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When trying to surprise my husband for his 30th, I decided the best thing to do was just plain lie. He had requested dinner at Pollen St Social some time ago, but I didn’t just want to agree to it, there had to still be an element of surprise, hence the lying. I went with the line that it was completely booked so we had to settle for Dinner by Heston at the Mandarin Oriental. The lie went down not very well – there was some cranky looks and grumbling under his breath. The lie held up until we were on the Victoria line and I couldn’t really think of half-decent reason for why we should be getting off the tube. Busted. Oh well. I kept it up for as long as possible.

Every man and his dog has written about Pollen St Social, but these pictures of the tasting menu are really too pretty not post. When PSS opened over a year ago, it was the place everyone was talking about. This was actually our 2nd time eating here. At the end of last year, we ate here but the photos were so dark they were completely useless. We ordered ala carte however the jealousy we felt watching the table next to us who had ordered the tasting menu, receive plate after plate of beautiful dishes, meant we resolved to try it for ourselves eventually. Which brings us to present day.

For the uninitiated, the video below is a perfect introduction, and much more interesting than reading my words waffling on about how the exquisite service was and what the interior looks like.

24 hours in the life… from Pollen Street Social on Vimeo.

The menu and a few dishes seem to have evolved in that time, but most of what we ate was brilliant, clever and stunningly presented. PSS deserves the praise heaped upon it.

Complimentary snacks and bread to begin. Buttery olives, giant airy pieces of pork crackling that we dunked into a savoury mustardy sauce and the creamy cod dip. The house bread was a good as you would expect.

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The first course in the tasting menu was cornish crab, picked from the shell and flaked. Perched on top was a thin slice of sweet crunchy Nashi (Japanese pear) and thin pieces of cauliflower. The flavour of the peanut powder on top was a bit lost in the dish, but didn’t detract from a dish that was overall light, sweet and a good balance of texture.

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The scallops were served raw, a nice to change to the usual seared option. Served with shaved radish and a few sprigs of samphire, what really made this dish standout was the horseradish shaved ice. Normally I dislike the bite that horseradish has, but this was a slow build up of heat and flavour. The citrusy ponzu sauce added a nice salty depth.

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The initial standout dish at PSS when they first opened was the ‘Full English Breakfast’, a sort deconstructed take on the dish, consisting of a slow cooked egg, pureed tomato, a thick mushroom sauce, tiny thin crisps of bacon and delicately small crunchy croutons. I was lucky enough to try it at our first visit and it truly did convey all the flavours you would expect in a fry up. 10 months later, the dish has moved into Spanish territory. My only regret in eating this dish was not asking for another piece of bread to mop everything up. On top of the slightly spicy rich tomato sauce was a slow cooked egg whose yolk was a bright orange. The thin bacon crisps that were present in the ‘Full English Breakfast’ have been replaced with chorizo, and the croutons replaced with cubes of potato. To the right was a thick mousse-like cloud of potato. It was the lightest, fluffiest whipped potatoes I’ved ever had, and a unique version of patata bravas.

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Next up was the fish course. Mmmm, the website lists halibut, but I’m sure I remember reading it was turbot. My memory and knowledge of the fish are both terrible. The dish was a take on a minestrone with its tomato broth and beans. The beans had a slight chalkiness to them; just a little underdone to how I prefer them, and the fish a little more firm that I would like. Still a good dish, but the earlier seafood courses made more of an impact.

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To be honest, I think the main dish of lamb, was perhaps my least favourite. Should have gone for the duck. As Duncan lamented, the flavours were all so strong, it was overwhelming in its richness. Individually, I like all the components on the plate, but put altogether, it was too much. A lamb cutlet, sat next to a cube of braised lamb shoulder. Accompanied my a wedge of artichoke and a scoop of goats cheese, a jus was poured at the table and a sort of olive chutney were all very very rich. I longed for some plain steamed greens just for a little blandness.

