REVIEW: Jason Atherton’s Little Social, Mayfair

I’m writing this the morning after the night before. The night before being the evening we visited Little Social, one of chef and serial-restaurant-opener, Jason Atherton’s places in Mayfair. It was one of those restaurants that you find yourself thinking about way before you get there – not least in our case, because Jason had appeared on Saturday Kitchen that very morning and in part because we’d already scoured the menu and I was bargaining with my stomach all day, trying to decide between two firm favourite starters and not one, not two, but three main courses. That’s my favourite kind of restaurant. Not the one with rave reviews and a great reputation (although, Little Social does fall into that category too), not a place that faffs and flirts with foams and tiny tiny plates and not a place that makes you pay through the nose for the prestige of its founder or chef, but the kind of restaurant that offers so many brilliantly tempting and hearty dishes on their varied menu that you’re totally stumped for what to have.

From the main attraction to the sauces and dressings and accompaniments, you can tell just from the menu that Head Chef, Cary Docherty has given each and everything the care and attention it deserves. Think Butter Poached Chicken Breast and Perigord Truffle Salad with Spring Onions and Black Truffle Vinaigrette. Think Roasted Quail Breast with Confit leg, Sautéed Foie Gras, Chicory, Toasted Hazelnuts, Pear and Pickled Pear Puree. And imagine Glazed Confit Lamb Shoulder, Crushed New Potatoes, Petits Pois, Roasted Baby Artichokes and Lamb Jus or Mushroom Risotto, Wild Garlic and Roasted Sweetbreads. Is your mouth watering yet?

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Little Social counts as Mayfair, much like Atherton’s flagship Pollen Street Social, which is much bigger and just opposite, but it’s basically off of Regent Street, so pretty conveniently located. The street is quite unassuming, as is the front of the restaurant, with only Atherton’s wonky ‘a’ giving it away. As you walk in, behind the curtain is a bar area and you can see that the whole place is not huge. Many of the tables for two are nestled between other twosome tables with a long shared booth on one side and chairs on the other, but they’re not as closely spaced as in some places. The decor is dark, moody  and very ‘Parisian bistro’ with an upbeat, modern edge. The tables are woody, there’s a bit of leather and lots of tealights. The music was worth noting (props to the Spotify selector!) and the staff were really lively and loved talking about the food and the cocktails. Cocktails you say? We had already agreed to not have cocktails and to go straight for wine, but once we saw the cocktail options, we fancied a little taster. I went for the Electric Martini, which promised a ‘numbing effect’ courtesy of the sezchuan peppers. Let’s just say it was a sign of things to come! Alex opted for SOMETHING and it tasted like a ginger-y mojito – really refreshing.

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Little Social counts as Mayfair, much like Atherton’s flagship Pollen Street Social, which is much bigger and just opposite, but it’s basically off of Regent Street, so pretty conveniently located. The street is quite unassuming, as is the front of the restaurant, with only Atherton’s wonky ‘a’ giving it away. As you walk in, behind the curtain is a bar area and you can see that the whole place is not huge. Many of the tables for two are nestled between other twosome tables with a long shared booth on one side and chairs on the other, but they’re not as closely spaced as in some places. The decor is dark, moody  and very ‘Parisian bistro’ with an upbeat, modern edge. The tables are woody, there’s a bit of leather and lots of tealights. The music was worth noting (props to the Spotify selector!) and the staff were really lively and loved talking about the food and the cocktails. Cocktails you say? We had already agreed to not have cocktails and to go straight for wine, but once we saw the cocktail options, we fancied a little taster. I went for the Electric Martini, which promised a ‘numbing effect’ courtesy of the sezchuan peppers. Let’s just say it was a sign of things to come! Alex opted for SOMETHING and it tasted like a ginger-y mojito – really refreshing.

