Michelin-starred Jason Atherton is a British chef opening restaurants left, right and centre. And all in a relatively short space of time – since 2011, when he left Scottish-born chef and restaurateur Gordon Ramsay to go it alone.
In London, Atherton has seven outposts, with Social Wine and Tapas being the most recent to arrive at the beginning of this month (June). Existing venues include Pollen Street Social, Berners Tavern at the Edition hotel, Little Social, Social Eating House and the Typing Room.
Meanwhile, Sosharu in Clerkenwell is set to arrive in the English capital later this year, while next year will see an outlet come to the new Nova development in Victoria.
Globally, his portfolio includes three locations in Hong Kong, three in Singapore, two in Shanghai, one in Sydney and one in New York. Marina Social at the Intercontinental hotel in Dubai is set to open this year.
Last spring, City Social arrived in the heart of London’s financial district, located on level 24 of Tower 42. Celebrity chef Gary Rhodes used to run the establishment but he left after ten years in 2013.
Walking along Old Broad Street, it’s easy to mistake the main entrance to Tower 42 as the way to get to the restaurant. It’s not the right way, as I discovered after taking a set of escalators up to reception beneath an airy steel and glass lobby to where security told me to go around the corner to the left upon exiting.
To get to City Social, you need to make your way through a series of bland, brown hotel-like corridors to a lift that whisks you up two dozen floors. Stepping out, you will find yourself in an expansive, dimly lit space looking out on to the illuminated offices of neighbouring blocks – the Gherkin is so close you could almost touch it.
Flanked by wraparound floor-to-ceiling windows, the low-ceilinged venue is divided into two open-plan sections, one for the restaurant and one for the 85-seat bar. There is also a private dining room for 22 guests and a chef’s table for ten, both with equally stunning views.
The art deco-inspired interiors are enveloped in variations of brown, black and gold with dark parquet floors and a mirrored ceiling reflecting back the circular tables draped in white linens and the curved, half moon banquettes.
Spotlights from above shine directly on to your plate as a way of trying to bring your attention away from the cityscape to what is in front of you. Faces, in contrast, are in shadow.
In terms of clientele, it is ideal for business people working in the City, or anyone looking for a place to impress. Towards the end of the night, especially in the bar, you can expect many more loosened ties, but it is very much at the formal end of the scale in the restaurant. It’s the kind of place the Wolf of Wall Street might take a date, or swill £950 bottles of 1996 Dom Perignon with his colleagues.
The executive chef at City Social is Paul Walsh, previously of the Savoy Grill and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay.
Dishes are technically accomplished and artistic, white china acting as a palette for glistening blobs of luminous green purée, swirls of olive oil, sprigs of micro herbs, shavings of radish, sprinklings of walnut powder and dainty rainbows of miniature vegetables arranged to create a perfect rectangle. Needless to say, it’s pretty fancy.
Options include smoked Scottish salmon with pickled grapes, verjus, celeriac remoulade and Exmoor caviar; Wye Valley asparagus with smoked Clarence Court egg yolk, Parmesan biscuit and hazelnut vinaigrette; and basil tagliatelle with pea, broad beans, toasted pine nuts and Parmesan velouté.
In terms of wine, we initiated proceedings with glasses of the non-vintage house Le Chapitre Brut champagne (£13), followed on by a bottle of something cold and white that I can’t remember the name of (we asked for a recommendation from the sommelier). Prices go from about £24 to £2,990 for the 1999 Petrus, Pomerol.
The winelist is pretty extensive with roughly 12 regions in France generously represented, along with a handful from Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Eastern Europe, the US, Chile, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
My companion and I started with the yellow fin tuna tataki with cucumber salad and avocado and ponzu dressing (£14); and the violet artichoke with croutons, finely grated black truffle, parsley root, sweet cicely, cashew and celeriac juice (£14). I had to Google a couple of the ingredients but the combinations were very enjoyable.
Next up came whole Dover sole (I requested it off the bone) with fried caper gnocchi, tender stems of samphire and a little jug of citrus sabayon. This was pricey at £38, but the buttery fish was firm yet delicate and went well with the salty, vinegary bite of the capers. The gnocchi themselves were delicious, but unless drowned in sabayon, the combination was a tad dry.
Because they’d run out of lobster (£38 served whole), JLR went for two starters instead of a main – the guinea fowl and truffle terrine, parfait, crispy skin and grilled sourdough (£15), which went down well, and a small portion of the potato gnocchi with Jerusalem artichokes, chanterelles and rolled oats (she wasn’t convinced by the oats) in a moat of creamy foam.
We missed out on the blood orange parfait, the Yorkshire rhubarb and custard souflée, and the cheese trolley in favour of moving through to the bar for a digestif. JLR supped a suitably sophisticated Vesper martini, while I had the Root of All Evil (simply for the name).
Made with walnut rum, sour apple, Poire William, lime juice, root beer and crushed ice, this was served in a cold metal cup “finest silver” with some miniature dollar bills pegged to the rim “mad paper” (£12).
The bar also does a nice selection of “twisted" G&Ts made with Fever Tree tonic and a variety of different gins (think Elephant, the Botanist, City of London and Sipsmith).
This is a great place to come if you are looking to make a statement, particularly if the people you are with are from out of town. The views beg to be photographed and the ambiance whispers money. The food is good, if not staggering, but people have high expectations of Atherton so the bar is set high. Come for a cocktail if nothing else.
- OPENING HOURS Restaurant: Mon-Sat 12pm-2.30pm, 6pm-10.30pm. Bar: Mon-Sat 12pm until late.
- PRICES Starters: £4-£16. Mains: £18-£38. Desserts: £6.50-£13.
- CONTACT City Social, Tower 42, 25 Old Broad Street, London; tel +44 (0)20 7877 7703; citysociallondon.com