A friend recently invited us out to celebrate her birthday and asked for a restaurant recommendation. She said she wanted somewhere central and somewhere ‘nice’ (not necessarily in that order). As you can imagine, there were a lot of options!
After much consideration, I recommended Jason Atherton’s Little Social. Although bistros and brasseries seem to be becoming ten a penny in London right now, we were keen to try this one and had heard really good things. It’s right across the road from Jason’s flagship restaurant, Pollen St Social where we recently enjoyed an impromptu visit to their dessert bar and have had great meals in the past.
The evening didn’t start well though. We arrived at 7pm only to find that they’d lost our reservation. We asked if we could speak to the manager and were told that we already were (?). They then searched for us by name and the details came up but they found no reservation. It was pretty obvious that there had been a glitch with their booking system, but nobody seemed to know quite what to do.
Luckily, the real manager then turned up. He was extremely professional and apologetic and came up with a solution right away. He arranged for us to go over to the bar at Pollen St Social for a complimentary cocktail while we waited and promised us a table at Little Social before 8:30.
We were eventually seated at around 8pm at a booth furnished with seriously comfortable leather banquettes. The restaurant itself has a certain understated elegance and charm. Think kitsch French bistro with intimate lighting, complete with Parisian-esque posters and ornaments.
The menu predominantly consists of bistro-style comfort food with a few more modern and trans-Atlantic additions. As you’d expect though, it’s less formal and far more accessible than its big brother across the street. The wine list is fairly concise but there’s a good selection available by the glass and a few carafe options. However, the Hog was disappointed when he asked for a wine recommendation and the waitress struggled to give us even the most basic advice. We were glad when they had a change of shift shortly afterwards. The waitress who took over was excellent.
We started with cauliflower and crayfish risotto and pork head terrine. The risotto was just right. It was cooked al dente so the rice still had plenty of bite and the flavours combined really well. The pork head terrine was meaty and rich, with a little foie gras running through the middle. The slice of toasted sourdough was a welcome addition but I’d have liked a second slice for this quantity of meat.
Our fellow diners looked a little taken aback when the Hog ordered the burger for his main course. However, his motivation came from a conversation with Jason Atherton the previous week. He told us that he makes sure that his chefs dice the meat by hand, rather than using a mincer and that they use only quality aged beef to make the patties.
That quality definitely came through in the taste of the meat. The burger was quite rare and the patty was so tender that it almost fell apart as we ate it. You could tell that the meat was well aged and there was plenty of fat to add extra flavour. There is the option to add some foie gras for an extra £10 but we declined because we thought it might be too rich. It would also have been a £27 burger!!!
My main course was the lamb shank. If you are expecting a whole shank or a large portion, then order something else! It was dainty to say the least and was served on a bed of beans which were a little firm. The meat itself was tender but wasn’t as flavoursome as I’d hoped. The best thing on the plate was a piece of caramelised, cured pork belly. If only I’d just had a big piece of that.
Dessert pulled it back for us in the form of hot chocolate moelleux with sea salt and almond ice-cream. It was like eating a really good chocolate fondant, served in a ramekin. The ice cream was incredible too and combined perfectly with the sweet, gooey chocolate. The other dessert was a generous portion of apple and blackberry crumble. Rather than serving it in a dish, they spooned it onto my plate at the table. Although this offered some theatre, it meant that the crumble topping was broken up and rather lost under the fruit.
They also offer a tarte tartin for two to share. One of our friends really fancied trying it, so being a piggy, I said I’d help him finish it off. It was a very accomplished dessert with the apples dark from the caramel and the pastry nice and crispy.
When we discussed the meal the next day, we realised that the waitress hadn’t offered us any of the specials, apart from the desserts. We saw a steak coming out of the kitchen, but it wasn’t on the menu. We were also looking forward to trying their poutine but completely forgot that they serve it on the night.
Overall, the food was good but the whole experience was a mixed bag. The service was definitely a little rough around the edges, but the manager and the waitress who took over our table for the second half of the evening were very good and did a lot to redeem things. Of course, the lost reservation can be put down to teething troubles and I imagine that in six months time, they will have everything down to a T. Let’s hope so.
Three courses for four people with wine and other drinks came to £232. Jason has also recently opened a third restaurant, Social Eating House on Poland Street.
Menu: Click Here
Phone: 020 7870 3730
Address: 5 Pollen Street, Mayfair, London W1S 1NE