Being the Chancellor of the Exchequer (a.k.a Finance Minister) is a shitty job. In hard times you get blamed for the tough decisions that have to be taken. In good times everybody else takes the credit. Being the child of a reviled public figure can’t be much fun. Most such offspring shun the limelight and move to the country to do whatever people do in the country. I’m told that cow tipping and wife swapping are popular pastimes in the shires.
Nigel Lawson was an outstanding Chancellor of the Exchequer under Margaret Thatcher. He was part of the Tory tribe who liberalised capital markets, lowered taxes, busted the unions and saved Britain from becoming the basket case of Europe. They helped turn Britain from a nation of whining Fabian socialists to a shining beacon for free market capitalism. The hemp and lentil brigade who’d rather we live on welfare, recycle cigarette butts and subsist on roots and seeds, hated him. His daughter Nigella’s riposte is to live well, surely the best revenge. Some of you may have seen a version of the email below:
Nigella was dining at the next table from mine at Dabbous, Ollie Dabbous’s eponymous new restaurant. My dinner companion used to be a professional diving instructor before he came up for air and got sucked into the city. Long years of diving have given him perfect, virtually Vitruvian proportions. Vitruvian man wistfully commented that Nigella looked twenty years younger than her pictures. Her Earth Mother meets Marilyn Monroe looks have that effect on most people. The ultra hip wait staff, straight and gay, went doolally around her.
Ollie Dabbous trained with Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, staged at The Fat Duck and cheffed at Texture. These are all Michelin starred restaurants. He is young (31) and adept at the modern scientific methods of cooking perfected by Heston Blumenthal at the Fat Duck. You wouldn’t know it however, from the way the food is presented; it is unpretentious with no overweening explanations of technique. The overwhelming impression of Dabbous is of youth, confidence, technical brilliance and unmitigated joy in serving very, very good food.
We had the tasting menu. It included a coddled egg; the egg is lightly scrambled and mixed with wild mushrooms and smoked butter before being returned to its shell. These are flavours that were made for each other. It looked amazing and tasted divine. Critics rave about the barbecued Iberico pork. I could go on about the food, but the Bacchanalian delights are what I came for.
The restaurant on the ground floor has an industrial warehouse décor circa 1990. It’s dark with cold surfaces and hard edges. The basement bar is even darker; Oskar’s Bar is run by Oskar Kinberg formerly of the Cuckoo Club. He has developed a kick ass cocktail list. The Mellow Yellow had a base of Cazadores Blanco tequila, with Cointreau, cigar syrup, lime juice mellowed with yellow pepper, served in a whisky rinsed glass. There’s a lot going on in this drink and plenty that could go wrong, but it worked. I had a fleeting hint of cigar on the nose before tasting a very rich margarita. A masculine drink. The Accomplice is made with Diplomatico Blanco rum, greengage liqueur, elderflower cordial, lime juice, agave syrup and bitters, served straight up and rubbed with sage. There is a nice sharpness on the tongue from the greengage with sage and bitters after-notes.
Dabbous has been open since February 2012, but has already gained a reputation for serving the best Negroni in town. Charlie who was bartending, reached for a special barrel of Negroni he’s been ageing for six weeks. Ageing cocktails is not new, but it is of the moment – the ingredients oxidise and react with the wood in the barrel to create a more complex, but still recognizable drink. Charlie uses Sacred gin (a British boutique gin brewed near my home) and Antica Formula vermouth in his Negroni. The drink was pleasantly bitter in the mouth with a long finish. We had it straight up. I’d never known ice to do much more than chill a drink. However, when Charlie introduced ice into the mix, the flavor actually changed. The drink tasted wetter, the ingredients somehow bound together more tightly, the flavor was smoother. I think I had three.
Dabbous is accessible, friendly and shockingly inexpensive. Starters cost around £7 (US $11) and mains are around £15 (US $23). The drinks were mostly around £8.50 (US $13). The foodie staff knows how good the food and drink is and want you to enjoy it. They don’t turn the tables here – there is just one sitting for dinner. You are encouraged to dally. This is also the hottest restaurant in London. The chances of Silvio Berlusconi being appointed to run a home for recovering nymphomaniacs are greater than your ability to get a reservation here before March 2013. It is worth the wait. Nigella loved it.
Blogger reviews of Dabbous from Eats, Treats and Leaves and Twelve Point Five Percent. Mixologist Jeffrey Morganthaler discusses ageing cocktails and provides directions for barrel ageing Negroni cocktails. You don’t have to fill an entire whiskey barrel with booze – most bars in London use small wooden barrels of a few litres in capacity of the type traditionally made by Eastern European Coopers.