Social Eating House review: Thursday August 28, 2014
Whatever Jason Atherton takes to keep himself going should be bottled and sold. He seems to have limitless energy as his empire of restaurants grows ever broader and geographically-diverse, while a good profile in the Guardian explains the roots of his hard work ethic.
The fear is, in common with all other well-known chefs, that he risks spreading himself too thin. 22 Ships in Hong Kong is a regular favorite of mine, Pollen Street Social in London a great space and Social Eating House has brought two of my best meals of the last twelve months. Esquina in Singapore served up big, bold harmonies of flavour and texture but Pollen, also in the Lion City, was massively disappointing while Aberdeen Street Social in Hong Kong seemed to still need time to find its feet after my last visit.
Now in fairness you can’t please all of the people all of the time, and four out of six wins is a pretty good strike rate in my visits. But at what point does another new restaurant tip the balance? How hands-on can you be, how can you ensure that the quality of your name and brand is being upheld? I don’t have the answer, and haven’t visited his newer outposts including City Social and Typing Room in London and openings in Dubai, Shanghai and Sydney – but am intrigued to see how things will play out.
Back to the present and a lunch at his Social Eating House on London’s Poland Street with a great friend and former colleague. The last time I ate here, with my wife, was not long after opening and the kitchen was already firing on all cylinders. A year later and I’m happy to say that nothing has changed.
We went à la carte and my starter of onion squash soup, roasted scallop, crispy pork skin, ceps and seaweed was an absolute belter of a dish. The creamy, sweet pumpkin delivered great depth and colour to the soup, while the scallops, ceps and pork skin added contrasting but complimentary bite. Only the seaweed didn’t really get to join the party:
Kentish Saltmarsh lamb rump immediately reminded me of Mont St Michel lamb which is also naturally salty, given that flocks there likewise graze on salt marshes and meadows. It was an utterly lovely cut that made an unusual but happy marriage alongside miso caramel, pale aubergine, mint yoghurt and coconut.
How they arrived at this combination of ingredients is beyond me, but it worked on every level and was one of my top plates of the year so far.
It was rude not to look at the dessert menu and ruder still not to try one, especially as any dish with ‘nemesis’ in the title is a gauntlet thrown in my direction. This one was 70% chocolate, served with Mascarpone, vin santo and espresso essence. Not much ‘social eating’ here though as I only gave G a small spoonful as I shamelessly wanted the rest for myself.
Service was smart and unobtrusive, the place buzzing nicely. So three courses bring three great dishes and Jason Atherton gets another mark firmly in the tick column. Those fears of over-expansion look unfounded as the empire strikes back.
Social Eating House, 58 Poland St, London W1F 7NR. Tel: +44 207 993 3251 – http://www.socialeatinghouse.com/