Dabbous. Boo Hoo.

Despite being happier trekking to jerk shacks in zone 3 rather than queuing outside the hottest new restaurant in Soho, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at all interested in necking fish skin chips at Lucky Chip’s new slider bar, or washing down hot dogs with fizz at Bubbledogs. Of course I bloody am.

I’d written Dabbous off, thinking it would be impossible to get a table and really, it is, unless you have the chance, like I did, to benefit from the misfortune of some poor sod who couldn’t make his reservation. Don’t mind if I do, Hugh.

It’s the kind of restaurant I can’t really afford to eat at nowadays; my quarterly blowouts at The Ledbury are less frequent since London seems to suck up more of my dosh than ever before but I just couldn’t miss this spot at such a hot restaurant. Lame? Yes. Irresponsible? Yes. So you understand why I was thinking it had better be good…

The set lunch menu looks good value at £26 for 4 courses and so does the tasting menu at £53 for 7. We desperately want the latter but are short on time and so ask them just how fast they can get us through that menu. Well, we do that once we catch the attention of someone who will actually come to the table. Much eye contact is made in vain before this happens. Eventually however, we are reassured, ‘if you can eat fast, we can bring the food as fast as you like’. Done.

It’s easy to see where the restaurant is making its margin in the first two courses. I’m quite taken with the ‘peas and mint’ however; a sort of firm pea mousse (sounds gross I know), a granita on the side and the prettiest arrangement of petals, shoots, pod and pansy in the whole world (top photo). The next course, ‘ripe tomato in its own juice’ sounds optimistic. A ripe tomato? Really? Imported? Hopefully. The flesh itself is okay I suppose, speckled with salty dehydrated olive bits. It’s just a tomato though, and not a particularly amazing one. The surrounding juice, which I’m sure has been made using some sort of very sophisticated technique, is just way too sweet. ‘This would be great as a drink with a shot of vodka in it” remarks my mate. He’s right. As a plate of food, not so much.

The much hyped coddled egg with smoked butter and mushrooms is the biggest let down of the meal for me; there’s way too much butter (no I didn’t think that possible either), and just a few cooked lumps of egg bobbing about in it. The mushrooms are lost. it’s overwhelmingly salty. I didn’t get it.

Best of all is the poached halibut with lemon verbena. The fish is almost perfectly cooked and the leaves (e.g. oyster leaf – tastes like oysters!) are genuinely fresh and interesting, not just unfamiliar.

Iberico pork I try very hard to love but ultimately think well…it’s just a bit boring, actually. I must say the experience of eating it was marred somewhat by my companion’s commentary on the appearance of the smear of acorn praline underneath…bit unfortunate…

A ripe peach in its own juice was basically like posh tinned peaches, which is no bad thing whatsoever. It was tasty and it ticked the nostalgic foods trend box but at the end of the day, was just playing the exact same trick as the tomato.

The custard cream tart was universally liked; banoffee pie in disguise, basically, with banana slices (which I usually hate) nestling in the bottom atop a smear of toffee. The custard was thick and excellent. I scarfed it and wanted another.

So the food was hit and miss, which left me feeling confused as to why the place is so popular; I’ve not heard a bad word spoken. Some bits of cooking were genuinely lovely, and yet some were odd, verging on unpleasant. It wasn’t just the food however; the service was pretty slapdash for a place where it’s easy to drop the bones of £100 on lunch. The staff in general looked scruffy, for example one guy was wearing a suit which had something spilled down the front and a hole in the trousers. Wine which should have been served was forgotten, or poured into a dirty glass rather than the clean one. I had to give the waiter a nod every time he wanted to clear our plates which was rather odd and oh you know I could go on but it just seems unnecessary. The point is the service was sloppy and like I said, the best part of £100…

So in short, I wouldn’t go back. If I’m going to spend that kind of money on a meal nowadays I need to know it’s going to be good. The meal I ate at Dabbous wasn’t worth the £85 I paid for it; albeit that figure incudes wine. My companion, an ex sommelier, thought the wine list had been put together by someone with very little experience and the sommelier who was on duty didn’t appear to have much of it himself. If pulling a very serious face and nodding sagely is the mark of a professional however, he was totally on top of his game.

We spent time during the meal laughing at a nearby table of stereotypical Patrick Bateman-esque bankers; all glinting gold watches, suits and slicked back hair. They didn’t seem that  interested in the food or indeed in each other and in fact these are the kind of people I can imagine populating Dabbous in the long term. Loadsa money, not much interest in the details…

“Listen, the mud soup and the charcoal arugula are outrageous here” [Patrick Bateman, American Psycho].

