On a bitterly cold night, attending a restaurant opening did not seem quite as appealing as a dvd/takeaway evening on the sofa. Except that this was not any old restaurant opening. Dabbous restaurant and bar, located in the heart of London’s West End, is Ollie Dabbous’ first solo venture and, as he is recognised by many as a culinary pioneer, the sub zero temperatures were not about to deter me.
Needing a replacement Him for the evening, I dug out my well-thumbed black book from days of old. Aged 16, we would never have eaten anywhere quite so glamorous, but First Love and his passion for fine dining would make him a more than suitable stand-in. We were well over-due a ‘life catch-up’ and Ollie’s exquisite eating extravaganza would be the perfect setting.
The industrial-looking premises, on the corner of Scala and Whitfield street, reminded both of us instantly of an ultra cool Manhattan restaurant. Downstairs in the basement is the bar, managed by Oskar Kinberg. Most recently bar manager at The Cuckoo Club, there is little Oskar does not know about mixology and cocktails. Citing frost bite, I opted for the Dillusion, (cucumber, elderflower and dill muddled with Bloom’s gin, ice and lemon) while First Love had his signature aperitif, Negroni (Gin, Campari, Sweet Vermouth).
The restaurant upstairs, with its exposed brickwork, sheet metal and copper pipes, is offset by rustic candles and natural woods so as not to appear too brutal. As I glanced at the menu, I wondered if Ollie had purposely stripped back on his décor in order to highlight his elegant yet restrained cuisine?
As with many modern European restaurants, the menu at Dabbous is based on dishes served in slightly smaller portions (prices ranging £4 – £14) and encourages a sharing attitude. Having recently found a tasting menu to be too-much-of-a-good-thing, I persuaded First Love to direct his attention to the a la carte menu and pacified him by ordering a larger number of the sharing plates.
We began with a coddled free range hen egg with woodland mushrooms and smoked butter and a beef tartar with cigar oil, whisky and rye. Despite learning that coddled means to cook an egg in water below the boiling point, this does not imply that I could never learn how to recreate this delicacy at home. If I say that it tasted like smoked scrambled egg with mushrooms, I would not be doing it justice. Served sitting in a bed of hay as if it had just been laid, I made a mental note to talk to Ollie about this chef-d’oeuvre after our meal.
Of our chosen sharing plates for the main course, I would single out the barbequed Iberico pork served with savoury acorn praline, turnip tops and homemade apple vinegar. First Love waxed lyrical over the braised halibut with costal herbs, while simultaneously bringing me up to speed on his work and family news, interjecting with his latest shopping discoveries. I adore the constant of a great friendship; 24 years have passed and the only thing that has changed is that instead of drinking a bottle of cider at the bottom of my parents’ garden, we are quaffing a fabulous bottle of Fleurie.
For desert we shared barley flour sponge soaked in red tea with vanilla cream as well as a breathtaking chocolate and hazelnut oil ganache with sheep’s milk ice cream. It seemed rather fitting to be ending our dining extravaganza on such a sweet yet unusual note. The clean flavours presented in such a simple yet stunning way will be my lasting impression of my meal at Dabbous. Chatting to Ollie after our meal (yes, about the egg), I felt his overwhelming passion for this exciting new venture. He and his team are young, ambitious and talented so I have no doubt that they will succeed.
Dabbous will open from Tuesday to Saturday, the restaurant for lunch and dinner and the bar from noon until 11.30pm. Dabbous Restaurant & Bar, 39 Whitfield Street, London, W1T 2SF
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