A new approach to mixology is just the start of the many wonders at City Social, writes Christopher Jackson
What do you do once you have opened a very fine restaurant in Mayfair? You might think there are a variety of answers to that question. But scan the current restaurant scene and you will find the same answer repeating itself time again – for instance, at Nobu and at the Ivy. The answer is you open another restaurant in the City of London. You build a chain.
But as successful as some of these have been, I don’t think anyone’s done it better than Jason Atherton, whose sequel to Pollen Street Social thrives a few hundred yards from Liverpool Street Station. As you emerge from an alarmingly shabby lift in Tower 42, you might be thinking you have the wrong place and are about to make an accidental cameo in the seedy planning of some heist. But take a few steps forwards, and you will find yourself straightaway appeased by the sort of view normally associated with Tokyo hotels: one of absolute and ungrudging panorama, which tells you in one sweeping glance what a gigantic enterprise London is.
Welcome to City Social, where people come to be very happy indeed. As the sun was wrung from the sky, the lights began coming on, points of human habitation in the pervasive enormity, and I sat down in the curved-windowed bar area, committed to the known task of waiting for my wife.
Arrive she did – to find me garrulous about the cocktails. This was not surprising: the goal at City Social is ‘to take cocktails to the next level’. Those of us who have been enjoying cocktails since at least the Major administration will be excited at the thought that this is even a possibility. But City Social has peered past all the naysayers and doubters and, glimpsing the world of app technology, seized an opportunity in concert with Mustard Designs to create Mirage.
Here’s how it works. Once you log onto the app, you aim your phone at your coaster, and a hidden magic transforms your drink. For instance, my Tallulah, (Tanqueray 10, chamomile, Moet & Chandon, pineapple, vanilla, tarragon and lemon) became the basis for a cheering animation: a group of girls doing the Charleston before plummeting all at once into the glass. The Calavera (Don Julio Blanco, blood orange, pomegranate, sangrita spice, blossom water and soda) was surrounded by a Mexican Day of the Dead festival – it was like drinking the opening scene of Spectre and tasted very slightly of Daniel Craig. That’s precisely the point, I suppose: we taste with the mind.
It’s all good fun and appetite-inducing, and soon we were escorted along the rim of the building – past some of London’s less comprehensible aesthetic decisions – towards the main restaurant and a corner view of the Surrey side of the river.
Faced with a menu including scallops it has always been my approach to disavow the rest of the options immediately. This I did, ordering the scallops. In acting so cavalierly, I was perhaps undeserving of the magnificent complexity of the dish which came my way: these were Orkney scallops and came with cep fregola – a couscous-resembling pasta – smoked pancetta, black garlic, and lardo di Colonnata. It was a suite of delicate themes. My wife opted for the Brixham crab: this was a confident dish – unfussy, seasoned with spring onion and sesame, and breathing the romance of the sea.
In each instance, the ingredients themselves had been trusted – but at the same time given a series of light and inventive touches. This might seem easy but it isn’t: a few days later, I would have dinner in The Sportsman, that Jay Rayner-endorsed establishment at Whitstable, where the lobster was unhappily drowned in basil, not to mention undercooked, and the staff treated the optimistic roamings of my one-year-old son as the behaviour of a seasoned criminal.
No such mistakes occur at City Social, or, I suspect, ever occur: it has the feel of a place where the standard is so established that for it to dip would be too much out of character. My braised Irish beef short rib came with celery, watercress and red wine sauce. By this time, having also had a bakery’s-worth of delicious bread and onion butter, I was undoubtedly more overweight than I’d been in years.
But this was not the time to embark on something so tedious as a diet. Bravely, we opted for pudding: a hazelnut plaisir sucré which we reminisced over, trying to remember what sleep had been like. City Social should have been too much food. But it wasn’t - and though I may never quite lose the weight the scales poker-facedly claim I gained there, I shall always utter the words City Social, with happiness, even with awe.
Christopher Jackson is the Head of the Spear’s Research Unit