39 Whitfield Street
Tel: 020 7323 1544

Dabbous on Urbanspoon

Category: Restaurant Reviews, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , 32 comments »

32 Responses to “Dabbous. Boo Hoo.”

  1. Hugh

    Oh…*sadface* :-(

  2. Piers

    I think you’re maybe being a bit harsh because you were in a bit of rush, and because of immense expectations because of the hype, but having said that, I kinda agree.
    I went a while ago, and had a lovely lunch, but things like the pork just aren’t that exciting – I’ve had way better pork at the Ten Bells, and the acorn praline just tasted a bit like cheap satay sauce to me. I did like the peas a lot when we went, and a couple of the other courses were great (halibut, dessert), but it’s a very good, not a great, restaurant.

  3. Helen

    Sorry Hugh! I did enjoy some of it though…

  4. Helen

    I don’t see how any of those things I mentioned would have been different had we not been in a rush. Agree though, good, not great.

  5. Fiona Beckett

    Interesting. I went last night and had a really ace cocktail and deep-fried chicken wings for £16.31. Thinking it might a good way to get into the restaurant proper but maybe it’s better to say in the uncrowded bar which has pukka cocktails from barmen really who know their stuff – and great service. http://bit.ly/NBSbrH if you want to check it out.

  6. Johnny

    Good honest article, Hard to see the money in the dishes and not somewhere to go hungry, reminds me of the 1980’s nouvelle cuisine. I won’t go there Thank you love your blog

  7. Helen

    See now that sounds more like it

  8. Piers

    I think just the mood you’re in when you go for a meal can make a difference to how you perceive it… it’s always more fun if you’ve got time to properly relax, rather than rushing back to the office etc.

  9. Lizzie

    Oh deary me. And I’d heard so much swooning! I can’t abide by scruffy waiting staff; I’d never go to work covered in shit so they shouldn’t do either. There doesn’t seem a great deal of food either for the price; I hope you got right stuck into the bread.

  10. Helen

    Oh yeah I forgot to mention the bread. Comes in a brown paper bag. Quite cool but totally impractical…

  11. AC

    shhhh, I agree. Most of the stuff we ate was ok some of it great (I actually loved the egg thing) but if you’re going to serve a peach in its own juice it has to be a great peach and it wasn’t. The onion dish was just a bowl of pickling juice with an onion and some pine oil. Needed a shot of bourbon. The iberico dish made me cry and maybe thats because I’m spoiled with such fantastic british pork these days but it just didn’t taste of much. Overcooked, under seasoned and dry, weird no ? It was cheap though, which is one thing.

  12. Helen

    As someone whose opinion I respect I’m glad/relieved you agree. Ssshhhh

  13. adam and theresa

    I can’t remember who said that the worst thing is a disappointing meal when you had expectations, worse than a bad meal when you didn’t.. The thing is, I think money often cones into the equation, especially if you don’t have much of it ; ) You wanted a real experience for your money as I would, but I think if you just had loads, one wouldn’t look so hard for that and probably enjoy it more. That’s why we stick to the the ethnic places in the ‘burbs mainly.

  14. Helen

    You and me both. Although I got more pleasure from the small neighbourhood places even when I did have a bit of money…

  15. James

    For me it’s those freaky looking customers in the last photo that would put me off.

  16. Helen

    Ha ha! Yeah it was a Lipitor hard to concentrate on my food…

  17. The Grubworm

    Interesting, looks like the money all goes into the arranging/building of the beautiful dishes rather than the actual food itself. I dunno, I’m finding my self more and more turned off by food like this. What used to seem interesting and exciting now feels more fussy and appearance-obsessed. And this is particularly the case when it’s measured against some of the punchy, well cooked and damn tasty food that people are starting to turn out at a pretty damn reasonable price. Of course, it could also be that I’m just getting jaded as I age ;)

  18. Rich

    Good honest review as always. I’m sure I’ll still go at some point though! I’ve heard too many good things to keep away and really want to have my own opinion on this one.

    I had a similar emperor’s new clothes experience at Pollen Street. Restaurants are either down and dirty temples to single dishes or so carefully prepped that you can see the chef’s fingers on the food…


  19. Helen

    Yeah I mean you may well feel differently…horses for courses and all that. Chef’s finger prints on the food – know what you mean, though as long it isn’t tweezer marks I don’t mind.

