Douglas Blyde visits Jason Atherton’s Pollen Street Social and speaks with South African-born sommelier Stefan Kobald about how the list also pays tribute to his Austrian heritage, and why he is a “huge nerd” about more than just wine.
Formerly a Pitcher & Piano, Pollen Street Social became the first solo restaurant of Jason Atherton on opening in 2011. It was funded in part by some 20 years of savings amassed by Atherton, the son of a Skegness hotelier who went on to work with luminary Pierre Koffmann, Marco Pierre White, Nico Ladenis and Ferran Adrià at El Bulli, and then Gordon Ramsay Holdings where he became known for the refined small plates restaurant, Maze (now Lucky Cat). While critic Zoe Williams thought Pollen Street Social’s contemporary interior resembled “a posh All Bar One”, John Lanchester described the guest experience as “the polar opposite of what we’ve come to expect of fine dining”, adding, “it’s also properly brilliant.”
On arrival to London in 2014, Stefan Kobald was promptly employed by Laure Patry, executive head sommelier at the Social Company, working at Pollen Street Social then Social Wine and Tapas and The Biltmore. Now returned to Pollen Street Social as head sommelier, Kobald describes his stable and inquiring list as being strong in the Rhône, Burgundy – expect flights of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti – and Bordeaux, including 1945 d’Yquem and 1928 Haut-Brion.
This is supplemented with “a mix of different regions and varieties from all around the world”. Although coming from South Africa, hence the listings of “big names as well as new and up-and-coming winemakers”, such as Restless River, both of Kobald’s parents are Austrian, hence the showcase of carefully aged examples, such as Weingut Nikolaihof Riesling, Im Weingebirge, Federspiel 1986 and Weingut F.X. Pichler Riesling Dürnsteiner Kellerberg Smaragd 2005.
There are also numerous icons from North America, including several renditions of Sine Qua Non and Sassicaia Kobald notes the honed dishes devised by Jason Atherton and head chef Dale Bainbridge (formerly of Corrigan’s, Mayfair) often lean towards white wines, with a most successful match being Orkney scallop, tomato, wasabi and yuzu ponzu dressing with dill-pickled apples, lemon and lime, finished with a scallop roe dashi ice, and served with Vassaltis Vineyards’ slightly salty texture Assyrtiko from Santorini.
As well as being a self-confessed “wine geek”, Kobald is also “a huge nerd” when it comes to the cinema, devouring such canons as Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. “I also play video games and have become a bit of a gym junky after the lockdowns.”
Score: 94.4 Value: 91.5 Size: 95 Range: 95 Originality: 94 Experience: 96.5
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