Dabbous is the place where stoned pixies would dine if they were into food. I have a fever and think of fairies and ghost trains to nowhere all day. But it is really Dabbous — Dabbous — that did this to me.
Dabbous is a girl with her skirts up at Oxford — she has a reputation. For being wonderful — foodie food for those who aren’t really foodies or won’t identify as such; eating there is like going to the opera, and finding people who can look you in the eye. The critics have all come, and fallen down wormholes made of their own superlatives. Now it is booked up until the apocalypse. The chef is Ollie Dabbous, 31, formerly of The Fat Duck and Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.
It is in the grottiest bit of London, just off Tottenham Court Road, a road that seems to hate itself, and wants to go elsewhere. Restaurants battle with soft furnishing emporia and everywhere there’s dust. Dabbous itself is razed-ground chic, a collection of plain wood and dull metal; even the scaffolding outside might be part of the theme. ‘The ghetto,’ says A, grasping for context. He waves his arm. ‘That man,’ he points at a random male sucking an onion, ‘thinks he is from the Ghetto.’ ‘He works for M&C Saatchi,’ I say. ‘He lives in Earls Court.’ We are brought bread in paper bags; bread for the stomach, bag for the panic attack.
The front-of-house staff wear beards and sleek suits — they seethe with enthusiasm for Dabbous, and explain everything while splashing water into glasses. I haven’t met this kind of brand loyalty since the Steinbots of Padstow wouldn’t let me out. Out comes an enormously complex, though short, menu — starters at £7, main courses £14. We order everything and here it comes — tiny plates, dotted with flowers, tiny wasp-bites of taste. I order asparagus; quite soon, I find myself eating hazelnuts with a spoon.
A flowerpot appears. There is an egg inside. The egg has been guillotined — the guillotine is brought to the table, so we can play with it — sucked out, improved with mushrooms and smoked butter, and replaced. (The guillotine would do for pixies too, I think, but fevers always make me strange; decapitated pixies feel as real as the baking street). The egg is sitting on hay and I beg the waiter to tell me it came from a pet shop but he won’t. Pet shop, I insist. Pet shop! He says nothing — it dies in the wind. A eats an allium in a cool pine infusion; I eat a soup of beans and minute potatoes, covered in wild flowers. I expect Gerard Depardieu to appear because he did the Timotei advert, and talked about the soft smell of summer meadows, and here they are, on my lunch — or did I dream that? The waiter says that Craig the barman’s mother grows the flowers, possibly in west London. (They are not from a Spar.) I think I am going mad. Pixie. Guillotines. Flowers. Main course.
The barbecued Iberico pork (with savoury acorn praline and turnip tops) tastes nothing like pork. That is how delicious it is — pigs, for me, need to be sliced to be edible, but not here; the cut, if you care, is from the shoulder. We have lamb which is dense, perfect; the veal is in a broth scented with bright pink garlic. As I said, pixies.
Pudding. I do not care for the lovage ice-cream — ‘It’s a polarising dish,’ says the waiter, kindly — but I am transfixed by the basil moss on the chocolate and virgin hazelnut oil ganache (or log, if you are an idiot); it really looks like moss, spat out of Enid Blyton’s brain. The custard cream pie explodes out of itself, a sophisticated dish for five-year-olds.
The critics are correct. Dabbous is wondrous, and very strange.
Dabbous, 39 Whitfield Street, London W1T 2SF, tel: 020 7323 1544.