Dabbous

Three years of trying and finally I bagged a table that wasn’t 5.30 or 10.30 on a Tuesday night. Back when Dabbous opened it was the go-to restaurant for contemporary cooking in London. There was a buzz surrounding the restaurant, and the chef, Oliver Dabbous, who was being touted as the man to take the London restaurant scene in a new adventurous direction. It made it virtually impossible to get a reservation. Now the hype has died down and there are other restaurants with a similar style of cooking like The Clove Club, The Typing Room and Portland, but after eating there this still feels as fresh and new as anything I’ve tried in London recently. With tables now easier to get, there are few restaurants I can recommend more.

The decor is deliberately minimal with exposed bricks and pipes, which fits the menu which only has two choices- a Tasting Menu (£68) or a set Dinner Menu (£56)- both with no choice over which dishes you are getting. It’s a ballsy brand of cooking that has no place to hide if it doesn’t deliver. But Dabbous absoloutely pulls it off. 

A starter of Fennel with lemon balm and olive oil, placed all it’s emphasis on the central ingredient. The cooking was exact and precise, and it quite simply was the best that this ingredient could be. Caesar mushroom shavings with lesser calamint, pine nuts and bitter leaves, was a clean and fresh dish, with waves of flavour in each bite. First a barbecued earthy flavour from the mushrooms and pine nuts, and then a herbal peppermint wash from the lesser calamint. It was familiar and yet surprising, a dish that seemed so simple with very little actual cooking, but takes an excellent kitchen to execute.

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Next Lard on toast with black truffles (£9 supplement) was a dish I wanted to hate. Served on a black slate there was nothing to distract from the fact that with a few shavings of truffle you’re looking at a £20 slice of toast. But it just tasted so good- creamy and fatty and then the luxury of the truffle coming through. 

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Cornish squid with butterhead lettuce and clover was again a winning combination. The shrimp has been shredded so that it resembled noodles and served in a buttery, nutty sauce. Best of all was barbecued Iberico pork that was trimmed of all fat and cooked perfectly. An acorn praline and radishes provided the added crunch and the sharpness from the crushed green apples brought the dish together. It was a faultless plate of food.

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A pre-dessert of iced lovage was surprisingly refreshing and then the only dish that didn’t blow me away- milk pie infused with fig leaves. It was a little bland and stodgy- the milk sauce was too thin and only had the faintest hint of the fig leaves, and its texture was a bit like half-baked croissant dough. The sort of dessert you’d eat if you’d left you dentures and palate back in the house.

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The meal came to over £100 a head but on the cooking and service was as good as any high end restaurant. So often a tasting menu can drag- this was a seamless experience, bang on two hours. There may be hotter tables to get in London now, but this still feels like some of the boldest best cooking in the city. I only hope it’s not three years until I next dine here.

9.5/10 (££££)

39 Whitfield St, London WIT 2SF

Dabbous Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Fischer’s

Where The Wolseley and Delaunay (part of the Corbin and King mini-empire) are effortlessly grand and ooze class, this was all a bit Disneyland. It was too shiny, too constructed, as if it had borrowed it’s facade from a plastic surgeon’s table. Harley Steet is only a short walk away, after all. Think Grand Budapest Hotel. The sort of place you find potty old women who look like Joan Rivers (god rest her) feeding their handbagged poodles with strudels from the sterling cutlery. The artwork is like something a rich foreign uncle you never knew you had, leaves you in his will, but you feel too guilty to ditch. The menu is strongly Germanic- Käsespätzle, Esterhazy Schnitten, Passion Fruit Gugelhupf- dishes that will cover anybody sitting around you in phlegm as you try to pronounce. They wouldn’t be out of place coming out of one of Professor Slughorn’s classes. But this being Marleybone, where the majority of the clientele grew up during the war, these dishes are no doubt old world classics, which slip off their tongue and please those fading palettes.

