Thursday, 2 August 2012

Dabbous - ''Congratulations, you've won the golden ticket!''

39 Whitfield Street, W1T 2SF

I've never heard that reply to a restaurant reservation before. But then, Dabbous is no ordinary restaurant. With a striking industrial interior housed in a former internet cafe (R.I.P. Cyberia!), Dabbous doesn't immediately strike you as the site of one of the most sought after reservations (April 2013 as of this post) in London. This may partially be down to the fact that there' only about 14 tables, which I would imagine would allow for something like 30 covers per night. Accordingly, the speed of service on the night was very impressive for food of that quality. Also, even though the food is easily Michelin star standard (it will undoubtably win one very soon), prices are very reasonable. £54 for the tasting menu (extra £25 for wine, £6 for a cheese platter), with mains running at about £15 makes for excellent value, I think.

So on to the food. After starting off with a couple of delectable cocktails in the basement bar, we were shown up to our table on the ground floor level. We went for the tasting menu, which consisted of 7 courses, without the cheese. The first item to be brought along was home-made rye bread with softened, salted butter. I was quite surprised at the light, fluffy texture of the rye bread, as I'm used to it being hard and spongey with an intense flavour. It was brought along in a date-stamped brown paper bag...nice touch!

Dabbous labelled rye bread with softened butter

Peas with Mint

This was the first dish proper. Intended as a bit of a palate cleanser, this was a great way to show off the high standard of cooking techniques employed by Oliver Dabbous's kitchen crew At the base of the dish was an ice-cold pea puree, which was refreshing, but intense in flavour at the same time. Studded within the puree were individual peas as well as some sitting in their pods. Along with this was the mint component, in the form of a jelly. What I loved about this dish was that there were only two real flavours here - that of the pea and the mint - but the simple combination was excellent in its' execution. It's rare that you get to eat freshly podded peas on their own anywhere and it's a shame because the flavour is so special.

Peas with Mint

Mixed alliums

Next up, another starter, was a take (I'm guessing) on the French onion soup. It was made with alliums, which basically describes the entire onion family. The dish consisted of a clear consomme with a strong, spicy flavour that you would expect from concentrated onions but with a surprising sweet element. I didn't really pick up the pine infusion personally, mostly because of the strength of the onion flavour, I think. Within the consomme, there were blobs of a basil emulsion. At the centre of the dish were two small, (apparently) raw onions, which again had a surprising, sweet quality to them without the normal harsh, spiciness that you get with raw onions. I would say overall, this was my least favourite dish and probably one that I wouldn't order on its' own from the menu in all honesty. Not when compared to some of the other dishes on offer here...

Mixed alliums in a chilled pine infusion

Coddled egg with woodland mushroom and smoked butter

If Dabbous had a signature dish, this would probably be it. It was presented, beautifully, within an egg shell sitting on straw in a bowl. Coddling is apparently a form of very gentle scrambling, where the egg does not completely scramble as it does not reach boiling point. The result is a flavour and texture in between raw and poached egg. This was combined with a mixture of small, woodland mushrooms and smoked butter. It was a really special flavour combination, warm and nourishing, something to move away from the light and refreshing starters towards the main courses.

Coddled egg with woodland mushrooms and smoked butter

Braised halibut with lemon verbena

This was my favourite dish. Effectively it is just halibut, fried in a very simple manner with a milky white veloute made from lemon verbena underneath, with some fresh coastal herbs on top. So, as a dish overall, it didn't really stand out as much as the other dishes, which were much more surprising and original in flavour combination, but I think the way in which the fish combined with the subtle lemon flavours of the veloute as well as the almost seaweed-like flavours of the coastal herbs was absolutely brilliant. Above all, the fish was cooked unbelievably well, firm and not flakey or crumbly. It was also seasoned perfectly. Again, it's not a lot of complicated flavours, there were just 3 or 4 simple flavours combined very, very well and cooked with great skill. I especially liked the use of coastal herbs as the iodine flavour combines so well with seafood, and makes a nice change from the usual dill or parsley garnishes.

