Pollen Street Social, London

Light cured Shetland salmon, avocado, smoked herring roe cream

Maze is the most successful of all the establishments within the Gordon Ramsay Group, the original Grosvenor Square location spawning outlets in Melbourne, Doha, Prague and New York (the Prague branch has now closed). The man largely credited with the eminence of Maze is Sheffield-born Jason Atherton, the executive chef at Maze London since its inception in 2005. Atherton left the Ramsay Group in April of last year, in a not entirely amicable manner (he still speaks highly of Ramsay, but concedes it was a dispute about money that caused him to leave), and has now set up his own solo project – Pollen Street Social, so named because, and I quote directly from its website: “Pollen Street Social's name characterizes the dining experience within its doors. It's a social restaurant where the vibrant surroundings and atmosphere which mirrors the food. People can choose what they want freely, from an extensive a la carte, sharing plates or even if it's just a dessert. And, wear what they want, regardless of whether they've come for a special occasion or just for a casual drink in the social room and some tapas.” That blurb, penned by Atherton itself, continues to say: “Pollen Street Social allowed me to create exactly the sort of restaurant that I would love to eat, drink, and socialize in, not only for special occasions, but also for simple everyday affairs. I just want people to come and have fun".

Well guess what, I arrived at Pollen Street Social in an upbeat mood, looking forward to a good meal before an exciting day out at the tennis at Wimbledon the following day (yes, this post is a little delayed), and left in a bad one. For this diner at least, dinner at PSS was not a “fun” experience.

It all started with our table – our party was three strong, and we were put at a rectangular table for two, with a third chair stuck on the side. And that wasn’t the worse of it – the third seat jutted out, almost in its entirety, into the main corridor joining the bar/social room area to the main dining room. It was ridiculous. They moved us quickly and without fuss when we protested, but we should never have had to in the first place.

Smoked foie gras, black sesame, smoked golden raisin

Unlike the small-plate, multi-course model adopted at Maze, the menu here is split, in the conventional fashion, between starters and mains. However, the option is given for one to create their own tasting menu from the a la carte, using half-portions of main courses if they so choose. And better yet, there is no need for the entire table to have the same tasting menu (or even the same number of courses), each individual can have their own - in effect exactly what Maze does, except it was a lot less difficult to explain, or understand, at Maze. I should also note that the waiter who brought the menus neglected to explain how the tasting menu concept worked, or that main courses were available in half-portions, until we asked. If this sounds a bit like I’m nit-picking, perhaps I am – I would ordinarily let a lot of these small things go without mention, but because there were so many of them, and because the entire experience left me in a foul mood, Pollen Street Social doesn’t get, or deserve, any benefit of the doubt.

Escabeche of quail, chicken liver cream, nuts & seeds

I constructed my own tasting menu with 4 courses, three from the list of starters and one half-sized main. I must mention at this point that the bread, a simple baguette, was great - warm, not too hard or crusty, and accompanied by a lovely, appetising brandade. First of the courses to be delivered was an Escabeche of quail, chicken liver cream, nuts & seeds which was decent - the quail a tad chewy, but tasty. The chicken liver cream that accompanied it was luxuriously smooth but spoilt by the unnecessary sprinkling of rock salt that made it, surprise surprise, far too salty in parts.

Full English breakfast

Next, the much talked-about deconstructed Full English breakfast. This was a clever bit of cooking with all the familiar flavours – egg, bacon, tomato, mushroom and toast coming through, in unfamiliar ways. Even this star dish wasn’t without fault however, with the tomato and parsley purée a little too robust and overpowering.

At this point, the restaurant slipped up again. After a rather lengthy wait for the next course, the waiter came by to apologise – apparently the kitchen had made a mistake and prepared both my remaining courses together. I was given the option of having them both at the same time, or if I preferred, they could make the last course again after I was finished with my third plate. I said to just bring them together.

