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39 Whitfield StreetWIT 2SF London
United Kingdom
T+44 2073231544




Chef's personal info

Name: Ollie Dabbous
Date of birth: 01-01-1980
Le Manoir au Quat' Saisons - Raymond Blanc> 3 yearsMugaritz - Andoni Azuriz - San Sebastian Texture - Agnar Sverrison's - London The Fat Duck - Heston Blumenthal - Bray Pierre Gagnaire - Paris Hibiscus WD-50 - New York Noma - René Redzepi - Cipenhagen 

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Articles - Jay Rayner
Ollie Dabbous: the most wanted chef in Britain

Ollie Dabbous: the most wanted chef in Britain

He's London's hottest ticket, but until a few months ago no one had heard of him. Ollie Dabbous explains to OFM how it feels to be booked out until December and what it was like meeting Dave at Downing Street


ollie dabbous chef 
Chef Ollie Dabbous, photographed 30 April 2012. Photograph: Phil Fisk for the Observer

Ollie Dabbous can remember the exact moment when he went from being the chef of a new, potentially promising restaurant to being the hottest new thing in the world of British food. It was Thursday 2 February, around 10.30am. He sits at one of the refectory-style tables in the downstairs bar of his London restaurant, scrolling through the messages on his phone. "Here it is," he says, passing the phone over. The text, from his friend Will, reads, "Standard LOVES you!!!" The first review of the restaurant, from Fay Maschler, the veteran critic of the London Evening Standard, had just gone online and to describe it as positive is to wallow in understatement. Maschler awards stars out of five, but hands out the maximum very rarely, perhaps once every two or three years. She had given Dabbous, which had been open for just two weeks, the maximum five stars.

"I was massively surprised," the 31-year-old chef says. "She came in on our third day. I didn't know her. I assumed she'd prefer something more refined. We're deliberately a bit rough around the edges."

Indeed. Whatever may have been said about the food served at this newcomer, Dabbous is no gilded gastro-palace. The decor is pure industrial chic: the original concrete floors given a polish. There are heavy metal-work screens and cages for bags and coats, hard-edged wooden, cloth-free tables. In my review I described it as looking like a gussied-up NCP car park, though that doesn't quite communicate the charm of the restaurant. And yet it is certainly hard-edged and functional. If there is any warmth it comes from the frosted window that hides the kitchen.

Maschler didn't care. She described the braised halibut with coastal herbs as "the best thing I have eaten in a long time". She called the entire restaurant a "game changer". Dabbous admits he was "blown away, but at the same time I had a lot of other things on my mind". He had a restaurant to run. In any case the review was about to become the front desk's problem. "It started happening about 3.30pm when the printed edition of the paper hit the streets," says the general manager, Graham Burton. "There was a phone call. And then another. And then another. You'd put the phone down and it would immediately be ringing. We went from two or three emails for bookings to 300 in about an hour." In the short term the review actually cost them money. They had to hire another member of staff just to answer the phones.

And that's how it's been ever since. There have been other wow reviews – from Giles Coren in the Times, from bloggers, from, well, me – and so the noise has continued, with Dabbous even attending last month's gathering of chefs at 10 Downing Street, in aid of VisitBritain, alongside, among others, the Ledbury's Brett Graham, French Laundry's Thomas Keller and El Bulli's Ferran Adrià. Later that week Dabbous won "best kitchen" at the Tatler restaurant awards.

On the day I meet him, in the last week of April, weekend dinners are booked up until the end of December. Even lunches are booked up into July. Dabbous is so hot you could fry an egg on its reputation, to be served on a hunk of their own black pudding, spun through with apple and caramelised onions, and smeared with a butch mango chutney.

And that's the thing. The noise has been generated by food that is the opposite of prissy and overworked. It's big on flavour. Or as Dabbous himself puts it, "I believe in restrained simplicity and cleanliness. I want a dish that has the wow factor but looks effortless. I don't want my food to look cheffy." And it doesn't. Perfect asparagus are accompanied by a dollop of mayonnaise made from rapeseed oil alongside the crunch of hazelnuts and you wonder why no one has done it like this before. A hunk of Ibérico pork, from the shoulder, and cooked over the barbecue, comes with a toffee mess of honey, roasted acorns, almonds, salt and a deep-flavoured smoked red pepper. Best of all is an egg shell refilled with a scramble of egg, long-sautéed mushrooms and smoked butter. There are versions of this dish in many high-end restaurants around the world. Not only is this one of the simplest and most accessible, it's also, at £7, one of the cheapest. Dabbous has broken through not simply because of the quality of the food, but because of the – albeit self-conscious – lack of flummery around it, and the price point. In a city that is subsumed under waves of concept and high-gloss, overworked crockery and 5,000 denier linen, it's a huge relief.

