39 Whitfield Street, London W1 (020 7323 1544). Meal for two, including wine and service, £140
This review is of no use to you. Oh sure, it might gift you vicarious pleasure. But if you're here looking for tips on where to eat well, give it up. Go clean the fish tank. Turn the page and have a look at what Dan thinks you should be doing in the garden this week. The fact is that, unless you are stupidly stubborn or absurdly flexible, getting a table at Dabbous will prove tougher than getting through to a real human being on the TalkTalk helpline. I tried four times to book, (under pseudonyms, natch), only to be told they had nothing at a time I could manage for months. I only got in eventually because a friend who is a journalist for the New York Times begged and pleaded (without revealing the identity of his companion). Once he'd got the table it would have been churlish not to go.
So there you have it: Dabbous is so damn hot you could blister your palms on it. Other so-called critics have already dribbled into their keyboards over the place and proclaimed it a very heaven on earth. The young chef, Oliver Dabbous, who worked with Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir and then at Texture in London, is being hailed as the new culinary messiah. All praise him and so on. The problem, of course, is that nowhere can live up to this level of hype. There is a temptation to roll your eyes and sigh, "It's really not all that." This isn't the restaurant's fault; they are doing now what they did at the start a couple of months ago. It's the opinions swirling around them which have done the damage.
So, how good is it? In places, very. If you like your restaurants to look like they were carved out of the workshop in a decommissioned car plant, Dabbous is the place for you. It's all hard surfaces and gloom and glower. Downstairs is a bar where they mix a good negroni. Upstairs is the dining room, where music throbs and people who are better dressed than you patrol the tables.
Dabbous's food is, for the most part, exceptionally balanced and thought out. The menu is short – just five small plates and six larger ones – and ingredient led. So tiny Jersey royals, the first of the season, come warm in a dairy fat-rich buttermilk sauce which is both savoury and sour. Asparagus turns up with a mayonnaise made with rapeseed oil and a crush of hazelnuts.
Best of all is the egg, described on the menu, redundantly, as a hen's egg – well, the cock's not going to bloody lay the thing, is it? The egg is lightly scrambled and mixed with a dice of mushrooms and smoked butter before being returned to the shell. Oh my. There are lots of versions of this dish. L'Arpège in Paris does one. Jean Georges in New York does one. Neither of those costs £7. But some starters miss the mark. A beef tartar is so finely minced, for example, as to be denatured; the advertised cigar oil, whisky and rye make no impact.
Of the bigger dishes we tried, the star was a hunk of barbecued Iberico pork with a sticky-toffee mess described as a savoury acorn praline. It was sweet and umami and, being less technical, lick-the-plate-clean good. By contrast, barbecued lamb belly, a big fatty cut which can take a spanking, was a little "so what?" A soupy dish of squid in a dark broth of seaweed, radishes and toasted buckwheat again hit 11 out of 10 on the Spinal Tap umami scale, but was not much at all for £12.
And so, with the advice to order four dishes each from the seemingly reasonably priced menu ringing in our ears, we saw the bill for our meal accumulate. To be eaten in a gussied-up NCP car park. Desserts – there are but four – feel like an afterthought. Iced lovage is a grass-clipping granita, in a good (ish) way. A light pastry shell filled with custard cream, and a whimsical affair in which a chocolate ganache is partnered with basil made to look like moss give you something to do while you try to work out just how good Dabbous really is. Or at least that's what it gave us. You? You'll give up trying to get a table. Perhaps wait a while then go. It's worth a look. And that, friends, is what we call an outrageous understatement.
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