Little Social

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Jason Atherton's super-bistro pays homage to both Paris and Manhattan: sit near the back for ultra-discreet seating and wallow in the rich French-style cooking.

By Guy Dimond

There was a hiatus of several years when French gastronomy seemed to be receding in London. New burger joints, coffee bars and budget Asian diners have been the defining trends of recent years – little wonder, in a time of recession. But proper French cooking is too good to ever go away. This year, the bistro and the brasserie are back, with luminary venues such as Balthazar and Brasserie Chavot now joined by Little Social.

We’ve been huge fans of chef Jason Atherton’s cooking for years, from restaurants such as Maze to his current flagship, Pollen Street Social. He’s in expansive mode at the moment, with a new place in Soho also about to open. But when the site opposite PSS came up, Atherton scooped it up too.

Instead of replicating PSS’s success, he’s created a super-bistro, a luxe homage to Paris, but with a slightly Manhattan accent. There’s a cocktail bar that dominates the entrance: the drinks aren’t cheap but they’re expertly made, and you can eat at the bar if you wish. Beyond this are red leather booths; the further you venture, the more discreet the tables become.

Atherton’s rule appears to be ‘more is more’, so a parmesan and squash soup also contained a poached egg, roasted mushrooms and croûtons; although busy, the dish was a riot of flavour. More single-note but equally excellent was braised ox cheek, served on a dollop of horseradish mash, propped up by a roasted ox bone complete with a tiny spoon for scooping out the marrow. The heavily reduced sauce and generous amount of butter in the mash were resolutely old-school French, and all the better for it.

Seasonal ingredients are put to good use, so rhubarb appears twice: in an eton mess served in a glass tumbler with rhubarb sorbet, and again in a jam spooned through a goat’s milk rice pudding. The former was an excellent mix of crunchy meringue, poached fruit and frozen dairy, but the latter was wide of the mark: too runny and drippy, while oddly presented in a copper pan. The result looked like a child’s cookery experiment gone wrong.

This however, was the only disappointment in an otherwise exemplary meal. The French staff were charming, the atmosphere intimate, the cooking first-rate, the wines by the glass desirable – and, with set lunches at £25.50 for three courses, a meal here needn’t be rapaciously priced. The bistro is back with a bang.

Venue name: Little Social
Contact:
Address: 5 Pollen Street
London
W1S 1NE
Opening hours: Lunch served noon-2.30pm, dinner served 6-10.30pm Mon-Sat
Transport: Tube: Oxford Circus tube
Price: Main courses £16-£33. Set lunch £28 2 courses, £35 3 courses

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Spencer

How many pretentious restaurants can a city handle? Little Social is yet another over-priced 'trendy' venue serving well presented but mediocre tasting dishes. Lowlights: lamb that was vastly over-powered by anchovies (the anchovies were not mentioned on the menu - not great for someone who doesn't eat fish!) and a 'cheese board' (12.50 a head!) that resembled the left-overs from a dinner party. Also, we were seated beneath the music which was pumping out at loud volume the most bizarre selection of tunes loud enough so that we could barely make conversation or hear the waiting staff. Despite asking for the volume to be reduced on two occasions it remained at an uncomfortably high level for those of us sat beneath the speaker. The saving grace was the service which, apart from their avoidance of our request to reduce the music volume was very good. However I'm sorry to say the service doesn't in itself doesn't justify a repeat visit.