The curious thing is that the chef behind all this is a complete unknown. Usually when a hot restaurant appears, a few people know about the person behind the stove. They've already been marked out as the next big thing in newspaper features, been talked up by their mentors. They've done pop-ups. With Ollie Dabbous all was silence. And yet this gently spoken, lissom, slightly intense chef has the kind of CV most cooks would kill for. Not that he has the life story to match. "There's no story of me podding peas with my mum when I was a kid," he says.

Ollie Dabbous was born in Kuwait, where his French-Italian father was an architect. Later he, his brother and mother moved to live in Guildford for schooling, while his dad stayed in the Middle East and they commuted during the holidays. "I suppose I'm a bit of a mixed grill," he says.

"There was nothing particularly foodie in my childhood. In our house food was fuel." He describes his interest as self-propelled. He started baking at home, became intrigued by the business of cooking and when it came to finding a summer job he gravitated towards restaurants. When he was 15 he spent a month in Florence working in the kitchens of a trattoria where his father's cousin was a waiter. "I loved it," Dabbous says. "It was the produce, the accessibility of it."

It was that which made him decide to be a cook. And so he started writing letters. He wrote to Rowley Leigh at Kensington Place, who gave him a month's unpaid work experience when he was 16. Around the same time, through his father's connections, he landed another placement with the revered three-star chef Guy Savoy in Paris. They put him in the basement where he prepped girolles and artichokes for 12 hours a day. "It was shit but you just move on."

But it was the job in the kitchens of Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons in Oxfordshire, after finishing A-levels, that gave him the real start. "It was the best place to go. Everything was done from scratch. They can afford to do things properly. It's the hardest place I've worked." What, I ask, did he get from Le Manoir? "I learned to taste everything. I learned the importance of freshness, the importance of seasonality."

Raymond Blanc, who would later become a backer of his protege's restaurant, returns the compliment. "Some people take a long time to find their confidence," Blanc says. "Some find it immediately and Ollie was one of those. You could see he had a connection with the food and the people. And he was always asking questions." Blanc credits him with a cool head beyond his years, and a monstrous work ethic. "He was always a hugely hard worker." Ollie acknowledges this. "A lot of cooks would come and go at Le Manoir, but I stayed."

He rose to be senior chef de partie, before leaving to go on a journey through some of Europe's great kitchens. He did brief one-week stages at Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck, at the highly regarded L'Astrance in Paris and at Noma, the Copenhagen restaurant that has become the figurehead for the localism movement. There were longer stints with Claude Bosi at Hibiscus in Ludlow and at Mugaritz in Spain, one of the leading names in the new cookery of the country.

Finally he returned to Britain to work as head chef at Texture, the newly opened restaurant of another Manoir graduate, the Icelandic born Aggi Sverrisson. "His own restaurant was always the plan. He came here to learn," says Sverrisson. Does he see much of his style in what Dabbous is doing? "No, his food is his own but we have similar tastes. It's all the things we learned from Raymond. The lightness of sauces, the strength of flavours."

After two years at Texture, Dabbous went to work at a nightspot called the Cuckoo Club, where he met the Swedish-born bar man and mixologist Oskar Kinberg, who would become his business partner. Kinberg had always wanted to do a bar and restaurant, and in Dabbous, he says, he found the perfect collaborator. What was it about Dabbous' cooking that he found attractive? He frowns. "You've tasted his food, haven't you?" It's a fair point.

I ask whether the staggeringly positive response to the venture had any downsides. "Well, because the restaurant is so busy a lot of people assume the bar is full too, and until recently it wasn't." There is a bar menu served down here: chicken wings, steak sandwiches, black pudding. But in classic Dabbous style the simplicity of the names belie the work that's gone into them. All the chicken wings are boned out, the relishes on the steak sandwich are their own, the black pudding is the one they make themselves. "To be honest, I just wanted this restaurant to survive," Kinberg says. "I thought it would take six months to get established. Not two weeks." It's good news for the relatively large group of backers, including family and friends, all of whom threw money into the pot.

