Please note, Little Social has been relaunched as 5 Social, a modern British restaurant. Time Out Food editors, April 2019.
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.