Braised halibut with lemon verbena (garnished with coastal herbs)

BBQ iberico pork, acorn praline, turnip tops, apple vinegar

The meat main course was another highlight of the meal. The barbequed (no messing about with sous vide or pan frying here) iberico pork, cooked medium rare was phenomenal, moist, juicy and flavourful without the slightly fetid taste that I find comes with most ham dishes. It was almost reminiscent of a piece of red meat in flavour but with the characteristic tenderness and butter-like marbling associated with iberico pork. What took this dish to another level was its' combination with a sweet and savoury acorn praline underneath. The crunchiness of the praline did well to break up the soft, tender texture of the meat. I felt that the combination of the smoky pork with its' normal diet of acorns was a really clever deconstruction of pata negra, the famous black iberico ham from Spain. The dish was garnished with turnip tops drizzled with apple vinegar, which added some nice bitter and acidic flavours to complement the sweet and savoury elements of the main part of the dish.

BBQ Iberico pork, acorn praline, turnip tops and apple vinegar

Ripe peach in its own juice

After the rich, savoury flavours of the meat course we were brought the penultimate dish, which was simply a peach, which seemed to have been poached in its own juices, with a vanilla cream to give a melba-esque touch to the dish. Ripe fruit in season is always a winner, and it provided some nice refreshment prior to the final dish.

Ripe peach in its' own juice

Custard cream pie

The final dish was a custard cream pie, which consisted of a biscuit (similar in texture to a galette) cup in which there was an almost foam-like custard with ripe banana (hidden from view) and camomile infusion. It was a suitably British way of finishing off the meal. What I really enjoyed most about the dessert was that it was not reliant on very rich, sweet, heavy flavours which can really just finish you off at the end of a long, 7-course meal. It was light, delicately sweetened and beautiful to look at, with the little flower garnish on top.

Custard cream pie

In all the dishes, there were not a huge number of different flavours but they were combined with great skill. Furthermore, modern techniques were used in the cooking, but there was still a great respect for the various components of each dish. On top of all this, the dining room was unstuffy and casual, service was attentive and quick (the maitre d' met us at the bar downstairs, had a chat with us, took us to our table and explained all the components of every dish). It was brilliant, modern British food in a relaxed setting with a great attention to personalised service. It ranked, along with Dinner by Heston as one of the best meals I've had in London. I loved Dabbous. If only it was easier getting a reservation....

P.S. We ended up getting a reservation by following their Twitter account (@DabbousLondon), where they announce any tables that are freed up by cancellations. It doesn't happen all that often and it's short notice, but it pays to fish around on Twitter every now and then!

Dabbous on Urbanspoon Square Meal

Photos by Nathalie.


  1. Good to hear its worth the hype and manages to balance swanky menus with a chilled out vibe. That said, I feel forever like Patrick Bateman trying to get a res, not easy. Will take some solace in these pics, or try Dinner... X
    Any recommendations for a dating suggestions website? (twentysomething crowd mostly). Thanks! Nana

  2. Thanks for the comment! Yes, if I could go again I definitely would!

    As for the restaurant suggestions, Me and Owen do have a few suggestions that we can think of:-

    Opera Tavern - I think tapas is always a good option because it's a good conversation starter, and a good way of finding out what people like eating! There are loads of more informal options for tapas in London, but we like Opera Tavern in Covent Garden because it has quite a romantic atmosphere as well as great food!

    Koba - This is a Korean barbeque restaurant in Fitzrovia, where every table is equiped with a sort of hot plate for barbeque. It's, of course, quite meat orientated but again the experience of sharing the food as well as the interactive element of grilling your own meat is quite fun and another conversation starter. The quality of the food is excellent too, particularly the BBQ meat choices and the bibimbaps!

    Nizuni - This is another Charlotte St restaurant owned by the Koba group, which specializes in Japanese food. The great thing is that it has a bit of everything (meat, fish, vegetables), and also it has a very quiet, intimate vibe with great service.

    Those are the ones off the top of our heads. Are there any more specific cuisines or areas of London you were thinking of?


Well, what you think?.......