For a while I stand in the small corridor of a kitchen during the lunch service. There is a coal barbecue they had built for them, and a couple of sous-vide water baths. Dabbous has his tiny pass by the door. Though there are knives and tongs, the implements of choice are tweezers for the placing of blooms and green herbs, and pipettes for dripping in just the right amount of oil or vinegar to a dressing. It is, like the food, quiet, controlled.

There is no shouting and clattering. Ollie Dabbous is clearly exactly where he wants to be: assembling the dishes he first started thinking about four years ago. I ask him where the idea of putting his name above the door came from. "We just wanted a word that didn't shout restaurant or bar. It's an odd word. It sounded right. If I'd known what was going to happen, though, I wouldn't have done it." Why not? "It just looks ludicrously egotistical."

Out by the front desk they are, as ever, fielding phone calls, making apologetic noises about the length of wait for tables. Suddenly they get a cancellation for lunch at the same moment as someone walks in off the street innocently wondering if they have a table for two. "You're in luck," the receptionist says. I tell the two new arrivals they may be the luckiest diners in London and they grin. "Weirdly," the general manager says, "it may be the one way of actually getting a table here at short notice. But please don't tell everyone or we'll have queues out the door."

At any other restaurant of this calibre, the idea of queues down the street would be ludicrous; the way things have been going for Dabbous recently, it really doesn't seem so far-fetched. - Jay Rayner - Jay Rayner
Ollie Dabbous' English asparagus, virgin rapeseed oil mayonnaise, toasted hazelnuts and meadowsweet recipe

Ollie Dabbous' English asparagus, virgin rapeseed oil mayonnaise, toasted hazelnuts and meadowsweet recipe

Seasonal signature dish from up and coming chef Ollie Dabbous

Ollie Dabbous' English asparagus, virgin rapeseed oil mayonnaise, meadowsweet and hazelnut starter
Ollie Dabbous' English asparagus, virgin rapeseed oil mayonnaise, meadowsweet and hazelnut starter. Photograph: Katherine Rose for the Observer

At the restaurant, this is served as the opening course of the tasting menu. It's a purely product-driven dish, completely naked, and one served to eat with your hands: the antithesis of what many people associate with fine dining.

Serves 6

water 3 litres
salt 90g
English asparagus 2 bunches, trimmed and peeled where necessary

For the mayonnaise:

egg yolks 2
water 10g
Dijon mustard 5g
lemon juice 12g
chardonnay vinegar 8g
salt 3g
sugar 1g
vegetable oil 150g
extra virgin rapeseed oil 100g
dried meadowsweet 5g, an English wild flower, not dissimilar in taste to camomile, available from
toasted hazelnuts 100g, crushed and lightly salted

Bring the water and salt up to a rapid boil and add the asparagus. Return to a fast simmer and blanch for 3 minutes, using a timer.

Check a spear, and, if cooked to your taste, remove all the spears with a slotted spoon and plunge into iced water to arrest the cooking. Drain once cool; don't keep in the iced water longer than necessary. Keep at room temperature for serving.

To make the mayonnaise, place all the ingredients apart from the oils in a container and blend. Gradually blend in the oils until the texture is thick and homogenous. Chill.

Serve the asparagus with the mayonnaise, topped with a generous sprinkle of the meadowsweet. Place a mound of hazelnuts alongside. Eat by dipping the asparagus spears first into the mayonnaise and then into the hazelnuts. - Jay Rayner - Jay Rayner
Restaurant review: Dabbous

Restaurant review: Dabbous

Oliver Dabbous is being hailed as the next big thing. There's only one problem: you'll never taste his cooking


dabbous restaurant
Gloom with a view: the interior of Dabbous has all the charm of a gussied-up NCP carpark. Photograph: Katherine Rose for the Observer

39 Whitfield Street, London W1 (020 7323 1544). Meal for two, including wine and service, £140

This review is of no use to you. Oh sure, it might gift you vicarious pleasure. But if you're here looking for tips on where to eat well, give it up. Go clean the fish tank. Turn the page and have a look at what Dan thinks you should be doing in the garden this week. The fact is that, unless you are stupidly stubborn or absurdly flexible, getting a table at Dabbous will prove tougher than getting through to a real human being on the TalkTalk helpline. I tried four times to book, (under pseudonyms, natch), only to be told they had nothing at a time I could manage for months. I only got in eventually because a friend who is a journalist for the New York Times begged and pleaded (without revealing the identity of his companion). Once he'd got the table it would have been churlish not to go.

