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Saturday had come around more quickly than usual this week, so quickly in fact that neither of us had planned much for in the wake! Saturday dinner however was taken care of thanks to an old friend of mine who earlier in the week had offered me his reservation at a well spoken of restaurant in Fitzrovia run by a young Frenchman. So as Saturday evening marched towards us we headed out with a healthy dollop of excitement adjourned with a curious reduction to Dabbous on Whitfield Street.
Upon entering we are greeted by the male maitre dee, who is evidently lacking in both charisma and warmth. His face cracks as we explain that we are early by some 30 minutes and therefore would like to grab a cocktail downstairs before dinner. There is a mixture of some pained emotion on his face as he fains indifference and ushers us downstairs. 'I'll come and get you in half an hour'. The atmosphere is weirdly forced.
The basement bar at Dabbous is the more casual cousin of the upstairs restaurant. It really works well and the service is relaxed, warm and insightful. My belvedere dirty martini hits the spot and is quite literally perfect, right down to precisely placed single but huge Sicilian olive and the beautiful glassware. We are feeling more relaxed now and I am tempted to try the barrel aged Negroni but revert to ordering another martini as the first was so good. I am starting to think that this restaurant is really worth the 3 month wait for a table that my friend had endured, when the atmosphere sours for the second time as we are sort of cajoled by the maitre dee who is now downstairs and has apparently come to collect us for dinner. More face cracking as we explain that we will come upstairs on our own steam in some minutes.
As we enter the restaurant 10 minutes later it is 8pm and some 35% of tables are empty. The place is small and we are seated next to another couple so close that our elbows are almost touching and we certainly can hear each other conversation. The decor is industrial and modern which we like however the building itself is not industrial nor modern, more Georgian and so the exposed extractor ducts, the unpolished concrete and metal coat racks just serve to add to the awkwardness of the place. It's plainly trying so damn hard to look like its in the East End, or the Meatpacking district, but the costume does little to support the character.
And so to the food. We order the seven course tasting menu and order a bottle of 2008 Chambolle Musigny. The wine is superb and served at the perfect temperature. The first of our starters come out : 'Celeriac, muscat grapes, lovage and hazelnuts' although the they kindly prepared mine without the latter due to my nut allergy. This dish really impresses despite its rather clumsy presentation. The flavours are balanced but significant and identifiable and the sweetness of the grapes cuts beautifully through. We get excited at the prospect of six more dishes at this level. Next comes the 'Raw scallop with eucalyptus' and now we are transfixed. This dish is inventive and surprising on taste and texture levels. The ice cold raw scallop is actually hidden beneath some nitrogenized ice flavored with the eucalyptus and is just a lovely thing to eat. Clean, simple and exciting! The 'Acorn flour noodles in a duck and fenugreek broth' come next but disappoint. The noodles are overcooked, soggy even, and the duck and fenugreek broth is really a mild duck consomme. It lacks all the depth and character that a broth should be shouting, and the fenugreek flavor is absent. Onwards to the 'Octopus with tamara, potatoe and fennel'. This is the point in the evening where it started to go horribly wrong in both culinary and service aspects. There is one main ingredient in this dish that is served in such enthusiastic proportions that it should not only feature in the description but be capitalized too: TARAMA! This is the more difficult to find white Tarama and seems to be mixed with some Mayonnaise as the prevailing taste is egg mixed with roe. It serves only to render any other flavor or texture completely redundant. The portion of octopus, not exactly an expensive ingredient, is measly and dwarfed by the generous potato offering – which is also overcooked and overly starchy. The fennel by comparison is a welcome counter balance and has been cut thinly and blanched in stock, but frankly looses its battle early on to the overpowering tarama / mayonnaise taste that sets up camp on the back of the tongue and hangs stubbornly around for hours.
