Tag Archives: Lunch

Little Social…. a review

It was with a great deal of excitement that I was to meet up with an old friend for lunch at Jason Atherton’s latest central London venture.“Little Social” especially as I had what I would class as my best meal of the year in 2012 at his Michelin starred eatery “Pollen Street Social.”

Well it was a bitingly cold (April) day as I sauntered up Regent Street past the “Hollister Store” with it’s giggling teens and scantily clad, blond haired and blue eyed doormen cheerily welcoming the shoppers. I arrived outside what was an unassuming front door to this new restaurant (it only opened in mid March) just across the road from Pollen Street Social to be warmly greeted by the Polish hostess with impeccable English ubiquitously we discussed the weather!

Seated in what can be best described as a narrow room with a French brasserie feel with red leather banquette booths, black and white photos and old facsimiles of French posters. My first request for a warming coffee was promptly dealt with as I awaited the arrival of my friend. The menu is in two parts – starting with a great value set price prix fixe menu with 2 or 3 courses and then an A la Carte menu of French inspired classics including some specials displayed on blackboards.

What was so appealing to me was how good the waiting staff were. They are like their counterparts across the road professional in their approach but also like the name indicates really social with their guests. They show skills in this area that in my mind should be studied by every budding member of front of house teams on how to do it properly!

My friend duly arrived and as we settled down and made our choices off the very reasonably priced prix fixe menu we were deep in conversation as the restaurant began to fill up. I went with what was termed “Country Pate” served with baby cornichons, salad and a great big stone jar with a stunning Pommery grain mustard. The friend chose the marinated salmon that was served with leaves of little gem lettuce and a garnish of cucumber and radish. It was a real picture on the plate and she cooed satisfyingly all through its consumption!

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Main course choices could have been Lincolnshire Sausages, Mash, Greens with an Onion Gravy or Dorade (Fish) but we both, as it was so chilling and cold out on the streets went for the comfort dish of Lamb Shank with a Haricot ragout and Basil Dressing.

As we tucked into this dish our conversation then was abruptly halted as all of sudden the fire alarm went off. Nobody moves,  nobody flinched all were too engrossed in enjoying their food. Staff rushed about, the ringing continued and my friend then let it be known she had been awoken that very morning by her own home fire alarm at the ungodly hour of 4:30am and had struggled to switch it off! Staff kept popping back to check we were all OK.

Some fifteen minutes later with ringing in our ears we were invited to decamp from our table across the road to PSS and to partake in our puddings there. Staff were so apologetic and could not have been better. We were settled into our new table in a busy restaurant, so we then partook of our dessert and coffee here.

My friend was relieved somewhat not to have that continued ringing in her ears as she wears aids in both and had had to remove them so then duly popped them back in and our conversation resumed.  This was something of a first for the friend of having two separate restaurant venues for a lunch whilst for me it was bit like being back on my inspection routine as we tucked into firstly a little pre dessert nibble brought to the table an apple espuma topped with a crumble crumb.

Dessert just for me was a Lemon & White Chocolate Ganache served with a carrot cake crumb and Basil Ash Meringue that was just the perfect light finish after the richness of the lamb shank.

Then with our coffees we were treated to a rather gorgeous selection of petit fours that ranged from little macaroons of delight to a selection of our local food hero Damian Allsop chocolates.

When it came to pay we had to settle one bill at PSS then walk across the road to settle the other bill in LS. My friend who settled the bills then texted me later “Does today mean you owe me not one but two lunches, I paid 2 bills after all!” – I did offer but I guess all that ringing noise in her ears must have addled her brain… !

I’m certainly not complaining and now trying to work out when I can go back and I would have to say it is well worth it with all the bells and whistles as well!

Little Social – 5 Pollen Street London – 020 7870 3730

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Bread Street Kitchen, London…. a review

Well this place had been on my radar for awhile and I was keen to go with a client of my day job who had invited me to lunch. The client is shortly to open his own place not dissimilar in style albeit a bit smaller.

Well it is firstly in an area of London that I am not overly familiar with as venturing into the city quarters is something I do not do too often. As I arrived I was slightly early so had a quick wander around the other shops and eateries in the complex.. it was a revelation as  there was certainly much to offer.

My client’s text informed me he was awaiting my arrival at the bar and a glass of something bubbly was awaiting me… be churlish of me not get my skates on then. Bread Street Kitchen is a property that has been the development of Gordon Ramsey Holdings… not my favourite chef patron but I guess one has to admire his achievements.

It is a cavernous place with a real noisy buzz. In fact that for me is one of it’s drawbacks. The noise was incessant and added to this the background music was too loud and only added to it. The urban chic decor of open to view ducting and the use of many angle poised lamps and sections of banquette seating tries to break up the large space. An open to view kitchen with chefs beavering away all adds to the somewhat frenetic atmosphere…

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Whenever one eats out there is much to be learnt, both good and bad. I garnered much from this visit. The menu firstly is well laid out with a good array of dishes that seemed to showcase no one particular style but provide a little something for all. It was however not totally seasonal.

