Few restaurant dishes have reduced me to silence, and this was a salad for goodness sake. It's true, Dabbous is extraordinary. Having read two rave reviews, and ascertained prices were reasonable, I made a booking and thereafter avoided reading another word on the cooking of Ollie Dabbous. I'm going straight to the food as this place surely deserves it - pausing only to apologise to my fellow diners for taking photographs of my plates. How could I not when they were this beautiful?
A paper bag of in-house sourdough bread and a pat of home-made whipped butter delicately salted to just the right degree - could have been gimmicky if they hadn't been delicious. Returning to the salad, oh yes, let's return to that salad. The finest shaved fennel and a little cos leaf, a few translucent slivers of preserved lemon, finished with wisps of pickled rose petals and a lemon balm 'sand'. It was juicy and zingy, the delicacy of the rose petals rising above the most gentle of pickling liquid. It was sublime.
Next up was Barbecued wild Ling, a member of the Cod family. A pearly lozenge with little more than a whiff of smoke was served with Jerusalem artichoke (too crunchy for me) and a rapeseed oil mayonnaise. A scattering of bush basil and a 'soil' of something, which doubtless came via some coastal forager, brought the dish together wonderfully well. A meltingly soft Roast pork belly followed, crackling intact, nestled on an inspired acorn - yes, acorn - savoury praline. Wilted turnip tops were alongside and an apple vinegar cut the rich sweetness of the pork.
I could, and probably should, have stopped there as by now my expectations were stratospherically high. At the end of a meal anywhere else the dessert would likely have seemed very good, but the two I managed to taste fell just a little short. Barley flour sponge soaked in red tea was a beautifully light, moist cake sitting cosily on a bed of fluffy Tahitian vanilla cream - good, but lacking some texture. Chocolate and virgin hazelnut oil ganache, basil moss and sheep's milk ice cream was stunningly presented. The textures were well-balanced and the ice cream was a nice contrast but the basil - three-ways - dominated the dish.
That said, I haven't been this knocked out by a meal since an early visit to Alain Passard's L'Arpège in Paris. For that reason I will, for old time's sake, be looking out for the coddled egg I saw on Dabbous' menu. The words 'sand' and 'soil' in relation to food have, until now, not been in my lexicon but these textures are appearing on the plate more and more. I think Noma led this trend.
Dabbous declare simplicity, restraint and a lighter style of cooking to be their objective, with an emphasis on fruit, vegetables, herbs, infusions and wild foods. Chef, Ollie Dabbous, was picked out as a rising star a couple of years ago by those in the industry. His CV includes Head Chef at Texture and short stints at Noma, The Fat Duck and more. Dabbous has clearly put in the work in a short space of time. Now, at the age of only 31 he has his own restaurant and it's affordable and accessible.
Service was unstuffy but professional from start to finish. The very young sommelier, dandily dressed in velvet jacket and cravat, produced a lovely Touraine Chenin Blanc with delicious tangerine notes. Our waiter was charming and enthusiastic. I remember the dining room when it was a utilitarian internet cafe. As Dabbous it has had an industrial design makeover. Downstairs is a very individual bar serving cocktails and drinks such as 'Sloe Gin Punch'.
We ate from the Set Lunch Menu at £21 for 3 courses, £24 for 4 courses. Portions are not large but if you have a hearty appetite it's easy to go off-piste and slip in a dish from the a la carte. With prices of £5-11 for starters, £11-14 for mains and £4-7 for desserts the temptation is there. There is also an 8 course Tasting Menu for £49 per person. Normally I pass on tasting menus but here it does appeal.
Booking is currently four weeks ahead but undoubtedly it is going to become harder to get a table. Much as I would love to see these prices held, it's not likely to happen. I've already booked my next visit while the going is good.
39 Whitfield Street
London W1T 2SF
Evie's blog: Saffron Strands - for a more detailed version of this article
Evie on Twitter: @EvieSaffronS
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