Last week, I was lucky enough to be invited to one of the many London Cocktail Week events – the Ketel One Distillers’ Dinner at Jason Atherton’s restaurant, Pollen Street Social. As the former head chef of Gordon Ramsey’s restaurant Maze, Jason Atherton has already made a name for himself since branching off in 2010 and has just been awarded a Michelin Star.
When we arrived, my friend H and I were taken through the bustling restaurant to the private dining room in the basement, where we were greeted with our first cocktail, Champagne Breakfast. Made up of Ketel One Oranje vodka, yellow Chartreuse marmalade, pink grapefruit and champagne, the cocktail was topped with a very thin slice of sourdough toast, coated with marmalade. As a Champagne lover, my favourite cocktails always have a splash of bubbly in them, so this went down very easily and helped ease the guests into conversation.
Once seated, we were offered bread before receiving the amuse bouche – Oyster Ice-cream served in an oyster shell on a bed of rock salt, sprinkled with edible flowers and dill. It almost looked too pretty too eat, but it wasn’t long before we tucked into the extremely fishy ice cream, which provoked the same reaction around the room – ‘I kind of love it and hate it at the same time’. Savoury ice creams are becoming more and more popular, but I think the brain finds it hard to get use to as, even when you’re halfway through eating, you constantly feel surprised when you don’t taste something sweet.
Sticking with the seafood theme, our starter was Crab Salad with Bloody Mary Sorbet, served with the cocktail Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary. The cocktail was essentially a very well made Bloody Mary – celery bitters replaced the traditional stick of celery and there was a Worcestershire foam on top. It was the perfect partner for the starter, which was again beautifully presented with rounds of pear making the crab salad into a sandwich. The sorbet had an intense tomato tang, but the flavour of the crab seemed slightly weak, possibly because my tastebuds had got use to the punchy oyster ice cream.
With two courses down, we moved onto our main of Ox Cheek with Beetroot in Vodka, served with Rode Wijn – another well paired cocktail that had the richness and warmth of red wine due to the Campari and stout syrup. The ox cheek was so skilfully cooked that it fell apart as soon as you put the knife into the delicious rich meat. There was also ox tongue on the plate, which was equally flavoursome, as well as delicious 12 hour slow cooked carrots and the creamiest mash potato I’d ever eaten.
Feeling full, we were then faced with the first of our two puddings – Sangria Mousse, Citrus Curd, Lemon Vodka and Blackberry Granite, served with a 50/50 Martini. It may seem over the top, but I felt like I was in heaven when eating this divine dessert and, from the silence that filled the room, I don’t think I was alone in my thoughts. It tasted a bit like a trifle crossed with lemon meringue pie and, even though we had all eaten a fair amount by this stage, no one had difficulty finishing. The Martini was also rather special, bringing some theatricality to the evening with its Citroen Fog accompaniment – dry ice was poured over the bowl of lemons in the centre of the table, filling the room with lemony incense.
The second dessert of Chocolate Pave, Mango Sorbet and an Orange and Chocolate Shot was less unusual, but equally enjoyable, satisfying my constant need for a chocolate fix. The pave was delightfully smooth and the sorbet intensely fruity, but unlike most chocolate and fruit pairings, I preferred eating them separately as the combination didn’t really work for me. If it wasn’t laced with Vodka, I would happily replace my regular Prêt hot chocolate with the Orange and Chocolate Shot, which was the star of this course.
I was at the stage where I physically couldn’t eat or drink anything else, so when the final cocktail Coffee and Chocolates came out, I sadly only managed one sip and even had to decline the offer of Jason Atherton’s chocolates.
I had a brilliant evening and would jump at the chance to go back to Pollen Street Social. On my way out, I noticed customers drinking wine at the Dessert Bar, watching pastry chefs create their chosen dessert. Seeing this made my next visit to Pollen Street Social seem more possible as, even if I can’t afford the whole meal, I’ll just pop in for wine and cake.
Pollen Street Social, 8/10 Pollen Street, London W1S 1NQ