Cauliflower & squid, clear roasted squid juice

Cauliflower & squid, clear roasted squid juice was an inventive endeavour, at least visually, using morsels of squid to represent risotto, with thin slices of cauliflower coloured with squid ink to make them look like black truffle . The flavours in the dish, on the other hand, lacked depth. My enjoyment and appreciation of the dish was probably also curtailed by the need to eat it relatively quickly so that the other course waiting for me on the table did not go cold. My main of Rack of Cotswold lamb, braised belly, sheep’s milk curd was actually pretty good, apart from the milk curd that was far too intense.

Rack of Cotswold lamb, braised belly, sheep’s milk curd

Of the other dishes that I tasted a bit of, Light cured Shetland salmon, avocado, smoked herring roe cream was unexciting (as is frequently the case with salmon dishes, with the distinguished exception of The Ledbury), Roasted Dingley Dell pork, beetroot, hops, seeds & grains was very dry, and most disappointingly of all Black Angus aged beef with duck fat chips & green salad: Rib-eye 10oz was cooked to medium/medium well rather than the requested medium rare (but chips were good). I find it incredulous that a professional kitchen is unable to cook a piece of steak correctly to order, yet PSS is not the only place guilty of doing so – it happens far too often.

Roasted Dingley Dell pork, beetroot, hops, seeds & grains

After our final courses, we had to wait an age for the table to be cleared, and a while more after that for the dessert menu to be brought. Despite there being spots vacant, we were not asked if we wanted to adjourn to the 7-seat dessert bar, London’s first. By this time we were too fed-up to ask on our own accord, but had we been offered the choice, we might have accepted.

Maze’s peanut butter and jam sandwich dessert is sensational and Atherton has reprised the concoction at Pollen Street Social. The minute I spotted it on the menu, there was no need to continue reading – a “PBJ”: Parfait, cherry jam, creamed rice puffs for me please. The parfait was excellent - smooth and creamy, with the peanut butter flavour coming through nicely, but, and this was also a problem with the PBJ at Maze, the cherry sorbet that accompanied it was much too strong, and when eaten in combination with the parfait, completely overwhelmed it.

“PBJ” - Parfait, cherry jam, creamed rice puffs

Traditional English rice pudding, hay ice-cream & lime jelly was nice at first, but the lack of balance evident in so many of the plates arriving at our table was to the fore again as soon as the lime jelly started to take over. “Tiramisu”: Hot chocolate coffee was exceedingly rich, and all over the place.

In a nutshell…
I didn’t enjoy Pollen Street Social. The food was generally alright, but not outstandingly brilliant or particularly memorable – there was certainly nothing as arresting here as, say, the famous BLT at Maze. Atherton’s penchant for deconstructing classic favourites was again on view, but with mixed results – the Full English Breakfast was a hit, but still flawed, the Cauliflower & squid, clear roasted squid juice was forgettable, and the “Tiramisu”: Hot chocolate coffee was a complete disaster. A couple of the regular dishes, the pork and the steak were simply poor, the overcooking of the latter especially inexcusable. That the best of the desserts was the PBJ borrowed from Maze also makes me wonder if we have already seen Atherton’s best stuff, at his previous place of work. The experience was further soured by the numerous missteps made, from the table allocation, to the serving of two courses at the same time, to the excruciatingly long wait between courses. Each of these in isolation would have been annoying but tolerable, in combination they made for a disjointed, irritating evening. The waiting, and there was a lot of waiting, was the most irksome aspect – if I was to speculate, I would say the kitchen, and the lack of personnel in the front of house, was more to blame than any lack of efficiency amongst the wait staff – the gentleman who served us was actually very good – quick, polite, and affable, but just worked off his feet. One final point – the atmosphere at Pollen Street Social has been described as “vibrant”, by Atherton himself – if vibrant equals loud (it doesn’t), then he’s right, because PSS was most certainly loud, so loud in fact that you practically have to shout when conversing with your dining companions. Nothing screams relaxed and chilled out like a meal where you have to yell at the top of your lungs to be heard - err no, not for me thanks.

