5 Pollen Street
5 Pollen St, W1S 1ND
Tel: 020 7629 1555
Cost per person without wine: £45-£50
WITH Jason Atherton’s much-hyped Pollen Street Social to open next month, this miniscule back-alley behind Hanover Square has been getting more attention than one might expect of such a street.
And now – pipping Atherton to the post – comes another restaurant here, also touting the tiny little street in its name.
It’s a discreet sort of place, 5 Pollen Street – dimly lit, dark-doored and relatively un-hyped. Which is probably why Chris Martin and Gwyneth, Gemma Arterton and Andrew Lloyd Webber have been frequenting the place.
I can see why it would be a favourite with the very well-heeled. Never mind that the chef is Stefano Cavalllini, who garnered a Michelin star while at the Halkin. More striking is how lovely to look at it is: small and jewel-like, with wallpaper that’s half botanical and half something that could be of a more sexual nature (erotic wallpaper seems to be the vogue – have you looked closely at the walls of the Dean Street Townhouse? You’ll blush).
The bar is small and inviting; the kind where you’d shelter from a rainstorm after hearing tragic news and order a succession of the strongest cocktails its neat bottles can provide. I wasn’t sheltering or in need of anything hard, so plumped for a pink fizz. Within seconds a bowl of enormous glossy green olives had appeared. It was just so.
The dining room also appeared promising because within seconds of sitting down we had a cleansing and delicious little bowl of spring vegetables placed before us – fennel, radish, celery and more olives, to dip into a little pot of oil and vinegar.
But once the meal began in earnest, things lost their spot-on-ness. As seems to be the vogue now, starters are main-course prices: £11-£18. So they need to be really, really good. Yet mushroom flan with cheese fondue and black truffle, which sounded terrific, tasted bland; like ricotta and mushrooms that had been simply moulded and presented lukewarm. The burrata salad was great, though – a big wad of the delicious, mozzarella-style cheese with a mound of roast veggies. At £13 pounds, it certainly needed to be good.
We’d wanted a carby interlude of pumpkin and chestnut ravioli with butter and sage (£14) but they’d run out of it so - not tempted by the waiter’s well-meaning but slightly condescending suggestion of a pasta and tomato sauce instead (we wanted chestnuts, damnit!) – we ploughed on to mains, perhaps missing out.
And then: more disappointment. My veal loin (a special) came “slow-cooked” with porcini mushrooms. Usually veal is sensational in good Italian restaurants: pink and juicy. This was dry and severely overcooked, like a chop my mother (a reluctant cook) might have produced when we were growing up and she’d had a long day at work.
On the plus side, my friend’s beef filet with radicchio and a rich purple sauce was very good but also a bit dry. Perhaps they’re better at fish – there is certainly a handsome selection of it.
For the final course, things looked up – but again, one or two details struck us as odd. For one thing, my cheese came with “special breads”, which I was rather looking forward to, but they turned out to be more of the Sardinian crisp-breads we had with our vegetable nibbles. Then there was a plate with a pile of Jacob’s cream crackers and other supermarket cheese crackers.
The cheese itself was a lovely selection of Italian soft and hard, but it deserved a more elegant accompaniment. The yogurt mousse was flawless, though, and I don’t doubt the other sweets would be very good too – particularly the iced soufflé tiramisu.
At the table next to us a group of elegant Italian sophisticates were clearly enjoying their food. So perhaps my failure to enjoy all aspects of the meal is my fault, not the restaurant’s.
But so long as I’m eating top-dollar Italian cuisine in London, not Milan, I’m afraid I’ll be expecting a little bit better.