Hype is a tricky beast. Just enough of it, and you’ve got something that’s talked about and that people want to experience. Too much, and there’s an inevitable disappointment when they do, because their expectations are so far removed from the reality.
|Peas with mint|
Since it opened, Dabbous has been subject to a level of hype that I’m not sure any other restaurant has experienced in recent memory. I blame Fay Maschler, whose 5-star review in the Standard shortly after Dabbous opened coincided with the impossibility of ever getting a table.
|Mixed alliums in a chilled pine infusion|
And the over-excitable reviews haven’t stopped since: Jay Rayner declared that, “Dabbous is so damn hot you could blister your palms on it”; AA Gill said he was “properly, lovingly, unforgettably gobsmacked”; and Tim Hayward in the FT raved that, “food is presented at Dabbous without posturing and with minimal exposition, and from that simple start point, it blows you away.”
All of which has meant that the waiting list is long. Properly long. Would-be-a-disgrace-if-it-were-the-NHS kinda long. Chris Pople rather struck the nail on the head when he said that “a dinner reservation has taken on the rarefied air of a winning lottery ticket. It’s the real-life 2012 equivalent of the mythically exclusive, fictional Dorsia in Bret Easton Ellis’ novel American Psycho, except with smaller mobile phones.”
|Monkfish with summer vegetables and basil|
So when I struck a 7.30pm dinner reservation, no matter that it was confirmed in October, and the table wasn’t until the middle of the following July, it went into the diary and wasn’t budging. But I was a bit worried that by the time it did eventually roll around, the hype and anticipation would be at unmanageable proportions and the whole thing would be a let down.
It wasn’t. It really, really wasn’t.
|Barbecued Iberico pork, savoury almond praline, radishes and crushed green apple|
The Writer has always been less fussed about eating at Dabbous than I have, dismissing the genre of what he calls “tweezer food” (ie, presented in such a pretty and precise way that the final flourishes have been added with tweezers) in favour of tasty and hearty. But even he was grudgingly impressed.
Grilled mackerel with iodised sour cream, lovage and samphire
“I feel like I’m making a political protest,” he said, admitting that the first course of peas and mint was brilliant (it wasn’t just peas and mint, of course: there were fresh peas on a deliciously thick and creamy purée with granita and pea shoots and a perfectly soft yet crunchy tiny pea pod, looking enormously beautiful in the bowl the size of your fist. Marvellous). “It’s like being a Guardian reader with a pay rise. I’m in a state of existential crisis.”
The coddled egg, about which so much has been written that I shan’t add to it other than to say it was sublime, has ruined all scrambled eggs I shall ever make at home. And TW even went so far as to utter the compliment of his barbecued Iberico pork that it was “the hottest tweezer food he’s ever had” (the lukewarm temperature of tweezer food is one of his biggest restaurant bugbears). [Edit: TW's reaction to reading this was: "I said 'warm' - I wouldn't go so far as to call it hot..."]
With the prospect of not eating there again in the foreseeable future, it seemed the right thing to do to commit to the project, so with pre-prandial cocktails, and wine, and the full tasting menu each, it wasn’t the cheapest Tuesday night dinner we’ve ever had. But we both agreed that it soared easily into the list of the top three meals we’ve had this year (the other two being Coya and Newman Street Tavern, both of which I’d recommend, and both of which are FAR easier to book).
|Custard cream pie|
The hype, it turns out, was worth it.