So there you have it: Dabbous is so damn hot you could blister your palms on it. Other so-called critics have already dribbled into their keyboards over the place and proclaimed it a very heaven on earth. The young chef, Oliver Dabbous, who worked with Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir and then at Texture in London, is being hailed as the new culinary messiah. All praise him and so on. The problem, of course, is that nowhere can live up to this level of hype. There is a temptation to roll your eyes and sigh, "It's really not all that." This isn't the restaurant's fault; they are doing now what they did at the start a couple of months ago. It's the opinions swirling around them which have done the damage.

So, how good is it? In places, very. If you like your restaurants to look like they were carved out of the workshop in a decommissioned car plant, Dabbous is the place for you. It's all hard surfaces and gloom and glower. Downstairs is a bar where they mix a good negroni. Upstairs is the dining room, where music throbs and people who are better dressed than you patrol the tables.

Dabbous's food is, for the most part, exceptionally balanced and thought out. The menu is short – just five small plates and six larger ones – and ingredient led. So tiny Jersey royals, the first of the season, come warm in a dairy fat-rich buttermilk sauce which is both savoury and sour. Asparagus turns up with a mayonnaise made with rapeseed oil and a crush of hazelnuts.

Best of all is the egg, described on the menu, redundantly, as a hen's egg – well, the cock's not going to bloody lay the thing, is it? The egg is lightly scrambled and mixed with a dice of mushrooms and smoked butter before being returned to the shell. Oh my. There are lots of versions of this dish. L'Arpège in Paris does one. Jean Georges in New York does one. Neither of those costs £7. But some starters miss the mark. A beef tartar is so finely minced, for example, as to be denatured; the advertised cigar oil, whisky and rye make no impact.

Of the bigger dishes we tried, the star was a hunk of barbecued Iberico pork with a sticky-toffee mess described as a savoury acorn praline. It was sweet and umami and, being less technical, lick-the-plate-clean good. By contrast, barbecued lamb belly, a big fatty cut which can take a spanking, was a little "so what?" A soupy dish of squid in a dark broth of seaweed, radishes and toasted buckwheat again hit 11 out of 10 on the Spinal Tap umami scale, but was not much at all for £12.

And so, with the advice to order four dishes each from the seemingly reasonably priced menu ringing in our ears, we saw the bill for our meal accumulate. To be eaten in a gussied-up NCP car park. Desserts – there are but four – feel like an afterthought. Iced lovage is a grass-clipping granita, in a good (ish) way. A light pastry shell filled with custard cream, and a whimsical affair in which a chocolate ganache is partnered with basil made to look like moss give you something to do while you try to work out just how good Dabbous really is. Or at least that's what it gave us. You? You'll give up trying to get a table. Perhaps wait a while then go. It's worth a look. And that, friends, is what we call an outrageous understatement. - Jay Rayner - Jay Rayner
Restaurant: Dabbous, London W1 Is Ollie Dabbous the Next Big Thing?

Restaurant: Dabbous, London W1 Is Ollie Dabbous the Next Big Thing?

Dabbous, London W1
Dabbous, London W1: It's one of the most talked-up openings in ages – does it live up to the hype?

Over the past few months, a theme has emerged in this column: highly talented chefs cooking in venues that don't feel quite right. What you get at these places is very good contemporary food in settings that are either trying too hard to be cool or are too unreconstructedly "faine dayning" for 2012.

Well, it's about time for an example of someone getting it right. Step forward, Ollie Dabbous. If you follow these things, you may already have heard of him: first reactions to his new place have been ecstatic, and Raymond Blanc has spoken of him as one of those young chefs who show huge talent from the first time you see them at the stove. He worked for Blanc at Le Manoir Au Quat' Saisons for four years, and has also put in time at Mugaritz in San Sebastian and Agnar Sverrison's Texture in London. The word in those circles is that Ollie Dabbous is the Next Big Thing.

That might lead you to expect something dramatic or bombastic from his own restaurant, Dabbous, but that's not at all the case. Its venue in Fitzrovia used to be Cyberia, the first cybercafe in the UK, where you could go online before going online had been invented. The decor back then was William Gibson cyber-industrial, and it still is, with concrete floors and metal fittings – functional and perfectly comfortable, but deliberately uncosy.

From the critic's point of view, a great feature of Dabbous is that the waiters help write your review for you. The set lunch is £24 for four courses, with a choice of two dishes at each stage – sensationally good value. When I said we'd be swapping plates so that we both ate the whole menu, the waiter smiled and said, "Deconstructed fine dining is what we're all about." That's it! Superbly skilled and technically inventive cooking, but with no napery and faffing and need to sit up straight. Later, when I told a different waiter that one dish had been much more classical in inspiration than the previous course, he said, "That's the thing about Ollie – he has classical training, he has training in modern techniques, and he has ideas of his own, too, so there's three different things going on." That's it! He really can do it all.