4/10

Pollen Street Social
8 Pollen Street, London, W1S 1NQ
+44 (0)2072907600
Average Price: £50-£60

Pollen Street Social on Urbanspoon

Mr Falafel, London

Mr Falafel

I had heard a few of stories about Mr Falafel, a small stall in Shepherd’s Bush, whose claim to serve the best falafel in town has been backed by many a review. So one Saturday morning, I decided to seek it out. Located at the entrance of New Shepherd’s Bush Market, which itself is right across the road from the tube station, it was easy enough to find.

Classic Falafel Wrap served in Arabic style Lebanese bread with Fresh Tomatoes, Fresh Lettuce, Freshly Chopped Parsley, Hommous, and Fried Aubergines, topped with Special Tahina Sauce (Sesame Paste and Lemo

I had a medium Classic Falafel Wrap: served in Arabic style Lebanese bread with Fresh Tomatoes, Fresh Lettuce, Freshly Chopped Parsley, Hommous, and Fried Aubergines, topped with Special Tahina Sauce (Sesame Paste and Lemon Juice) and chilli sauce, as well as MR FALAFEL’s Combo: A bowl of Hommous topped with a layer of spicy potatoes, garnished with fresh coriander leaves and served with warm bread.

The falafel was cooked to order, which ensured it was as fresh as could be, and it was indeed very good, better even than the falafel wrap at Borough Market, which I used to think was great (I returned to Borough Market a few days later to try the falafel wrap there again, having not been for quite a while - the difference in quality was clear).

MR FALAFEL’s Combo - A bowl of Hommous topped with a layer of spicy potatoes, garnished with fresh coriander leaves and served with warm bread

Meanwhile, the MR FALAFEL’s Combo, which I almost didn’t order, was absolutely stunning. The hummus was delightfully smooth, and the spicy potatoes, soft and incredibly appetising. It was so good I literally couldn’t stop until it was all gone. The bread that came with it wasn’t the best, but that didn’t matter one bit.

In a nutshell...
The falafel wrap was great - every bit as good as advertised. It claims to be the best, and indeed I have yet to find any better. But as good as the falafel wrap was, the hummus with spicy potatoes was possibly even better. Mr Falafel, I’ll be back!

8/10

Mr Falafel
Units T4/5, New Shepherd’s Bush Market, Uxbridge Road, London, W12 8LH
+44 (0)7798906668
Average Price: £5-£10
Worth noting: Closed Sundays

Mr Falafel - the Best Palestinian Falafel on Urbanspoon

Dragon Palace, London

Siu Mai – Minced Pork & Prawn DumplingsHa Gau – Prawn Dumplings

Dragon Palace in Earls Court has been around since the late 1970s. I walk past it all the time, got one non-descript takeaway meal from there many years ago, and have, really, never given it more than a second’s thought. It was to my great surprise, then, to discover a number of glowing reviews about the dim sum offerings here, some even calling it one of the best in London. I am always on the lookout for quality dim sum places, especially given the lack of any genuinely good ones in the capital (Pearl Liang is probably the best, by default, but no longer upholds the excellent standards it attained upon first opening; upmarket Yauatcha was hugely disappointing on last visit; Royal China remains reliable, but unspectacular; other popular venues such as Phoenix Palace and Princess Garden are just alright). Surely the answer to my search hadn’t been on my doorstep all this while?

Char Siu Sow – Honey Roasted Pork PuffsHar Cheung – Prawn Cheung Fun

Dragon Palace got off on a positive note - Char Siu Sow – Honey Roasted Pork Puffs had a good, flaky pastry and a decent filling. Meanwhile, Har Cheung – Prawn Cheung Fun was not too thick, as so many versions often are, and had a lovely, smooth texture but was spoilt by prawns that were too small, and lacking in freshness. Ha Gau – Prawn Dumplings suffered from the same problem – decent wrappers but disappointing prawns. Siu Mai – Minced Pork & Prawn Dumplings was a bit on the salty side.

Wu Gok – Yam CroquettesZi Ma Zhi Bau Har - Paper Prawns

Wu Gok – Yam Croquettes had an exterior that was far too hard – they are supposed to crumble nicely in the mouth, not require a hammer to crack – okay I exaggerate a little, but you get my drift. War Tip – Shanghai Dumplings and Zi Ma Zhi Bau Har - Paper Prawns were both bad, with fillings that were stingy, dry, of a low quality (prawns again not very fresh), and didn’t taste of much. And the exteriors were poor too, especially the rubbery War Tip.

