Apart from Ottolenghi (which has a dear place in my heart), this is my favourite London Restaurant of 2012. It is Jason Atherton’s first venture since leaving Maze and opened I think coming up for two years ago now. We have been here twice in the past year, both for special occasions. This is the kind of place to come and enjoy yourself and not care about what the bill is at the end of the evening.
One of the things I love most about the restaurant is the sit-up dessert bar, where you can watch the desserts being created, alongside the floor length window which looks into the kitchen. So whatever you do, make sure you save room for dessert!
On our most recent visit we started our meal with the “Full English Breakfast” and the “Roasted quail brunch with cereals, toast and tea” (both £13.50). Starters with names like this almost makes you think you’re reading the brunch and not the dinner menu, but don’t be put off, these really are evening menu starters.
The full english is served up in a bowl – a rich tomato puree topped with crispy streaky bacon, croutons and a soft boiled egg. It’s no lie – this really does serve up all the key ingredients of the breakfast we hold dear, but in miniature. The egg was perfectly runny too and made a delicious yellow trail across the tomato. A great start to the meal.
The quail brunch was the most novel of the dishes we had on this visit. The waiter presented me with a pot of “tea” (an infusion of quail flavours), “toast” (a circle of plump brioche topped quail pate) and a bowl of roasted quail atop Bulgar wheat (the cereals) in a light gravy. This was a novel combination and a winner in my book, not least because it was so fun to be served up all these separate plates and to see how the chef had interpreted “brunch” in this context. The richness of the flavours and different textures worked really well together and I loved it.
We then shared the cote de boeuf (£75 for two sharing) with salad and triple cooked chips. The meat was beautiful. Tender, rich and juicy. All the reasons why you eat steak out and don’t attempt to cook it at home. The chips had a delicious crunchiness and the salad a refreshing crispness and bite. The combination was pure indulgence on a plate and so rich that it took us a good hour to work our way through, pacing ourselves and eating slowly. Not to finish food this good though, would be terrible to waste. So if you go for the cote de boeuf, go hungry.
After a lengthy pause after our main we prepared ourselves for (in my eyes at least), the main event of the evening – the dessert bar. Dessert has a ritualistic feel at Pollen Street (and indeed you could just pop in for dessert if you wanted). You take your place perched up on a bar stool and watch the dessert chefs busy at work in front of you. This in itself is a fascinating insight into the way a kitchen is run and I almost feel like I should channel a bit of Greg Wallace or John Torode and start interrogating the poor chefs about “what they’re preparing for me tonight”. Indeed, if you do have any burning questions, now is the time to ask, and as we found, they will happily oblige even the most inquisitive diner. I also enjoyed it every time the chef yelled “service!” (but maybe that was just me).
To kick off dessert, you are served with a “pre-dessert” which on this occasion was a finely whipped mousse with raspberry in various forms and topped with pistachio dust. I confess to not remembering exactly what made up the concoction – I did ask – but it was very complicated sounding and I’d had a bit of wine by this stage. So all I can reliably report is that it was delicious. Following the pre-dessert, you are provided with a palette cleanser of fresh fruit sorbet. And then it’s on to the main event and the impossible decision of picking just one dessert from the menu, which is then put together in front of you.
I went for “PBJ” which is a signature dish at Pollen Street. “PBJ” is almost like a deconstructed peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but without the bread. It is made up of squares of thinly sliced black cherry jelly, a scoop of rich peanut butter ice-cream, a scoop of blackcurrant sorbet, peanut brittle and then magic dry-ice peanut meringue. The effect of the dry ice means your dessert is served in an entrancing swirling misty cloud. I was impressed. Taking a bite, with a little of all the components, you really are taken back to that bite of a peanut butter and jam sandwich as a child (or if you’re me, breakfast most saturdays, on a bagel, as that’s more “grown-up”).
My husband had the “Asian mango pudding, mango sorbet, aerated yoghurt and freeze dried mango”. This was served with coriander and black pepper, which was interesting. The chef described it as a more “subtle, grown-up” flavour and suited to those who prefer their desserts more savoury than sugary. The flavours did work well together, but I think I prefer my desserts more sugary so it may have been slightly wasted on me. But that aside, this was another impressive-looking dessert which was certainly different.
For chocolate lovers, we saw the chef prepare several tables-worth of the chocolate ganache dessert – clearly another favourite and it looked very rich indeed!
If you are having to loosen your belt after what is effectively your third dessert, go for two holes looser, not just one as there is yet one more sweet treat – a hot-from-the-oven freshly baked Madeleine.
So there you have it, a 3 course dinner, with not one, but FOUR sweet treats. My kind of dinner.
I should also mention, that if you do go to Pollen Street for a special occasion (e.g. a birthday), let the restaurant know, as when we went for my husband’s birthday, they presented him with a gift box containing a mini-birthday cake at the end of the evening, which was both a surprise and a nice touch.
We had: 3 courses, bottle of wine – £130 inc service
Go if: you are celebrating
Don’t go: with a budget
Address: 10 Pollen Street, W1S1NQ 020 7290 7600. Nearest Tube : Oxford Circus