Bar Review: Pollen Street Social, Mayfair

Pollen Street Social – A Real Buzz

Pollen Street Social is probably best known for its ‘Quail Brunch’, described in 2014 as ‘London’s Best Dish’, by Time Out magazine, although I was there for bourgeois booze only. I’ve admired Jason Atherton for a long time. Not only does he have sixteen restaurants worldwide, but he comes across as a thoroughly decent bloke.

Pollen Street Social describes itself as a: “Michelin-starred modern urban meeting point. A place to eat, drink and socialise, both for special occasions, and for informal everyday affairs.” To be fair that is exactly what it is, and jolly good it is too. The bar is long and narrow. Everything is spotless. The dark wooden shelves are back lit, and impressively filled. Drinkers have their backs to restaurant tables where diners spill over without partition.

Pollen Street Social provided what I call ‘a memorable moment’, a food and drink schema that’s etched in my mind. This one I filed away in my brain’s hard drive as ‘favourite cocktail ever’. Only an evil genius would have the audacity and creativity to combine: Riesling, Pisco, rhubarb vinegar, olive oil and egg white. The resilient frothy head confidently held the droplets of oil creating a uniquely beautiful texture. The sweet Riesling and sour Pisco were best buddies, with the rhubarb vinegar adding beads of magic. This drink was so special it would have been a crime only to order one.

I can’t decide whether or not I find truffles vile or delicious. AA Gill was spot on advising they: “teeter on the edge of being disgusting, but are actually fabulous”. I’m uncertain if it was bravery or campness that provoked a gamble on a truffle infused champagne number. This glass of bubbles was beauty and the beast in liquid form. For me the incredible pungent earthy aromas were overwhelming. This was a feminine option, for only the hardest drinkers.

In between shovelling endless salty vegetable crisps, I managed to request a Manhattan. It was promptly made to my specification (Rye+Sweet Vermouth). I can’t describe it any better than Esquire magazine: “It [was] bold and fortifying, yet as relaxing as a deep massage.” Not that I ever seriously considered them, but the Pollen Street Social Virgin Cocktails, where almost as interesting.

I would have liked to chew the fat with the charming staff all afternoon, but by this point my wallet was empty. Pollen Street Social was expensive, but an understated smart Mayfair space I’d recommend to anyone. Anyone who get’s paid too much.

Pollen Street Social
Review Summary

Atmosphere 9  Cost 4  Quality 10  Service 10

Pollen Street Social Review
The best drink since I can remember

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Restaurant Review: The Waterside Inn, Bray upon Thames

The Waterside Inn – Eye Watering Prices

The Waterside Inn is tucked away in the unassuming village of Bray upon Thames, which in a crazy twist of fate, is home to two, three Michelin star restaurants. When Prince Philip phones to book a birthday bash, a restaurant is seriously posh. The Waterside Inn caught the royal eye for a reason; it is the only restaurant in the UK to have retained three coveted Michelin stars for twenty-one years. I’ve long thought the Roux family were a thoroughly decent, hard-working lot; personable, despite their unrivalled culinary achievements.

To appreciate The Waterside Inn to its real potential, the Le Menu Exceptionnel, accompanying wine flight, supplementary cheese and recommended digestives was ordered e.g. les bollocks complètes (which I said, to nobody’s amusement). All the dishes were graciously composed, with delicately and sophisticatedly balanced flavours. As lovely as it all was, I was left waiting for it to get into top gear.

I appreciate it’s hardly an issue of pending global catastrophe, but the dishes of Foie gras, crayfish, scallops, lamb and soufflé were all beige. Putting aside a mint leaf garnish and a lonesome grilled tomato, The Waterside Inn produced an almost entirely monochrome meal.

The Waterside Inn’s best bite? It had to be the pan fried Foie gras. At the risk of sounding as morally respectable as an international arms dealer, it simply brought a broad smile and a sort of evil warm afterglow.

A restaurant cannot be all things to all people; I respect The Waterside Inn for sticking by its “unashamedly French” heritage for a generation. Not that there is anything to be ashamed about. The Waterside Inn’s food is all about balance, quality and refinement, creating a pleasant journey through French cuisine. However, it certainly did not offer the deepest of flavours, the most exciting of combinations or any real surprises. I hoped for something similar to La Maison Troisgros, which is similarly run by an industrious dining dynasty, and also consistently held three Michelin stars for generations. The difference is that the younger generation revolutionised the cuisine of its ancestors, yet still retained the highest levels of excellence. There was no such dynamism at The Waterside Inn, but I can understand the if it aint broke, don’t change it approach.

