If there was a food equivalent of the Turner Prize, then Ollie Dabbous (pronounced Da-boo) would certainly be in the running. Pushing out plates, each an edible work of art, tasting as good as they look is sure to get him noticed and eventually rewarded. He’s in his twenties, has plenty of time on his side and his CV already reads like that of a gastro big boy. He’s worked at Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, Texture and brief spells at The Fat Duck, Hibiscus, San Sebastian’s Mugaritz and Copenhagen’s Noma. His first restaurant is now open, with his name displayed above the door in Whitfield Street. It’s a joint venture between Dabbous and Oskar Kinberg, who’s an award-winning barman, formerly of the Cuckoo Club.
It’s an interesting space, split into a basement and first floor and the words spartan and industrial immediately spring to mind. Below stairs you’ll find the bar — all concrete, metal pipes and latticed steel work — and the most comfortable leather chairs fashioned from aeroplane parts I’ve ever had the pleasure to sit in. What a brilliant space to spend the evening hiding from the real world.
The cocktail menu has martinis, long drinks and the classics and the waiter was excellent at translating that into non-cocktail-drinker-speak. However, after all his efforts, we plumped for a bottle of the house red. The tap water, served in crystal cut glasses was a nice touch. The wine didn’t disappoint either (£17.50) and the list takes in most tastes and budgets. There’s also a bar menu, which I’ll definitely return to try, from the outrageous – farmed oscietra caviar with puffed rye bread (£90) to the pocket pleasing open steak sandwich with tobacco butter and onions pickled in wheat beer (£14).
Back upstairs to the ground floor restaurant and the menu is offered on a clipboard, a la carte and a tasting menu (£49 per person for five courses).
Franzi was our waiter and immediately saw I had a weakness for nutty homemade sourdough which, by the way, comes warm in a date-stamped brown bag with the best crust ever.
The butter was whipped into a peaked frenzy and had the most delicious freshly churned and salted taste.
We were also treated to plump Italian Nocellara del Belice olives which lasted nano-seconds.
The plates are all small but perfectly formed. We were happy with a starter, main course and pudding, left comfortable and not over-stuffed.
I began with the coddled hen egg or the co-hegg – “coddled free range hen egg with woodland mushrooms and smoked butter” (£7). I’m a massive fan of coddling I inherited a porcelain “coddler” which makes the best eggs every time. This, however, was something else. A decapitated egg arrived in a “nest” of hay, the shell filled with a crumbled hen egg, which had been combined with textural nutty mushroom and smoked butter.
Mr had the beef tartar with cigar oil, whisky and rye (£8). Who needs to be a member of a gentleman’s club when you can get the senses tickled here with the tastes and smells of one for under ten pounds? It was utterly beautiful. Soft beef, marinated vegetables, wild garlic and colours that excite like the painting of an abstract artist.
Roast goose, sweet clover kuzu, quince poached in wine and honey was the main option for Mr (£12). The breast had met with the hand of a Samurai, the finite slivers cut into the fat which took on a crispy caramelised shell.
I’m always loathe to try Iberico pork after eating lomo at Jose’s in Bermondsey Street, his cooking of the cut is now my personal litmus test of how to do it just right – and who’d have thought it – rare pork. But Ollie’s barbecued Iberico pork served with an acorn praline and turnip tops (£14) just jumped off the clipboard. Again, a fabulous looking plate of food and a great flavour marriage, the sweetness of the meat worked so well with the bitter crispness of the turnip tops. The nutty praline pool was sticky and sweet and the poshest satay sauce I think I’ve ever tried. But the dish left me with a cooking conundrum … how on earth did he do it? Pink but cooked all the way through and still barbecued. Sous vide, Green Egg? Who knows? Let’s leave that secret with the magician in the kitchen or wait for the cookbook – please Ollie don’t leave it too long.I can’t remember the last time I saw a side order look more like a main, certainly when it comes to attention-to-detail, in fact I never thought I’d get so worked up about a plate of Jerusalem artichokes but I think the picture says it all. That’s Virgin Rapeseed Oil Mayonnaise by the way.
So what about desert. Could any flavour combinations top the food we’d already been treated to? What about a chocolate and herb combo? How on earth would that work and what fool would even start messing with those ingredients? Well I can tell you it does and Ollie Dabbous did and my “chocolate and virgin hazelnut oil ganache, basil moss, sheep’s milk ice cream” (£7) was proof. Take the best honeycomb you’ve ever tasted and imagine it better. Then a lovely soft chocolate crumb ‘gravel’, a basil moss a hint of cheese flavoured ice cream and a beautiful, bright green dill sauce. A-MAZ-ING!
Mr is more savoury so he opted for artisanal cheese from the British Isles,
baked apple and toasted sourdough (£9). Sheep, brie, goats and the King of Cheese – Colston Basset Stilton – served with more of that nutty sourdough. The caramalised apple was a total winner and a welcome alternative to quince.
We ended on coffee and cherry petit fours. Two crispy, sticky cakes filled with a vanilla cream and the plumpest black cherries.
My only gripe was the expansive front door which opened the restaurant to the icy conditions currently gripping the capital. The idea of a heavy curtain fills me with dread but I think something needs to be done to make that dining experience, at moments less chilly.
If you ask nicely you may get to leave with a warm bag of bread, which I did. The following morning I woke up to make some bacon sarnies with my favourite smoked Ginger Pig bacon. I crisped the bacon to perfection, lightly toasted the bread and finished with a light spreading of Heinz tomato sauce – I’m sure Ollie would wholly approve.
If Dabbous is relying on word-of-mouth, I don’t think he’s got too much to worry about as there are plenty of loose lips about. I don’t know about lunch service but the hostess told me that dinner reservations are fully booked until the end of May.
£99.00 for two, including service.
Tuesday -Saturday: 12pm-3pm then 5.30pm-11.30pm
Telephone: 0207 323 1544
Reservations are taken for both restaurant and downstairs bar.