sounds like I’m hyping it up to extreme levels, but as someone who cannot cook an omelette in three days, let alone thirty seconds, like they do on Saturday Kitchen, it’s just a talent I hold in the highest regard.

Our main course was the Cote De Boeuf ( for two ). This was possibly the only downside. It wasn’t necessarily the cooking at fault. It was cooked perfectly. The problem ( again only just an individual opinion ), is that at places such as Pollen Street you expect so much more.
It isn’t a criticism of the food. It’s solely that every other dish is delivered with a theatrical experience. If you read the menu the CDB is described as being served with Duck Fat Chips, Green Salad. That is EXACTLY how it is served. Maybe looking back it’s for people like my sister, ( more on her later ), whose idea of adventurous flavours are having basil on their spag bowl. I can only repeat that the cooking again was as good as it gets, but our choice of main dish wasn’t the best. Luckily we still had desserts to look forward to.

In between the main course and the dessert we were served up a second “extra”. A palate cleanser in the form of a deconstructed milk-shake. Except that it wasn’t. I can’t really remember what it was exactly, I blame the wine, but it was spectacular. It had froth ( my sophisticated description ).

Turophile, now there’s a word you won’t hear me use very often. A turophile is a cheese lover. Therefore my wife is a turophile. She does love her cheese. Even though she debated fiercely over whether to have the Goats Milk Rice Pudding or the Cheese Board, there was always only going to be one winner. I, on the other hand went straight down the Granny Smith Parfait route. There was a raft of cheeses to choose from. Of the five that Geraldine picked, the Irish blue ( name at this point unknown ) was truly magnificent. If my wife was to ever cry over a cheese I fear it would be this one. It turns out Cornish Yarg is not all it’s cracked up to be and that a soft French cheese has the ability to turn a feisty blonde into a dribbling giggling schoolgirl.

My Granny Smith Apple Parfait ticked every box there was to tick. It was exquisite. It was one of those you had to be there to try it moments. I’m not sure how to describe it but it was just “right”. I make a mean fajitas but I’d sacrifice those bad boys to be able to knock up a dessert like that. Compliments to the chef.

Before we left I did ask a waitress if it was possible to meet Mr. Atherton. Sadly he had done his bit and had left for the day. It would have been the icing on a very large cake but bad timing and a busy restaurant dictated it wasn’t meant to be. We sat at the bar and had another cocktail. One for the road! Geraldine received another gift. This time a small birthday cake wrapped up in a beautiful box courtesy of PSS.

We left as extremely happy bunnies. For a fine dining establishment it is so laid back and comfortable. The food sets a standard as good as I’ve eaten and the staff are first class. I think the thing that makes this place special though is simply that it shouts of Jason Atherton’s persona. Highest quality, small details covered, but without screaming look at me from the top of its voice.

” The Social Life ” part 1 is now at its end. Part 2. Coming soon…..