War Tip – Shanghai DumplingsNai Wong Bau – Custard Cream Buns

Nai Wong Bau – Custard Cream Buns could have done with more, and a sweeter, filling.

In a nutshell...
As Dragon Palace’s website rightly points out, it is the only restaurant in the area that serves dim sum. And it’s reasonable enough to be an acceptable option if you’re in the area, craving dim sum, and not willing to make the journey to relatively nearby Bayswater. But I certainly wouldn’t advocate travelling any length of time to seek it out – there is much better dim sum available elsewhere in town.

5/10

Dragon Palace
207 Earls Court Road, London, SW5 9AN
+44 (0)2073701461
Average Price: £10-£15 (for dim sum)

Dragon Palace on Urbanspoon

The Chin Chin Laboratorists, London

The Chin Chin Laboratorists

The Chin Chin Laboratorists is Europe's first “Nitro Ice-cream Parlour”, and it is totally awesome. Opened by husband and wife team Ahrash Akbari-Kalhur and Nyisha Weber, the place looks like a mad scientist's lab with test tubes, white coats and liquid nitrogen tanks – it’s unashamedly geeky, yet somehow very cool – for whatever reason, hip, diverse, eclectic Camden feels like the perfect place for it.

The Chin Chin Laboratorists

The concept is simple - liquid nitrogen, at -196˚C, freezes the egg custard mixture instantly, thus resulting in no ice particles, and ice cream with a much smoother texture. So, there are no tubs of ready-made ice cream here – you choose from three options - Madagascan Vanilla, Valrhona Chocolate and a special of the week (Basil Chocolate Chip on this visit), then stand back and watch the show unfold as the staff make your ice cream right in front of you. First, Nyisha handed a flask of the custard mixture to Ahrash, who got some liquid nitrogen out of the tank; then it was gloves and glasses on as he whisked them together, and within a matter of seconds, the ice cream was formed. One cup of ice cream was £3.95 (considerably more expensive than your regular ice cream, but then again, this is no normal ice cream) and came with one topping and one sauce - on Ahrash’s recommendation, I opted for the Sea Salted Caramel sauce, and Grilled White Chocolate topping.

Madagascan Vanilla with Sea Salted Caramel sauce and Grilled White Chocolate topping

Even if the ice cream had turned out to be a complete let down, I would still have happily advocated a visit to The Chin Chin Laboratorists as a fun, novel experience. But the ice cream was indeed as good as advertised – it was velvety smooth, yet also quite dense – both characteristics to be expected from liquid nitrogen ice cream, with the slightly salty caramel sauce and unusual, crunchy Grilled White Chocolate topping enhancing and adding to the uniqueness and specialness of the whole offering even further.

In a nutshell...
This place is great just for the sheer theatre of the liquid nitrogen ice cream-making process; and the ice cream itself ain’t half bad either. Be warned – the very nature of the concept means queues can get quite long, especially during the weekends, but I assure you, it’s well worth the wait. As with Dans le Noir?,  I have once again declined to give The Chin Chin Laboratorists my usual rating out of 10 – that would be doing it an injustice - it is an ice cream parlour sui generis. I thoroughly recommend it.

The Chin Chin Laboratorists
49-50 Camden Lock Place, London, NW1 8AF
+44 (0)7885604284
Average Price: £3.95
Worth noting: Closed Mondays

Chin Chin Laboratorists on Urbanspoon

Sophie’s Steakhouse, London

Ribeye with béarnaise & hand cut chips

Sophie’s Steakhouse opened on Fulham Road in January 2002 (with a second branch debuting in Covent Garden in 2008), and has since carved out a reputation for being a friendly, good value, high quality steakhouse. I’ve even seen a couple of reviews proclaiming its steaks the best in town, ahead of the traditional heavyweights Hawksmoor and Goodman. We visited on a Saturday late-afternoon, and the restaurant was rather well patronised, with a fair number of Chelsea football fans filling up before the early evening kick-off at Stamford Bridge. Sophie’s doesn’t take bookings, and apparently the wait can get quite lengthy in the evenings, but we were able to walk straight in.

