TUESDAY 17 JANUARY 2012 THE FIRST REVIEW OF DABBOUS RESTAURANT
Dabbous - a first restaurant review
I am having lunch at a new restaurant. I know the young chef very well: Oli Dabbous worked at Le Manoir for four years; that is where he learned his craft. He then worked with another protégé of mine, the fabulous Agi Sverisson at his restaurant Texture, which gained a well deserved star Michelin last year.
I just entered the restaurant, and I am slightly nervous - not for me but for him. I remember so well my first opening day: the sweat, the fear, the excitements, the unfamiliarity of my little kitchen, the little sleep, the things which were not quite right and also the expectation of each guest.
I went into the kitchen to say hello: no sign of any pressure…… or if there was, it was well hidden! But Oli kept telling me “oh chef, that is hard.” Yes Oli, I remember very well!
I probably will be the first to write a review of his restaurant Secretly I hope that the whole experience will be really special… No pressure on Oli and his team, then! When Oli first came to work with us at Le Manoir, Gary and I were quick to acknowledge that this young man had certain qualities which set him apart…… brilliant organisation, a cool head, does not buckle under pressure, complete love of food, incessant questioning, always eager to learn to minute detail, hardworking and a wonderful work ethic. What a joy it was to work with such a young man and to see him now in his own restaurant.
The restaurant is in two parts: downstairs is a large room with sofas and a bar. The cocktails are very good; I tasted them the night before at the pre-opening party and there was a buzzing ambience.
Oli is a man of conviction: he knows himself well; the food that he wants to give his guests, how it is given and in what kind of environment. The design is a true statement of intent - bold, bare - some even might say raw - every copper pipe is naked, every wall distressed, bare light bulbs and the floor is roughened up. The cocktail bar is a great addition, it will bring great business in the evenings; with it young executives who enjoy a good cocktail and a great meal to follow.
I know his Papa who is an architect and he is quietly disapproving but Oli is in heaven. Beyond the shock treatment of the design, I felt comfortable. I was well greeted by the young receptionist: with a big smile, she welcomed me and promptly sat me at my table. I ordered a tomato juice. I looked at the à la carte menu. The presentation is clear and modern: five starters, six main courses and five desserts. All served in smaller portions, starter from £5 to £11, Main Courses from £11 to £14 and desserts £4-9.
Four starters out of five were either vegetables, pulses or egg; bravo Oli, let’s eat less protein and let us be more creative with our vegetables, starches and pulses.
I decided to go for the tasting menu composed of seven dishes priced at £49. The young sommelier Francis proposed to give me a little taste of wine for each course which I would normally refuse, for me it is too many wines, too many tastes... but today why not! Let’s see what this young Sommelier is made of!
The food arrived: first the bread, wrapped in a brown paper bag: why Oli? Why not in a basket, or on a small board? The warm bread is likely to steam up in its sealed bag and it's also a pain to take it out - and remember, a French man loves his bread at the ready. Is it such a great idea? But the bread in the brown bag was truly delicious, crunchy outer crust, and tasty, moist and firm crumb. Are the hazelnuts inside necessary? In London, 50 per cent of people have allergies and the other half have food intolerances?
The butter was good and the big fat olives delicious.
The first course arrived: a salad of fennel lemon balm and pickled rose petal. The dish was really engaging: it looked lovely yet unfussy and very appetising. Everything was right: the textures and the well layered flavours, even the rose petals tasted delicious and were an integral part of this dish not just a garnish. There was so much truth and deliciousness at the same time.
Wine : Domaine Gayda Languedoc France Sauvignon Blanc: fresh, delicate fruit, excellent match.
Then the celeriac and muscatel grapes. Large and thinly cut celeriac, cooked in a clear jus enlivened with a dash of muscatel, and a few roasted hazelnuts. Fresh and delicate flavours, tasty. I was a little disappointed with the too mild flavour of the celeriac. Was it a good organic celeriac from our own soil?........Still a very good dish.
Wine: chose not to have any wine.
Then the coddled egg arrived as it should be, nestled in fine straw, creamy and well textured with delicates tastes from the smoked butter and the wild mushrooms. The crumbled egg was perfect, its texture firm with large chunky bits inside. At this stage I was about to sing the Marseillaise or should it be God Save the Queen??? So much the food was good and perfectly seasoned!
Wine : Montagny 1er Cru 2010 Domain Jean Baptiste Ponsot : again felt very happy with it.
By this time I was so happy for this young chef and I also knew he would deliver a great meal. I only wished that Gary Jones, my executive head chef, could be with me to celebrate this moment, Oli’s first meal to his mentors and paying customers.
Then roast king crab in a milky, buttery, heavenly jus arrived with coco beans and oyster leaf - a little treasure of intelligence, great produce and cooking skills.
Wine: Riesling Pegasus Bay – Waipara New Zealand: the sweet undertone of the Riesling was perfectly paired with the crab and its richer sauce. Blissful!
Then a larger chunk of sliced protein arrived in the shape of a barbecued cheek of Iberico pork arrived on a rich reduction seasoned with apple vinegar. The meat was melting and the Rully premier cru, from Jean Batiste Boileau matched it perfectly.
Oh la la, what a feast!
Wine : Rully 1er cru Molesme 2008 Jean Baptiste Ponsot, Burgundy, France
Now the desserts - two little desserts came one after the other. The first, Cucumber and perilla in a chilled lemon verbena infusion, I would say interesting and refreshing but why, Oli, perilla and verbena which are not in season? Then the fig leaf ice cream arrived – did I miss something? I know seasons well, I also have fig trees in Le Manoir which don’t have leaves in the winter. So Oli where did you get yours? This was the least successful part of the magnificent meal.
The menu is intelligent, it does not follow fashions, it uses excellent ingredients, little protein. The wines are well chosen, and were well matched with the food. Maybe three would be enough. There is a real talent in the kitchen and eating here will not break the bank.
The guests around were very happy, ditto the table of chefs close to me. The front of house did not quite match the feats of the kitchen, but this is normal, it is early days. But I know that London has another worthy new table and a new talent!
Merci Oli and the team – and warmest congratulations on your first day of opening!
39 Whitfield Street London W1T 2SF
020 7323 1544
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Raymond Blanc's new book, Kitchen Secrets, featuring recipes from Kitchen Secrets Series 1 & 2 and many more, was published by Bloomsbury on 14 February and is available to buy online from Amazon, from Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, Brasserie Blanc, Maison Blanc, and from online and retail bookstores.
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