We chose our respective starters of a pressed Goosenargh chicken and foie gras terrine that came served with an onion chutney and a brioche roll. Presentation was simple and constrained with no fussy garnishing… something I am all in favour of.. My starter was the potted salt beef with grain mustard, piccalilli and buckwheat crackers.

This was a very clever dish when you looked at it more in depth… considering the place could possibly do some 300 plus covers over a lunchtime period you need some dishes that are quick and easy to prepare and then just assemble.

This was one such dish… the salted beef had been shredded and when mixed with some grain mustard mayonnaise, just enough to bind it all and then placed in a ring mould to make it neater and then a dollop of piccalilli on the plate with some crisp buckwheat biscuits flavoured with caraway seeds finished it all off. All component parts bought together quickly and I am sure if all “en place” efficiently.

Next we both went for what is described on the menu as Wood Stone dishes. These are dishes that are finished or cooked with a wood fired oven.. very much a cooking process in vogue and up to the minute! A pork collar described as mustard glazed was melt in the mouth with an unctuous sauce and creamy smooth mound of mashed potato. It was well balanced and the smoke flavoured bacon of the pork was very good.

My choice was the braised neck of lamb, garnished with some polenta chips and a drizzle of gremolata. Again melt in the mouth tender meat was well balanced with the crispy polenta chips that had a lovely hint of cheese and rosemary. Overall a well constructed dish…

Extras with this were Minted Jersey Royals, now out of season, Spring Greens with anchovies and lemon was fresh and zingy and then a bowl of coleslaw with red onion brought it all together. To complete the meal we then shared a chocolate tart with a ball of salted caramel ice cream and some crumbled honeycomb… sublime and perfectly executed…

So all in all could not fault the food (apart from some less than seasonal ingredients) but it was however the service for me that let it down and failed to deliver the total package. Much effort is put into the place – it is rumoured the place cost £3 million to open and it exudes class but for me it falls short in delivering the right level of service to match it all.

When I arrived the welcome was OK nothing more than that… it could have been allot more engaging. Bar service was OK, the service at our table was average and no check backs made and wine service was also not much cop, a wine waiter that spoke limited and difficult to understand English and along with the high level of decibel background noise was not overall particularly conducive.

This lack of attention to detail in service meant we were left wanting and no attempt to up-sell and then on departure apart from a young waitress who had not even served us there was no acknowledgement of our departure and nobody of seniority on hand to check we had been looked after well. In fact I felt we had been just another bunch of customers who did not matter.

This may sound harsh but the place is frenetic and staffing levels possibly insufficient or structured well and correctly trained to ensure the right level of service is delivered. It is possible just see my review for Pollen Street Social. The clients place opens soon and I am sure you will see a review here… I am sure they will have learnt lessons from this as much as I have.

Cheers

Hari Covert

Pollen Street Social….a review

Well it seems like I have been doing a fair bit of eating out recently and well the visit to Pollen Street Social the Mayfair eatery that is owned and operated by British chef Jason Atherton was the result of my winning a competition run by Love the Garden web site and my Leek Terrine recipe.

So how do we spend the prize of £200 in restaurant vouchers – Well we decided to head to this place and with Mrs HC have a no expense spared lunch. I have to declare I did go back in last November with some chef friends and we had an amazing if slightly more alcohol fuelled lunch that was to put it mildly “awesome”.

This time with Mrs HC it was slightly more sedate but nonetheless an equally memorable and accomplished gastronomic event. I would like to state now the booking process was well handled…not always the case… we gave them plenty of warning and two days beforehand they called to confirm we still wanted our table. We then duly turned up at the requested time and Mrs HC in her electric buggy was handled with efficient aplomb, concern and professionalism  for her comfort.

Settled straight to our table we relaxed with a couple of aperitif’s that started to make Mrs HC and myself on our empty stomachs just a little squiffy! With some lovely fresh bread and then nibbles of some large marinated green olives and a über smooth puree of salt cod we settled down to peruse the menu.

We were spoilt for choice and could not decide… always a good sign. The set priced menu at £25.50 for three course seems a bargain. I had discussed this with a foodie friend who has been many times told me that Jason often uses this menu to trial out new dishes for the main menu and tweak his ideas. We cogitated, decided and then changed our minds as we saw plates of food wander past on their way to other tables!

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As we supped the aperitif’s and then finally made our decision Mrs HC went with a set priced menu choice, to start she chose the scallop with cauliflower cheese puree and dill oil. I went for the Cornish Crab Vinaigrette, Nashi Pear, cauliflower and a sweet ‘n’ sour dressing and peanut powder.

