JP, who I know IRL, as they say on Twitter, had passed my blog to a group of her friends and they wanted to get together, to eat and to talk about food. Like I’d need to even think about it.
So, together with JP, JM, G, H and S, this was a second outing for what I am going to call the Blog Sisterhood. H, a man, is permitted to participate, as he is a passionate chef and is married to S. Not that we’re exclusive or anything.
Social Eating House. The clue is in the title. Social. As in Little Social and Pollen Street Social. Yes, this is a Jason Atherton venture. Jason, the Gordon Ramsay de nos jours, even has a website. I suspect he learnt some of the global ambition stuff from the foul-mouthed one, having been executive chef at Maze, part of the Ramsay stable. From my copious research (a bit of Googling) it would appear he parted from El Gordo in 2010 and set up his own company, Jason Atherton Limited in 2010. Hasn’t the boy done well?
First impressions were positive. Dark and atmospheric, the main room is all neon and metal, split into two areas, the bar and the banquettes to the right, as you walk in and a larger room at the rear. There are other offerings; a kitchen table and a “secret” bar, but we didn’t try those.
Six of us were squeezed into one of the banquettes. And I do mean squeezed. We had to pass the plates along, like pass the parcel. Marvellous. I do not suffer with personal space issues, which is fortunate. There was nowhere to put our bags. I asked if they could take my coat. No, they said, there is no cloakroom, but you can hang it over there, they said, pointing to the back of the restaurant, a million miles away. If I had been wearing my Uniqlo special, that would have been fine, but this was my Yohji Yamamoto, a find from a great second-hand shop in Chelsea called Sign of the Times. Yes. Second-hand. Great cashmeres. You’re welcome.
So wedged between S and J, I settled in for the night. The menu is not of the less is more persuasion à la St John. It’s all Roasted Cornish Brill, Sweet Millet, White Chantenay, Sour Cream and Chives and Black Curry, by way of example. And we pondered over the While Drinking and While Eating sections of the menu. “While Drinking” looked fairly straightforward, described as jars to share, all at £5.50. “While Eating” were just side dishes. While confusing, for all of us.
We ordered all the jars, obviously. Large clear jars, with an inch or so of food at the bottom of each. Cornish Mackerel Tartare, Horseradish Cream, Confit Duck Rillettes, Spiced Mango and Chicory, Salt Cod Brandade with Potato chips and Spiced Aubergine with Tomato and Parsley. Whilst we waited, we looked at the back of the menu, which lists ingredients, where they come from and how far away that is, in miles. Do I need to know that the sour cream in my main course travelled 245 miles? The furthest away, scallops, at 719 miles, the closest, apples and Spinach from “Kent” at 40 miles. Silliness. I do applaud the desire to champion British produce, but this just seems a little contrived. Not to mention up its own backside.
And the jars were fiddly and gimmicky. I liked the brandade and the aubergine but even with my small hands they were difficult to eat from the jar with the accompanying bread or crisps. We skipped starters, as a result of said jars and went straight to mains. The brill (see above for full listing) was good, fresh and interesting and I liked the sweet millet. I can’t say that I was able to taste much Chantenay carrot, though or the sour cream. The general view was that the mains were good.
Desserts looked promising in a nostalgia sort of way. Chocolate nemesis, that old River Café standby made an appearance, as did Arctic Roll, and Wagon Wheel, which was billed as toasted meringue, salted caramel and raspberry. As I make The Nem regularly (the recipe needs adapting by the way, the one in the book doesn’t work in a domestic oven) I gave it a miss. H thought it not quite as good as the original, gave him the required choc fix, but didn’t have the right consistency.
The Arctic roll appealed not only to me but to JP. Its full title: Pecan Praline Arctic Roll, Maple Syrup ice-cream, Coffee Meringue. A slab of roll and dry meringue with caramelised pecans dotted around the plate and a wafer balancing on the top, this looked the business. It wasn’t. The praline filling was uninteresting and too dense in texture. Like something you’d get in the newsagent’s freezer cabinet. The maple syrup ice cream was really tasty but the meringue a little dry and crumbly. I left most of the roll. So did JP. No one asked.
Of the six of us, no-one was impressed and none wanted to return. Parts of the meal were good but some dishes were just poor, or misconceived. It was noisy and the service, whilst friendly, was a touch haphazard. I had a great time, but it wasn’t down to the food. Social yes, but Eating House? Not one I will be eating at again, I expect.
Scores on the doors
Best for: A jar and a jar
Worst for: A quiet night out with people you don’t want to actually touch