A kind of British pronunciation
Dabbous. Pronounced da-bou. The stress falls into the second syllable and the “s” is a silent one. This isn’t an exotic name as chef Ollie Dabbous is positively English. My own foreignness, perhaps, and the fact that Ollie was head chef at (Icelandic) Texture prompted an assumption that names beyond Smith and Willoughby must have an exotic origin. I was wrong. I might also be wrong that the ground floor dining room of this bistro-like restaurant reminded me too much of a British brand, All Saints. A kind of industrial/hard metal quirk. No table cloth. No fuss. It brought about the vibe akin to The Corner Room but with not as cool music. Downstairs was the bar, which was brilliantly and industrially hot and (I hope) will play good music.
The menu at Dabbous was like Britain in the EU (some British touch but with various dubious European influences), so it’s safer to class as ‘Modern European’. Dishes, though divided into ‘starters’ and ‘mains’ sections, were fashionably small; the price was around £10ish; and ideally you’d order a few to create your own tasting menu. Alternatively, there was a reasonably-priced chef’s tasting menu of 7 courses at £49. My seedy bread arrived in a brown paper bag and was delicious. The same could be said for my first course of Fennel and Lemon Balm Salad, which boast delectable crunches from finely sliced fennel and baby gem lettuce. I also liked the refined layering of acidity, from pickled rose petals, slightly bitter lemon balm and soothing yogurt. The gentlemanly dish of Beef Tartare with Cigar Oil, Whisky and Rye, which could be a recipe to success, did not quite blow me away. Though the texture contrast from tender beef and stringy monk’s beard was pleasant and the smokiness from the cigar oil was playfully unique, I found the taste of the beef so naked it needed more flavour enhancement in the like of salt. Contrary to the beef, Coddled Egg with Smoked Butter and Woodland Mushrooms lacked smoke and boast a pinch too much salt. It was still nicely done and oozed creamy, earthy comfort. King Crab with Hispi Cabbage would also be spot on, if with less salt. The naturally sweet crab came in perfectly shaped chunks and interacted well with the naturally sweet cabbage. The aioli-like buttermilk sauce was loose and velvety but again a pinch too much salt for my liking. Roast Goose with Clover Kuzu Bread and Quince was a vision of a British Sunday roast. My goose was enjoyably musty and its skin crispy. The kuzu, still retaining sweetness but void of gentle fermentation note (like the one at Mugaritz), was turned into a kind of posh bread sauce. The sharpness from the wine-and-honey-poached quince scrumptiously cut through the rich jus.
The desserts, I got order a few (thanks to an impromptu lunch mate Dini). The two desserts that were part of the chef’s tasting menu were nice but small. Cucumber, Perilla (AKA Shiso) in Chillied Lemon Verbena was these batons of compressed cucumber finished with chilled, crystal-clear, aromatic verbena juice. The verbena was gloriously refreshing but the dish would fare better with finely diced cucumber as the batons tasted stubbornly of cucumber, not of what it was compressed with. The result was that the two main components (cucumber – verbena juice) were too separated. Fig Leaf Ice Cream was presented not very fig-like but contained an appetising degree of fig flavour. More spectacular in taste but deceptively simple in appearance was Barley Flour Sponge and Tahitian Vanilla Ice Cream. The red tea-soaked sponge was (nearly) as light as a Baba, which went well with the pronounced vanilla milky-ness. And Chocolate and Hazelnut Oil Ganache with Sheep’s Milk Ice Cream was served as a log of multi-textured chocolate and complete with basil moss, fennel top and shiso leaf sprinkling. Mint-y and not too rich.
The space to watch..
Dabbous was impressive but not (yet) mind-blowing. Unlike other young talented chefs in London (say, Ben Spalding of Roganic or Issac McHale and James Lowe of The Young Turks), Ollie’s own style is more studied, controlled and not as crazy, all of which are reflective of where he was trained. On the not-so-bright side, this makes his dishes less striking. The joy, as it has proved, is found in the eating and the refinement that goes into the sourcing, the prepping and the cooking. And yes, given time, Dabbous will become the talk of the town. For now, it’s definitely the space to watch…
GO FOR: Innovation. No pretense. The bar.
37 Whitfield Street
Tel. 020 7734 7001