Himmel und Erde (£7.25) is black pudding and apple, a safe combination, but one that is sure to please. It could have done with a kick of spicing, but then that would give too much of a jolt. This is food that plays second fiddle to atmosphere and chat. You come here not to marvel over it, but to have something familiar and comforting. After discreetly getting our iPhones out to Google Käsespätzle (Austrian Mac & Cheese), we ordered it, and with the added bacon (£7.25) it was a wholesome heart clogger. A dish that sticks both fingers up to any diet. It had been given a flash under the grill to crisp the top, and the cheese was gooey and strong. All these trendy diners that serve gloopy crap, should take note.

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Grilled spatchcock chicken (£16.50) was lathered in the herb dressing and far too greasy and the skin wasn’t crisp. Almost like chewing on one of the old biddy’s soon to be lifted jowls. The Wiener Schnitzel (£21.75)- the classic dish across the Corbin & King group- needs the the anchovy, capers and egg to stop it from being in Bernard Matthews land. But will hit the spot every time.

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For dessert, the Apple and Cinnamon strudel (£7.75) had a good flaky pastry and a strong hit of spicing. A sundae with pistachio, hazelnut and almond ice creams with butterscotch sauce is worthy an anaphylaxis fit.

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It was a pleasant enough meal, but far from exciting. A posh Cafe Rogue. But when you are in your fifties and visiting places like La Fromargerie is a real thing, then pleasant is exactly what you’re looking for. Your taste-buds are dead by then, your sight is fading, and all you want is some good crockery and a place to read the paper. Fischer’s couldn’t suit the area more. I would go back, but in forty years time.

6/10 (£££)

50 Marylebone High St, London W1U 5HN

Fischer's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Hotel Chantelle

I know, we’ll open a place that is hard to find, so that people Come To US because that’s so IN, and very New York. A back alley or somewhere would be perfect. Then we’ll find an Executive Chef, someone we assume everyone has heard of, like Seth Levine because he was the Gareth Gates of some reality cooking show, and we’ll tell him to design a menu made of concepts, not dishes, with crazy names and ingredients that should never go together. Then we’ll find the best looking staff, who clearly don’t eat, and train them on how to stand around bored on their iPhones, all while remembering to bob their fashionable haircuts to the DJ. We’ll price it so high that only London’s finest will come here, and spend huge amounts. That’s it, we’re onto a real winner here.

I once had a night in Rose Club (thankfully now dead and buried), where Hotel Chantelle is now housed above, and it was the worst night out I’ve had. Dragged there from a friend who was down for the weekend and wanted to experience the glam of a ‘proper London club’ that’s where we ended up, paying £20 for house vodkas, cramped into some little dull basement watching rich Arabs and Russians ply blondes with Grey Goose, and getting their photos taken with the sparklers. It was horrific. A VIP lounge full of non-VIP idiots hoping to get a glimpse of one. Hotel Chantelle has managed to attract the same crowd. So if Rose club is for you, no doubt you will love this place. Grace Dent must have been drunk or on their payroll to compliment anything at this restaurant.

The only way a restaurant like this can work is if it has an incredible buzz. I hate STK and Aqua, but they have a good vibe, even if it is a coked up Essex vibe. Here though, the restaurant is so poorly located, and so badly designed once you do get in, that there was no buzz at all. The bar area is nothing more than a few bar stools, and there were empty tables throughout, despite it being 8pm on a weekend. This all makes the DJ even more pointless, as he’s blasting tacky House tunes to a half full restaurant. The interior designer has clearly been told to take their inspiration from brothels, and with the dim red lighting and row of blondes lining the bar waiting to be picked up, at least they’ve got something right.

