Jason Atherton’s, empire continues to expand this month seeing both the opening of the Social Eating House and his new informal place Little Social on Pollen St opposite the mother Ship. For those who announce the death of French food need look to London where a host of French style bistros/ brasserie’s open with a frequency topped only by on trend burger joints.
It’s being called a ‘French brasserie’ and yes it has that warm bistro feel though the food is perhaps a step away from that . its a step in a different direction and the changing menu suggests the kitchen is still finding its niche. but there are enough things on the menu for the purist including that staple the steak tartare and a very correct Tarte tatin. There’s also the now obligatory house burger and a worthy steak frites but the other offerings lie closer to Atherton’s style than your typical brasserie fare. He also revisits a number of his classic Maze dishes notably in the form of a very fine hot chocolate moelleux.
Its well lit and has an instantly cosy air. It’s not unlike Terroirs and there are the ubiquitous antique French signs on the walls and maps which further the comparison.
Kicking off with a well made a delicious terrine things boded well.
More impressive was the modern departure. A Crab, tomato and radish salad, miso tomato dressing, marinated beetroot. Clean, light fresh and original. You wouldn’t see this sort of thing in a Parisian Bistro and its true to Atherton’s style.
There is a daily specials board mostly of steaks to be fair and a generous sirloin came textbook with some decent fries and a lovely béarnaise. Though a steak is a steak I guess? Albeit, a good one at that.
Braised ox cheek with sourdough crumb, carrot, horseradish mash- another Atherton classic and it didn’t disappoint. Soft enough to cut with a spoon, the kind of gravy (sic jus) which you frankly do not have the time or inclination to make at home and a healthy bone full of marrow, just in case it all wasn’t rich enough for you. A dish for the dark days of winter.
As for the extras, the usual suspects and notably a poutine (the gravy fries and cheese combo beloved of Canadians). Though didn’t quite look the real deal to me and it sort of feels out of place with the rest of the menu in any case.
Now I am not normally one for a chocolate dessert and in particular a fondant or moelleux. They are more common nowadays than a 90’s coulis. Yet they are often too sweet, disappointing and a bit predictable. At their worst overcooked and dull. For this, though… I would make an exception. It was, we were told, a revisit to Atherton’s Maze classic . A deep deep chocolate flavour; not too sweet, molten and right on point. In short, utterly delicious. A moelleux benchmark, against which such things should be measured. With a salted almond Ice cream on the side or to melt into the chocolate what’s not to love? Yes, that bald man on TV would probably dunk his head in it.
Desserts on the whole look good and a Tart tatin looked like it would be tough to better. Cooked long and slow. No watery under cooked apples here.
Grumbles? Steaks and indeed anything else served on wooden boards, to then be decanted onto your plate – when is this trend going to die? Wooden plate /bread board makers and the rustically inclined may gasp in horror, but stick it on a plain white plate and be done with it. Whilst I’m on the subject, ditto, mini cocottes. Staub must be making a killing. The legions of staff were charming but it still leans towards the formal which might not be to everyone taste. Given where it is, it’s never going to be a bargain. With mains creeping round the £20 mark you aren’t getting away cheaply here. That said the Prix fixe looks a steal at £25 for 3 courses.
I think it’s going to win a host of fans and for those looking for something a little more intimate and less avant-garde from Jason Atherton this will do the job nicely.
Meal for 2 £90
Little Socialm Pollen St, WC2