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The first dessert was lovely and light and refreshing. The slices strawberries were sweet and fresh, while the beetroot and strawberry sorbet was cooling and sweet. The shards of meringue topping the dish has the scent of basil, while thick dark drops of pure basil sauce were hidden underneath. The combination of basil and strawberries was lovely and I kept on dipping the strawberries into the basil sauce to make the most of the flavour combination.

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The last dish of the tasting menu was my high point of the meal. In a small bowl was a white chocolate and coconut panacotta. Admittedly, the white chocolate flavour was lost in this dish, but I didn’t care – I absolutely love anything with coconut in it, and the flavour came through strongly. The panacotta was topped with sugared pistachios, a mango sauce, and cubes of mango. A scoop of lemongrass granita was added at the table. I was worried about how the icy granita would work with the creamy panacotta but I needn’t have worried. The granita was so smooth and wasn’t crunchy or rough at all. But still – while I loved all the toppings, I made sure to scoop them all up first so I was left with big spoonfuls of nothing but that coconut panacotta.

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A nicely epic 7 course meal fit for a 30th birthday. Jason Atherton really has succeeded in creating a menu that has its basis in British dishes, and incorporating influences from Asia and the Mediterranean. The food is inventive and fun, and service manages to strike the right balance between being unfailingly polite yet warm.

Part 2 of the birthday celebrations involved cocktails at Oskars Bar located underneath Dabbous in Fitzrovia. Um, our experience was interesting, to say the least. When we dined at Dabbous, I loved the food. So much so, I actually booked for the next available dinner opening. Do you know what you’ll be doing on May 30th, 2013? Because I do. I’ll be having dinner at Dabbous. There was so much love for the restaurant, I thought it might be fun to try the bar downstairs for their cocktails.

To be honest, I didn’t love the cocktails. Many of the key ingredients in the cocktails reflect the ingredients being used upstairs on the dining menu. For example, lovage, elderflower, lemon verbana, perilla leaf and mint. If I was to use a direct quote from my husband to sum up our time there, then I suppose the line would be ‘They were the worst cocktails I’ve ever had’. His words, not mine. I love a good a cocktail, but I think these were just not to my taste. The flavours were quite subtle due to the use of herbs as the source of flavourings, meaning the taste of the alcohol came through quite strongly. I’m quite the lightweight when it comes to cocktails – I like them pretty sweet and fruity. To be fair, the bar staff were happy to make cocktails not on the menu, but the idea of that felt odd to me. When you go to a restaurant, you don’t order meals that aren’t on the menu, do you? You go to experience what is on their menu – what is hopefully the best of their offerings. So yeah, the drinks aren’t to my taste and to be honest, I probably won’t go back.

Table service was lovely, if not a little persistant. We were asked at least twice per drink how everything was for us and as the night went on, it became harder and harder to think of adjectives to describe the drinks other than ‘nice’ and ‘good, thanks’. Standards of the bar staff are also quite high, if the experience we had when we ordered 2 of the cocktail named’Crowd Pleaser #2′. This was actually the one drink that I did quite enjoy – it was sweet and tart from the pomegranate juice, but after getting a few minutes to sip them, the waitress came by in a fluster and said something about the wrong sugar syrup being used and they were whipped away from the table. Apologies were given and replacement drinks were handed over with the promise that they tasted much better now that the correct sugar syrup was in place. When the inevitable visit came around, asking what we thought of them; along with less of a question, and more of a statement of ‘they taste much better now, don’t they?’ We nodded and emphatically agreed – much better. Truth though? I COULD NOT TELL THE BLOODY DIFFERENCE. I suppose the sentiment was there, and they offered our next round on the house as compensation for the sugar syrup mistake.

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These were the Crowd Pleaser #2 (before the rectified sugar syrup).

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So….Dabbous. Great food. Cocktails? Not so much. I’ve had to promise Duncan we will never have cocktails there again. Deal. Happy birthday?

http://www.pollenstreetsocial.com/

Pollen Street Social on Urbanspoon

http://dabbous.co.uk/

2 thoughts on “Pollen Street Social, Mayfair + Oskars Bar at Dabbous, Fitzrovia

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