With an RRP of £50, Dabbous is a book I’d never have considered buying for myself. Instead I received it through a Twitter giveaway from Sous Chef (and in the interests of transparency, this review was in no way commissioned or asked for and all views are, of course, my own).
Ollie Dabbous, who has worked in such establishments as Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir, opened his eponymous London restaurant in 2012 and the accompanying fanfare led to food critic Jay Rayner writing in the Observer: “Getting a table… will prove tougher than getting through to a real human being on the TalkTalk helpline.” With cookbook sales ever spiralling upwards, a book to showcase the menu was inevitable and contains a selection of recipes from the now Michelin-starred restaurant’s constantly changing and seasonal offerings.
As a trendy Fitzrovia eatery, the book has a stylish and modern feel. The monochrome cover is striking and the near A3 pages means it must sit as the centrepiece to your coffee table instead of hiding on a shelf. The large pages allow for an uncluttered and clean layout, reflecting the minimalistic style of food on offer. Photography is simply staged – just the finished dishes on a white background. The food stands alone, reflecting the ethos of the chef and restaurant about the clarity and simplicity of good quality produce and flavour combinations; however, it’s not apparent from the look of the end products that more complex techniques are involved.
The recipes in Dabbous, though complex, are clearly written and simple to follow and comprehend. Methods for individual components of a dish are listed separately, showing what can be prepared in advance before it is all brought together to serve – something a lot of cookbooks ought to include. The modern style of the recipes holds your interest throughout the books (and all have an accompanying photo); notes on the recipes and passages about the restaurant are well written and engaging too. Looked at objectively, Dabbous is an accomplished tome.
Where this book falls down though is in the translation from the world of professional cookery to the home kitchen. Nods to home cooking are demonstrated in places – alternatives for those without the counter space for a vacuum sealer and water bath, however preparing a 7 course tasting menu for 8 people, as Dabbous suggests you should, will likely require a week’s work in the average kitchen. Unless you want a real challenge, picking and choosing components from dishes to incorporate in your own food is perhaps the best way of tackling the recipes in this book.
Of what I’ve tried so far, I’ve been underwhelmed. The mango chutney recipe was nice with its interesting blend of spices, but I wasn’t blown away by it, and while brining avocado is a good way of seasoning it easily, a sprinkling of sea salt adds texture too. Of course, high-end London restaurants have access to far better produce than you or I might find for sale, which will of course tarnish the home experience. In the refined style of cookery practised at Dabbous and similar restaurants, the quality of ingredients is crucial to the end results – if you can get Ibérico pork cheeks, Pardailhan turnips and dried meadowsweet at all, that is.
Dabbous is an advert for its chef and restaurant. It’s a coffee table book first, and real cookbook second, which unfortunately means it’s just not my cup of tea (or indeed coffee for that matter!). While it’s great to flick through in front of the TV, a visual delight and an insight into the trends of modern restaurants for those who live outside the capital, if you want to try the food inside you might be better off trying to book a table.