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Social Graces

In his quest for fun fine dining in London Neil Sowerby finds Pollen Street Social is the bee’s knees

Written by . Published on February 1st 2012.

Social Graces

FLORIZEL Street. That was the original name for Corrie before a tea lady on set pointed out it sounded like toilet cleaner. The ugliest slum street in the cotton town I grew up in was called Paradise. Promising sinners better things to come in the afterlife, definitely not next week. What’s in a name?

Visiting the Pollen Street version in the heart of grime-free Mayfair was a bit of a culture shock – one, as a diehard champagne socialist, I rather liked.

Pollen Street Social? That’s a rum ’un, as they might say down the Rovers. Pollen? The internet’s full of handy tips on how to remove those troublesome stains after you’ve brushed up against a potent stamen or two. Social, staying in the northern demographic, means the Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club with compere Bernard Manning and a motley collection of gurning comics.

Drop in on a real Social, not that mid-seventies telly mock-up and, Bob’s your uncle, you’re knee deep in miners or lathe operators partaking of pie and pint. Even today – 30 years after PM Meryl Streep smashed their communities with her wrecking ball handbag.

Pollen Street BarPollen Street Social bar

So visiting the Pollen Street version in the heart of grime-free Mayfair was a bit of a culture shock – one, as a diehard champagne socialist, I rather liked. Jason Atherton sounds like he good be a Corrie character (“What do you mean, Jason, luv, Betty’s hotpot need a mushy pea foam?”), but now free from the shackles of being a Gordon Ramsay protege he is flowering.

Still on the pollen theme, both bar and dining spaces are full of striking floral assemblies and the white walls are hung with some equally vivid artwork. Social, sociable. Chef/proprietor Jason’s intention, apparent in the naming, is for a convivial restaurant you can just drop into. A few wafer-thin slices of iberico ham and a glass of cheeky red. No problem, sir. But there is a wilfully playful a la carte and tasting menu too, phew.

On my own, on the way to a travel event, I sampled the bargain £25 three-course lunch at the counter, eavesdropping on the Mayfair small talk around me and loving the whole atmosphere of the joint.

My return, with a companion at a pre-booked table (albeit for lunch at 2.30pm – this place is a recession-buster), was even better. Before I’d not ventured beyond the bar area into a swish hinterland of black leather, fine-grained wood and mirrors. There was a contented punter buzz, even staff confided their self-evident satisfaction about working there, while a la carte for two with wine came to £150 and it felt right for what we got.

Pollen Street %26#8211%3B Roast VenisonRoast venison

We got: Cornish crab vinaigrette (£12.50) of a fresh sweetness as if the crustacean had just scuttled off the quayside at Mevagissey. On the delicate crabby, sweet and sour tangle sat crisp discs of nashi, that odd pear/apple hybrid. Frozen peanut powder was apparently implicated in the dish too, but I wouldn’t recognise that particular ingredient if it blew smoke rings in my face.

Cauliflower and squid, clear-roasted squid juice, sea herbs is Jason’s signature starter and I would like to have ordered it for my companion (let’s call her Bernardette Manning), but she demanded the lightly cured (i.e. almost still flipping) Shetland salmon, avocado, frozen almond and garlic and radishes that was another deeply refreshing fishy treat (also £12.50).

Pollen Street %26#8211%3B Rack Of Cotswold LambRack of Cotswold lamb

Satisfying though the starters were, they were topped by the intensity of both mains. Ms Manning’s rack of Cotswold lamb (£25.50) stacked densely flavoured slightly smoky cutlets and even more intense braised shoulder on a cushion of baba ganoush-like creamed aubergine that held their own against a strong olive and artichoke presence.

I’ve never Googled wild cabbage before but its presence as an accompaniment to my rare (and delectable) roast venison and venison faggot sidekick necessitated it. WC apparently grows only on chalk cliffs on either side of the Channel and is the grandaddy of all today’s popular brassicas. This was chewy and salty-sweet. Maybe it’s the new samphire. Nutty baked parsley root and chanterelles added a forest floor feel to a terrifically accomplished combination, for £27.50.

Pollen Street %26#8211%3B Chocolate Pave With MangoChocolate pave with mango

Playful kicks in with pudding. We were a mite bewildered when we were ushered from our table (we were virtually the last afternoon diners left – were they keen to hoover up the crumbs?) to... the dessert bar. Here, perched on stools, the dessert team preps your puds. It’s just assembly work, but it was quietly compelling to watch Bernardette’s chocolate pave with mango sorbet (£8.50) take shape with all its slicks and swirls. I was awkward and went for “seasonal” cheese, from a virgin board but each wedge in perfect nick. Proper piccalilli, too.

The sommelier came with Atherton from Maze and his wines by the glass tips were spot on, particularly the herby Greek white Wild Ferment Assyrtiko (£10.50) with my starter and a fruity but stern Pinot Noir, Moss Wood from Australia’s Mornington Peninsula (£12.50), which was perfect for the cheese.

Finally, you are given a small going-home present, the identity of which I won’t reveal. Like the creation of somewhere merry in Mayfair, just another of the Social graces.


Pollen Street Social
8 – 10 Pollen Street
London W1S 1NQ
0207 290 7600



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