All The Waterside Inn staff were undoubtedly genuine and hard working – a credit to the restaurant. The maitre d’ was a jovial and instantly likeable chap, who combined formality and familiarity in perfect measure. My only gripe was the consistent recommendations of the most expensive wines and spirits possible. I spent £31 on a skinny cheeseboard, anymore Armagnac and I’d have been selling a kidney.

Finally, the drinks were top drawer – the evening’s highlight – lifting The Waterside Inn experience. If you’re tempted to journey to Bray, make allowances for their cost; as they, if anything, will keep in your memory.

I enjoyed the privilege of the visit, but perhaps through stifling expectation, given the frankly exorbitant cost, The Waterside Inn is utterly unjustifiable for anyone but the 1%.

The Waterside Inn
Review Summary

Atmosphere 7  Cost 2  Quality 10  Service 10

Restaurant Review: The Waterside Inn, Bray
Wonderful Textures
Restaurant Review: The Waterside Inn, Bray
Beautiful Meat & Two Veg
Restaurant Review: The Waterside Inn, Bray
Sublime Scallops Avec Fancy Foam
Restaurant Review: The Waterside Inn, Bray
Armagnac of various ages
Dinner For Three – Probably Not The Best Value

The Waterside Inn Bray

Restaurant Review: Dinner By Heston, Knightsbridge

Dinner By Heston – Mostly Stunning

Potential customers should consider before investing in Dinner by Heston, that your dinner will have very little to do with Heston Blumenthal. Obviously, he’s not rustling it up, but more importantly, dinner is unlikely to have any element of molecular gastronomy synonymous with the Heston Blumenthal name.

Set in the bowls of Knightsbridge’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Dinner by Heston is within the inner circle of London’s shadowy elite. Literally next door, two-bedroom apartments are yours for a very reasonable £19,500,000. In retrospect, the bar bill was never going to be cheap.

The Dinner by Heston Bar felt like a high-end departure lounge full of non-descript business class Euro jet-setters: not what I expected from an iconic hotel in our great capital, but probably a fair reflection of London in 2016. Still, all Dinner by Heston’s staff were nothing but gracious – professional and completely down to earth. If there was an award for best-dressed servers, Dinner by Heston would win. There were pleasing avant-garde touches to the cocktails; a Banana & Parsley Daiquiri is something one order’s only once, but without regret.

Sticking with the (relatively) frugal Diner by Heston Set Lunch Menu, diners choose from either Hay Smoked Salmon or Ragoo of Pigs Ear on Toast. My partner’s salmon was beautifully composed and very much lived up to the high expectations. In contrast to this piscine elegance, the pig’s ear looked like a gruesome murder scene. It was really a filling, wintery dish, out of place on a summer menu – particularly as pork was one of two choices for main. Regardless, it had a rich, deep flavour that was certainly enjoyed.

For mains, there was Roast Pollack with Parsnips or Slow Cooked Pork Belly. My partner’s pork was absolutely sensational, undeniable the best porcine-related dish ever tasted: it was pork exalted to its highest station in life. The Roast Pollack was presented simply but attractively but was irksomely lukewarm, not helped by the frustratingly cold buttermilk sauce. A beautiful piece of fish let down by its lack of body heat. However, without wanting to resort to needless hyperbole, the accompanying side of carrots was unbelievably good. Our minds were induced into a higher state of consciousness – at one with the universe – and its carrotiness. I will never look at a root vegetable in the same way again: it was the agricultural answer to crack cocaine, at a similar price-point.

Finally, despite no longer being hungry and rarely displaying a sweet tooth, the Bohemian Cake was undeniably the best dessert either of us had ever had. The presentation, the textures, the balance of flavours was truly Michelin standard. It took me by surprise, in short – it was memorable. I’d heard nothing but gushing reviews for Dinner By Heston’s iconic Pineapple Upside Cake, but it’s hard to imagine anything better their Bohemian Cake.

Regarding value, Diner by Heston’s Set Lunch was probably the lowest priced way to experience two Michelin star food in the UK. Still, at £75 per head for lunch with one drink, Diner by Heston is only a regular haunt for Champagne Charlies. Is Diner by Heston the seventh-best restaurant in the world, as the San Pellegrino Guide proclaims? I doubt it, but Dinner By Heston is probably the seventh best in London – which is a great achievement in itself.

Dinner By Heston Review Summary

Atmosphere 10  Cost 6  Quality 9  Service 9

Dinner By Heston: Worthy Of Its Two Michelin Stars
Dinner By Heston: Worthy Of Its Two Michelin Stars
Dinner By Heston: Worthy Of Its Two Michelin Stars

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(Inside the Mandarin Oriental Hotel)