Dabbous: Sophistication is simplicity
Who thinks that it is the presentation that makes the dish is not in line with the latest food trends.
Don’t get me wrong, the image and layout of the food are extremely important – but relevant only when every single element and flavour have a strong significance. The focus has now shifted to seasonal ingredients and local sourceable material.
Last year we saw Jason Atherton proposing tasty salads with spicy leaves, flowers and coffee beans at Pollen Street Social, now already a Michelin starred restaurant.
Dabbous has opened in late January after a long buzz surrounding chef Oliver Dabbous’ plans for his first own venture. The young British chef has an impressive curriculum despite his young age (early thirties): he worked for years at the magic Manoir aux Quat’Saisons of Raymond Blanc, then went through the kitchens of Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck, Claude Bosi’s Hibiscus, René Redzepi’s Noma and then became Texture’s head chef in 2009.
The style of the premises is essential, with a mix of industrial and raw materials. The floor is still unrefined, ample metal frames shape the room and the wooden tables still show veins and imperfections.
The concept is clear: substance should stand out, not appearance.
When we sat at the table we were provided with a clipboard menu, a portion of warm home-made hazelnut bread (in a day-marked bag, once again an industrial touch) and butter, and some very good Nocellara green olives.
The offer is convenient: the set menu is 3 courses for £21 or 4 for £24. Even on the à la carte, the most expensive combination of dishes amounts to £34. The wine list is not particularly interesting but it has the benefit of offering most of the bottles also in half-size carafe for exactly half-cost.
We tried a bit of everything: first the Salad of Fennel, Lemon Balm and Pickled Rose Petals, delicious but a bit too light, and the Beef Tartar with Cigar Oil, Whisky and Rye, which was simply delicious, with its spicy touch and balancing crunchy rye element.
We moved on with the Confit Organic Glenarm Salmon with Warm Buttermilk and Hispi Cabbage and Grilled Monkfish Cheeks, Virgin Rapeseed Oil Mayonnaise and Jerusalem Artichoke. These two dishes have something in common: the fish was good but just above average in terms of tastiness; however the side vegetables (especially the cabbage) did really have something to say.
The real test was in the next two courses: while the Braised Veal Cheek with Spelt, Mixed Alliums, and a Light St Gall Broth did not leave a positive mark, the Bbq Pork Belly, Savory Acorn Praline, Turnip Tops and Homemade Apple Vinegar was the stand-out dish of the lunch.
For desserts we had the enjoyable Barley Flour Sponge Soaked in Red Tea and Tahitian Vanilla Cream, served in a very appropriate giant glass goblet, and the a little-too-audacious Chocolate and Virgin Hazelnut Oil Ganache, Basil Moss and Sheep’s Milk Ice cream.
Overall a very pleasant lunch paired with half a bottle of Rully 1er Cru Molesme by Jean-Baptiste Ponsot, a forgettable Burgundy red wine.
Oliver has clearly a great talent to explore and nurture most of the dishes we were presented, matches wisely, and shows a substantial degree of creativity.
Once the lunch was over, we discovered that there is also a spacious bar room downstairs, with a wide offer of drinks and separate food menu. The atmosphere is still essential-cool but there is more of a club flair there.
★★★★★Food ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Drinks ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Service ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮
Filippo L’Astorina, The Editor
To book a table at Dabbous, 39 Whitfield Street London W1T 2SF, call 020 7323 1544 or enquire here.
Chef Oliver Dabbous shared some of his thoughts with us.
Oliver, what can you tell us about these first two weeks?
I’m really, really happy about them. Yes, we have also been through some difficult times, like the first day when the builders upstairs cut our telephone cable which meant no phone, no internet and no credit card payments… There has been an overwhelming amount of press and positive feedback that we really did not expect. I try not to think too much about it, I work on a day-by-day basis, and sleep on my only day off!
How long did you work on this for?
Well, two years starting from the inception of the project, nine months since we found the site. We are an independent venture: several small investors and a low budget set up. I was shocked by all the interest and press, once we’ve opened; I did not expect anything near as much. It was rewarding to see some big chefs I worked for sitting at my table and enjoying the meal.
Did the whole project come from you?
Yes, the whole thing has been done by me and my partner Oskar [Kinberg]. We wrote the business plan together, sought the money and found the site. We had this idea of dining room and basement bar, the design, and the atmosphere. It is exactly what we imagined it to be. We had to hold some investors’ ideas off at the beginning, but we managed to keep it as it is.
Tell us about the menu: was everything in your mind since day one?
As soon as I knew about the site I started working on the menu. I wanted my dishes to be very recipe orientated: everything measured and weighed. It is the most cost-effective way to make it work at this standard. The kitchen is all I had in mind; they told me to think about the media but I was thinking about the food!
The pork belly was simply amazing, how do you make it? The crust is incredible!
We cook it for about 18 hours at low temperature, till it’s very, very soft. After we put it skin down on a really hot pan and then under the grill. Simple things do best; I don’t want to make it too “cheffy”. I want things to be organic, respect the ingredient and keep it tasty. Cooking is not about clever food; it is about good food.