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Hot New London Restaurant Dabbous Is Worth Wait

April 10, 2012

Dabbous in London. The small restaurant is so popular that diners wait weeks for a table. Source: Jori White Public Relations via Bloomberg

Dabbous in London. The small restaurant is so popular that diners wait weeks for a table. Source: Jori White Public Relations via Bloomberg

Fancy lunch at Dabbous, the new restaurant of a little-known chef that opened earlier this year?

The first available table is on June 19. Or maybe you’d prefer a weekend dinner for two? That will be Sept. 22.

When Chef Ollie Dabbous opened this modern European establishment just off Oxford Street, few had heard of him and fewer could pronounce his name. (The “S” is silent.) I’m not sure anyone foresaw the waves he would make.

It’s difficult to recall a recent London restaurant that created such a buzz without a celebrity at the helm.

Dabbous uses good ingredients in unusual combinations to create dishes that are visually appealing and enjoyable to eat. The flavors are clean and not entirely predictable.

He’s an original chef with an individual voice and yet the route he has taken to this industrial-looking venue off Oxford Street is entirely coherent as a culinary journey.

He started at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons and became Claude Bosi’s sous chef at Hibiscus. Dabbous then moved to Mugaritz, in San Sebastian, and worked stages as the Fat Duck, Pierre Gagnaire, L’Astrance, Noma, WD-50 and Umu before becoming head chef at Texture.

Texture is a restaurant that flies below the radar of publicity and yet chef Agnar Sverrisson is a creative force whose integrity and originality are well respected within the industry. Texture is among my Top Five London restaurants.

Pickled Petals

Dabbous’s dishes may appear simple. Two of the best are a salad of fennel, lemon balm and pickled rose petals; and celeriac with Moscatel grapes, burnet (a herb with a hint of cucumber) and hazelnuts. Both are so fresh, with layers of delicate flavor, your palate is cleansed at the same time as it is excited.

They are the options on the first course of the set lunch menu, which is astonishing value at 21 pounds ($33) for three courses and 24 pounds for four. The menu is already changing, so who knows what may be on offer when you go?

Another great dish I tried was roast pork belly, savory acorn praline, turnip tops, home-made apple vinegar. The meat is full of flavor before you hit the acorn praline, which I’d say tastes like a posh peanut butter if that didn’t run the risk of bringing Dabbous out of the kitchen bearing a knife. The other standout dish is coddled free-range egg with woodland mushrooms and smoked butter, served in the shell. The concentration of flavor is outstanding.

It’s a similar story with a beef tartar with cigar oil, whisky and rye. The flavors are familiar and make sense, yet I’ve never previously seen them hanging out together on a plate.

Slightly Bitter

As is the way with creativity, not everything in the garden is rosy. I found a roast-goose dish unpleasant in texture and taste. And while the tasting menu is, again, exceptional value (at 49 pounds for seven courses), the start is better than the finish. That leaves you with a slightly bitter taste, assuming the final dish is still chocolate and virgin hazelnut oil ganache, basil moss and sheep’s milk ice cream.

You can relax in the hands of the sommelier, as it were, but wines I’ve enjoyed include Touraine Chenin Blanc Sec -- Domaine l’Aumonier 2009 (35 pounds); Semillon Boekenhoetskloof, Franschhoek 2008 (43 pounds); and a couple of U.S. reds: Dundee Hills Pinot Noir, Sokol Blosser, Oregon 2008 (65 pounds) and Zinfandel, Nalle Winery, Sonoma Valley, California 2008 (64 pounds).

The sommelier is young and enthusiastic, in a laid-back British way, while the French waiter has the kind of personality that would bring you back even if the food weren’t so good.

When a restaurant becomes a talking point, some diners suspect astute PR. It passed me by. All the buzz I got was from diners, who include Daniel Boulud and his head chef Dean Yasharian, with whom I spent a very enjoyable Saturday lunch.

It’s a long wait for a table at Dabbous. It’s worth it.

The Bloomberg Questions

Cost? Lunch start at 21 pounds; tasting menu is 49 pounds.

Sound level? Not too noisy: about 75 decibels.

Inside tip? Book early and engage with the person who takes the bookings rather than show irritation about the wait.

Special feature? Basement bar.

Will I be back? Yes.

Date place? Yes.

Rating? ***½.

Dabbous, 39 Whitfield Street, London, W1T 2SF. Information: +44-20-7323-1544 or http://www.dabbous.co.uk/.

What the Stars Mean:
****         Incomparable food, service, ambience
***          First-class of its kind.
**           Good, reliable.
*            Fair.
(No stars)   Poor.

Sound-Level Chart (in decibels): 65-70: Office noise. 70- 75: Starbucks. 75-80: London street. 80-85: Alarm clock at closest range. 85-90: Passing bus. 85-95: Tube train.

(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)

Today's Muse highlights: Philip Boroff on “Wicked”’s profits; Katya Kazakina on New York women gallerists; Robert Heller on Florence + the Machine; Greg Evans on TV's “Girls” and “Trust.”

To contact the writer on the story: Richard Vines in London at rvines@bloomberg.net or http://twitter.com/Richardvines.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.


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