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Social Eating House, Poland Street, London

Rating: 90.
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Note: In the Michelin Great Britain & Ireland 2014 guide Social Eating House was awarded a Michelin star.

In the last two years, Jason Atherton has quickly built a small culinary empire. The current tally is 3 restaurants in Singapore, 2 in Shanghai, 1 in Hong Kong and 3 in London. The three in London are Michelin starred Pollen Street Social, opened in April 2011, Little Social (opened in March 2013, opposite Pollen Street Social) and, the latest addition, Social Eating House (open since April). Later this year Atherton will open a fourth restaurant in London, Berner's Tavern at the new London Edition Hotel.

Social Eating House, located in Poland Street in Soho, is a joint venture between Jason Atherton and his wingman Paul Hood. The restaurant is on the ground floor and there's a 'speakeasy' called The Blind Pig on the first floor, which has its own secret entrance on Poland Street. Downstairs is the so-called 'Employees Only' chef's table, an 8-seat kitchen counter overlooking the kitchen of chef-patron Paul Hood.

Paul Hood trained at the restaurant at Monte's, a private members club in Knightsbridge, at the time overseen by Jamie Oliver and Australian chef Ben O'Donoghue, The Glasshouse (one star) in London and Thackeray's (one star) in Royal Turnbridge Wells. In 2006 he met Jason Atherton, when he joined Atherton's kitchen team at the Michelin starred Maze in Mayfair, first as sous-chef and later on as senior sous-chef. In 2010 they both left Maze and in 2011 Paul Hood became head chef at Jason Atherton's first solo-venture Pollen Street Social.

Social Eating House is open for lunch and dinner Monday till Saturday. There's an a la carte menu (starters £8.50-£10.50, mains £16-£24.50, desserts £7.50-£8.50) and a set lunch menu (2 courses £19, 3 courses £23). I had dinner at Social Eating House on Monday 24 June 2013 with my husband and two friends.

Since there were four of us that night, we decided to have some 'jars to share' (£5.50 each) with our drinks. Our three Le Parfait jars were filled with (i) pork rilettes, crispy onion rings and fresh green apple (no photograph), (ii) a lovely fresh and creamy mackerel tartare with horseradish and diced cucumber and (iii) a creamy cod brandade, parsley oil and celery salt crisps. All perfectly seasoned and served with toasted bread for scooping.

Raviolo of wild boar bolognese with Berkswell and peppered hearts and kidneys followed. A well-made raviolo with a delicious, coarse-textured wild boar bolognese, served with some wilted spinach, deep-fried oregano and freshly grated Berkswell cheese. Loved the concentrated, sweet and salty tomato flavours; the spinach added a lovely touch of freshness. The "peppered hearts and kidneys" were in fact dehydrated hearts and kidneys, served in a pepper mill to be freshly ground over the raviolo; a nice and fun touch.

Next to arrive was smoked beef (Black Angus) tartare. Beautifully seasoned beef tartare accompanied by sliced daikon and radish, grated horseradish, mustard leaves, buttery croutons and last but not least dots of creamy pickled egg yolk puree, cooked sous-vide. A perfectly balanced dish with lovely clean flavours; the sharpness of the radish and mustard leaves matching the tartare wonderfully.

My main course was a hefty dish of kombu lacquered Cornish cod, little gem lettuce, fresh peas, mousseron mushrooms, cockles and a cream sauce, finished with a drizzle of olive oil. Wonderfully tender and moist cod. The kombu really intensified the flavour of the cod, thereby providing a nice flavour contrast to the rich cream sauce. Lovely freshness and texture from the little gem lettuce. A well-executed dish with bags of flavour.

Next a very elegant pre-dessert (no photograph) of vanilla yoghurt and strawberries (jelly, sorbet, ice cream and fresh) and candied basil. The different strawberry preparations delivered a wonderful variety of flavour intensities.

Dessert was a quenelle of sweet and tart lemon curd, fennel, yoghurt sorbet, buttery peppered pastry crumble, candied lemon zest and broken meringue. The lemon curd had a wonderfully creamy texture and the meringue was perfectly light and crunchy. A wonderful dessert with a great balance of flavours and textures. It's got sweetness, it's got's crunch, it's got acidity, it's got freshness: terrific.

The cuisine of Paul Hood at Social Eating House is firmly rooted in the classical bistro style. This is evident from the gutsy but clean flavours and the presentation that sometimes has a rustic flair. The quality of the ingredients, the finesse of the flavour combinations and the modern techniques employed however, show that this food has a modern heart and elevate it to a quality level that clearly exceeds that of the classical bistro. The restaurant aims to provide a dining experience in an informal and social setting and it would not make sense to serve very elaborate dishes using very expensive ingredients. As Paul Hood convincingly shows however, this does not mean that the food has to be simple or uninspired. On the contrary, his carefully created dishes show originality, skill and creativity. 

This is assured cooking, detailed and precise and at a very attractive price point. I am also pleased to see that he champions British produce, e.g. cod from Cornwall, pork from Cumbria, wild boar from Wiltshire, crab from Colchester, honey from Dorset. If bistronomy is an appropriate word to describe a fusion between the classical bistro style and contemporary gastronomy, I suppose this is British bistronomy. From the chef's table I could see a focused and ambitious kitchen team at work that operated very smoothly and their efforts were borne out by the quality of the food on the plate. Social Eating House is highly recommended.

Posted 08-07-2013


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