18/20 A palace of marvels, on many levels; for the epicure as well as the hedonist.
How often do you come across a new pudding worthy to join the great pantheon of British classics? I can only think of one, maybe two, both products of the Fat Duck team in the Golden Period – the delicate, trembling Quaking Pudding that graces the menu at the Hinds Head in Bray and the divine Tipsy Cake of Dinner by Heston Blumenthal in London. These masterpieces of the pudding-makers art must be joined by Ollie Dabbous’s Warm Acorn Cake, Smoked Caramel and Rum (or whatever liqueur you like) and Clotted Cream. This fulfils every aspect of a proper pudding-lover’s dream – full, rich, squidgy, squelchy, intoxicating, profound, a combination of bread and butter pudding, baba au hum and sticky toffee pudding all rolled into one, and cloaked with clotted cream, a grand calorie crescendo, a magnificent paean to indulgence, a thundering full stop to lunch.
On reflection, it seems an odd dish to associate with Ollie Dabbous, who looks as if he’d never eaten anything more fattening than a water biscuit.
Any long time readers of this blog will know that I think very highly of Ollie Dabbous. I wrote a fulsome assessment of his earlier restaurant, Dabbous. I admired his lightness of touch, his subtle shading of dishes, the sureness of his culinary footing, even his courage. It takes a certain amount of pluck to put a dish consisting just of mash and gravy on a menu. Ah, but such mash, such gravy, the acme of mashes (finer, even, than that of Joel Robuchon in his Jamin pomp), the quiddity of gravy.
However, the dynamic, youthful, industrial funk of the Dabbous days has given way to Hide. (What is it with the short, sharp, one syllable restaurant names? They’re everywhere – Brat, Core, Lyle’s, Kiln and now Hide; brisk, blunt, metropolitan, stylish.) The name may be plain and simple, but the place is anything but. There’s Hide Above, Hide Ground, Hide Below (bar), and Hide Private Dining rooms. All in oak, floors, panelling, tables, chairs, even some of the guests. Whole forests of oak trees must have been cut down to make Hide. The grand staircase, itself, formed of what appear to be art deco tree roots, sweeps from one floor to the next, looking like nothing so much as part of the set for a Harry Potter film. So much naked brown wood gives the interior some of the amber glow of the climatic bar scene at the end of Clint Eastwood’s great Unforgiven.
The secret of any great restaurant is to draw you into its particular universe of pleasure for a few hours, to banish the chaos and babble of the outside world, to sooth and please you and give you the sense that you rest in the most assured of hands dedicated simply to your well-being. This is true of a caff such as the magnificent Majestic Cafe in Ingham, Queensland or the fabulously ramshackle Dorego’s in Hamburg on the Eastern Cape of South Africa, as it is of restaurants of high estate and pedigree. It is true of Hide.
Hide is of the high estate and pedigree class, where the sense of an all-embracing experience is taken to extraordinary lengths. No detail seems to have gone unconsidered and co-ordinated. Even the grain of the tables (each with a drawer containing the equipment you may need to re-charge your smart phone) has been carefully aligned so that it runs from one customer to the other seated on the other side. It’s almost reassuring to come across familiar Riedel glasses and conventional cutlery. Some may find this attention a touch excessive. I find absolutely splendid, a mark of assurance and professionalism. There’s a feeling of brio and confidence about the place.
Much has been written about the nature and riches of the Hide wine list, or lists, rather. There are two, one printed and one on the iPad left on the table that’s linked to the wine emporium, Hedonism, that, like Hide, is owned by Yevgeny Chichvarkin, who’s clearly short of neither taste or cash. It would require several volumes to do justice to the variety and treasures of such a oenological treasure chest. I’ll just say, you can spend a lot of money if you want, but you can drink well for far, far less if you want. The mark ups aren’t rapacious.