We relaxed and surveyed the room with its simple modern decor, noise levels began to rise as the place filled up and I have to say this is the one criticism I have of it all. It can get quite noisy and it made hearing what the waiting staff tried to communicate with you when they delivered your food or took an order a little hard to hear.

Having already had a fairly alcoholic aperitif we decided to go with a selection of wines by the glass with our chosen dishes and an affable and helpful sommelier arrived at the table and directed us to try some of the wide range of wines they serve by the glass. Mrs HC wanted to stick to a rose so this duly ordered I asked for guidance on the white with my crab dish and was directed to a Faustine, Comte Abbatucci, Ajaccio, Corsica  served from a Magnum bottle this light and fragrant nosed wine perfectly complimented my light delicate starter that was a work of art in both presentation and flavour combinations. Light fresh crab was sandwiched between wafer thin slices of Nashi pear and then garnished with sweet and sour marinated slices of cauliflower and a crisp dusting of peanut added another flavour dimension and texture. A great start and set me up rather well.

Mrs HC was also delighted by her scallop dish served with a flavour packed cauliflower puree and a large chunk of confit cauliflower that was flavoured with dill and some little dribbles of bright green dill oil. She quickly polished it all off and then announced for some one who is not overly keen on cauliflower she rather enjoyed that dish! Women eh…

Next we moved onto our main course dishes. Mrs HC had chosen Roasted Cornish Cod that was on the Set Menu and was to have it served with Olive oil potatoes, lemon conserve and orange grenobloise garnish. I had chosen to go with a rack of salt marsh lamb a bit of braised shoulder, creamed and spiced aubergine and a savory & black olive reduction sauce giving the whole dish a real Mediterranean feel to it.

Mrs HC was in her element with some supremely fresh cod perfectly cooked and the tangy garnish complimented the meaty textured fish perfectly and she polished if off with relish and I hardly got a taste (what I did was mighty fine)

My lamb came as requested medium rare and was an equal triumph of culinary skill and balanced flavours. The aubergine puree had a delicious flavour of roasted cumin a whole roasted baby artichoke provided both visual, textural and Mediterranean flavour to the dish and melt in the mouth lamb was perfect with the salty reduced sauce. All in all another well accomplished dish that was appreciated enjoyed and savoured! The wine choice this time by the sommelier was a  Vin de Pays d’Oc ‘Le Petit Merle aux Alouettes’, Domaine Alain Chabanon a delightful Merlot Grenache mix that went perfectly with the Lamb dish. I was therefore in seventh heaven and mellowing well!

Tables as I have said quite close together and a certain camaraderie seems to develop over your food as you covet what your neighbour is eating  as you look on with awe as something new is delivered. I had seen and impressive cheese board appear at the table next to us as we ate our mains and I had managed to persuade Mrs HC to partake of this dairy fest before we headed onto our desserts… so as we sat back and relaxed we discussed how impressed we had been so far and how this meal was rating in our top ten! It was ranking pretty high.

So our charming waitress then bought the groaning cheese board… I wish I could tell you what was on offer but it was by this time rather noisy and I struggled to hear properly all the names of the cheeses. They ranged from a selection of goats cheeses rolled in wood ash to a rather unctuous looking Epoisse to a Cheddar style cheese we were told was called Lincolnshire Poacher and a Cashel Blue from Ireland. Our selection of three were duly delivered along with some rather tasty Beer and Apple Chutney and a Spicy Piccalilli. The cheeses were top-notch and even Mrs HC enjoyed them something she is not normally known to do!

So we then perused the dessert menu and Mrs HC promptly chose an intriguingly named PBJ that was a Parfait of Cherry, a cherry jam and creamed rice puffs. I got a minuscule spoonful that tasted OK to me and was promptly told I could not try any more!

I chose the Bitter Chocolate Pave with Orange ice cream and some poached kumquat’s. A classic combination that went rather well with the sommelier chosen wine. Chocolate is hard to marry to a wine but he suggested an Ice Cider, Leduc-Piedimonte, Quebec, Canada that I have to say was a revelation and worked rather well especially with the pre desert that was delivered to us. A small glass filled with a pineapple granite topped with a lychee foam and coulis of passion fruit. Mrs HC declared it to be heavenly it certainly was a very good palate cleanser and much admired.

So with a final flourish we partook of an espresso and breakfast tea served with some rather yummy financier’s cakes and a little box was bought to the table and as draws were pulled open to reveal white chocolate coated almonds and hazelnut pralines and an assortment of flavoured macaroons.

This was an amazing meal and we will rate this as one of our very best… total bill came to just under our £200 allowance… we had supped and dined as much as we had wanted and as we left the place we made sure the man himself was well aware we had been blown away as we had a guard of honour of his kitchen staff and kitchen porters clearing down from the lunch service as we had to leave by the kitchen entrance(the only way by Mrs HC’s electric buggy)… the best way to arrive and leave I have to say!

Cheers

Hari Covert