Yabba Dabbous Doo!
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach, when feeling out of sight for the ends of being and ideal grace. I love thee to the level of every day’s most quiet need, by sun and candle-light. I love thee freely, as men strive for right. (Sonnet 43, Elizabeth Barrett Browning).
Dabbous in Fitzrovia was opened in 2012. Within weeks, it received its Michelin star and fast became London’s Darling. Tables were simply impossible to get. The Lovely Husband trekked there after work one day, hammered on the oversized, reinforced steel door, prostrated himself and begged, but even so, we had to wait a full 12 months for a chance to find out what all the excitement was about. But Heavens above, never was a wait more worthwhile! This restaurant is a food lovers Nirvana, the non plus ultra of gastronomy, a place where you hear the angels sing as you savour one surprising, thrilling, clever creation after another. Thankfully, five years on, it’s a little easier to get a reservation.
Esteemed food critic, Tom Parker Bowles, puts it likes this when he writes about Ollie Dabbous (pronounced Da-boo), co-owner/chef of this establishment : ‘huge technical skill and keen, whip-smart culinary intelligence …..the man crackles with talent and makes fascinating food you really want to eat’. Yup, and then some.
Ollie Dabbous certainly has some pedigree. Raymond Blanc, Noma, Heston Blumenthal and others of note feature on his CV, yet his own restaurant could not be more unfancy. “I believe in restrained simplicity and cleanliness. I want a dish that has the wow factor but looks effortless. I don’t want my food to look cheffy.” he is quoted as saying, and clearly he has applied the same principles to his first solo venture too. It’s a small venue, dark and starkly industrial with concrete floors, metal mesh and raw wooden tables, which, however, somehow manages to be intimate, chic and even cosy at the same time. Go figure! The clientele are predominantly 30 or 40 something professionals, slightly hip but not intimidatingly so.
There are two menus, the Tasting Menu at £75 and the Set Dinner Menu at £59, and both are jammed full of interesting, positively fascinating and thoroughly enticing food combinations. None of the descriptions, as it turns out later, even begin to adequately describe the sheer joy of every mouthful yet to come. We have one of each. Given the opportunity, it would be churlish not to.
First though, the bread. It comes, fresh, warm and aromatic with a smoky crust, in a date stamped paper bag and with a mitre of creamy butter at just the right temperature. We are in danger of overeating before we have even started, it’s that good!
It’s difficult to restrain my enthusiasm but I don’t want to bore you with endless superlatives, suffice it to say that, from the first bite of Scallop Tartare with Eucalyptus, which, with its crushed ice mixed under the shellfish and delicate flavour, brings to mind all the freshness of a clear mountain stream on a spring day, to the last of the Warm Buckwheat Waffle, Soured Cream and Smoked Fudge Sauce, redolent of foggy evenings spent in front of a crackling log fire, each and every mouthful is pure ecstasy. The Barbecued Haunch of Venison with Jerusalem Artichokes, Tarragon and Rye is so tender, it melts in the mouth, the Turnip and Honey Dressing, at once sweetish and mildly spicy, complimenting the Fillet of Cod wrapped in Pine Shavings, is just sensational.
The enchantingly combined Fennel Salad with Lemon Balm and Pickled Rose Petals vies with the zesty Blood Orange, Olive and Marjoram for pallet cleansing sparkle, the hearty and wholesome Duck Soup comforts the soul, and the Chocolate and Hazelnut Ganache, Sheep’s Milk Sorbet and Basil Moss tastes light, crunchy, creamy, an altogether spectacularly, gorgeously decadent moment on a plate.
Then there’s the blissful marriage of Grilled Mackarel with Toasted Grains, Muscat Grapes and Lovage, which tickles the tastebuds with texture and flavour, and the no less expertly curated Cheeses from the British Isles, Baked Apple and Toasted Sourdough.
It’s all a joyful celebration of food, of goodness, of the abundance and beauty of Mother Nature’s offerings, and it makes you pleased to be alive at this very moment, in this very place. All this before I have even mentioned the most awesome dish of all, the one that has had me yearning for days afterwards, the one I have scoured the recipe websites for in vain, the one that haunts me even when I’m asleep, the sublime, the one and only Charcoal Smoked Cassava. Unlike all the others, this one is no looker as it lies there, a blackened piece of exotic tuber on an equally black bit of charcoal beside a herby aioli dipping sauce. You might almost be forgiven for looking at it a bit suspiciously, or possibly bypassing it completely with a turned up nose. Go on, I dare you, just take a bite! Firm but also soft, sweet but also intensely savoury, smoky and kind of juicy at the same time, it’s uniquely fingerlickin’, gaspingly, eyerollingly good. I tell you, you haven’t lived till you’ve tasted Charcoal Smoked Cassava!
So besotted am I with Ollie Dabbous and his fabulous restaurant that I don’t actually want to go home at the end of the evening. I want to curl up on the concrete floor under the table and, when I wake up in the morning, I want to go in to the kitchen and lick out all the pans. I also want to be BFFs with Ollie Dabbous, so I can come and eat here every day. In my dreams! As relaxed as the restaurant is, Ollie runs a tight ship in the kitchen. Long before dawn, those pans will be spotlessly clean and, shortly afterwards, this driven perfectionist will be back at work to prepare the day’s deliciousness.
Our bill comes to just under £200, including cheese, wine, service charge and charity donation and is worth every single penny.
Downstairs there’s a buzzing bar, called Oskar’s, presided over by Ollie Dabbous’s business partner, Oskar Kinberg. Restaurant and bar are open Mondays to Saturdays for lunch and dinner but closed on Sundays.
Oh, and did I mention that this is my all time favourite restaurant?
What I wore
Black on black damask vintage Scott Crolla trousers, caramel satin shirt by Pure, black silk belt with bow, L.K. Bennett nude sling backs, black Chanel bag.