I’m not usually so savvy in the culinary world to know about new openings before they’ve actually opened. Sure, It’s a different story when I’m passing through my local streets circa Hackney and can spot a new destination from a short mile away, fresh with its new yet discreet signage, soft, amber lighting, and anticipating crowd throughout.
City Social was no different – when I was invited by a fellow foodie friend who mentioned he’d bagged a table weeks before doors opened, I volunteered myself up for the spare seat with mere indifference. The hint of enthusiasm I had came solely from the fact that it was the next venture from Jason Atherton and my visit to only one of his establishments in the past (Mayfair’s Pollen Street Social) left me suitably impressed and wondering what else he had up his Chef’s sleeve.
So, off I went for lunch there the very first Saturday in business, a short 3 days after the doors opened to the public. Wandering through a dark, curved corridor, I’m greeted with a friendly smile and led to the elevator, where I’m whisked up to the 24th floor. As I step out, another warm member of front-of-house greets me at the actual restaurant entrance.
As she’s talking to me, I sense her voice fading out slightly as I find my attention is captured by the immense sights both behind her and all around – huge panels of glass that reveal the city of London in all its glory, from a startlingly close perspective I’d never experienced. She escorts me to my friends who are comfortably lounging in the plush, cylindrical seating around the table. I realise mid-journey to them that I’m at risk of tripping, since my eyes are still glued to the immense view that surrounds us.
I take a seat with an excited smile plastered onto my face, now more than ever looking forward to what dishes will match the impressiveness of the surroundings.
Sure, I’m not the most decisive person when it comes to many things, in particular food. When I’m handed a menu however in which the sound of almost every single dish makes me gasp with curiosity, the whole thing becomes quite the ordeal. I wasn’t alone at least, as the four of us spent a good half an hour deliberating over our dishes, in which we eventually, greedily, decided on 4 courses between us.
My starter of Cumbrian beef tartare, sour dough crouton, goat’s curd, truffle dressing, dried vinegar was unlike any beef tartare I’d tried. The richness of flavour left me comparing it to meat that had been slow cooked for hours (only this time chilled); its accumulation of flavour immense. Hints of tomato, vinegar and truffle combined with the freshness and lightness of the ingredients left me cleaning the plate completely.
Next course was Warm fruits of the sea, linguini and shellfish cooking juices. I love seafood, but the description of this dish didn’t catch my attention as much as some of the others. What inspired me to order it next however was my friend’s reaction to it, having chosen it for her previous course. Consuming it with nothing but pure delight, her amusing reaction left me comparing her noises of indulgence to noises one might make when experiencing other forms of sensual pleasure.
Twirling the linguini onto my fork, I understood just what she meant. The vibrant variety of the fresh seafood steeped in the most delicate and delicious, slightly creamy herb sauce was incredible. The ability to make fresh, delicate flavours sing in your mouth is always an accomplishment and I had no regrets in basing my order purely on another’s reaction.
I took the break in courses to visit the ladies, situated all the way around the other side of the restaurant. Finally, en-route, diverting my attention from the outside to the inside, I gave myself the chance to admire the gorgeousness of the interior – in all its glamorous art-deco splendour.
Rich walnut panelling lines the back of the bar, while the bar itself is a unique, rough-cut slab of a shiny, coppery-infused metal. The metallic gleam catches the light that shines through the wall-to-wall glass. Banquette seating comprises a long panel of buttery soft, mocha-hued leather, Chester-field style.
The same soft yet rich tones are carried throughout, with bronze panels between the glass, slivers of chocolate hued suede on the edges of upholstery and retro copper lamps dotted around the bar and tables. The lengthy walk makes me realise just how large the restaurant is, comprising the entire 24th floor.
The views, I realise, are not restricted to where guests eat, as the glass wraps around the loos as well (frosted glass retaining modesty where needed). Petite, circular seats in vibrant tangerine are dotted in front of individual dressing tables with pop-up mirrors in black lacquer.
I stroll back to the table, bypassing a band set up by the bar, playing fitting 50’s soul music with a soft acoustic tone. The glasses of dish-pairing Pinot Noir and Viognier sink in and this time, they’re what prove to be the obstacle in my returning to the table in full composure.
Our mains arrived and the presentation of my Roasted Lincolnshire rabbit saddle, rabbit sausage cassoulet, wild garlic leaves left me once looking forward to its taste with high hopes. Having only eaten rabbit once before and in a very different style dish, I was surprised by its richness. The soft meat with the freshness and firmness of the spring greens matched well.
Despite being close to bursting and slipping into an immense food coma, a glance at the dessert menu left me somehow justifying that there was some room left.
My White chocolate mousse, caramel hazelnuts and salted caramel ice cream was a caramel lovers dream. The rich flavours and softness of the ice cream and mousse with the crunchy texture of the nuts was a plate of pure heaven that left me scraping the plate furiously with my spoon to capture every last bit. Give me a plate of caramel over chocolate any day.
A further justified need to recharge of the batteries sees me finishing the impressive meal with a rather divine espresso martini.
Far from being an exclusive fine dining participant, I’m excited by the diversity of both cuisine and venue type when it comes to the London dining scene, from chic bistro to on-trend pop-up and everything in between.
Visiting such venues as City Social however reinstates my appreciation for food that bypasses the constant reign of new and of-the-moment food-based trends.
It’s understated approach is warranted by the immense precision that comes with each dish from the kitchen; an almost guarantee of being hit with a punch of serious foodie pleasure. A culinary splurge rare for me, yet every bit worth it.