With ‘It’ restaurant Dabbous booked up a year in advance, many of London’s foodies may be feeling they’ve missed the boat on sampling Ollie Dabbous’ now Michelin-starred cuisine. But fret not, as you can get a sneaky peek into the world of Dabbous through Oskar’s Bar in the basement, along with some pretty special cocktails, too, courtesy of Swedish mixer Oskar Kinberg.
The industrial chic of Dabbous is replicated in Oskar’s Bar directly below the restaurant, and although still stark and stripped-back, a minimal splash of warmth is added to the room through red brick walls and tan, leather chairs. With the same exposed ceiling ducts as in the upstairs restaurant, and with a light concrete floor, repurposed metallic furniture and robust tables, the overall effect is of a stylish Brooklyn basement bar. Despite the room being quite small, every seating area has its own privacy thanks to alcoves under the stairs and well spaced tables, and both large parties and intimate groups are welcomed by a mixture of different sized spots to nurse a Negroni.
Despite the moody and broody, industrial aesthetic and the venue’s super cool label, Oskar’s Bar is made colourful by the excitement of customers waiting to be seated for their meal upstairs or hoping to sample some bar snacks from the very same Dabbous kitchen. Staff also share this energy, with a good deal of pride in the cocktail offering and a pleasant, laid-back approach. Low-lighting completes the Brooklyn bar vibe and music complements the progression of your evening, starting with slow soul and moving into deep and edgy electronica as the night draws in.
Those who can’t bear to wait a year for a sought-after table at Dabbous – let’s face it, nobody is that good at forward planning – can have just a taster of Ollie Dabbous’ now famous menu, with a few of the restaurant’s most popular dishes frequenting the short list of bar snacks available. The much-revered coddled free range hen egg (£8) with woodland mushrooms and smoked butter is one of these such options, as well as barbecued iberico pork, savory acorn praline, turnip tops and homemade apple vinegar (£16) making an appearance.
Also on the menu though, are some snacks that may go better with a strong cocktail or two, including crispy chicken wings with fenugreek and toasted garlic (£5), a dish that’s ideal for sharing. The juicy little morsels of chicken have a crispy, almost caramelised skin and can be generously dunked into a sauce that despite its garishly yellow appearance is a subtle accompaniment of garlic and herb. And for something to properly soak up the booze, a wagyu steak sandwich with tobacco butter and onions pickled in wheat beer (£18) is a meatier option, an open sandwich with beautifully tender, chargrilled and slightly smoky slithers of beef, and a healthy dollop of wholegrain mustard on the side. All but one of the bar snacks on the menu follow this pattern of reasonably priced, quirky and accessible foods – the farmed oscietra caviar (£90) is probably best reserved for special occasions.
Oskar Kinberg can be highly praised for the same dedication to inventiveness and fresh, clean and bold flavours as shown in Ollie Dabbous’ food upstairs. The Swedish mixologist previously worked behind the bar at the Cuckoo Club, but here Kinberg is given creative freedom on an impressive list of original cocktails, all with tongue-in-cheek but never too cheesy names, and refreshingly, with only a few of the classics available - and even those are more obscure than your average Mojito. Even better, prices are incredibly reasonable. Popular choices include Dillusion (£8.50), a dill-infused Bombay Sapphire gin, elderflower and cucumber creation, that is simple, sublime and cleansing on the palate. For a bit more of a kick, try Bulletproof (£8.50) - served in a rather large kilner jar and garnished with lemon rind and plenty of mint, this fruity, Bourbon-based cocktail blends greengage liqueur and gooseberry jam for a different take on a tropical punch.
For a long drink, Sloe Gin Punch (£8.50) is a great choice, a glass filled with fresh fruits and topped with homemade sloe gin, hawthorn syrup and ginger ale. And the Beetroot Margarita (£8.50) is deliciously balanced between sweet, salt and sour – beetroot and tequila make for a surprisingly excellent combination and the novelty of a ruddy purple drink does not wear thin. A few champagne and beer cocktails are available and classic cocktails include a Barrel-aged Negroni (£10.50).
The Last Word
Shake off any disappointment from Dabbous’ waiting list by heading down the stairs where you’ll find a few famous Dabbous snacks on the bar menu. But you’ll also discover cocktails that are cleverly inventive and carefully created and an atmosphere all of its own, making Oskar’s Bar a destination in its very own right.