We opted for the Express Menu, which is available from noon-7pm and after 10pm, and at £12.95 for two courses and £15.95 for three, sounded like exceptionally good value, it must be said. I started with a Smoked Mackerel Pâté, sourdough toast that was reasonable, if nothing at all out of the ordinary.

Smoked Mackerel Pâté, sourdough toast

My main, Ribeye with béarnaise & hand cut chips looked great and had a good chargrilled taste to it, but was cooked a bit too rare (requested medium rare), and was ridiculously veiny. It was so veiny and chewy, in fact, that eating it was quite an uncomfortable chore, and far from enjoying every bite, I was just glad when it was finally over. I realise that at these prices, the steaks are probably not going to be of the highest quality, but they really ought to be a bit better than this. Otherwise why serve them at all – as much as I love steaks, there are a lot of other things I would rather eat for £12.95 than a piece of steak this bad. I say either improve the quality, or if that is not possible given the low prices, then up the price because serving a steak this poor in quality is utterly pointless, no matter what the price. The accompanying skin-on chips were pretty good, as was the béarnaise sauce.

In a nutshell...
I hesitate to say Sophie’s is good value because good value implies getting something for less than, or at most, the same as, what it is worth. And whilst £12.95 for two and £15.95 for three courses, including a Ribeye steak, might sound like very good value, it’s not, because the quality of the steak was so poor, and the task of eating it so arduous and unpleasurable, that I did not feel happy paying even that much for my meal. A pity really, because the chargrilled flavour of the meat was spot on. Perhaps its a la carte steaks are indeed a match for the likes of Hawksmoor and Goodman, but after this experience, Sophie’s no longer gets the benefit of the doubt.

4/10

Sophie’s Steakhouse (Chelsea)
311-313 Fulham Road, Chelsea, London, SW10 9QH
+44 (0)2073520088
Average Price: £15-£30

Sophie's Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Jak’s, London

Jak's

There's really not a lot to dislike about Jak's - good, freshly made food, sizeable portions, fast and friendly service, a welcoming and homely atmosphere, and decent prices, especially for the area (midway between South Kensington and Knightsbridge).

Organic Beef Lasagna

We shared two main courses, Organic Beef Lasagna, supposedly a Jak's speciality and Chicken Pie, which was recommended by the gentleman who served us. The lasagna was delicious, with quality meat, nice thin layers of soft pasta, and just the right amount of cheese. The chicken pie, with pressed cream potatoes, mushrooms, organic chicken and fresh onion, was also well composed, but, in the absence of any gravy, a tad dry. The Roasted Potatoes we had with the pie was standard issue.
Other dishes on the menu such as, Olive Chicken Pizzaiola, Moussaka and Stuffed Aubergine: Filled with a gentle cent of garlic, onions, parsley, and our freshest organic tomatos, all of which I will no doubt be trying on future visits, drew more from Jak's Mediterranean background, and looked just as appetising.

Chicken Pie w Roasted Potatoes

I had heard many good things about the cakes and desserts at Jak's, so we made sure to save some space to sample Jak’s Strawberry Cheese Cake and the Tiramisu. The cheesecake was absolutely sensational. Wispy, ultra light and super smooth, it was one of the best cheesecakes I've ever had. The tiramisu was really good too - moreish, creamy, spongy with a present, but not overpowering, coffee taste.

Jak’s Strawberry Cheese CakeTiramisu

In a nutshell...
Jak's is great. It boasts celebrities (and pseudo-celebrities) such as Orlando Bloom, Frank Lampard, Lady Isabella Harvey, Rebecca Loos, and Roman Abramovich amongst its customers, but is not pretentious in the slightest. In fact, sitting in the back room, with photos pinned up on the wall, and random books and ornaments on the shelves, it really felt like we were in someone's home. Enjoy the savoury offerings, as no doubt you will, but don't forget to save room for dessert!

