The Secrets Behind Each Dish in London’s Most Fabulous Lunch
The four-course lunch at Dabbous, which costs £35 ($55), is one of London's best prix fixe lunches and a fine example of the kitchen's focus on just a few ingredients, with attractive presentation and limited ornamentation.
I asked chef Dabbous to explain the lunch dishes in his own words.
"We make the bread here every day. It's something rustic and honest, and I like a loaf with a nice, thick crust and reasonably soft inside. It's almost Germanic in feel. There's quite a bit of rye in there, wholemeal bread, mixed seeds, so you've got sesame, poppy, sunflower, hazelnut, pumpkin. Then we just make our own butter, slightly salted. So: warm bread, nice crust, soft butter. It's a winner. You don’t need bells and whistles. You can actually be more emotive, impressive with something that everyone has had 100 times before but done really nicely."
Starter: Peas and Mint
"That’s been on every spring since we opened. It's a light pea mousse, frozen petit pois, milk, really good fruity olive oil, a little bit of salt and sugar, blended together with a little bit of gelatine. Then we top it with a mix of a mint oil, a few drops of chardonnay vinegar, some raw peas, some cooked peas. The raw peas just give it a kind of vitality. Having the raw peas and the pea shoots just gives a bit of vitality to the dish; it's important to consider texture and rawness in terms of invigorating a dish. It isn’t monotone. The colors also reflect Wimbledon, the green and the purple. It's always on when Wimbledon is on. When you say modern British food, people think of something a little bit heavier or more rooted in tradition. The peas and mint is a great example of something contemporary with a lighter touch."
Starter: Spring Onions with Marigold Leaves
"This has gone down really well. I was concerned originally because it's like a raw onion dish as a starter. But we use really sweet griotte onions. On the bottom, you've got crushed, toasted pistachios and then a layer of Slipcote cheese, which is a wet sheep-milk cheese we get direct from the farm. It's got a nice sourness. We top that with marigold shoots and they’ve got a kind of coriander seed flavor. For the salad, we use washed onions with lemon dressing, lime zest, and salt.
"The food we serve in the summer is simple. The food we do in general is simple. But for me, personally, when the weather's hot, you just want grilled food and product-based dishes, salads. I could live off vegetarian, salads, and the odd bit of grilled meat or fish while the weather's hot."
Second Course: Girolles With English Pancetta and Lemon Thyme
"I was never a massive girolles fan, but I like them on the barbecue. Whereas most people go for the small, really perfect girolles, we try and get a slightly meatier mushroom just so it can we can stick it on the barbecue and it can take the heat and the smoke—and not cook too much.
"The dressing is a mix of smoked bacon fat, mushroom stock, garlic, and lemon dressing. It's served with English pancetta from Woodall's. They do gorgeous stuff. We just grill it very lightly so it's not crispy; it's a bit more like that melt of lardo. And just scattered lemon thyme and a leaf called cordifole, which is a flesh plant—so with the mushrooms and pancetta, they're quite indulgent in texture. Quite soft. You need something to invigorate the dish—the lemon thyme does that, but also the fleshy lettuce stops it being too homogenous."
Main: Warm Potted Shrimp With New Potatoes
"The potted shrimp is a classic recipe. We add a little bit of Espelette pepper and garlic, which isn’t traditional, but then mace and lemon juice. The peeled brown shrimps are from Flying Fish (Seafoods) in Cornwall. It's quite a comforting dish, and with the soft-boiled Burford Brown egg, it's like a picnic. We add some oyster leaf and samphire and pickled cucumber. You need counterpoints to stop it being clumsy."
Main: Grilled Spring Lamb With Lesser Calamint and Violet Mustard
"It's a leg of lamb from Romney Marsh that we bone. It's salted with rosemary, and we cook it at 63 degrees for two hours in the water bath. Then we cook it again quite aggressively on our Big Green Egg barbecue. We slice it thinly and serve it on cracked wheat with toasted pine nuts and lesser calamint, which is like a cross between mint and oregano. We have someone grow that for us in Norfolk. Violet mustard is an old French product that we mix with strained yoghurt, and lemon juice and honey, and there's grilled green pepper. The dish is quite feral. The starters are quite refined. But with red meat, you want to be primal.
"And the crepe is just a batter that we fry in a pan and empty onto the barbecue. We drizzle over a little bit of oil and shut the lid. You just char it on both sides and then just rip it into quarters. Again, I don’t like food looking too refined, so we don’t use a knife deliberately. You want the torn edge. And I like the bit of char round the side."
Dessert: Wild Strawberry Tart
"Everyone loves a fruit tart. It’s the summer, you have a picnic, or whatever; you know it’s just a crowd pleaser. There's no point deconstructing it, or whatever. So we use an all-butter puff for lightness, like those Portuguese custard tarts. It's a classic French pastry cream, egg yolk, corn flour, sugar. We infuse it with Tahitian vanilla and camomile to give it a rounded sweetness, then we fold in Chantilly cream, adding a spoonful of strawberry purée, then wild strawberries and a scatter of clover and a little bit of lavender. We blanch rose petals to soften them and then steep them in rosewater syrup. They have a beautiful color and texture. It's something honest and simple: just one or two things and a couple of counterpoints."
Dabbous is at 39 Whitfield Street, Fitzrovia, W1T 2SF; +44-20-7323-1544 or www.dabbous.co.uk
Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Bloomberg. Follow him on Twitter @richardvines.
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