It’s always exciting to try somewhere new, especially when that somewhere is Little Social, the new venture from Jason Atherton of Pollen Street Social fame. Situated just across the road from its big sister, Little Social only opened on 18 March but already seems to have made a name for itself in foodie circles, and I confess I couldn’t wait to add my own restaurant review to the burgeoning online press. Modelled on a Parisian bistro, Little Social’s long, narrow dining space is decked out in dark wood, with comfortable red leather banquettes, walls hung with smoke tinted mirrors, and an old fashioned copper topped bar. With a soundtrack of very 1990s music playing a little louder than one would expect for a relaxed restaurant, our first thought was that Little Social was marketing itself at Mayfair’s hip young things, but the wide mix of clientele suggested otherwise. We visited on their first Friday evening after opening and were greeted by an extremely friendly maître d’, whose enthusiasm for the restaurant was clearly evident as she took our coats and directed us straight to our waiting table even though we arrived 15 minutes early.
We enjoyed slices of freshly baked, crusty bread with creamy butter while we mulled over the short, seasonal menu. To start, my dining partner chose the impressively meaty pork head and foie gras terrine, which was served with a sweet tea and prune puree, and a slice of golden toasted sourdough bread. I was tempted by several of the starters on offer, but having read about Atherton’s method of slow poaching eggs (in a water-bath, at a relatively low heat for a rather long time), I just couldn’t resist it here. And it didn’t disappoint – the slow cooked egg was stunningly smooth, the intense yellow yolk somehow tasting yolkier than an ordinary egg would. It was accompanied by a sumptuously smooth parmesan and squash soup, which was poured over the egg at the table. This little bit of theatre was a very nice touch (and of course ensured that the egg didn’t get overcooked in the soup on the way to the table). The dish was finished off with bite-sized morsels of earthy roasted mushrooms, thin shavings of salty parmesan, and generous, crunchy croutons.
Moving on to main course, my dining partner enjoyed an enormous aged Scottish beef burger, cooked medium-rare, topped with 2 slices of bacon, a chunk of melting mature cheese, sweet caramelised onions, and tangy pickles and served in a giant sesame-seeded bun. All that came with a side of shoestring fries and a small bowl of lightly dressed green salad leaves. My dining partner almost gave in to the temptation to add foie gras as an extra burger topping, but just about managed to restrain himself. My own main course of roasted halibut “BLT” with Portobello mushroom and Bois Boudran sauce was a slightly lighter affair. The roasted halibut fillet was cooked to perfection, delicate and flaky, while the BLT (about which I confess I had been ever so slightly dubious) was a brilliant accompaniment – a thick wodge of salty bacon, slow cooked until extremely tender, a braised baby gem lettuce, and a sweet, piquant chopped tomato salsa, the flavours all contrasting but complimenting each other perfectly. The Portobello mushroom was deliciously buttery, and the Bois Boudran sauce was subtly spicy. I wasn’t quite sure at the time what it was made of – and having since looked up recipes, I was surprised to discover that two of the principal components are tomato ketchup and Worcestershire sauce! Although we really didn’t need it, neither my dining partner nor I could pass up the opportunity to sample a side of “poutine”, a Canadian specialty that Atherton was introduced to by Little Social’s Canadian head chef, Cary Docherty. A generous bowl of chips (crispy on the outside, fluffy in the middle), topped with thickly sliced, paprika spiced chorizo, hot pickled jalapenos, salty curd cheese, and lashings of light, slightly tangy gravy to add moisture, poutine is not the healthiest of side dishes but it is definitely worth loosening your belt for.
By the time we were offered the dessert menu, both of us were almost full to bursting, but the moment I saw the hot chocolate moelleaux with sea salt and almond ice cream, I knew I would have to make room for more. And I was glad I did, for this was pure dessert heaven. The chocolate moelleaux was rich and decadent, the darkly melting middle utterly luxurious, while the small ball of ice cream at the side was a perfect contrast, the saltiness cutting sharply through the chocolate and tempering its intense sweetness. My dining partner’s dessert of poached Yorkshire rhubarb Eton mess with rhubarb sorbet was on the lighter side, at once sweet and refreshing due to the interesting injection of mint in the mess’ meringue.
As for drinks, Little Social’s wine list offers a good selection of mostly old World wines, with entry level bottles starting at £25, while finer wines might set you back over £100. My dining partner and I shared a bottle of Chateau Mourgues du Gres, Galets Rouges, 2011 (£29). A complex, fruity blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Carignan, this was a great food wine, with finely balanced tannins and just a hint of cocoa and spice to bring it to life.
Service-wise, while we had been thoroughly impressed by the smiling maître d’, we were slightly less taken with our waiter. Efficient and brusque, he seemed intent on whisking our plates away the moment we put down our cutlery after each course, and brought our bill without us ever having asked for it, but then when we were ready to pay he failed to appear with the card machine and we had to wave several times to catch his attention. With our bill coming in at just over £62 per head for three courses, wine and service, Little Social is not cheap, but our meal set us back no more than we would have expected for food of this quality in this area of London. Having said that, the total could easily have been significantly higher had we invested in a higher end bottle of wine, or ended our meal with coffee and tea, for example. Had I been rating our food alone, I would have given Little Social full marks, but factoring in the slightly hurried service, faintly intrusive 1990s soundtrack, and somewhat premium prices, I come out with a final score of a still impressive four Forks-Up.
Little Social 5 Pollen Street London W1S 1NE T: 020 7290 7600 / 020 7870 3730