Little Social Mayfair
5 Pollen Street, W1S 1NE
020 7870 3730/www.littlesocial.co.uk/
I really wanted to like Balthazar. It was the hottest ticket in town and I, unlike Jay Rayner who moaned about it for weeks, understand how to press redial on my phone and had managed to get a table. Bethnal Green to New York restaurateur Keith McNally’s wet dream of a Brasserie somehow didn’t add up to the sum of its parts. It was too cliched and the frites weren’t right-maybe we are too close to Paris here in London…?
But now as part of the new wave of French joints opening in town (see our reviews of Zedel, Chabrot and Garnier) we have Little Social, le petit bistro brother of The Hedonist’s fave-Jason Atherton’s Pollen St. Social, handily placed over the road from his home base in a site that housed a short-lived and often empty Italian restaurant. Now I may have a fickle heart but I know when it’s love at first sight. So if Balthazar is Katie Boyle, then Little Social is Juliette Greco. If you don’t get it go and read another blog!
The interior features period posters, Burgundy leather banquettes, dark wood tables, a faux smokey ceiling-so why is this place so much hipper than Balthazar? This is why…
Four neon words taken from the Jean-Luc Godard movie Alphaville, hanging precariously on some old Michelin road maps. The film depicts a dystopian future which has a lot in common with our present. The words are ever present on signs throughout the city articulating the notion of the controlled spaces we operate in. A restaurant is such a space-it’s fake, unnatural and hyper-regulated, but unlike most restaurateurs Atherton understands the postmodern and is unafraid to show us. This is Bistrot remade for a new century not a Disneyfication.
Her Ladyship and I decided to celebrate this cultural breakthrough with a couple of glasses of Larmandier Bernier 1er Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut (£12.50 a glass). From a biodynamically run vineyard on the Cote de Blancs, this 100% Chardonnay fizz is pretty stupendous, perfectly balanced and great as an aperitif.
There was a special of half a dozen Rock Oysters from Fowey in Cornwall (£15.50) on the menu and it would have seemed bad mannered not to indulge. I once played at the Daphne du Maurier Festival in Fowey. It is a romantic and windswept little town and its bivalves were small, plump and creamy. Bread was sourdough and baguette-both were full of flavour with a robust crust.
Crab, tomato and radish salad, miso tomato dressing, marinated beetroot (£9.50). A beautifully composed dish-the crab was full of flavour enhanced by the addition of herbs.
Beetroot cured Sea Trout, Cheltenham beetroot, shallot dressing (£8.50)-The trout had a silky texture with the deep richness of the beetroot complimenting the fish flavour and offset by a subtle horseradish cream.
By now we were drinking a carafe of Ribeiro blanco, Adega Sameiras, Galicia (£26 for 500ml), a blend of unoaked Treixadura, Godello, Torrontes and Albarino grapes. It was full-bodied,floral and aromatic-just the kind of Spanish white I love to drink.
Roasted Halibut “BLT”, portabello mushrooms, sauce bois boudran (£22)-A perfectly cooked piece of halibut came with a thick fatty slab of Alsace bacon, braised lettuce and a delicious bois boudran sauce, chopped tomatoes with flecks of tarragon spiced with Worcestershire sauce.
I pulled my main off the Prix Fixe menu (2 courses for £21, 3 for £25) Roasted Dorade, saffron mash, fennel, Cornish soup and aioli. It was another perfect dish. The cornish soup was a tasty rich fish soup which was served over the top as with a bouillabaisse, the fish was firm textured with a great flavour, the fennel melting and caramelised and the potato smooth with that saffron note adding depth to the whole dish.
Hot chocolate moelleux, sea salt and almond ice cream (£7). Sorry about the picture…I couldn’t resist putting the ice cream on top of the moelleux and watching it create a deliciously gooey sticky mess. The chocolate was hot, dark and bitter (just how I like my women) given spikiness by the sea salt and a gentle creaminess by the almond ice cream.
Pink peppercorn meringue, lemon and lime curd, passion fruit (£7) was a mouthful of sensations as the heat of the peppercorns melded with the sweetness of the meringue and the tanginess of the curd and passion fruit.
There are no excuses for not going to Little Social and don’t say you can’t afford it because, as with Pollen St. Social, the Prix Fixe is terrific value. Chef Cary Docherty, who had previously worked with Atherton at Maze and then for Gordon Ramsay at Foxtrot Oscar, is running an extremely tight little operation delivering consistently high quality food which is presented alongside a well chosen wine list. The interior is knowing and seductive and the atmosphere buzzy with a refreshingly eclectic soundtrack having been picked by the bar manager-Echo Beach by Martha and the Muffins was playing as we left! Service was friendly and helpful…I’m bored with myself praising this place. It’s great. Go!