  20. Chris

    There’s nothing worse than raving about somewhere, then going back with a bunch of mates expecting another knockout meal and for it to be a let-down. I honestly don’t know what’s happened since my first visit – all the same sort of styles and ingredients were there but every course (apart from the fish, which was every bit as good as the first time) managed to be rather disappointing.

    The weirdest thing was that egg – last time I had it, it was thick and rich, balanced with wild mushrooms and smoked butter. This time it was just undercooked, incredibly salty scrambled eggs and not much else. And yes as you say the tomato thing was too sweet, and the peas and mint was nothing more than peas and mint, and even the Iberico pork tasted of nothing.

    Had you gone without me, I might have just thought well, different tastes and all that. But this meal was actually worse than the first one I had.

  21. Helen

    Yeah I mean, it’s actually a good job you were there otherwise we would both have been very confused indeed. Maybe they just got sloppy? The unwashed staff uniforms are a sign of that surely…maybe it’s the same situation in the kitchen. They don’t need to try any more perhaps…such a shame.

  22. Greedy Eater

    So refreshing to read a review of Dabbous that isn’t breathless! We went three weeks ago and had a very similar experience, and were even more disappointed because there had been such universal raves.

    We had the tasting menu, and thought the peach in its own juice actually unpleasant, as well as a rip-off, and the pine infusion for the onions had a distinct cleaning product flavour. Other dishes were good but not stellar and only one or two stood out for us as exceptional. Which given the reviews, the prices and the positioning was really disappointing.

    Thank you for writing down publicly what we were saying to each other -in a sea of fawning critics we worried that perhaps it was our tastebuds rather than misjudged cooking! However, you’ve restored my confidence in my food judgement, thank you!

    I went to Kaosarn in Brixton last night and had a much more satisfactory meal: delicious echt Thai food for less than £40 for two of us.

  23. Helen

    Yes never doubt your own experience! A lot of people seem to be disappointed with that pine dish although obviously it’s not on the menu any more…

  24. Helena

    Doh, how annoying that they’ve let standards slip like this. I went to Dabbous not long after they opened, when the hype was still building up, and was blown away by the quality of the cooking, the inventiveness and the sheer pleasure that each plate bought with it but what you had above does not look as if it’s even from the same kitchen. The service, wine, general atmosphere (there were no Patrick Batemans around then!) were also much great. How disappointing to think I may not ever experience the place at its best again.

  25. Helen

    I can’t tell you how disappointing it was. Sadly, unless they really pull their socks up, the glory days appear to be well and truly over.

  26. Peter

    I think you have pretty much nailed the feelings I had after my meal at Dabbous. I also found the egg dish too buttery and liquid. I did not have the tomato but instead onions that were pretty tasteless with a bland pine infusion that had a “chemical” taste to it. The pork was a dry and boring (and cheap) piece of protein and the acorn praline a cloying accompaniment. And yes the peach, while pleasant tasted like canned peach. The halibut was correctly cooked (sous vide) but pretty tasteless piece of fish. Still the best dish for me.

    In the light of the cheap ingredients used and the assembly style cooking – few things are cooked to order in the real sense – resulting in a hospital feel to the food, I found the meal to be outrageously expensive.

    I find the unreserved raving reviews of this place by main stream critics to be totally mind boggling. So it is refreshing to see someone daring to write deserved criticism of what is clearly a totally over hyped place.

  27. Helen

    I am amazed at how many people are saying they had a similar experience. Until this point I’d not heard a bad word spoken about the place!

  28. Serena

    Now I don’t feel so disappointed that they don’t do a veggie main!

  29. Helen

    Oh! I didn’t spot that

  30. doesthebellyrulethemind

    This sounds like a familiar story. There is a lot of hype, with many food outlets. I have been taken in more than once. Even thinking the meal was good, and then as I left realising it wasn’t. My meal at the Ledbury was such an occasion, OK but not two stars good.
    I like Gordon’s Ramsay’s places; I have never been let down. Books T.V. pubs and restaurants, have always delivered.
    Nice to be reading your blog again.
    We are in London in November (Clare Smyth here we come). Not being rich it’s great to read other like minded people’s comments.
    Devon is at the moment supplying me with the best Hogget I have ever tasted. Equally as good is the bacon. Will upload to my blog sometime, keep forgetting my camera, very busy.

  31. Favourite Table

    Wow! Great Restaurant, and we had a really good experiencethem. Fast delivery and the lunch we have were exactly what we looking for. I’d definitely recommend you to !

  32. Steelasophical

    Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity. -Voltaire

    The pleasure is in the stimulation of senses before the food is even tasted .. the presentation, emotion, smells fragrance and aroma .. stunning and inspiring

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