This year, rather aptly for my 33rd, I had the pleasure of no less than three birthday lunches. Following Bell’s Diner with the Ewing and noodles with a side helping of scandal with my oldest friend, Mikey, I was lucky enough to have a date with my dear friend, the magical Stealth.
Being a (mostly) reasonable sort of person, I stuck to the - stunningly good value at £21 for three courses - prix fixe; although, I made sure to order plenty of cocktails, lest anyone thought I was a cheap date. Thankfully Stealth has a ‘food duplication’ fear that makes her a blogger’s dream companion - and was happy to take the two choices on the set menu involving my nemesis, the egg (thankfully one of her favourites), keeping us both happy.
Ham hock rolled in embers with burnt leek and onion came as a thick coin ofsmoky meat with an allium centre. Pork and onion is a lovely, very British, combination of flavours and the salty, piggy disc was further complemented by an ace (if slightly difficult to eat) tangle of onion marmalade topped with finely sliced strips of spring onion. If I were struggling for a criticism, the slice of toasted sourdough shattered dramatically every time I tried to load some hock onto it.
Stealth was charmed by her iron bark pumpkin and parmesan soup, served in a small flask to be poured over a bed of crunchy sprouts and seeds and perfectly poached egg tableside. While it seemed a slightly strange combination, she proclaimed it the ‘highlight of the meal’, with the clever contrast of temperatures and textures.
My next drink was the punningly delicious, and thankfully not budget, Rye N'Air; served in two parts - a rocks glass full of ice and orange alongside a sealed bottle containing' Pikesville rye, Campari, peach brandy, anise, sweet vermouth, grapefruit oils, cabin pressure, duty paid'. Smooth, citrussy and pleasingly bitter.
My main was a picture; grilled whole plaice served simply with a scattering of samphire, salt and vinegar chips and half a charred lemon perfectly wedged in the gill-shaped recess. This was my idea of perfection; crispy, sweet fish; salty veg; the tang of malt vinegar and the smoky sourness from the citrus. I didn’t even mind the occasional forkful of bones as I greedily attacked the skeleton in attempt to strip it of every scrap of flesh.
Stealth’s veal Holstein with its classic accompaniments a fried egg, capers and anchovies was, again, a simple and spot on piece of cooking, with the blushing pink meat and pile of underrated rainbow chard served alongside. Although the use of vinegared boquerones instead of the traditional salted fish fillets made me sad (although possibly not as sad as the marvellous Simon Hopkinson was when writing about the difference between using sprats or anchovies in his recipe for Janssen’s Temptation in his latest book).
As I had recently enjoyed a chocolate pudding of the darkest depth at the Ethicurean, I chose the lemon meringue pie with peppered pastry crumble for desert. This was a panacea for citrus fruit lovers, with the quenelle of rich tangy curd and sharp yogurt sorbet working in harmony with the buttery crumbs and bitter strips of candied zest. Even the shards of meringue, which looked rather like the sheets of polystyrene you get when you order a new TV, were infused with a subtle lemon scent.
Compared to my plate - which, rather like myself may best be described as ‘pale and interesting’- Stealth’s was a riot. The miniature fondant was perfectly gooey-centred, something of an achievement given its diminutive size, and homemade honeycomb, coco pops crispy cake and vanilla ice cream made it feel like a civilised children’s party, less the grumpy clown and obligatory tantrum. There was also more of the polystyrene like meringue, this time with a roasted cocoa note; clever stuff.
With Stealth having promised to join me in an after dinner drink or two we found ourselves being, very politely, turfed out to the upstairs cocktail lounge, so they could prepare themselves for the evening dinner service. This turned out to be no bad thing, for the ‘Blind Pig’, as it is informally known, is, quite possibly, my idea of the perfect place for a sophisticated drink.
Of course, they let me in, so it’s not too sophisticated, but with its copper-topped bar, cosy leather banquettes and dimmed lighting it’s the sort of place you can imagine settling in for a session. And with barman of the year, Gareth Evans, at the helm and a cocktail list which carefully treads the line between the kitsch and the sophisticated it's easy to forgive names such as ‘Dill Or No Dill’, ‘Piscoteque!’ and ‘We Speak No Americano’, safe in the knowledge you’ll soon be slurping something pretty tasty.
While initial fan favourite, the glowing ’Thermo-Nuclear Daiquiri’- complete with ‘glowing radiation' and 'danger' - that flooded my Twitter feed when they first opened, is sadly no more, the popular ‘Cereal Killer’ still remains on the menu. This, dangerously quaffable, beverage is a blend of Coco Pops infused milk, Diplomatico Anejo rum, white chocolate and Galliano, served in a glass shaped like a milk carton, complete with striped straw.
My final drink was the ‘McBandaq’, a banana and root beer infused ‘smoothie’ blended with cachaca and condensed milk and served in its own waxed paper fast food cup. Despite being several sheets to the wind by this point, this was possibly my favourite of the night, mixing the slight medicinal wintergreen note from the root beer, tangy lime, sweet dairy and the kick of cachacha. And one of the very best ways to get drunk (er).
Our afternoon at Pollen Street Social was a, hazy, blast. Cracking cooking, a fantastic value set menu, awesome cocktails and fabulous staff. I'm just sad that even Stealth's magic powers couldn't stop my thumping head come the morning.