The trend is obviously French brasserie in London. Since Zedel proved to be a big hit with its wallet-friendly classic French dishes, Balthazar from NY upped the game with a posher version and now it's Little Social, a younger, more casual sister of Pollen Street Social.
I loved PSS, so I was almost too excited to make a booking at LIttle Social. Wooden floors, a few sofa booths with brass rails with dim lights and plenty of small framed cartoons on the wall and blackboard with hand-written daily specials - it was in the middle ground of bistro and brasserie. But undoubtedly casual. The specials were mainly oysters and steaks of different cuts: bavette, sirloin or chateaubriand for 2. I was more interested in the a la carte...
Slow cooked egg, parmesan and squash soup, roasted mushrooms, croutons
It was a tough one. I was battling between the steak tartare on the specials or this, and our charming Portuguese waiter wasn't helping much by saying how great they both were. I went for this in the end, purely because I thought this could be an interesting variation of the great English Breakfast from Pollen Street Social next door.
And it did not disappoint - there was so much going on here. There were resemblance to the English Breakfast: the wobbly gooey egg, ultra crispy croutons and fragrant funghi. Having the the golden, naturally sweet squash soup as the base instead of tomato puree completely changed the flavours. Croutons soaked up and partially softened by the sweet soup, with a hint of mushroom aroma, thickened by the custardy yolk, finished with a punch from parmesan. An absolute treat.
Cauliflower and crayfish risotto, roasted cauliflower
I never realised how dominating the flavours of cauliflower are. Despite the generous dose of crayfish, the dish very much resembled cauliflower cheese with risotto. A good cauliflower cheese nonetheless. Full marks on the varying layers of textures though, perfectly al dante chewy risotto, bouncy and tender chunks of crayfish, crunchy slices of roasted cauliflower stalk, all brought together by the smooth and creamy sauce.
Pork chop, butternut squash puree, pine nut and olive dressing, endive
I rarely choose pork chop at restaurants, except for Iberica pork executed by trusted Spanish kitchens. But if Jason Atherton is happy with it being on the menu, I'm happy to trust him.
And boy this inch-thick hunk of pig was phenomenal. The meat was oozing with meat juice, its rind of lard was grilled to a crispy edge with a slightly crunch, and most important it tasted like pork on its own. Without drowning the pork chop in thick sauce or glazing it with sticky sweet honey, the leaner muscles actually carried flavours of pork. (It may sound odd, but meat rarely tastes of meat nowadays.) The sweet butternut squash puree, the jus and endive all gave the dish more dimensions, but even without them, it was one gorgeous pork chop.
Roast Halibut 'BLT', mini Portobello mushroom
I felt the fish was slightly overcooked, given how I like mine slightly undercooked. It was still flaky and soft, but lacked the slithery silkiness I was hoping for in halibut.
The block of bacon on top of the fillet was stunning, at least 2 thin layers of lard wedged between tender lean meat, the whole cube melted in mouth. The whole combination of braised lettuce, mushroom and chopped tomato was refreshing, if not slightly watery. The pork won - hands down.
Hot chocolate moelleaux, sea salt, and ginger ice cream
The hot chocolate fondant was ultra indulgent with the gooey centre, given a cute, unexpected twist by the sea salt. Personally I am fan of ginger, so the ice cream wasn't up my street, but the hot and the cold and sweet and the savoury all in one mouthful was brilliant.
Brown sugar tart, creme fraiche sorbet and black sesame
The brown sugar tart was more or less like a flan, not too sweet or too heavy. The crumbs mixed with black sesame and rice crispies gave off some gentle popping along with the sorbet. Everything was in perfect harmony, I was 120% full but still managed to lick the plate clean.
Little Social definitely lived up to the hype and expectation. With Jason Atherton's name to it, it couldn't possibly go wrong. It reminded me of the Corner Room by Nuno Mendes, a side project that offers casual dining after the Michelin star success from the main dining room. And they were equally brilliant. I need to go back, I'm hooked.
5 Pollen Street
Tel: 0207 870 3730