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While we sipped our cocktails and perused the menu a selection of white and malty breads with butter were brought to the table. I like anywhere that gives me free bread and keeps the water topped up, and our waitress knew the deal! Now, the starters. I was stuck between the aforementioned chicken and quail and a Salad of Baby Carrots, Avocado, Fennel, Clementines and Coriander. I’ve been promising myself to try more salads in nice places and since I was set on something OTT and meaty for my main, I went for it. The portion size was perfect and the salad was arranged beautifully in a bowl, which the waiter then topped up with an orange dressing in front of me. The soft and fleshy avocado was fab with the tart clementine and spicy coriander and I could have drunk the dressing. The carrots were soft, orange and purple and gave the fruit-centric dish an earthier, rooty finish. No regrets. I convinced Alex to try the Cumbrian Native Bavette Tartare, Quail Egg Yolk and Toasted Baguette, partly because he’s partial to steak tartare and partly because I wanted to try it. It was really smokey and rich and definitely benefitted from the toasted bread. Alex said he probably wouldn’t have it again because it was a very strong start, but that it was faultless all the same.

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It took me a while to choose my main. The lamb and the mushroom risotto sounded good. But in the end it was between my go-to ox cheek (or should that be, Braised Irish Ox Cheeks, Roast Marrow Bone, Sourdough Crumb, Carrot and Horseradish Mash?) and Cottage Pie ‘Bourguignon’ with Smoke Alsace Bacon, Champignons de Paris and Caramelised Onions. I went with the cottage pie and it was delightful. Before it arrived I did side-eye the gentleman next to me tucking into his cheek and bone marrow combo and it really did look the part, but when my blazing hot Creuset of cottage pie arrived, with a little jug of gravy to add should I need it, I was happy. When I say it was hot, I mean it. Alex had nearly finished before I was half way through, but don’t worry, I struggled on. The potato top was lightly crisped and super soft underneath, and it was so very cheesy. Below it was a bubbling, meaty mixture of falling-apart beef, onions, mushroom and a rich, rich sauce. The gravy was very welcome but not essential because it was all so juicy. I’d probably order something green to go with it next time, just to balance all the richness but again, it wasn’t essential. Although I was stuffed, I was quite sad when I reached the end of my little pot of perfection.

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Alex, was rather chuffed on the other side of the table too, having chosen the Grilled Côte de Porc, Charcuterie Sauce and Pomme Purée. This dish looked amazing. So much so, that the couple at the table next to us, who had already eaten, interrupted to ask what it was because they ‘had to have it next time’. It was a thing of beauty! The pork was cooked wonderfully, a little pink on the outside and soft with a slight chew. It was sweet too and the charcuterie sauce really accentuated that. The mash was something my Yorkshire boyfriend had been anticipating. We’d seen Docherty on TV (Saturday Kitchen again) creating a half mash, half cream concoction and that’s why we booked a table at Little Social in the first place. It was like butter. Or cream. Basically, so soft. Because I clearly hadn’t had my fill, I hoovered up his mash-y leftovers and god it was good. To wash it all down we had a lovely Cote du Rhone. It really was lovely but the food served as a pretty big distraction so I can’t tell you too much more about it!

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When the dessert menu arrived we groaned and patted our tummies as all greedy-but-polite Brits do and then agreed to share ‘something small’. I could have been tempted by the Apple Tarte Tatin, Caramel Baked Pink Lady Apples, Rich Butter Puff Pastry and Vanilla Ice Cream (for two to share) or the Maple Glazed Doughnuts, Baked Bramley Apple, Cinnamon and Port Filling, Crème Anglaise and Cinnamon Sugar (oh god!) but we were feeling chocolate-y and went for the Hot Chocolate and Cardamon Caramel Moelleux, Maldon Sea Salt and Roasted Almond Ice Cream instead. Funny how you find room isn’t it? The pud wasn’t as rich as I’d expected, which as a fan of milk over dark chocolate I was pleased with and the caramel middle was tres gooey. The ice cream was a great example, again, of what Little Social does with each little part of each dish. Really it should have been about the chocolate thing but the ice cream was fierce competition. It tasted a lot like some of the milk ice creams I’ve tried, lighter than cream and a tiny bit tart with a hint of almond. I’d eat it straight from the tub at home for sure.

It wasn’t a cheap night, but it was worth every penny. I’m now torn between going back to try the ox cheek or heading over the road to Pollen Street Social. Ahh!

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Freelance writer, eater, drinker and cook living in London.

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