By any metric now Jason Atherton should be as celebrated as his former boss Gordon Ramsay. Atherton has diligently quietly changed the face of London dining for good, opening tremendous restaurant after tremendous restaurant, all without the theatrics, the viral memes and the endless ‘colourful’ feedback. His secret? Even as he has expanded his empire, Atherton is a master of enlisting the right people in the right roles, focusing on the right things.
This is most evident at Social Eating House, one of his outposts in the middle of Soho. Although having worked in that part of town for most of my professional career I was either drawn to the more flamboyant (the gallery stacked walls of the Edition hotel) or the smaller and more covert (Little House, which always felt like the most clandestine). What a fool I had been: Social Eating House is one of the loveliest restaurants in London. Right in the centre of the capital, surrounded by an affable crowd of families, friends, couples, it manages the art of being genuinely welcoming.
Many of Atherton’s trademarks, considered so revolutionary at the time, are now mainstream. So bare brick, hip-hop soundtrack, leather banquettes, no fine dining fripperies are no longer exceptional. What is though is the standard of the cooking: under the watchful eye of Chef Patron Paul Hood (ex Pollen St Social) this is the kind of menu where everything you order tastes exquisite. The starter of BBQ Romano courgette with fresh basil, Westcombe ricotta and honey was both technically impressive and surprisingly moreish. Saddleback pork cutlet covered in a blizzard of aged parmesan felt like a sort of Michelin starred dude food and was outrageously good. The military precision of the sunflower seed topped scallops ensured they not only looked striking but had an almost sushi-esque feel to them. Cornish hake, with crispy topping, surrounded by a vivid sauce the colour of saffron, felt like a reimagined fish and chip supper - hitting the same notes, but improvised beyond recognition like a great jazz solo. The sous vide lamb from the Lake District, paired with leeks and jersey royals in seaweed butter, is the sort of dish you would hope to find near Windermere but never do. Dark chocolate tart with a slump of fromage frais proved a fitting farewell.
Wine wise, after a glass of Moet 2015, we opted for southern French Cuvée Constance 2019 - blend of 50% Maccabeu and 50% Grenache Blanc from 60 year old vines - that had a ripe, creamy citrussy finesse. 'La Magendia' desert wine was a flavour bomb of tropical fruit. We’ll have to check out speakeasy Blind Pig in the future and the Chef’s counter experience looked like something that would be well worth investigating. One aspect of Social Eating House that particularly caught my eye was that you can pop in for one course or a prix fix before the theatre - if you're lucky, you might be served by our waitress Camille Stahl and sommelier Federico Quintavalle, both of whom couldn’t have been better. In summary? An absolute triumph in every sense.