Aug. 20 (Bloomberg) -- Jason Atherton is opening restaurants faster than former mentor Gordon Ramsay did when he was the loudest voice in U.K. hospitality.
Atherton is being heard and has turned up the volume to 11. He’s expanding his dining empire in Singapore, China, Hong Kong, Dubai and Australia and plans to open two more London establishments over the next 10 months, the first on Sept. 12.
It’s a good time to look at the two he has added this year: Little Social, in Mayfair, and Social Eating House, in Soho. Those are in addition to his flagship Pollen Street Social.
The essence of what he’s doing is in the names of his restaurants. He’s looking to create venues that are informal and friendly and accessible to many people, although they are not especially cheap if you go for an a la carte meal.
Little Social is my favorite. It’s styled like a French bistro, with Burgundy banquettes and dining booths, hardwood chairs and elm tables. It’s preferable to get a booth rather than squeezing into one of the tables at the back.
The menu reflects Atherton’s love of seasonal English produce, with dishes that deliver on flavor without being over-complicated. Starters such as crab, tomato and radish salad, miso tomato dressing, marinated beetroot (10.50 pounds/$16.44) reflect his travels as much as his classical training.
Roasted halibut “BLT,” with portobello mushrooms, smoked bacon and a tomato-based sauce, shows his sense of fun as well as his creativity.
Of course, Atherton doesn’t pretend to be in the kitchen. Head chef Cary Docherty is a Canadian from British Columbia who worked with Atherton at Maze before going on to Zuma and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay.
Atherton says one reason that he keeps opening restaurants is because he has many long-serving chefs working for him who want a place of their own. That’s the case with Paul Hood, who is in charge at Social Eating House, which opened on April 19.
If Atherton’s original Pollen Street Social is modern classical and Little Social easy listening, Social Eating House is rock ’n’ roll. This Soho hangout is crowded and noisy, reminiscent of places such as Stanton Social in New York.
It’s buzzy and busy. Russell Sage’s design, with brick walls, white-washed copper ceilings and weathered leather banquette seats is also very New York.
The food, fortunately, is anchored closer to home. It’s inventive in style and presentation, starting with snacks such as spiced aubergine, tomato, parsley; and confit pork rillet, grain mustard, apple, cider vinegar served in small jars (5.50 pounds) for sharing.
Another unusually presented dish is a starter of wild mushrooms served in a bag that is snipped open at the table, releasing a wonderful aroma as you settle down to eat them on toast, with a cep puree (9.50).
(If you’re on a budget, there’s a set lunch at 19 pounds for two courses and 23 pounds for three.)
The food is gutsy, with dishes such as baked curried hake, baby squid, roasted cauliflower and cheese (19.50 pounds); confit Cotswold lamb neck fillet, roast white onion, aubergine, artichoke, tomato and tapenade (22.5 pounds); and P.B.J. cherryade parfait, peanut ice cream, cherry jam doughnut.
Cherryade in Soho? Sounds like one for Lola, Lo-Lo Lola.
The Bloomberg Questions
Cost? From 30 pounds to 40 pounds for three courses.
Sound level? About 75 decibels in Little Social, 80 in Social Eating House, which can get noisy.
Inside tip? Ask for a booth at Little Social; if you don’t have a booking, there are seats at the bar at Social Eating.
Special feature? Little Social has a cute window table, Social Eating a great bar upstairs.
Will I be back? Yes. Can you hear me?
Date place? Little Social is romantic, Social Eating sexy.
Little Social, 5 Pollen Street, Mayfair, London, W1S 1ND. Information: +44-20-7870-3730 or http://www.littlesocial.co.uk/.
Social Eating House, 58 Poland Street, Soho, London, W1F 7NR. Information: +44-20-7993-3251 or http://www.socialeatinghouse.com/
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Catherine Hickley on European art, James Russell on architecture and Amanda Gordon’s Scene Last Night.
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