20 June 2011

The Revolution Starts at Opening Time

Tapas amongst the bright lights and booming music of Westfield

Tapas revolutionA lot has already been written about Spanish Chef Omar Allibhoy if the Tapas Revolution website is to be believed. He is, apparently the Spanish Jamie Oliver, set to cause a sensation with his fresh cooking and Flamenco personality.
In which case the decision to site his first British venture in the temple of consumption that is Shepherds Bush’s Westfiled Shopping Centre would seem to make sense. Everything here is brash and bright, overtly commercial but guaranteed to have most diners rushing for the exit…if they can find it.

The food is cooked fresh and delivered quickly from behind a curved bar area where the Plancha and meat slicer are located. There is a fine selection of Spanish charcuterie including Jamon Iberico de bellota Gran Reserva, yet from the start you cant miss the fact that you are in a shopping centre and all around you is the din of conspicuous consumption, lost children and shrilling ring tones.

My Calamar a la Plancha were soft and well grilled, though way too heavy on the garlic, Pinchos Morunos were beautiful tender cubes of beef, marinated in paprika and red pepper sauce served on the spike while Esparragos con Manchego combined the saltiness of the cheese with the zing of the asparagus.

Not a lot wrong with the food, its just the wrong place to eat it. Perhaps I was unlucky to have chosen the day of a film premiere with Tom Hanks eliciting squeals before Sophie Ellis-Bextor gave it her best shot beneath the acoustically appalling atrium.

The menu has other appetising items, Pulpo a la Gallega, octopus with potatoes and paprika or Carrilleras, braised pork cheeks in sherry for example, plus a good looking selection of Bocadilos, however the atmosphere is all wrong. Loud and intimidating, despite the quality of food I couldn’t wait to leave never to return.

Not even a very acceptable glass of El Muro Carinera could calm things and with head throbbing I paid the completely extortionate sum of £25 for my 3 small dishes and glass of wine, and left.
Perhaps if Omar can open in a couple of high streets he will have a hit on his hands but in Westfield the Revolution is wasted. 

2 June 2011

Pollen Street Social

PSSThe buzz around Pollen Street Social has been so acute it has even reached the backwaters of Henley on Thames. So on an excursion to the capital with Mrs HT, that also took in a light lunch at Books for Cooks in Notting Hill, saw us on the off chance wandering into PSS, (as it shall now be known) in the early evening.

As Olive magazine pointed out this month, go early and choose the day of a major sporting final. So thanks to Barcelona and Man Utd we were happily seated in the bar at 5.30 enjoying a couple of cocktails, with a table ready for us when the kitchen opened at 6pm.

PSS is divided into two large oblong rooms. The bar area with comfortable modernist brown leather sofa’s and chairs with stools at the long bar is discreetly decorated with modern artworks against pale walls and a lowish ceiling. The dining room is slightly larger, decorated in similar fashion with dangling futurist globe lighting. The unusual feature is the dessert bar at one end, borrowed from the New York trend. Where, in other restaurants you might find a seafood bar, here you can perch on a stool, stare longingly into the adjacent kitchen, with its huge glass wall and Star Trek like sliding glass door, and engage the dessert chef in conversation about what to have.

Seated happily where Mrs HT could watch all the machinations in the room, service was exemplary, knowledgeable, friendly and at the right level between discreet and familiar. It is this affable service  that makes a visit to PSS such a pleasant experience. The other is of course the cooking of Jason Atherton.

Famously named by Faye Maschler as the best chef in the Gordon Ramsey empire at Maze and with a self financed stint at El Bulli also in the bag, Atherton cooks with intelligence and obvious passion, you can taste it in his unusual but precise dishes. Out straightening chairs in the bar when we first arrived he obviously cares too.

Almost every dish on the menu prompts a question. This is a good thing, not only providing intrigue it allows the waiting staff to raise your desire too with neat descriptions of all the dishes.Sated with information but not yet by food, my starter of Squid with Cauliflower Puree, shards of Cauliflower, Squid ink puffed rice and roast squid juice looked pale and interesting on the plate and was soft and comforting in the mouth, but given some depth and crunch by the rice, which of course isn’t rice at all. The idea of cutting the squid into tiny pieces and serving almost as a risotto is inspired.

The Full English Breakfast bore virtually no resemblance to that served at a greasy spoon, yet tasted exactly how you want it to. An egg poached  for 1 1/2 hours topping earthy mushrooms and roast tomato puree is unctuous but puts a broad grin on the face.

It is possible to have half portions of the main courses and turn the whole menu into a tasting menu we went tradtional though. Ox Cheek, Tongue and Sirloin was good without being exceptional, unlike the Roasted Halibut with a remarkably rich and moreish paella, steeped in ham fat, which was just wonderful.

Our request to sit at the dessert bar was happily accommodated, though I imagine later in the evening it might not be so easy. Watching Atherton at work through the glass was fascinating as was the conversation with the pud chef over the merits of full portions over mini tasters.

None of the descriptions, Ham, Cheese & Herbs, Sangria or PBJ do justice to the micro menu’s selection of light, delicate flavours prepared in front of us. Suffice to say that the ham is made from water melon and the herbs are tiny pieces of candied basil and sage, which the chef kindly told us how to make.
Pollen Street Social has been praised to the hilt since opening, with good reason, it is the most relaxed and entertaining dining room with some of the best food in London and top quality staff to match. Go while it’s still new.

Total cost for 2 Cocktails, 2 Starters, 2 Mains, 3 mini puddings, 1 bottle Chilean Haras de Pirque Cabernet Sauvignon: £153.56 inc service.

Pollen Street Social, 8-10 Pollen Street, London W1S 1NH 020 7290 7600