In his review of Dabbous, Jay Rayner writes: “Oliver Dabbous is being hailed as the next big thing. There’s only one problem: you’ll never taste his cooking.”
Well I did. Because on the 16th of May, when I was seven and a half months pregnant with the twins, I wrote them (Dabbous not the twins, although it would have been nice to have some email correspondence to agree on acceptable sleeping times) an email and said I would like to come for lunch any day in September. I knew that by September I would be feeling a lot like Pandora and Dabbous was meant to be my hope in the chest of challenges I had opened up.
(My husband went one further booking a non-refundable, 6 day car rally in the south of France. “Networking”. He says. I say. Aha. I play Fabienne to his Butch – can you believe how young Bruce Willis looks in that clip? My husband did say that I could / should come with him. Which is a bit like Marie Antoinette declaring “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” when the poor people complained that they had no bread. This is what our trip looked like last June.)
Here is the thing about Dabbous; their lunch menu is £26! It can cost you that much to have lunch at Giraffe if you get enticed into ordering a silly sounding smoothie.
Dabbous serves beautiful food without the pomp. My starter of peas features a mousse, a granita and tender tendrils. It’s so sweet, it tastes like they must be growing peas on the roof and picking them for every order. For my fish course I had ling. It was a pale looking dish, punctuated with 3 petal pink discs, which turned out to be slivers of pickled garlic.To eat it was a joy. Tender braised celery, the fish came apart in lovely, moist flakes sitting in a broth of lemon verbena. The sourness of it made reminded me of the Romanian ‘chorba’s I loved so much as a child. Made like sourdough bread with a ‘borş’ of fermented wheat bran(not the Russian beet soup Borscht). Paulina’s mackerel was two fillets sandwiched together with all manner of greens and herbs and an iodized (I am using italics because I have no idea what that means) sour cream.
Paulina and I agree that the best parts of a meal are often the starter and dessert.
We didn’t get the cheese plate from the British Isles, since we both know them inside out, instead we ordered 3 desserts. Peach in its own juice with a cluster of peeled almonds as smooth as pebbles worn by the waves and gorgeous to eat.
There was also half a plump fig with a tumble of pistachios and a smear of cheese. A deconstructed version of a cheesecake. And a cold broth of lemon verbena, refreshing, too small to be truly considered a plated dessert – I thought.
Two canelé come with the bill, topped with glistening maraschino cherries. I’ve read much about these morsels and wondered if they deserved the hype- macaroons for example don’t. Today was the first time I ate one. I looked up at my lunch companion, Paulina who is a pastry chef at Ottolenghi. “Can you make these?” I asked, before changing the question to a statement “you need to make these for me!” When they came to take payment for the meal I confirmed that they were in fact Canelé. “Yes Ma’am (Ma’am? When did this distressing transition take place?) they are. Canelé cooked in beeswax” he said. Ah ok then, so the recipe would go something like this, ‘first capture one virgin unicorn and pluck one eyelash from his right eye…’ It would be laughable if I hadn’t tried them, I am now convinced that the beeswax is not a superfluous addition.
My first 3 hours without a child elapsed in record time, I might have dreamt it, if I didn’t have the pictures to prove I was there.