Four years ago, we retired the blog, but last week in an idle moment, we decided to write a new chapter. Much has changed over the past four years, for us, for the restaurant scene and for food blogging generally. Indeed, we possibly live in a post food-blog world. We don't mind. But with all that change, and our blogging skills somewhat rusty, it is unclear even to us what this new chapter will look like. Aside of saying only that this needs to be fun, let's find out...
WHAT: HIDE (ABOVE)
WHO: Chef Ollie Dabbous, Hedonism Wine
WHERE: 85 Piccadilly, London (nearest tube: Green Park)
WHY: The new project of a great British talent, Ollie Dabbous, paired with the deep pockets of billionaire Hedonism owner Yevgeny Chichvarkin: that's got to be interesting.
COST: ££££ (I think this scale is out of 5, well, it is today)
When Ollie's first restaurant Dabbous opened, it was the hottest ticket of the year, the year in question being 2012. In fact, few could recall an opening like it before and famously, the restaurant was fully booked out for a year in advance. Fay Maschler gave Dabbous the maximum 5 stars, which she awarded perhaps once, but seldom more than twice in a year and as we observed in our own blog post, 'there's no doubting the arrival of a new star in the London restaurant firmament.'
Dabbous (the restaurant) was edgy, all steel and brushed concrete, well suited to a young chef but, as these bloggers well understand, we all get older and what feels appropriate changes in time. In HIDE, Dabbous (the person) has been backed by the Russian billionaires behind Hedonism wine and the result is a sumptuous multi level space overlooking Green Park, where no expenses has been spared. And with floor to ceiling windows, the upstairs interior decor leads with light wood and beige to create an airy, expansive space that delivers the comfort that a Mayfair restaurant demands.
With the three floors of the establishment labelled BELOW, GROUND and ABOVE, you get a bar (BELOW), then (per the website), 'comfort and nourishment' (GROUND) while the top floor (ABOVE) showcases Dabbous' high end offering. Being my first time at HIDE, ABOVE seemed the place to start.
With the choice of a set lunch menu at £42, or the tasting menu at £95, again, being my first visit, I really wanted to see what the full bells & whistles show looked like. For those who like a walk down memory lane, the tasting menu at Dabbous in 2012 was a steal at £54. Within the tasting menu there are further decisions to be made including (today) an optional course of 'Cornish fish in two services' (£16) as well as choices in the regular fish course, bream versus turbot, which hardly seemed like a decision (turbot), and on the meat, duck versus barbecued Herdwick lamb - lamb won. A cheese course is also optional (£12). Dessert also offers a choice but with one option simply described as 'coconut', it barely enlightens you, but I'm not sure that it really matters.
There's of course the usual snacks to start including charcuterie wrapped around (ceramic) bones and feathers which you can either take as whimsical or gimmicky, while the main menu kicks off in earnest with Avocado, gooseberries & basil in a chilled osmanthus infusion. It's a very good start, and what is memorable about the whole meal, but delivered immediately in the chilled infusion, is how, in this hottest of summers, the food was incredibly well judged to deliver a meal that works so well after stepping out of the blistering London heat - it immediately refreshes, picks you up and adds to the summer joy. Summer sun relief continues with the Cured wild salmon, creme cru and Exmoor caviar, and credit to HIDE for their generosity with the latter, it's a plate with a lot of goodwill. For the ingredient connoisseurs among you, Exmoor Caviar is the only caviar farm in the UK.
Listed on the menu as 'Nest egg' is what seems to have become Dabbous' signature dish, coddled eggs, which is welcome any time of year. But it's the prime dishes of turbot and barbecue Herdwick lamb where everything comes together and you get something close to perfection on a plate. Parking to one side the hype, the concept and the gajillions spent on the place, it all comes down to this: the best ingredients cooked with a master chef's touch that delivers flavours at least equal to the promise. It's food to love and we do.
That's probably enough writing for a blog freshly out of mothballs, but two more things I want to mention. First, the front of house. Clearly in a restaurant of this calibre, you pick your FOH with care, and I relished seeing familiar faces including Matthew Mawtus, General Manager at HIDE (previously Pollen Street Social) and Vincenzo Mancinelli, Restaurant Manager of ABOVE (previously Alyn Williams at The Westbury).
Second, the link with Hedonism wine is now well known, where restaurant guests can order wines from Hedonism's 6,500 bottle deep wine list and have them delivered to the restaurant for drinking (with an admirably modest corkage fee). We weren't intending to try this particular service, but the effect of paying retail prices to drink amazing wines in a restaurant of this class did see us put them to the test. Everything worked like a dream, and the wine arrived before we had finished our bridging cocktail. It's a very strong USP (as if Ollie's food was not USP enough already).
Oh yes, wrap up summary, like I said, bit rusty; here goes. If, as some readers do, you scan the first and last paragraph and skip everything in between, to bring you up to speed, we loved HIDE. Ollie Dabbous is without doubt an enormous talent and HIDE now gives him the biggest canvas on which to make his mark. And he really does. While the price point of his tasting menu has likely been set with a keen eye on the competition and the desire not to break above a hundred - triple digits always look scary on a menu - it's clear where your money is going and the quality of the offering more than justifies the price: expensive things can still offer value. With a billionaire backer, each of us will have our own narrative on HIDE and what it says about London and London restaurants, but this is no case of style over the substance, the food delivers brilliantly against the highest of expectations.