The menu is an Instagrammers wet dream. The dessert menu even had the Instagram logo on. Any restaurant with that deserves it’s own special place in hell. It’s all concepts. Dishes that sound like they’ve been created by a hallucinating crack whore. Dishes you will cringe and hate yourself for ordering. Try ‘When Pigs Fly’ and ‘The Mad Lobster’. And then there’s the prices. Before I really start to whinge, let me tell you, that I am happy to pay over £100 a head if the restaurant deserves it. Now that can be a taster menu at a Michelin starred restaurant, or paying for the overall experience like at Scott’s or Zuma. Here starters begin at £11 and quickly get towards £20. Main’s range from the mid 20s to £100 for a steak for 2. No side dishes are included. Wine starts at £10 a glass and cocktails are £12.

The only reason I can think of why it is so expensive is to pay for the number of staff. I counted 18 on the floor, that’s not including the chefs, and there couldn’t have been more than 60 people in the restaurant. They all congregated by the DJ booth, half of them on their iPhones (the only excuse I can find for this is that it it has something to do with the ordering system?). There’s also a photographer who takes photos of everything except the empty tables. The waiters did try their best to justify the 15% service charge, but they were just no good at it. Everything you order is stamped with their seal of approval. I’d have liked to order a glass of piss, just to see if he told me again ‘Great choice Sir’.

So let’s get to the disaster of a meal. A car crash would have tasted better. First up, three stale pieces of bread with unsalted butter. I’ve had better, more imaginative bread in an aeroplane meal. For starters, my ‘When Pigs Fly’ was four flavourless strips of Iberico ham (think Tesco wafer thin ham without the flavour) hanging from pegs on a clothes line, with four dry crostins with a tiny slither of pickled melon on. Flavourless crap. Oh, and it was £17. A Tuna Tartare Cigar (£11) tasted worse than a real cigar would. The taco shell was like biting plastic, and the tuna had no seasoning, not even a squeeze of lime. The wasabi managed to not be fiery at all and yet still completely overpowered any other flavour in the dish. Chicken Waffles weren’t waffles. They were a poor-man’s Chicken McNugget with a stick wedged through it, wrapped in maple syrup candy floss. Why? Well, I don’t think even the chefs have an answer to that one. £14 for three chicken nuggets. Just imagine how many you’d get at the Golden Arches for that.

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Mains managed to get worse. At £32 the rack of lamb was cooked well, but came with an incredibly sweet sauce that was laced with far too much cinnamon and rocks of sugar, making it really unpleasant to eat. It of course had truffle, this time in the form of honey, which was unidentifiable in the wash of cinnamon. Practically every dish here has some form of shaved truffle. I’m sure even the waiters wear eau du truffle, just to give the impression of luxury. A Drunken Chicken Parmesan (£25) was the worse dish of the night. The only thing drunk was the chef who served this. I wish I had the balls to send food back, because this would have disappointed if I’d bought it from the Sainsbury’s Basics range. One large flattened breaded chicken, a drizzle of dull pesto and a covering of rubbery cheese. All this made the breadcrumbs soggy. Most of it was left uneaten. And of course, even at that price, the fries (sorry, Pommes Frites- the pretentious tossers) come at £6 extra.

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My Iberico Pork was the best dish of the night, but not without a series of faults. Firstly it was overcooked. Pork like this should come pink, not a dull grey colour. And whilst there was a good amount of meat, it was again ruined by an incredibly sweet sauce, and also by the inedible chunks of  apple and bacon glass brittle glued to the plate. It was like a solidified super glue- hardly what you want with a £29 main course. We braved dessert, just because at £8 it was by far the cheapest dish of the night. Donuts with a trio of sugary dips- raspberry, dark chocolate and the stuff they put in Dime bars. Well it was alright. Well done, you got something half right.

At over £80 per head with just 1 drink each, this has to be the most overpriced, waste-of-money restaurant in London. I hate STK and Aqua, and Nobu isn’t much better. But at least their food is decent. This place is just all surface, and not a very attractive one at that. It feels like the reject list, where those not good looking enough for the real showy restaurants are sent to. Whoever owns this is laughing at all of us morons who are buying into it. But then again, there are so many morons who get off on this crap. As I was hurrying for the exit, two polished pretty boys who had come for the bar, commented on how good the food menu looked. Well, if that’s you, go and enjoy yourself down your little dingy back alley. The rest of London is better off without you. None of this is an exaggeration. Don’t go. It is without a doubt the worst meal I have ever paid for.

