Friday, June 8, 2012

DABBOUS. Ollie dabbous

"A game changer". This was the first thing I ever read about this restaurant. 

By the time I realised that this place even existed, it had already been open for  4 months. A phone call  later and I had  lunch booked. I still had to wait another 6 weeks until my due date but  an evening slot would have meant an agonising 13 week wait. lunch it was then. 

The first thing that struck me was the size of the door , it's big. The second thing that struck me, was that the excellent maitre d was someone I knew. Doesn't sound very impressive I know, but he used to work in a little place in Ramsgate where he wore no socks. He once ran a whole mile in a three piece suit (without socks) in under 8 minutes for a jar of chutney because I moaned.  
He now wears socks.

The room was loud and industrial.  Full of bare walls, steel shelving and that metal mesh you get in prisons. No carpet, no tablecloth's. Pretty young staff run the tables and seem relaxed and happy to be at work.  Formality has been binned in favour of friendliness and in this situation it worked well. The 14 year old sommelier not only knew his job, but he also wore  a velvet jacket.  This, in my head, is cool. 

The eponymous chef , Ollie, has worked in some of the best restaurants in the world. I won't name them, but it's an impressive list, and one that made me wonder in which direction he would take his 'own' food.  I'm a massive fan of classical french food so, on looking through the menu, I was more than a little aperehensive(sic). No cream, no truffle, no 29 hour reduced jus?. What'll I do?.  Tasting menu it is then. Let's go...

Good bread starts a meal well for me, so I was happy to have a bag of it popped onto the table. A brown paper bag to be precise. Clever this, as the first thing you do is open it a little and stick your nose in. Wonderful. Brown and springy with excellent  crust, 
The butter was also excellent.  

Next up was a bit weird on first sight. 'English asparagus ,virgin rapeseed oil mayonnaise, meadowsweet and hazelnuts' . Five large stems, lay next to a large dollop of super yellow mayo, which lay next to a large pile of crushed nuts. Having no cutlery (deliberate) it was finger food time, so in we went. Pick up green thing , dip in yellow thing, dip in crunchy stuff. Ooooh. Niiiice. Excellent flavour from fresh asparagus with the creamiest sharp mayo and the nutty crunch was as fun as fxxk. Playful and tasty. Some of the spears were a tad soft so only 

On to 'Mixed alliums in a chilled pine infusion' . I had no idea what this might look like, so I was surprised to say the least, when a clear soup landed on the table. Pretty pretty dish. Consommé doesn't get clearer than this. Large puddles of green liquid bobbed about on the surface and poached red and white onions lurked at the bottom. However, the flavours although light and clean, didn't pack a punch. That was until I found the hidden blob of garlic mayonnaise at the bottom of the bowl. This lifted the dish well and was obviously designed to do so. Impressive and thoughtful. 

Act 3 was 'Coddled free range hen egg with woodland mushrooms and smoked butter'. This was quite literally amazing. A bowl filled with hay, with an eggshell nestled inside. The shell cut cleanly across it's top and inside was some scrambled egg. Sounds quite simple, but the cooking here is cleverer than you think .  The egg, warmed slowly so as not to start forming lumps sang with smoked butter flavour and tiny umami packed mushroom pieces added huge depth. Creamy and ridiculously powerful.  The closest thing to this is Hestons 'meat fruit'. Perfect

'Grilled monkfish, iodised sour cream, beetroot and watercress stems' was next and didn't disappoint. Monkfish has quite a mild flavour, but this was balanced well with the beetroot purée. The iodised sour cream twanged nicely through the dish, whilst the watercress stems added a nice crunchy sideshow. 
This should probably receive a higher score, but my tasting notes at this point were covered with drawings of egg's with hearts around them, so only

Then along came the meat. 'Barbecued Iberico pork, savoury acorn praline, turnip tops, homemade apple vinegar'.  Iberican pigs only feed on acorns and the fat in them (the acorns) makes the little piggies yummy. Perfect pork cooked medium rare (yes mum, it's ok now). Was served nestled in what I can only describe as peanut butter made with acorns. the turnip tops were good and crunchy and surprisingly the vinegar dressing was welcome on the deep flavoured dish. Another winner, and sure to stay on the menu for years.

'British artisan cheese, baked apple and sourdough' was next and was nice, 
but seemed both predictable and out of place in this setting . so only

Predictable and out of place next,  was a sorbet. It was a good one, served at a good eatable temperature. And  it did a good  little cleansing job.  But I couldn't help thinking that 4 years at 'Le Manoir' had left a small but indelible mark on Ollie at this point. 

Last but most certainly not least was ' Chocolate ganache, basil moss, sheeps milk ice cream'. This was one of those WOW dishes that you remember for ever. It was also a 'how the hell did he do that' moment.  It looked like a small woodland scene, complete with fallen tree and soil. All made from good chocolate and basil in varying forms. The ganache itself was smooth and silky. The sheeps milk ice cream was light and bright. Perfection.  
Ollie's also created his own new shape for a scoop of ice cream, sort of a large quenelle cut in half along its width. Let's  call it a Demi-quenelle.  

So to sum up, a 'Game changer'?  Yes I think it may well be. His style is new and light with lots of new techniques and the food is definitely heading in its own new direction. Portions are on the small side but this just means you can try more and more.  You can see the training he's had in the tiny classical touches.This paired with the wacky influences of bold youth, bring out a style of food that has a bright future. 

So overall 8/10. 

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