The Saucy Dressings’ chief correspondent, Domini Hogg, went to Ollie Dabbous’ latest pop-up and has contributed this review.
Creating a set of desert island dishes is perhaps an even harder challenge than Desert Island Discs. I think I would struggle to eat the same meal for the rest of my life, but chef Ollie Dabbous really did produce something exquisite. I certainly wouldn’t say no to having that again!
I only just managed to get tickets when my companion’s colleague couldn’t make it at the last minute and they came up for grabs. The concept was a collaboration between Ollie Dabbous, the Henrietta Hotel and The Experimental Group as part of the London Restaurant Festival.
Having had a bit of a fraught morning involving a lot of frustration at the post office, we arrived somehow on time and sank into our chairs to enjoy the welcome cocktail.
We were sat upstairs in a light, airy gallery space decorated with dried plants hung in frames around the room and edgy, asymmetrical tables. Our waiter bounced up to us with a broad smile, bright, cheeky eyes and a heavy French accent. As he described the menu to us and tried to convince us to accompany it with a glass of wine, I was admiring his tattoos. It was like trying to read a cryptic manuscript. There were Coptic symbols on his knuckles, several beautifully drawn skeletons along his arms, a heart monitor line and some scientific equipment. I would have loved to have known more about them, but instead we had to make a decision about the wine. We both had to work that afternoon, so much to our waiter’s disdain (and disapproval I thought – probably quite right), we remained abstemious and stuck with just the cocktail and some water. That’s if you can be abstemious with a cocktail!
This cloudy cocktail was served in a champagne coup and built on my companion’s favourite, the French 75 (so named after French artillery shells from WW1, because the drink hits you just as hard!). On top of the French 75’s champagne, gin, and lemon juice, some sour maraschino cherry liqueur gave this cocktail a pleasant little sting. My companion bought the cherry liqueur the very next day so he could make his own!
Following this delightful aperitif came a sophisticated plate with cured salmon, citrus, celery, leaves, and basil resting on puddles of olive oil and basil purée. The basil purée and olive oil marvellously counterbalanced the acidity of the citrus, combined with the salmon. It then became almost impossible not to drag the leaves and celery through it!
We were then presented with seasonal vegetables in a spenwood broth. The vegetables looked delicious and as some were flowering, almost too good-looking to eat. We dug in nonetheless, finding the slight saltiness of the broth a welcome source of flavour for the vegetables.
The main course was barbecued Iberico pork with marjoram and celeriac. The celeriac had been pickled which made it slightly sour, and because it was covered with mustard seeds it would sometimes jump at you unexpectedly with new flavours as you burst one of the seeds. The pork was gamey and the marjoram and other spices enhanced that flavour. The contrast between the sour, surprising, and almost aggressive pickled celeriac and the predictable, easy-going pork worked rather well. It would have paired well with a slightly heavier wine – like a Puglian Primitivo – but alas we were not in a position to order any!
The dessert was a banana and custard ice cream. It provided a smooth and pleasant end to the meal, lacking the eclectic clashes and sour surprises of the other courses.
We had some jasmine silver needles tea (me) and espresso (my companion) to stretch out the meal before deciding it was time to pay the bill and head off. My companion tried some of the jasmine silver needles (a white tea made from the youngest buds) and was surprised to find it smoother and sweeter than he expected. He described it as slightly woody to start with a lingering honey flavour.
Just as we were leaving I visited the bathroom downstairs and was delighted to find the whole area glamorously covered with exotic Ardmore wallpaper – a sign of a really good hotel when even a visit to the bathroom adds to the experience.