1/10 (££££)

Dingy back alley near Selfridges,W1H 6HL
Hotel Chantelle Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Similar Restaurants: STKNobu Berkeley Street

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Blacklock

A couple of weeks ago a 2 hour queue up the stairs and out the door put me off venturing into this new Soho pit. If it wasn’t for social media you’d never know this restaurant existed. There’s a non-descript door, nothing else to tell you this is a restaurant. But social media does exist, and so if you don’t want to queue you have to turn up at an unsociable hour to guarantee a table.

Everything in the restaurant is bang on trend- paired back brick walls, uncomfortable wooden school chairs, a minimalist food menu, a choice of ‘craft’ beers that you’ve never heard of unless you’re a bearded tosser who grows your own hops…you know the type of place. Blacklock offers chops. Nothing else. At least you don’t have to waste time reading the menu. Chops it was then. The All In option at £20 a head gives you beef, pork and lamb, along with a ‘starter’ if it can really be called that. 6 uninspiring little crackers come on a plate- egg and anchovy, cheese and pickle and ‘filthy’ ham. They are what I would imagine an amuse-bouche from Iceland would taste and look like. They might as well do away with them.

Next up is the plate of chops with a couple strips of bread underneath soaking up all those meaty juices, which turned out to be the best bit. What more can be said other than they were simply done, tasty chops. Plenty of fat, plenty of flavour. A bit too heavy on the salt, but then at £5 a cocktail who cares if it forces you to drink more. The sides of kale with parmesan and burnt baby gems were tiny, were not half as good as they sounded. Too small and a bit bland. We threw a 10 hour ash roasted sweet potato- which is basically burnt sweet potato with its flavour cooked out of it- what’s wrong with thirty minutes in the fucking oven? The small pot of chilli hollandaise was bloody tasty but only enough to lather one chop.

For dessert it was white chocolate cheesecake with rhubarb. No complaints here. Just like in Chicken Shop with the world’s best apple pie, they slap it in your bowls from a huge dish. Means you get a nice big helping. This was probably the high point of the meal.

Overall it felt like a bit of a let down. All the hype and queues had made me expect great things. I’d hoped for a big hearty meaty meal. Instead it was some Riveta crackers and some decent chops. Maybe the hype has already died down a bit, as although it was full, there was no queue when we left at 7.30. It just feels like it is trying far too hard to be individual. They can keep the chops, but a little more attention elsewhere on the menu wouldn’t go amiss. The bill came to £75 for the two of us, with a couple of cocktails and a couple of too hoppy pale ales- not exactly expensive for the area, but it didn’t make me want to rush back.

6/10

 

24 Great Windmill Street, London W1D 7LG

 

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Picture

Fitzrovia is that place you pass through in a taxi. Unless you work for one of the trendy companies in the area, there really is no other reason to go. So it’s hardly the first destination you think of for dinner. Of course there’s a handful of great places to eat in the area, like Roka and Lima, but they’re all grouped together over by Charlotte Street. Picture stands alone on Great Portland St, and at 7.15 on a Friday night, we arrived to a fairly quiet restaurant, and I was worried that it wasn’t going to be an evening sort of place. For the first 45 minutes we were one of only a handful of tables in there, but thankfully by 8 the place had filled up and had a lively buzz.

First up credit needs to go to the team behind this place. Three young guys who started out at the Arbutus Group have obviously really learnt their trade. Everything about the restaurant has the feel of a place owned by people who know the industry well. From the reasonably priced menu, to the exceptionally warm staff, this really is a crowd pleaser of a restaurant. From the moment we entered we were warmly greeted by the front of house, who is one of the three owners, and he set the tone for a relaxed and enjoyable meal. The way the staff casually chat to the customers really fits the informal vibe of the place and it has has a similar feel to 10 Greek Street. It was a shame not to find it absolutely packed, because no doubt with a better Soho location this would be a place you’d happily queue for.

