Jason Atherton’s culinary empire may be expanding across the globe, but his first solo venture – Pollen Street Social – remains unsurpassed. In its animated restaurant, staff radiate outwards from a central counter bearing drinks and perfectly plated dishes. At surrounding tables, the chic clientele buzz with the brilliance of the cooking. Little wonder they are so contented, for Pollen Street’s set lunch menu is surely one of the best value fine-dining options in the capital: £34.50 will buy you three courses that, with numerous complimetary extras, extend into six.
To begin, there are amuse-bouches that play with robust autumn flavours. The deep, savoury notes of mushroom ‘tea’ are enhanced by a light parmesan foam. An earthy beetroot puree in a pastry shell is brightened with a splash of tart, blackberry coulis. With our taste buds awakened, the starters arrive. Our favourite is a ham terrine designed to be piled decadently on toasted sourdough with salty black pudding, sturdy pickled root vegetables and sweet chestnut puree.
Seasonal produce continues to feature in the main courses. A delicately roasted fillet of Cornish cod in a velvety cockle chowder hums beneath a tangy salsa verde and spicy, smokey slivers of chorizo. Vegetarians, too, are well catered for. Crumbly parmesan is transformed into a creamy veloute, whose piquancy is used to enhance the gentle tang of goats cheese gnocchi and the heartier flavours of New Forest mushrooms.
The relaxed atmosphere is heightened with the final course, when diners may move to the dessert bar and chat to the pastry chefs as puddings are prepared. Here, too, autumn is celebrated. For instance, a refreshing pear sorbet and bitter-sweet candied walnuts provide a foil to rich chocolate mousse encased in a tempered chocolate cylinder. Concealed beneath an airy citrus outer layer, there is a dense baked pumpkin cheesecake whose mellow sweetness is matched by the accompanying pumpkin sorbet and gel.
Our stomachs unable to stretch to encompass three substantial petit fours, so the staff parcel up the leftovers to sweeten our parting into the November rain. Can there be a better memento of a brilliant meal than a warm bakewell tart to enjoy with afternoon tea?