I have to say my heart sinks these days when I read about a new restaurant with small plates and Nordic influences but the feedback about Dabbous was so glowing (5 stars in Time Out and from the notoriously hard to please Fay Maschler of the Evening Standard) it was clearly Not To Be Missed.
It’s a mixed blessing to go somewhere with high expectations but for once the hype is justified. The food is clever, delicious, the cocktails equally imaginative, the room New-York-industrial-chic cool and the service charmingly unsnotty (the main difference from the otherwise apt comparison Maschler has made with new-style Parisien restaurants such as Le Regalade and Le Chateaubriand)
Ollie Dabbous (pronounced dabu) has an impeccable pedigree, mind you. He started his career working for Raymond Blanc for 4 years at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons and was most recently head chef at the Michelin-starred Texture. Along the way he’s worked at Hibiscus and Mugaritz and put in stints at The Fat Duck, Pierre Gagnaire, L’Astrance and Noma.
It’s one of those places where everything sounds so tempting it’s hard to choose what to eat so we kicked off with the much admired salad of fennel, lemon balm and pickled rose petals to see if it went with their signature Dillusion cocktail of gin, cucumber, elderflower and dill (it did) and a sensational beef tartar with cigar oil, whiskey and rye. Not obviously boozy but an intense explosion of meaty, smokey flavours.
The next two dishes came in odd juxtaposition, confit salmon, a dish I normally wouldn’t order but which was cooked to perfection and a sublime, umami-rich dish of buttery mash with ‘roasting juices’ and truffles (below, right) that would have made a pretty good meal on its own. Odd, maybe to have it at this early stage in the meal - it would have made a better side to a main.
The only dish I was than less grabbed by was barbecued Iberico pork with acorn praline which was a bit dense and chewy and tasted like a deconstructed satay. I suspect Dabbous is a better fish and vegetable cook judging by a sublimely sweet, delicate dish of roast king crab, with buttermilk and hispi cabbage.
Desserts were admittedly a little eccentric. Cucumber and borage flower in a chilled lemon verbena infusion (lovely as a palate cleanser but it wouldn’t satisfy hard core pudding lovers) and an intensely chocolatey .... I don’t know what ... rubble? .... ‘clay’ apparently ... with a basil squiggle that probably would. We were too full, I’m sure, to fully appreciate it. The cheese plate about which I’ve written on my cheese blog was perfection though
Portions were more generous than I expected but I’d still be inclined to order four dishes. The set lunch is amazingly well priced at 21 for 3 courses, or 24 or 4 - IF - and it’s a big if - you can get in. It’s already a ridiculously hot ticket.
The wine list is extensive but could be a little more adventurous given the statement about organic and natural wines. And in view of the light, airy style of the food it would be good to see some more aromatic whites. But these are early days. You can order matching wines by the glass or half glass from 35 per person.
All in all, though, an outstanding opening at a period when terrific restaurants seem to be popping up all over London. Book before the rest of the reviews come out.
Dabbous is at 39 Whitfield Street, parallel to Tottenham Court Road, more or less opposite Heal’s.
I ate at Dabbous as a guest of the restaurant.