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The menu is focused on seasonal ingredients with modern European touches. We were told the best way to do things is to choose one from each of the vegetable, fish and meat sections. And with 4 to choose from on each there was just the right amount to get excited by. It’s quite an interesting concept which invites you to share. All of the dishes are at the £7-£9 mark, and so it’s like having three starters. There’s also a 6 course tasting menu for £35, which we were told we could mix and match to make it more to our liking.

We decided to stick with the main menu, and started with a couple of the Lamb bites (£1 each) which are about the best little bites of food I’ve had in London. They are right up there with the arancini at Cafe Murano. With a good dollop of ailoi these are little bites you’d happily snack on all night. A mini warm baguette to mop things up made this a strong start.

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From the vegetable section I had the Ravioli of Italian greens, ricotta and chilli (£7). This was a beautifully fresh and light dish with a lovely tang to it. The chilli was lost on me though.

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My partner had the Risotto of chestnut mushrooms, Pecornio and soft herbs (£7) and again it was a lovely starter with shavings of fresh mushroom. The scent alone was intoxicating. It could have done with a couple of extra dollops of the risotto though.

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From the fish course I had the Lightly cured Scottish salmon, cucumber, sea lettuce, creme fraiche (£9). It was beautifully presented, almost like the sea floor, and there was a range of textures that made it exciting to eat. But it was just a tiny bit bland. The slamon didn’t have a strong enough flavour to stand up to the rest of the ingredients and the creme fraiche didn’t bring the dish together in the way I was expecting. It could do with taking a leaf from Jason Atherton’s book and adding an extra hit of flavour, maybe some citrus or horseradish, just to bring the dish together and make it more interesting than just a range of textures.

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The squid with peppers and a romesco sauce (£9) was appearing on the menu for the first time. The squid had been slow cooked which kept it tender but there wasn’t a great deal of it. This just felt like a dish that hasn’t quite find it’s final execution yet. It still needs something to bring it to that next level.

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Now to the meat. I had the Crisp pork cheek, celery, apple and hazelnuts (£8) on the reccomendation of the waiter and it really was good. At this price it represents great value, as I remember having a very similar dish at the Gordon Ramsay restaurant in Claridge’s last year for almost three times this pirce. The pork was perfectly tender with a crisp outer crust, and the crunch from the different textures of apple and hazelnuts only enhanced this. It really was a lovely small plate of food.

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My partner had the 28 day aged beef, roast onion, curly kale, salsify (£9). Again a dish with each component cooked to perfecting, and everything just worked. I just would have happily paid a bit more to have some more of the beef.

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To finish a Vanilla panna cotta with Champagne rhubarb, gingerbread (£4) cleansed the palate.

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The Spiced fruit and almond pie, frozen yoghurt (£5) had the flavour of a Christmas pudding, but the sharpness of the yoghurt freshened it up and made it a comfortable but still fairly light pudding.

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The bill came to £125, which sounds a lot, but we did basically have 2 bottles of wine (Chenin blanc at £22 a bottle) and a 4 course meal. It could easily have been around the £40 a head mark, and for that price it is great value for money. And although the fish courses were a bit of a miss, it was still a very enjoyable experience, that was really helped by the excellent staff.

Picture has a great deal going for it, and more people really should hear about it and give it a try because the kitchen is serving up interesting dishes at reasonable prices. They seem to be confidently getting on with their business, and I feel that after a couple more years of refining what they already have here, that they could easily up the stakes with a better location and have a huge hit on there hands. I know I’d certainly be queuing up.

Food: 7.5/10

Service: 9/10

Atmosphere: 7/10

Value: 7.5/10

Overall: 7/10

110 Great Portland St, London W1W 6PQ

Picture on Urbanspoon

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