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