When I arrived at Social Eating House I was ravenous. I’d locked my bike to a handy piece of scaffolding – Soho is notoriously crap for cyclists – and headed straight up to The Blind Pig upstairs, a copper-tabled cocktail bar that does a good job recreating the speakeasy vibe without being obnoxiously on-the-nose about it. These days I find Prohibition-themed anything about as interesting as cavity wall insulation, so it takes something special to carry the theme off.
Luckily, The Blind Pig is quite special. It tempers its moody 1920s vibe with a playful cocktail list which, although verging on gimmicky, is fun and well thought out. (They’re good-looking, too; the douchier of your mates will no doubt declare their drinks ‘Instagram-ready’.) Being a massive douche myself, I couldn’t resist the Cereal Killer cocktail which came in a glass the shape of a milk carton and a candy-stripe straw. (Why the details of the receptacle needed to be listed with the ingredients, I have no idea.) Sweet cocktails are Not My Thing, but it tasted exactly like the leftover milk after a bowl of sugary cereal – Cheerios, apparently – chilled, and laced with rum, Benedictine and vanilla syrup.
The bar also serves an intriguing little list of snacks, although sadly our selection did not quite match the food that was to come. The hummus was fine, for instance, but not as good as the stuff being served up at some Middle-Eastern restaurants, and the fishy nibbles on squid ink crackers were…fine. But not exceptional.
After a few more cocktails – all well-executed, some garnished with miniature buckets of popcorn – we went downstairs to the Chef’s Counter, which had a magic all of its own. White-hatted chefs dashed about bringing dishes together like magicians pulling rabbits out of hats, the whole kitchen humming with concentrated industriousness, like a beehive. Occasionally the Head Chef – the Queen, I suppose – yelled ‘salad!’ or some other command to his worker bees. You don’t need to book a tasting menu for sit at the Chef’s Table, and I’d highly recommend it; just ask when you make your reservation if they can squeeze you in. If you’re having a group meal, it’s a fabulous setting that can seat up to eight.
I was in attendance for a blogger dinner and we were there to try a preview menu showcasing ‘unusual’ ingredients, which is code for ‘things generally regarded as too gross to be eaten’. The menu we had was a little experimental, but the dishes should be making their way soon to the regular a la carte.
We began with scorched Cornish mackerel with walnuts, chicory, and skyr (a Scandinavian kind of yoghurt, on this occasion boozed up with Pedro Ximenez white wine). Mackerel is usually too fishy for me, but most mouthfuls were tempered with the sticky-sweet dressing, which delivered a nutty, creamy finish.
Next came the eel, beetroot, compressed apple and frozen fois gras yoghurt, a dish I initially thought entirely wasted on me as I hate eel, hate beetroot and won’t eat fois gras under any circumstances (it is barbaric). It was beautifully presented though; a Battenberg-inspired checkerboard of perfectly cubed apple and beetroot sat atop slices of eel so thin and smoky I completely forgot I ever hated eel at all. (Beetroot, on the other hand, will remain a lifelong foe.)
The roasted veal sweetbread – that’s the gland in the cow’s throat, essentially – was a pleasant surprise. I might even say it’s changed my opinion of offal forever, which before was not exactly glowing. The texture of the meat was soft and delicate, but the flavour..! It was like getting punched in the tongue. It was intensely meaty, and enhanced magnificently by the sliced Wiltshire truffles, Madeira and artichoke piled on top; all rich, filling flavours that left me all but gasping for breath. It isn’t something I’d ever, ever have chosen by myself, but Christ, I’m glad I got to try it. Full marks.
The roasted skate wing that came afterwards was always going to be a disappointment after that, and I can’t for the life of me understand why they followed such a ballsy dish with something so delicate. In fact, the only flavour I can remember was the seaweed hollandaise, which seemed like an unnecessary and unflattering twist made for the sake of it. Much better was the charcoal grilled Black Angus rib-eye, ox cheek and garlic potato, which if introduced to the main menu I’m sure would become an instant bestseller.
The highlight of the pudding end of the menu for me was the chocolate lollipops, which were served alongside tiny ingots of rich and aromatic chocolate lavender fudge. I am rarely a dessert person but I do think there is a gap in the market for a menu with micro-desserts, for those who fancy a mouthful of something sweet to round off a meal but not enough to spend another £7 odd on something they won’t finish.
Before that there was the clean white fromage frais with sorrel and white current, a welcome palate-cleanser after the richness of the beef. The greengage plum jelly and cheesecake parfait with lemon and jam sounded fussy and uninspiring on paper, but was actually fantastic; a carefully considered collection of flavours, albeit a little gelatinous overall.
I was barely able to move afterwards, and wobbled home very slowly lest my heaving stomach (and, er, three glasses of champagne) threw my balance. The menu I had that night is not yet available, but there are other set menus here and here on offer if you’re looking for a good venue for a special occasion. Alternatively, there’s the a la carte (I reckon the average food spend £40-60pp), or a great value prix fixe weekday lunch menu from £21.
The Blind Pig upstairs I would wholeheartedly recommend for any occasion – every cocktail is £9,50, and every one I tried was fantastic. It’s a great pre-dinner, pre-theatre or date venue…and you can make reservations.
58 Poland Street, London W1F 7NS
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in Islington and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.