Type: Modern French
As cooking becomes more precise, it seems as if descriptive language is going the other way. The best any of us who write about restaurants has come up with to describe what a coterie of young chefs is doing around town, in the wake of molecular gastronomy, and often brilliantly, is ‘the new cooking’ – not nearly as precise as their kitchen work, let alone as evocative. These kids would probably prefer it that way, happy to dodge a pigeonhole. (In Paris, where I recently ate a five-course meal in which only one dish was actually cooked over a flame, they call it ‘bistronomy’, also imprecise, but cuter.)
Done well, as it is by Ollie Dabbous (pictured, the ‘s’ is silent), it’s a revelation: a series of epiphanies around imaginative combinations of flavours, textures and temperatures, usually on the same plate. In this case, you may also have to reimagine your concept of what a restaurant is, as the dining room resembles the unadorned set of an old black-and-white prison movie, clearly announcing that it’s all about the food, dude.
The service is more amiable, happily, and when you receive a serving of spicy, smoky slices of home-cured goose (presented on a slate tile, of course), you forgive the ambience with the first bite and tuck in. And it keeps going, one flavour smackdown after another, through a ragout of scallops, mussels and octopus with almonds and butter lettuce, or shredded spring onion bulbs with marigold leaves, lime and pistachio-studded sheep’s milk curds, or grilled lamb with lesser calamint and charred socca, or a wild strawberry tart with elderflower. (Amusement can be had between courses by Googling lesser calamint, socca, spenwood, kinome and other exotic menu items; the menu, as always with this cheforiented mode, does not deign to be descriptive).
The tasting menu is £68 for six courses, set lunch £28 or £35 for three or four courses, and set dinner £56 for four courses; all are moderately good value.
The wine list is intelligently eclectic and international and with a good selection by the glass and carafe (Hugel, Nalle, Guigal, Zuccardi and Occhipinti, among others) and quite a few bottles of decent stuff under £50. Above that are Weinbach, Chave, Leeuwin Estate, Paul Hobbs, Figeac (the 1998, for £300) and, on a reserve list, Heitz, Coche-Dury, Anne Gros, Haut-Brion and other stars. There’s not a lot of heavy meat on the tasting or set menus and, given the plethora of lively flavours of the vegetables and fish, a lot of red wine would be dissonant. We sailed along with glasses of crisp and zingy Mosel Riesling from Fritz Haag and a decorous but companionable Rully from Ponsot, perfect accompaniments. The mark-ups are variable, some gentle, some, well… do you think any Albariño is good value at £58?
39 Whitfield Street, London W1T 2SF;
Tel: +44 (0)20 7323 1544; www.dabbous.co.uk
Open for lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday.