Wednesday, 10 April 2013


I remember the first time I called Dabbous in January 2012, expecting to make a dinner booking within the next 2 months; “We’re full until May”. It’s been awhile since I encountered a restaurant that didn’t operate the 1 to 2 months-in-advance booking system. So I booked for June the 1st and waited patiently for that coveted reservation. Dabbous had by then made a name for itself within the industry and was sought after by hardcore foodies, but it remained quite low key for awhile. There seemed to be no PR machine behind this restaurant, no flooding of reviews on the usual blogs and newspaper restaurant sections, it had an air of mystery about it. A friend rationalised that because of the “you can book as far ahead as you want” booking system and because so few people have eaten there, Dabbous wasn’t creating hype. If you call for a booking and you’re told you’ll get one in 6 months, it’s hard to get excited about it. Whereas for other restaurants, if you hadn’t made a booking early enough and you really need a table (ie for birthdays or friends visiting), you end up calling several times, always in the hope that there’s been a cancellation.

Dabbous serves its bread in a brown paper bag. The bread is amazing and the butter even more so.
When you visit Dabbous, you understand their reservation policy. Located near the bustling Charlotte street, it’s tucked away in Whitfield street. The windows are frosted over and you can’t see in, so unless you were looking for it, you’d walk straight past it without knowing a restaurant was housed there. Inside Dabbous, the décor is industrial, bare and minimal. Wooden tables and hanging lamps keep the tiny dining room looking austere. This restaurant isn’t about being “a hot restaurant” with celebrity clientele or power lunches, client dinners. It’s not here to impress diners with luxurious or decadent décor. This is a restaurant for foodies. The only thing it’s concerned with is the food. Even the tasting menu is priced reasonably at 59 pounds, a bargain and well within the reach of the masses.

During my first visit, food was beautiful, delicate and original. The menu was based on what was in season and every detail of every dish was well thought out. My favourite was the pork with praline: the meat was tender and the praline pairing? Simply Lovely. I also liked the bits of crushed ice in my starter and the lovage palate cleanser was so original! I loved it so much I made my second booking before I left, booking a 12 person table for my boyfriend’s birthday in March 2013, which made it 9 months in advance.

Avocado, pistachio & lemon balm 
A chilled osmenthus infusion is poured onto the avocado, the resulting dish is fresh and has a Japanese flavour to it. 
Roast Salsify with manuka honey, brazil nuts and white miso: I've never had salsify as a main component of a dish so this was interesting
One of the best of the night: Mash in gravy with shaved truffle. The mash was indulgently creamy and the gravy provided a full flavour, but while I was eating it, I wondered where the rest of the dish was. 
Roast Skate with mustard&molasses, dill pickle-- I liked the skate, a lot, the mustard was good too, but I didn't get the pickle. I usually love pickles, but the flavour pairing here just didn't work for me
Roast suckling pig with mango chutney-- this was perhaps the most disappointing dish of the night. It was supposed to be the grand finale before the cheese and desserts, instead the dish is as the photo, lacking in focus and quality. Underneath the fennel lay a piece of pork that was paired with a mango sauce, the combination as well as the way the pork was cooked failed to wow me. On top of that, the crackling was not crispy but hard. 
From Top to Bottom: Driftwood with Ash from Somerset, Wigmore Brie, Lancashire black bomber (cheddar branded "best cheese in the world" by our server), Crozier Blue from Ireland. Baked apple of the right. Cheese selection was good enough and I enjoyed it. As for the cheddar, "best cheese" is a gross hyperbole! 
Blood Orange with marjoram and olive oil-- this was refreshing and pleasant but again, it's not a dish that has left me wanting more. 
Everyone was pumped on the night, as by now, most had heard of how difficult it was to get a table. A friend didn’t believe us and called to get a reservation, “We’re booked until next year for dinner”. All this hype only served to lift expectations and I felt a bit of pressure, worried that the food wouldn't live up to standards. And my verdict after my second visit: I wasn’t blown away. The tasting menu had been changed completely and while I thought it was good, it was a bit underwhelming. The food had become simpler, which in itself is not a bad thing. For example, the mash and gravy was good, very good in fact, but I felt it didn’t warrant being a course on its own, even with the shaved black truffle topping. The waffle for desert was the same, good but lacking in star quality, the waffle should have been a supporting actor to a much more deserving star like an originally flavoured ice cream (instead of the sour cream that was served with it). There is no doubt that food was good, but it left me unsatisfied, especially as I’d had a wonderful experience the first time.

Has Ollie Dabbous let standards slip because success has gone to his head? Perhaps because the restaurant is booked up till next year, there is less of an incentive to impress. Or maybe I was expecting too much from him or had misunderstood his style of cooking. Either way, I've had a glimpse of Ollie Dabbous' star quality and am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt but for the sake of all the diners that have a table booked, I hope the tasting menu gets changed soon.
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