If any chef has itchy feet it would have to be Jason Atherton. Since living in London, I have been eagerly following Atherton’s journey and foray into the international dining scene with The Social Company. The journey began in April 2011 when he opened his flagship restaurant, the Pollen Street Social in Mayfair, which was awarded a coveted Michelin star within just six months of opening. His career has since gone from strength to strength, adding more strings to his bow including the Michelin- starred Social Eating House, Little Social, Berners Tavern and the City Social.
But if that wasn’t enough, Atherton has recently taken the Asian dining scene by storm opening 22 Ships, Ham & Sherry and Aberdeen Street Social in Hong Kong; and The Commune Social and Table No.1 in Shanghai. In 2015, he launched his first stateside restaurant, The Clocktower, an all-day dining space set within the New York EDITION Hotel, and Marina Social, a stunning waterside restaurant in Dubai. There’s also rumours of a restaurant in Cebu in the Philippines.
With eager anticipation, Atherton opened his first restaurant in Sydney – the Kensington Street Social in Chippendale in January 2016 in partnership with Loh Lik Peng of the Unlisted Collection. And on a recent weekend visit to Sydney, I couldn’t wait to check it out…
Housed in The Old Clare Hotel, Kensington Street Social is similar, yet different, to many of Atherton’s other restaurants. But what it does have in common is its creative, modern vibe, and, most importantly great food.
Split into a bar and restaurant area, the Kensington Street Social is a beautifully executed establishment and pays respect to its heritage in the former Carlton United Brewery building. It has a modernised industrial warehouse feel with plenty of polished concrete, exposed bricks and white subway tiles, which seamlessly blend in with contemporary fittings and furnishings. Soaring ceilings and huge windows take advantage of natural light. By 7pm the restaurant is packed and buzzing, with roaring laughter, chinking of wine glasses and familiar nods of taste budapproval.
Although appearing quite intimate, the restaurant has 120 covers and makes use of its space quite well. Small groups are best seated around the kitchen in the heart of the action, while larger groups can be accommodated on the larger tables.
Staff are equally pleasing, friendly and attentive without pretension. The kitchen ressembles a well oiled machine, set up in stations where chefs seem to be the master of one or two dishes. We sit in the heart of the action on one of the bar tables overlooking the kitchen – a spot I’d highly recommend if you’re making a reservation, particularly if you are dining alone or in two.
Typically British-Meditteranean in style, the relaxed all-day menu focuses on sharing plates. It’s great to see Culinary Director, Atherton, and Australian Executive Chef, Rob Daniels, working together to craft a menu which is a true reflection on Australia. It’s hard to miss the emphasis on seasonal Australian produce on the menu, with even native Australian plants like lemon myrtle making a welcome appearance. Even the wine list shows the best of local wine regions, with some international favourites. The menu is easy to navigate, neatly divided into snacks, vegetables, raw and cured, sourdough flat breads, fish/shellfish and meat.
We made the poor decision to bypass the snack section, and missed out on the spectacular looking squid ink crackers paired with trout and a glammed up hot dog, affectionately called the “social dog”. But I guess there’s always a “next time”.
On the vegetable section, fresh goats curd is teamed with crudo baby vegetables including thin segments of raw radish and native greens. The dish is finished with a lemon myrtle dressing, which gives it a subtle citrus lift and a further touch of freshness. The goats curd is super smooth and creamy and melts effortlessly on the tongue.
Moving on to the raw menu, a Queensland spanner crab is elegantly assembled in round balls, with a generous serving of cucumber gazpacho in the centre. This was a great dish to cleanse the palate with refreshing flavours and just a hint of salt to balance the dish.
For something a little hearty, we couldn’t resist ordering the pulled lamb sourdough flatbread (a fancy name for a pizza), which was topped with basil pesto and baby zucchini. A big dollop of Jersey milk ricotta cut through the richness of the lamb beautifully and was finished with a sprinkling of parmesan.
A Blue Eye Travella was perfectly cooked, falling apart with the slightest touch. Resting on a bed of cauliflower cheese puree, and a rim of fluorescent green (perhaps from the combination of seaweed and gin), the white fish soaked up the delicious salty flavours.
One of Kensington Street Social’s signature dishes is the wagyu rib eye. Cooked medium rare, the rib eye was succulent and tender with a gorgeous blush in the centre – a nice contrast to the slightly crispy golden edges. Teamed with eggplant and sprouting broccoli, the real hero of the dish was the miso butterscotch which gave the dish a delicate sweetness.
Now on to desserts… With the likes of a buffalo ricotta with lemon thyme peaches and honeycomb and a baked caramelized apple puff pastry with cider vinegar ice cream and pickled apple on the menu, it can be difficult to choose!
However the temptation of chocolate pulled me in. The reward? A decadent chocolate and peanut bar teamed with caramel and banana icecream. This was a glamorous snickers bar of sorts, with a velvety chocolate filling and a peanut layer, providing a nice textural contrast. I would have preferred the chocolate bar to be a tad saltier, since the caramel and banana icecream was quite delicate in flavour.
Atherton you have well and truly done it again!
The Kensington Street Social is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week, and also offer a Sunday brunch menu.
Kensington Street Social
A 3 Kensington St, Chippendale NSW 2008
T (02) 8277 8533