Since launching Pollen Street Social, Jason Atherton is slowly forming a mini-empire around Soho. A prodige of Ramsay (he headed up Maze), he’s certainly a very talented chef and launched his flagship restaurant in 2011. I was very impressed with PSS, it showed lots of potential with an interesting menu format (“medium” size plates) and plenty of delicate touches and skilful execution. Plus interesting flavours and ingredients.
Skip to 2013 and we have 2 new Atherton venues in London. Little Social was launched first, directly across from the original, and we also have Social Eating House on Poland Street in the heart of Soho. Both, I suppose, are aiming to emulate some of PSS but in a more casual environment. Little Social is a very French brasserie in atmosphere, drinks and menu.
Firstly, the staff were excellent, walking the line between formality, efficiency and friendliness perfectly. Smartly dressed and moving quickly, yet still happy to chat and knowledgable about the menu. Through a slightly complicated mixup I ended up having a pre-dinner drink and starter at the bar, followed by my main and dessert at a table, which was a nice way of seeing both sides. The PSS dessert bar in reverse if you will. Pre-dinner I had the “French Negroni”, which I thought sounded like a bastardisation too far but was actually delicious. I think it had citrus Ketel vodka, Suze (French bitters), Lillet blanc and a splash of absinthe plus a twist of grapefruit. Looking much lighter than a Negroni, it was actually reminiscent of its inspiration and worked very well as an even more refreshing alternative.
Bread was warm with a soft interior and nice crusty outside. The butter was salty, soft and served on a cute paddle. So all good there. I started with the cod brandade which came simply as a lot of things on toast. I know it’s brasserie food but it’s not the cheapest (£8 I think for this) and I found the presentation a touch odd, especially the lettuce horns as I named them. The brandade was nice with a good texture and salty fishy richness. But the rest felt a bit plonked on. Nothing offensive, and the flavours worked well enough, but I wasn’t very excited by a few bits of tomato, lettuce and ham. If I’d made it for myself for lunch I’d be very happy, here I found it pretty indifferent.
Next up was roasted cod with cockles, pesto, cabbage and butter beans. I was clearly in a fishy mood (apologies for the absolutely dreadful image, difficult lighting and lack of photography skills are both evident!). It looked great, a whacking great piece of snowy white cod with a touch of crust from the roasting. Cutting into the cod it had a slight chewy feel and to my palate was slightly underdone which rendered the middle a bit unpleasant. Hmmm, not a good start. The cockles all (bar one) still had grit in them which made for an even less pleasant mouthfeel combined with chewy cod. The sauce was a bit watery from the cabbage, although the pesto did help bring it together (even if it was a touch bitter). And some butterbeans, which did what they said on the tin. I can see the aim and with a few fixes would have been a great summery dish, unfortunately this fell way short because of several problems.
Dessert was a hot chocolate moelleux (read fondant in case like me you had no idea what a moelleux was) with almond and sea salt ice cream. It was certainly gooey, bordering on runny. It definitely delivered a big dark chocolate hit which is all you can ask. The ice cream was a tad melted and didn’t have as much punch from the almonds and salt as I would have liked, I don’t think it stood up enough to the chocolate black hole next to it.
Having read lots about Little Social, I seem to have a slightly contrary opinion to most reviewers. I can see potential in this restaurant and think it was a combination of me being unlucky together with too high an expectation from someone like Atherton. Then again the prices are not cheap and we have every right to expect excellent execution for simple brasserie dishes like these. I’ll probably be giving them another go, but then again won’t be rushing back.