UPDATE: This post seems to be getting a few hits on how to get a table at Dabbous. I’ve updated this post with a few words at the end on some tips if you want a table.
I didn’t want to jump on the bandwagon; I really didn’t. However you should know now that the hype is real. Dabbous is as brilliant as they say. Unfortunately the bad news is that you’re looking at FEBRUARY 2013 if you want to make a booking for dinner. Crazy, huh? A 9 month wait. You could create new life and have a baby before getting a table at Dabbous!
For the un-initiated, this article here, should help to explain they hype behind Dabbous. A spate of glowing reviews have lead to the point where they are booked solid and are currently the most sought after restaurant in London. I was lucky and managed to get my booking with only(!) a 3 month wait, so at the tail end of the Jubilee weekend, we headed to Dabbous to see what all the fuss was about.
The interior is all wood, concrete and wrought iron; very industrial and bare minimum. The tables eschew the current trend for being extra small in size and more than comfortably fit 2 with room to spare. Duncan suggested to me the interior was reminiscent of an All Saints store, which I dismissed. Upon getting home and researching who was behind the design, it turns out it is a company called Brinkworth who also designed the All Saints stores. Clearly I have no understanding of design.
Our booking was particularly early at 6.30pm; it was all I could manage to get. Curiously, the restaurant did not start to fill up until after 7.30. I understand bookings are staggered so as not to overwhelm the kitchen, but for a restaurant in such hot demand at the moment, it really isn’t inconceivable that they could fit in a few more early bookings. At the rate at which Dabbous is booked, people obviously wouldn’t mind eating early if it meant a shorter booking time.
The last noticeable point about Dabbous is the music…shockingly it was really bad. I’m talking Jamiroqui and Lupe Fiasco. The music in a restaurant plays such an important role. It sets the tone, and indicates what kind of night you can expect to have. Admittedly, yes, music is a personal choice, much the same way that food is, but for a restaurant that is so modern and so now, the music was just plain bland.
I digress. What I’m more interested in, is the food. An ala carte menu is on offer, but most people seemed to be going for the Tasting Menu, and for good reason too. 7 courses at 49 pounds is very good value for the level of cooking on offer, and the Tasting menu gives a range of some of the signature dishes that Ollie Dabbous has created in the first 6 months of opening.
Big, fat buttery olives were brought to the table. A seemingly impossibly young sommelier did his job, with a slight amount of unappreciated sass and glasses of wine were brought. Rarely one to take notice of names of wine, the Viognier 2009 Domaine Gayda from Languedoc, France was lovely and light and a good match to the very Spring-like menu at Dabbous.
A paper bag contained slices of bread. Dotted with hazelnuts and sprinkled with sesame seeds. Smeared with butter, the bread was lovely and warm.
The menu is quite vague in its descriptions. The menu listed ‘Peas with mint’ as the first course, giving no indication as to what would appear. What arrived was a bowl filled with pea cream that was beautifully smooth and creamy. Over the top lay mint leaves, pea shoots and peas in their pod. A mint oil was drizzled over the top, and an icy minty granita finished the bowl off. This bowl was filled with the flavour of how a pea should taste. It was really one of the most amazing things I have had the privilege to eat. All the textures worked wonderfully together, and visually it looked like Spring in a bowl. Never having been a massive fan of peas, I can safely say if all pea dishes tasted like this, they would go to the top of my favourite vegetable. This was an amazing start to the meal. For a chef to choose only 2 key ingredients and create a perfect bowl of flavour and texture is one who is both inventive and confident.
The second course was mixed alliums in a chilled pine infusion. As the plate was placed was placed in front of me, I couldn’t help but smile. It was almost like a piece of modern art. Alliums otherwise known as onions were softly cooked, all the bite taken out in the cooking process, while the pine infusion was both light and delicate but somehow also bold in flavour. The dabs of basil oil gave the dish another dimension of lightness and aroma.
The third course was what is fast becoming Ollie Dabbous’ signature dish; the coddled free range hens egg, with mushrooms and smoked butter. Yet again, another plate that was visually stunning. Served in the egg shell, this was soft, creamy and rich. One of the most memorable versions of scrambled egg I think I will ever eat. Even now I can so distinctly remember the flavour and texture.