8/10

Jak’s
77 Walton Street, London, SW3 2HT
+44 (0)2075843441
Average Price: £15

Jak's on Urbanspoon

Jom Makan, London

Jom Makan

One of the less well-travelled Asian cuisines, food from Malaysia has yet to make its mark on the world in the way Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Indian, Korean and even Vietnamese fare has. Jom Makan, literally meaning "Let's go eat", is a Malaysian government owned mini-chain seeking to redress that balance and bring Malaysian food to the masses in the English capital. With the two branches so far both in prime locations - one along Pall Mall and the other at Westfield, and a reasonable price point, all the ingredients were in place. What about the food?

Satay Ayam; Ayam Bakar

Satay Ayam
, was dry, tiny, miserable pieces of chicken that had clearly been re-heated (cooked to order, as it said in the menu, it certainly was not), with barely any of the lovely charcoal flavour you should get from these skewers. Ayam Bakar was supposed to be chargrilled marinated chicken wings but was instead deep fried, lacking moisture, and with nary a flavour of anything, be it chilli, garlic, salt or a charred taste, all of which are supposed to be present.

Nasi Lemak

Nasi Lemak
had overcooked and under-fragrant coconut rice that had no bounce, a chicken rendang that was short on flavour with a sauce that was too wet, and meat that was too dry, and a sambal with prawns that would never be in danger of being thought of as fresh.

Mee Goreng

Mee Goreng: Fried egg noodles lightly chilli spiced with prawns, chicken, beansprouts & spring onion
was absolutely tasteless, and Teh Tarik: Traditional Malaysian dark tea with sweetened milk lacked the requisite sweetness.

Jom Makan is clearly modelled after the extremely popular and successful Wagamama chain. That is hardly the standard one should be aspiring to if you ask me, but in at least one respect, it succeeds in its aim - Jom Makan serves as poor a representation of Malaysian food as Wagamama does Japanese. But there is one crucial difference - while the likes of Wagamama, and other chains such as Pho and Ping Pong serve their imitation food (inexplicably) to consistently full houses, Jom Makan is doing so to half empty venues if this visit was anything to go by; on this weekday evening Wagamama, and the Thai chain Busaba Eathai just a few doors down were both packed, with people queuing for tables, whereas Jom Makan was, let's just say, considerably less well patronised.

It is commendable that the Malaysian government is leading from the front in trying to showcase its nation’s cuisine to the world - it is, after all, one of the country’s finest exports, and greatest tourist attractions. But it is a crying shame that, despite considerable expenditure, this is the best they could come up with.

In a nutshell...
Perhaps in an attempt to adapt Malaysian food for Western tastes, Jom Makan has gone overboard, watering down and sanitising its dishes to such an extent that they are barely recognisable. Or perhaps this is just a remarkably poor execution of a laudable initiative. Either way, Malaysian food deserves so much better. For the record there are a few Malaysian restaurants in London that do in fact do her cuisine justice - my personal recommendations are Satay House in Paddington, and Sedap on Old Street. And if you've never tried Malaysian food before, please don't go to Jom Makan - it might put you off forever, and that would be a real pity as Malaysian cuisine has much to offer the world.

2.5/10

Jom Makan (Westfield London)
Westfield London Shopping Centre, Ariel Way, Shepherd’s Bush, London, W12 7GB
+44 (0)2087355870
Average Price: £10-20

Jom Makan Westfield on Urbanspoon

Oddono’s, London

Hazelnut; Pistachio; Bacio - Milky Chocolate and Hazelnut

Oddono’s has outlets in Selfridges and Whiteleys, and a reputation for serving some of the best gelati in London. Its shop on Bute Street in South Kensington is where it all started. I had their three most popular flavours – Hazelnut, Pistachio and Bacio: Milky Chocolate and Hazelnut.

The ice cream was smooth and creamy, and all three flavours were good, especially the first two, both of which have won awards.

In a nutshell...
Justifiably considered to be one of the best gelato places in London.

7.5/10

Oddono’s
14 Bute Street, London, SW7 3EX
+44 (0)2070520732
Average Price: £4

Oddono on Urbanspoon

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...