What's so pleasing is that Dabbous combines this range with a particular talent for lightness. A celeriac "drape" – yeah, I know – was a ribbon of the root across a gorgeously deep, faintly sweet celeriac broth, complemented by muscat grapes, lovage and lemon oil. I wouldn't have thought it possible that a plate could be so light and have so much flavour. The other starter had the same quality: raw fennel and little gem with a dressing of feta , a dill "crumb" – yeah, I still know – and pickled rose leaves was in at least two senses a very bright dish.

The fish course featured the most traditional dish, slow-cooked salmon in a lightly foamed white wine sauce spiked with buttermilk – not unusual in conception, but just right in all its detail. Wild ling came with an "ash" – OK, I give up – of smoked butter and squid ink with rapeseed mayonnaise and charred jerusalem artichokes. This was amazing, a superb juxtaposition of burnt tastes from the butter and artichoke with the firm, meaty fish; and, again, thrillingly light. Ditto breast of veal, a cut that usually gets gussied up with stuffing and braising but here was a simple piece of poached meat in another deep yet mysteriously light broth. My pork belly came with an innovation, savoury praline, and turnip tops – very interesting indeed. Part of the point of belly is a bit of crunch on top, yet the praline, sticky and involving, went fascinatingly in the exact other direction.

It's impossible to make a light sponge pudding, but Dabbous manages it by using barley flour and cream to which he does something to make it airy and anti-gravitational: the concoction really does feel as if it might float off the plate.

Service is casual but super-efficient, prices are very reasonable, there are cocktails in the basement. The only bad news about Dabbous is the difficulty in getting a table. - Jay Rayner -
Dabbous knocks the socks off London's restaurant critics

Dabbous knocks the socks off London's restaurant critics

Astonishing but affordable dishes make Dabbous a game-changing new restaurant

What you need to know
At the age of 28, Oliver Dabbous, former head chef at the Michelin-starred Texture near Marble Arch, has recently opened his first solo venture. The self-titled Dabbous restaurant occupies what was once Cyberia (the UK's first internet café) on Whitfield Street in Fitzrovia. 

The menu specialises in small plates with seasonal produce and unusual ingredients such as beef tartare with cigar oil, whisky and rye, pork with savoury acorn praline and chocolate clay with basil moss.

The restaurant covers two floors - a street-level dining room and a basement bar where cocktail mixologist Oskar Kinberg, formerly of the Cuckoo Club, is in residence. A bar menu features such unconventional snacks as a steak sandwich with tobacco butter.

What the critics like
Dabbous is the high street answer to Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck, says Giles Coren in The Times. The flavours are "astonishing" and "ethereal", but you can eat here for under 30 quid, three courses, booze included.

Fay Maschler of the Evening Standard gives Dabbous five stars, saying it's a rating "reserved for when a place comes along that changes the game". The recipe is "high-octane cooking in low-key surroundings attended by amiable, sometimes even affectionate, service". A starter of fennel, lemon balm and pickled rose petals is "a salad to knock your socks off".

The Independent's Amol Rajan calls Dabbous "the Holy Grail... an exquisite tasting menu in London for less than £50". Dabbous, he says, is "the most thrilling addition to the London scene for yonks", and you must get there as soon as possible before it gets a Michelin star and, probably, a price hike.

What they don't like
The moody aesthetic is so stripped back as to be practically naked, says Stephen Farmer on View London. The toilets are so dark that mirrors are rendered redundant. It is, however, a really impressive looking place, "even though some might accuse it of channeling All Saints by way of a Cold War sub".

Dabbous is not immediately loveable, says Guy Dimond in Time Out. Its stark, industrial feel is not helped by the acoustics which "allow the sound of the basement cocktail bar to leak upstairs". And be warned, while the cutting-edge dishes are extraordinary, the "tapas-sized" portions mean that most diners will need to order four or five dishes each. · - - Fay Maschler
Going Out ?

Going Out ?

Da-boo is how it is pronounced. Ollie Dabbous is a chef who spent four years at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons and went from there to Agnar Sverisson's Texture on Portman Square, where he rose to the position of head chef. He has also done stints in the kitchens of The Fat Duck, Pierre Gagnaire, Hibiscus, wd~50 in New York, Murgaritz in San Sebastian and Noma in Copenhagen. Dabs, as I will now call him, is only in his late twenties, so he cannot have spent very long in any of those places but enlightenment seems to have stuck.

