I’ve had rather a long standing love affair with Jason Atherton’s cookery. I first heard about him through seeing him on the Great British Menu and thought that his cooking looked good enough for my yearly birthday meal (2008) to warrant a trip to Maze. 2 starters, 4 mains, a cheese course and a dessert later and I was hooked. BLT in a glass, beef ‘tongue n cheek and peanut butter and jelly ice-cream sandwich still remain some of my best food memories, thankfully not dampened by the memory of the appallingly boring and uninspiring meal at Maze Cape Town. Knowing he was back in business therefore made me extremely excited.
Being out in the states during the grand opening and initial few weeks I thankfully missed a number of negative reviews and comments. To be honest it wasn’t totally unexpected and a reason that I never rush through the doors of a new place; no matter how hard people try there will always be kinks to iron out. Thankfully when we went the kitchen team seemed to really be in their stride. I hate the term ‘tapas style’ but that pretty much sums up Jason’s menus; smaller dishes that you can happily have a decent number of. After a rather epic trip to the states I decided to ‘be good’ go for 2 of each (including dessert), there being two of us that meant we got a go on 4 of each which seemed a decent number.
I kicked off with the ‘full English breakfast’ – cooked tomatoes, a soft poached egg, morels and iberico ham bacon. Eating it I had memories of the classic BLT from Maze and was a little bit disappointed. The texture of the tomatoes was good but after cracking open the egg the rest of the tastes were rather lost. The smoked foie gras was rather odd – not sure what it was smoked in but it tasted rather like a lump of teak and just a bit wrong, not sure if that was an unfortunate experience for us but I really didn’t think it should have tasted like that. BBQ’ed mackerel and scallop with cucumber worked well together with the light puree balancing well with the strong, oily fish. Squid and cauliflower were an interesting combo if possibly a bit undercooked; but I did really like the roasted squid juice – perfectly clear (until it met the squid ink) with just a delicate squid like taste, I could have drunk a cup of that for lunch any day.
So OK I know what you’re thinking; didn’t I say that I found the kitchen to be in full stride? I’ve said the foie gras was dodgy, the breakfast over eggy and the cauliflower could possibly have been undercooked. Well things for me changed when heading over to the right side of the menu for the ‘main dishes’.
Pretty much straight from the old Maze menu was ox tongue and cheek; a very meaty dish and for a ‘small portion’ I thought very generous. I’m a big fan of cheek and this was breaking into meaty chucks without use of the knife – it was perfectly done. Halibut with paella was a great combo and with the smokey paprika taste running across the palate only to be cooled down slightly by the meaty white fish. More delicate was the roasted place with sea vegetables and prawns (bisque and meat), it reads very much like it tastes and that is by no means a bad thing. All are massively outdone by the pork though. Oh the pork…
Pork belly. Beetroot. Hops. Grains. Seed. Other than maybe the hops nothing stands out much on its own but when combined on a plate this was the single best dish I have eaten this year, maybe also last year. The pork was juicy, supplied crackling salty and crisp and the underlying bed of hops, grains and seeds provided both a texture but also a taste that had me nearly crying at the idea of having eaten it all. The smell reminded me of many a home brew attempt and the taste alongside the pork and juice was perfectly balanced. I’ve heard people say they aren’t sure about the whole dish but I just atone that to it being an early slip up that has now been fixed because to me this was perfect.
A lot has been made of the ‘dessert bar’ and I was initially a little disappointed – it’s nothing more than a bar area at the back of the restaurant (not a separate bar that I had imagined) though soon after ordering the genius of it was apparent. Desserts are cooked by dedicated staff right in front of you and the offerings are all rather spectacular both visually and taste-wise. Star of the show for me was the rice pudding with hay-ice cream and lime jelly. Each time the lime touched my tongue it’s zingyness as it cut through the creamy pudding caught me by surprise. A very tasty surprise.
Pollen Street is a much welcomed restaurant for me in the West End. Jason Atherton is a big talent and the relaxed bar, exceptional cooking and, currently, off the beaten track location means I hope to return, if not just for the pork.Tweet