Dabbous is a restaurant that we have wanted to visit for ages and, this weekend, we finally did. Following rave reviews from pretty much everyone who has ever eaten there, tables have not been easy to come by. We ended up with a lunchtime rather than dinner slot but we have both agreed recently that this might, in fact, be preferable; I quite like emerging, blinking, into the afternoon sunshine, safe in the knowledge I have a good few hours to get on with the process of digesting umpteen courses. Although talking of multiple courses, it is a mark of how spoiled your average fine diner is getting that we felt vaguely disappointed that we were presented with a tasting menu of seven courses and we got…seven courses. We’ve got so used to the sneaky little extras that we now regard them as our due. This minor gripe aside, £59 for the whole felt like remarkably good value.
Before getting on to the actual food I have to take a minute to do an excited fan girl squeal about the basement bar area, which is apparently open to non diners. I would definitely urge a trip along there for a peek at the superlative booze collection and a seriously good cocktail; I was only half joking when I told the barman that my “Dillusion” martini was the nicest thing I tasted all day.
And so to our table upstairs, where we were cheek by jowl with our neighbours (French, appropriately nonchalant of expression throughout – eschewed cheese which we thought was jolly bad form). The space is tight in the dining room and the style very much the modern, industrial feel that is becoming somewhat endemic – if you’re looking for hushed and hallowed halls, starched linen and leather bound menus, this is possibly not the place for you. We opted for the tasting menu with nary a peek at the set lunch and also an absolutely fantastic English sparkling wine from Sussex, which is probably the nicest thing I have quaffed so far this year.
The food, though, what of the food? Well, I have no complaints. When we came to mark the dishes out of ten afterwards (our new game to aid better comparisons across dining experiences – whether or not it works is probably debatable but it makes for enjoyable post dinner conversations) nearly everything was hitting the eights and nines. The two palate cleanser courses (avocado in osmanthus and onion consommé, and poached rhubarb with lavender respectively) were, to our minds, the least satisfying plates – although they did the job, being both full of freshness and vim. The pulled veal breast was an undoubted highlight, straddling the turn of the seasons between winter and spring admirably by combining lightness with savoury depth. New season Jersey Royals, some no larger than a kitten’s paw, were perfectly celebrated, their musty sweetness enhanced rather than smothered by the velvety drape of the buttermilk sauce. We also loved the combination of smoked halibut and celeriac – again the balance between lightness and shade was so cleverly done – and the barbecued octopus was a real revelation, inspiring us to get some cephalopods over charcoal as soon as the weather improves.
What else? Oh, the cheese. We were served a fondue of Spenwell cheese which had a fabulous hit of thyme to help cut through the richness - a genuine lick the bowl type of dish. I really love the trend, which we’ve seen in a few places recently, for serving a single cheese or savoury rather than the more traditional cheeseboard. And the dessert was lovely as well – a big, creamy, can’t-wipe-the-grin-off-your-face banana and custard éclair, it was a proper pudding which left us thoroughly sticky mouthed and content.
Overall, I thought that Dabbous, which could well have been a disappointment after all the intense hype, could have buckled under the weight of our expectations, bore up very well and I would be absolutely delighted to go back. D thinks he might just about prefer Story (more testing is perhaps required) but for me, Dabbous was the more consistently enjoyable of the two not to mention possessed of a kick-ass cocktail bar. Given how many people, possessed of far more discerning palates than I, have already lavished praise upon it, you probably don’t need a recommendation or otherwise from me. But you have one anyway, such as it is.
39 Whitfield Street
020 7323 1544