With Oskar Kinberg, award-winning barman most recently at The Cuckoo Club, Dabbous has opened his own gaff in a corner site in Fitzrovia opposite Pollock's Toy Museum, which, in 1994, in the guise of Cyberia, was the first internet café in the UK. The look of the ground floor restaurant is unflinchingly urban and gritty, a Mondrian minus colour. Metal struts and mesh rule off the space, softened only by customers' coats hanging like an installation. Visual warmth is in the glow of the kitchen through opaque glass. In the basement bar the effect is ameliorated to some extent by a couple of sensuous sofas.

What Dabbous is doing brings to mind the restaurant movement in Paris christened Bistronomy. Yves Camdeborde set it going when he left Les Ambassadeurs at Le Crillon and opened La Regalade in the 14th. Cohorts such as Jean-Francois Piége launching Thoumieux followed. The recipe is high-octane cooking in low-key surroundings attended by amiable, sometimes even affectionate, service.

More recently, Paris chefs such as Inaki Aizpitarte at Le Chateaubriand and Le Dauphin and David Toutain at Agape Substance have focused on culinary experimentation, including a relatively new-found (for the French) appreciation of plant life while dispensing with the tra-la-la of "important" dining. Ollie is in this gang.

His à la carte menu offers 16 dishes at prices ranging from £4-14, an arrangement that makes you reckon that at least four choices would be in order. Our dashing waiter Franzi, from Toulouse via Martinique and French Guiana, understood immediately the finer points of assembling a citron pressé, currently my husband's favourite drink. I mention this because it is rare to find someone who does. Meanwhile, we nibbled on dry, nutty, verdant olives similar to French Lucques.

Maybe they are Lucques. The homemade seeded sourdough bread presented warm from the oven in a brown paper bag and accompanied by whipped salty butter was incredibly good.

Between three of us we ordered all five dishes of the first section. It is unusual, maybe unknown, for a salad to knock your socks off but the assembly of fennel, lemon balm and pickled rose petals served in one of those annoying dishes that tip your fork onto the table would have done had I been wearing socks. It hummed with a sort of friskiness, sweetness and light not associated with restaurant kitchens. Silky mashed potato, onto which roasting juices had been poured and black truffle shaved, was arguably the perfect start to a meal when appetite is keenest. It also showed that the chef really understands eating pleasure.

Coddled free-range hen egg - or hegg, as Franzi put it - with woodland mushrooms and smoked butter was served in a shell nestling shyly in a bundle of hay. It tasted wonderful. The least gripping item was celeriac with Muscatel grapes, lovage and hazelnuts, but celeriac can be a bit of a bruiser.
Star of the middle (£11-14) section was, in my view, braised halibut with coastal herbs. I see that I have scribbled on the menu "best thing I've eaten in a long time". The fish was ethereal, the sauce white satin, the herbs more subtle than their mainland friends. A slice of roasted goose breast, sweet clover kuzu, quince poached in wine and honey was as good as it was ingenious.

Running out of space, I will move on to the lunch I tried the next day, my guest being one of the new breed of designated YBFs (Young British Foodies). At home, Adam smokes meat and maybe other things and he was keen to try the dish of beef tartare with cigar oil, whisky and rye. He could discern the drawl of the good ol' boys and liked the faint iodine in the scattering of monk's beard on top, the crunch of pumpernickel crumbs and the redemptive green of tarragon cream. I appreciated barbecue pork belly with savoury acorn praline - a sort of edible nutty slack - turnip tops and homemade apple vinegar. Adam and I agreed, however, that the pluma Iberica served startlingly rare at Pizarro in Bermondsey Street tops even this.

Desserts tried over the two meals were fig-leaf ice cream, simply served, and barley flour sponge soaked in red tea with Tahitian vanilla cream. They weren't based on vegetables and they played their part admirably and inexpensively. More than a dozen wines are served by glass and half-bottle carafe and the mission statement on the list reads "The quality of a wine list, we believe, comes not from its weight but from its pricing, variety, accessibility and sourcing". Try the Viognier, Domaine Gayda 2010 from the Languedoc - £5.50 for 175ml.

The star ratings on these pages correlate to the quality of cooking. Five stars is reserved for when a place comes along that changes the game. - Fay Maschler


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