The fourth course was braised halibut with lemon verbana. For Duncan this was probably the low point of the meal, along with the poor music choose, and I can understand why. After the soft and rich flavours of the coddle egg, the flavours weren’t as pronounced in the halibut. The halibut had a very clean flavour, and the flesh was quite firm despite having been carefully cooked. The cream sauce was poured table-side and was light and citrusy, while strands of celery had been cooked till they were completely soft and pliable.
Barbecued Iberico pork put the meal right back on track again. Everything you know about cooking pork till it is completely cooked go out the window when comes to Iberico pigs. Bred on a special diet of acorns, that comes though in the flavour of the pork, Iberico are the Wagyu beef of the pig world. Cooked medium rare, the Iberico produced a flavour that was sweet, and was cleverly complimented by an acorn praline, the effect was a sweet and nutty dish offset by the meaty pork. On the side were turnip tops tossed with a sticky apple vinegar giving the dish some acidity. This was a perfectly executed dish.
The optional cheese course was dismissed to head straight into desserts. Having never heard of lovage before; it turned out to be a green herb, transformed into a course granita that had the distinct flavour celery. Acting as a palate cleanser, this was yet another dish that fit in with the idea of Spring seen so far throughout the meal.
The final dish was described on the menu as ‘Chocolate ganache, basil moss, sheep’s milk ice cream’. Apologies for the poor photo as it really does not do this plate the justice it deserves. The sheep’s milk was light and tangy and sat on a bed of slightly bitter chocolate crumbs. On the left was a thick, shiny and dark chocolate ganache with a piece of crunchy chocolate bark sitting on top. A drizzle of dill sauce did not add much to the plate, however the basil moss was made of dark green cake crumbs for lack of a word to describe the texture. Leaves of basil helped to accentuate the flavour, but within the basil moss I’m sure I also tasted some shiso leaf which is also known as Japanese basil, which is a flavour I love. The whole effect was a woody forrest creation, taking inspiration from nature. The flavours were so unique and complimentary to each other; it was a truly original dish.
To truly finish off a beautiful meal, teas were ordered which came with 2 perfectly baked cannele’s with liquor soaked cherries on top.
The food at Dabbous is honestly extraordinary. Ollie Dabbous has managed to tread that fine line between restraint, elegance and raw, organic flavours and textures; always knowing just which element to play up at the right time. While it may take 9 months to get a table, I honestly think the wait is worth it. In saying that though, Dabbous seem quite stubborn to choose customer experience over turning tables. As we were paying we started chatting to our waiter about the restaurant and how it was going. He confirmed that yes, a dinner booking would have to wait till February 2013, but there were ways to get in earlier. He explained that the bar downstairs is rarely full and occasionally there are no-shows for the main restaurant, who forget about their booking. When this happens, the table is offered to bar patrons. He also explained that tables are not turned over the way other restaurants operate. When a table is booked, it is booked for the entire night. If a table happens to finish their meal earlier in the night, the restaurant can then turn that table over to new customers, however this is never planned. An admiral goal I can understand as a meal like Dabbous should be savoured and not rushed, but with the number of people desperate for a booking, I’m sure people would happily stick to a time limit on their table if it meant getting to dine sooner than February. These are all minor quibbles of course; what matters the most is the food, and Ollie Dabbous has managed to create a menu that is exciting, unique and beautiful. An experience highly worth the visit.
Tips on how to get a table at Dabbous:
If you’re not willing to wait 9 months for a table, my recommendation is to go for drinks at the bar underneath the restaurant. When you arrive, make it clear if a table opens up in the restaurant, you would love to dine upstairs. Unfortunately this method isn’t guaranteed and you are essentially betting that a table finishes eating early. If you take this option, I suggest trying it early in the week where people are more likely to dine and leave as opposed to a Friday night when people will linger.
Another option is following Dabbous on Twitter. I’ve spotted a few times they tweet last minute availabilities when people cancel. Apart from just plain calling and waiting out the 9 months or so for a table, that’s all I can offer in terms of tips! Good luck.