Gordon Ramsay deserves more credit than he’s given for fostering a generation of talented chefs who have gone on to do great things. Some partings have been more acrimonious than others but Marcus Wareing, Mark Sargeant, Angela Hartnett and Jason Atherton would all, I think, acknowledge that they wouldn’t be where they are without Ramsay.
The effect of leaving his stable however means that they’ve been free to develop their own cooking styles. Marcus is arguably a much better chef than Gordon these days though I only caught a glimpse of his current form at The Gilbert Scott this week to which I hope to return shortly. Angela Hartnett’s food is better represented by Murano and here is Jason at Pollen Street Social in a much more substantial, more cosmopolitan incarnation than his last Ramsay-owned billet, Maze.
Between the four of us we gave the menu a pretty good run through. I struck gold with my starter of cauliflower and squid with clear roasted squid juice, one of the cleverest, prettiest* and most original dishes I’ve had so far this year (I can't better Matthew Fort's detailed description of it here). I’d actually have to order it again if I went.
A few minor criticisms about the execution of the other starters - the hot oysters on the hot and cold oyster platter were a shade overdone, mackerel with cucumber chutney and frozen ajo blanco while beautifully presented could have been more punchy, and Full English breakfast, a fancypants recreation of our favourite national dish was a little bit too clever for its own good - Jason back in Maze mode - but these are early days.
Mains, sometimes a letdown after the starters, were all terrific. I only didn’t order my neighbour’s roasted halibut with paella and pork ham fat because we wanted to try different dishes but I was more than happy with my slow roast Dingley Dell pork, beetroot, hops, grains and seeds (right). Despite the name. And yes it is a real company.
I also managed to filch a mouthful of plaice with artichokes, prawn bisque and gambas and fall-apart ox cheek with tongue, sirloin and carrots and a caper and raisin puree. (It’s always good to dine with friends who don't mind you nicking their food). My only criticism would be that there was a little too much pouring of sauces and spooning of foams at table but this is quibbling. The dishes were very, very good.
I’d have been happy to leave it there as I’m not a great one for desserts but given the presence of a dessert bar it had to be done. Oddly the dish I was most impressed by was my husband's strawberry gazpacho with olive sorbet, a dish I wouldn’t have thought he would have ordered in a million years although it was probably not sweet enough for those of you with a sweet tooth.
Rice pudding with lime jelly and hay icecream was lovely, ditto a deconstructed rhubarb and vanilla cheesecake although the rhubarb was oddly hard (a sousvide #fail?). The only bum note was my sangria mousse with blood orange granita and curd milk jam , an odd blobby pink concoction with an unappealingly grainy texture.
We drank a Rene Mur Alsace Pinot Blanc which managed to cope with all the disparate flavours and gingerly picked a couple of dessert wines from the long and expensive dessert wine list, a 2009 Philippe Delesvaux Coteaux du Layon Passerill and a Domaine de la Tournelle Petillant Naturel, an off-dry ros which actually went rather well with the pink pudding. This is not a place (in my view) to choose a full-bodied, tannic young red except in the unlikely event that the whole table chooses steak.
Atherton’s cooking definitely shows the benefit of his year off. He was always a good cook but his flavours are more assertive, his presentation less fiddley and the general ambience much more relaxed than it was at Maze. PSS, as it’s becoming known, is more like a style bar than a fine dining restaurant and that's all to the good. He is now very much his own man.
Pollen Street Social is at 8/10 Pollen Street, London W1S 1NQ (just below Hanover Square) Tel: 020 7290 7600. The meal cost us 70 a head including wine and service - not cheap but worth it for cooking of this originality and quality. Set lunch however is a bargain at £20 for 2 courses, £23 for three. Go before they put the prices up.
* Not that you'd know it from the picture. I'm trying to source a better one!