We explained to service of our confusion in regard to the last dish and asked about the use of mayonnaise which they confirmed, only then to make false promises of letting Ollie Dabbous, who could clearly be seen in the kitchen, have the feedback. When the 'Barbecued leg of lamb, smoked kelp and pickled aubergine' arrived to the table I was still outside smoking. Further disappointment ensued when I returned, to see that there was a large blob of, albeit homemade and accented with miso, mayonnaise in the dish?!! For a brief second we reflected was a joke? But no such luck. The service clearly hadn't given the previous feedback to the kitchen and we were left to eat around the mayonnaise. If we hadn't been so hungry we would have sent it back, but such is the small proportions of dishes at Dabbous that it only takes a couple of mouthfuls and you've eaten most of it.
As with all courses we were asked by our server to feedback, and so we again mentioned the mayonnaise issue. There was a comment about 'As winter is now upon us Chef is trying to bring more warmth to the menu' which is a novel use of mayonnaise in anyone book I would say.
The 'Poached quince with mead, chestnuts and lemon thyme' was a complete disaster. Lesley's quince was so hard that it almost lept of the plate as the spoon failed to penetrate it. The chestnuts puree was bland and unpleasant, the mead was overly sweet. We didn't finish this dish, one mouthful was already too much. The last dessert was a return to the form of the two starters and quite delicious. 'Marjoram ice cream, celery and rose petals’ proved to be balanced, clean and interesting, with the subtle majoram flavor and celery leaving ample room for the petals to deliver their floral high notes. We were glad to be able to talk passionately and positively again to the service team.
Overall the service was ok at Dabbous. Definitely not a polished production, more a high school musical of some promise, but we left feeling that it lacked soul, and presence. The bill came in at £181 for the food and water and £114 for the wine and cocktails. So £295 for the two of us and without any attempt to either reduce or offer a drink on the house for the errors. This paid dividends to the undercurrent of arrogance that we had started to detect and left us doubtful for a return visit. This restaurant has had rave reviews from some hefty critics so it's entirely possible that we caught Dabbous on a bad night, but there really is no excuse for service that ignores feedback and carries on regardless. Lets see whether they hang on to their star the next time Michelin pay a surprise visit. I'm betting they don't.
Food 5/10. Service 4/10. Drinks 8/10. Cocktails 9/10.
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Food 5 | Service 4 | Atmosphere 3 | Value for money 1
Sunday, October 12, 2014
I found the service to be very friendly and efficient. However, the food was extremely disappointing, definitely a case of style over substance. The hen's egg was delicious and would have been a lovely amuse bouche. The braised halibut was pretty bland, swimming in a cream sauce. The Iberian pork had been initially cooked in a water bath (sous vide) but was tough and it's only saving grace was the nice smokey taste. It was served with turnip tips which were very stringy and undercooked so difficult to chew, and flavoured with apple cider vinegar which I found to be slightly too acidic. The chocolate brioche was nice but served with a barley malt ice cream which was unpleasant. All in all, I did not feel I had one decent course and felt cheated having spent £119 for two with only one glass of wine. Dabbous reminded me of Hedone in Chiswick which also received rave reviews but fails to deliver a satisfying meal.
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Food 5 | Service 7 | Atmosphere 5 | Value for money 3
Friday, December 07, 2012
Interesting that the recent reviews for this restaurant are a lot worse than the original ones. We went this week and were incredibly disappointed. Booked a table for 4 for 8.30pm - finally seated at 9.50pm - can only assume that some VIP came in and wanted a table. Front of house service was inept, Somelier not great (recommended a "crisp" Sauternes that was anything but) and food a mixed bag. Haddock and Pork very good but desserts (my favourite bit) very disappointing.
We will not be going back and would strongly encourage others not to bother.
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Food 6 | Service 2 | Atmosphere 5 | Value for money 4
Monday, November 12, 2012
really great food. tasting menu is very interesting and cleverly done
very disappointing service, waitstaff clearly not briefed on the content of dishes or how to serve wine correctly. poor cocktails
hostess chewing gum all night and playing with her hair looking bored
for the price charged it was very bad value for money
Even worse was the very poor follow up service when I emailed to give some feedback - not even as much as an acknowledgement of my email.
The owners obviously think being booked out forever will keep their reputation intact.
Sort it out please!
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Food 8 | Service 2 | Atmosphere 4 | Value for money 4
Monday, November 05, 2012