On past form, I’d say that Ollie Dabbous is one of the most talented chefs working in the country. However, it’s one thing conjuring up remarkable dishes with a distinctive culinary vision for 40 people with a small team of dedicated young chefs who share your ideals, and quite another to replicate those levels of inspired excellence in a restaurant with two distinct dining areas (not to mention the bar in the basement),serving food from 8am onwards from two kitchens in which platoons of chefs toil away. I was concerned that the qualities I so admired about Ollie’s cooking – lightness, freshness, delicacy, refinement, harmony – would be difficult, if not impossible, to replicate on this grander stage. Lunches in each of the dining areas set my anxieties to rest.
In Above you have a selection of Tasting Menus (of the kind so disliked by our senior restaurant critics). In Ground there’s only A La Carte. The menus are spotted with the elements that help characterise the Dabbous touch – angelica seed, kale ash, camomile honey, nasturtium broth, savoury pine night praline, wild pea flowers. He uses flowers, vinegars, spices, soured creams, burnt notes, fruit and vegetable juices to provide little poppers of flavours that accent dishes and keeps them astonishingly bright and focussed.
To take two fish dishes off the Ground menu. Cornish mackerel tartare; iced eucalyptus. The tartare was quite chunky, but of pristine freshness, as if it had been just whisked from the sea. It gave the fish an unexpected delicacy and refinement, defined by the medicinal, piney fragrance of the eucalyptus. It was the very model of a modern British dish, precise and pointed. Further down the menu was roast scallop, seaweed and caviar butter sauce that was no less notable, but had all the rich, seductive elegance of classic haute cuisine, scallop plump as a pouf, with a lick of caramel sweetness, the sauce smooth and silky, seasoned with salty caviar, pepped with the iodine of seaweed. And so it was with egg and ink cap mushrooms with smoked butter; shredded squid in bouillabaisse sauce and aioli; slow roast goose with birch sap and kale and on and on. The whole technical armoury of modern kitchen weaponry was deployed to highlight the most natural of flavours and textures. And, while the presentation of each dish was balm to the eye, it was never strained, but always at the service of the dish, not the justification of it.
Not all the dishes hit the bullseye with the same precision. Herdwick lamb cooked over embers was less interesting than the violet mustard. aubergine and smoked kelp on the same plate. The crab in roast king crab, turnips, camomile honey and salted butter lacked the necessary oomph to carry the complex flavours of the other elements. But even here, there was nothing ill-considered or inept, but when the point of each dish is to play in the quality of the ingredients, if the starring item isn’t up to snuff, then you get a slight sense of disappointment.
The ambitions of Hide are immense. I can’t think of a recently opened restaurant in which so much has been invested – time, money, thought, passion and reputation. It’s only a few weeks since it opened its doors, and I wouldn’t say the dishes yet consistently hit the delights of those I remember so fondly at Dabbous, where each dish felt as if it had been freshly minted. I got the feeling that the kitchen isn’t at full throttle yet, and is playing it safe in some areas. That’s not surprising given the scale of the enterprise. It’ll be six months, quite possibly a year, before Ollie Dabbous and his team will have the necessary experience to begin seriously pushing themselves, and we can properly judge the quality and qualities of the place.However, what they have achieved thus far is pretty bloody impressive and fabulous.
Hide is as far removed from the admirable Brat, that I also admired, as it is possible to imagine, and yet they have much in common. One may have all the polish of design, ambition and financial muscle while the other has a single-minded focus, direct energy and pragmatism, but both restaurants are notably confident, relaxed and informal in tone. Tomos Parry’s food depends on rigorous command of a cooking medium that requires unwavering attention, flexibility and judgement. Ollie Dabbous’s cooking is immensely technical, refined, and controlled through the use of contemporary culinary technology. But each chef depends on the quality of the base ingredients and their precise understanding of their characteristics. Tomos Parry uses his skill and techniques to arm-wrestle the willing guest into happy submission. Ollie Dabbous’s effects are more carefully and precisely calibrated to delight through contrast, counterpoint and harmony.They represent two points on the spectrum of British restaurant cooking at the moment that is particularly rich in highly inventive, highly gifted men and women.
Hide 85 Piccadilly, London W1J 7NB
T: 0203 146 8666
General Enquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org