Ollie Dabbous, former head chef at Texture, has branched out on his own. And he’s done so with the kind of aplomb you might expect.
A mere stumble from Goodge Street tube, Dabbous’ pretty imposing exterior might offer an insight into the high hopes of this venture: the door looks sealed, which could be an indicator that this place is hard to get into – optimistic decorative praxis, perhaps. Or perhaps it’s just part of a moody aesthetic so stripped back as to be practically naked. At least that might explain the darkness downstairs, particularly the toilets, where mirrors are rendered essentially redundant. It is, though, a really impressive-looking place, and even though some might accuse it of channelling All Saints by way of a Cold War sub, it’s just the kind of atmospheric, industrial setting that a menu filled with such incredibly clean and clear dishes needs.
Dabbous feels like the kind of restaurant you get in Manchester, designed for young new blood, as opposed to the staid, established money that a lot of London venues thrive on. It’s certainly got a trendy vibe to it, with staff decked out either in sharp suits or fashionably smart garb offset by a pair of Converse, or whatever the cool kids are wearing these days. And they're all pretty dab hands at making you feel welcome, and seem like they’ve got to grips with the menu, more or less. Expect your fellow diners to be a mix of those with their fingers on the pulse of the capital’s dining scene; those who’ve followed Mr Dabbous from Texture; and even the odd passerby – so a mixed bunch, really.
With a nod, perhaps, to the Scandinavian influences at Texture, the dishes at Dabbous succeed so impressively thanks to their clarity. The combinations are restrained and uncomplicated, allowing what are pretty impeccable ingredients the space in which to do their thing. It’s certainly a beguiling menu on paper, and thankfully it tastes even better than it reads - which in itself is impressive, given that the prices of starters only once enter double figures, and mains don’t top fifteen.
A tasting menu (£49 for eight courses) continues the good value, and kicks off with a brilliantly light salad of little gem, fennel, lemon balm, rose petals and contrasting textures, followed by a dish that should probably come with a monocle. Fresh and bouncy beef tartar is impeccably seasoned and given an earthy, almost smoky tone from cigar oil, whisky and a little sprinkle of rye bread.
A vibrantly yellow coddled hen’s egg is served in a decapitated shell nesting in a little mound of hay, and is mixed with woodland mushrooms, parsley and some very smoky smoked butter that brings it all together nicely. The roast king crab with warm buttermilk and wilted Hispi cabbage isn’t quite as successful, but only due to the sweetness of the crab being forced to do battle with the sweetness of some (unadvertised) little cubes of roasted parsnip.
The BBQ Iberico pork is, however, unbelievably good, even if the apple vinegar is overpowered somewhat by both the sweetness of the incredible meat and an acorn praline bed that echoes – ever so slightly – a delicate, unspiced satay sauce. An optional cheese course is a pretty hefty £9 supplement, but is worth getting not only for the slivers of sheep’s, brie, goat’s and Colston Basset stilton, but also for the brilliant brioche with which it is served – toasted, judiciously, on one side only.
A refreshing, palate cleansing interlude of cucumber and perilla in a chilled lemon verbena infusion is so light it comes with a tether, and readies everything for a very, very impressive finale of chocolate and hazelnut oil ganache. That, on its own, would keep most happy but sheep’s milk ice cream, a wisp of tarragon jus and a sprinkle of outrageously flavoursome basil moss work as incredibly fine bedfellows.
Showing, again, an appreciation of the depth of the capital’s pockets, the well thought out wine list starts at just £17 for a 2010 Casa Maria Verdejo Blanco, with an admirable number available by the glass and the half bottle carafe, too. There are plenty of French options (including a very good Viognier at £22.50) but for something that works pretty well with much of the menu, a 2010 Gavi di Gavi (the only Italian white) is cracking value at £28.
The Last Word
The industrial décor might divide opinion but the food certainly shouldn’t. This is accessible, affordable and brilliant cooking from one very talented chap.