Pollen Street Social lives in a Georgian house on Pollen Street, Mayfair, a narrow curve between Hanover Street and Maddox Street. Vogue House, HQ of Condé Nast magazines, is nearby, and Pollen Street is very like it: almost nothing can get in or out. The Tatler in-house dachshund Alan TBH Plumptre tried leaving Vogue in 2013, and was murdered by the revolving doors. Did he want better — or fewer — things? We will never know.
Pollen Street Social is a ‘modern urban meeting point’ according to the babble on the website, which is ever more deranged, and makes me think: as opposed to what? It is the flagship restaurant of Jason Atherton, who was named best restaurateur at the GQ Food and Drink Awards last year. Condé Nast again; hacks praise what they can reach. When Evening Standard writers were allowed to drink like men, the Churchill Arms on Kensington Church Street was serial pub of the year. Atherton is a Vogue House man from shoe to shining shoe. He is at least one third wristwatch. He poses in a tuxedo on his website and pouts at salad. What has it done to him? Is it his nemesis?
From the outside it looks like a shop selling Social by Jason Atherton tableware (exclusive to John Lewis). Pollen Street Social is written on the window but the ‘a’ in Social tumbles downwards, like an advertising executive falling out of a window. It is suicidal; this ‘a’ knows that it is over. Is it a social democratic ‘a’? Or a clue that Atherton knows this is all a hoax and anything this expensive — we spent almost £300 and made barely a dent in the wine list — has very little to do with sociability, and much more to do with showing off?
Inside are two long, light rooms — a bar and a dining room — with pale woods, brown leathers and lamps that look like huge light bulbs hanging over every table, so you can look at your wristwatch. It is a smooth, generic man-cave that reeks of functional status anxiety and Tom Ford Tuscan Leather Body Spray, but it’s OK. My companion — a stylish male — spots a Gavin Turk artwork on the wall and purrs.
The food is equally stylish and generic, and this is probably deliberate. This is not a clientele that wants to be scared — that might interfere with their grooming regime. Pollen Street Social opened in 2011 and won a Michelin star (a badge denoting tiny, very controlled food) within six months. So we eat plates of tiny, very controlled Lake District lamb and John Dory with tiny, very controlled vegetables — and it is all derivative and complicated and rather fine — and then tiny, very controlled puddings that cost £13 a plate; and I would not go back there if it were half the price.
But others will because Atherton is empire-building. There is a satellite branch called Social Eating House in Soho, another called Social Wine and Tapas in Marylebone, another called City Social in the City of London (are you sure?) and another — the Little Social — is just across the road. Is the Little Social for people who want to go to Big Social but feel too small to do so? Is there such a thing as too big or too small in Mayfair, or is it something else to please Vogue House? Restaurants that come in multiple sizes? There is yet another Social in Dubai — Marina Social — which makes me laugh because Dubai’s dedication to both shopping malls and the oppression of any minority they can reach is many things unprintable but social it is not; but how wonderful that you can, thanks to Atherton’s growing sociability, eat so very well there.
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