I can’t bear hype. I don’t like to see trailers of films before I see them, I don’t want to know what happens in any book I read until I am actually reading it, and I don’t want to know the blow by blow detail of a tasting menu before I sit down and eat it. Invariably it takes something from the experience and leads to disappointment. Well, almost invariably.
Dabbous is the most hyped restaurant since Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner opened last year. Everyone has been or wants to go. Everyone is moaning that there are no dinner tables available until 2013 (!). The critics are lauding it. head chef Ollie Dabbous is being heralded as a great new talent. His pedigree is impressive with time spent at Le Manoir, Texture and Hibiscus.
So, I was worried. How could anything or anyone live up to this?
Regardless I wanted to try. Pictures on twitter of coddled eggs and other loveliness were like breadcrumbs for Hansel & Gretel. I couldn’t get in for dinner but I prefer lunch anyway so I booked and waited, and then we finally went.
We started with a cocktail in the bar, an underground space all grey and metal, and very quiet, we were the only people there. A Dillusion for me, bright green with Bombay Sapphire Gin, elderflower cordial, cucumber, dill, lemon and sugar, this was a great pre lunch tipple.
We moved for lunch to the bright upstairs restaurant, opting for the tasting menu at £49 a head at lunchtime. We decided not to go for matching wines (next time!) but went instead for wines by the carafe. We started with a white Torrontes from Argentina at £14.50 a carafe. Then the food started to come.
All worry faded quietly as I quickly realised that this was very good. Very, very good and utterly deserving of all of the hype.
Olives, freshly churned butter and warm bread were delivered to the table. The bread was in a brown paper bag, so that when you opened it, it was like the bakery had come to your table.
The first dish was peas with mint. Glorious, fresh, creamy and with bite. It was one of my favourite dishes of our lunch.
Mixed alliums in a pine infusion was fresh and bright.
Coddled free range hens egg with woodland mushrooms and smoked butter was like a blanket on the worst day of the year, with your favourite film too. Gorgeous & a little decadent whilst being simple. I lost sleep over this dish – literally – as I stayed up too late that night looking online for an egg coddler. Which I now have, so watch this space for coddled eggs soon.
Grilled halibut, iodised sour cream, beetroot and watercress stems was fresh and lovely but a little over shadowed by our previous dish. Still, pleasant and nothing in particular to complain about.
Barbecued iberico pork, savory acorn praline, turnip tops, homemade apple vinegar demanded a switch to red wine and so we ordered a carafe of Fleurie for £19. The pork was intensely meaty and dark, like red and the acorn praline perhaps betraying Ollie Dabbous time in Hibiscus as the last time I had something similar, Claude Bosi cooked it. This was a terrific dish.
We opted for the plate of artisanal cheese from the British isles at a £9 supplement. Small nuggets of well chosen and aged cheese were a lovely breather after the pork. The baked apple was much more satisfying than a chutney.
The iced lovage palate cleanser was polarising. I quite liked its grassiness, it reminded me of exam time at school and looming summer. My friend didn’t like it at all.
Dessert was a terrific almost savoury dessert of chocolate ganache, basil moss, sheep’s milk ice cream which was texturally fantastic with a lovely chocolate meringue nestling with the moss and ice cream.
We finished with a gorgeous little beeswax canele with a cherry on top.
Head turned, I asked when I could come back. They are booked up forever at this point, and even further now. The manager tells me that while they are booked up there are often cancellations and sometimes walk ins are possible. I mentioned it to a friend who didn’t believe me, but was then delighted when she tried and it turned out to be true. So I will try that.
I am surprised that not many are mentioning the bar. With its own menu featuring crispy chicken wings with fenugreek and toasted garlic (£5), homemade black pudding with mango chutney and a fried organic hen egg (£9) and open steak sandwich with tobacco butter and onions pickled in wheat beer (£14) and that cocktail list. I will try it properly soon and report back.
Dabbous, 39 Whitfield St, London, W1T 2SF, 0207 3231544