April round up (part two): Dabbous and Le Pont De La Tour

Hello folks! What a fabulously summery week we are having, there was sun and now there is cloud – just the type of summer we Brits are accustomed to. I just hope the usual rain finale can hold off.

It’s been an interesting start to May, what with an indulgent and celebratory trip to New York (goss on that coming soon) which left me feeling ten years younger in many ways, but also around the fast-approaching third decade, as far as putting life into perspective is concerned. In between the marathon tasting menus and liquid merriment, I figured out a little of what turning 30 means to me.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say I had a full-blown epiphany but that little time away has opened my eyes to a lot; how proud I am of my achievements, what value I place on the in/tangible aspects in my life, and how comfortable I now am in my own skin. This last one is also literal – I now boldly leave the house on occasion without my two essentials; earrings (Ahh!!) and a quick slap of lipstick (Eek!)…

I do feel wiser in many ways than I did before the start of this year. Whether this intuition is a result of the ‘baby brain’ hormones finally wearing off (or getting sharper, depending on which study you read), I don’t know. What I do know is that family aside, my love of food and drink is now proving to be more than just a brief fling and that I’m really rather committed to the cause.

And on that note, you hopefully had some fun reading the first half of my April adventures and have dared to come back for more. So without further ado let’s get April done and dusted, so I can tell you all about The New York Trilogy (Per Se, Eleven Madison Park and Gramercy Tavern) soon.

Delectable Dabbous

I remember reading the amazing reviews of Dabbous shortly after it first opened in 2012. I especially remember the rare five stars it got from Ms Maschler and that a certain Mr J Rayner managed to write a review lacking any of his usual griping or vitriol. A style I had become rather accustomed to (and still rather enjoy!). So I figured, using my strong powers of deduction, that this place was a winner.

However, fickle as I am, after several failed attempts at booking I turned my attentions elsewhere, continuing my Michelin tour of London. It wasn’t until recently that a friend mentioned it and I suddenly wondered if the craze had finally died down. Not quite ‘died down’ but at least I got a foot in; in December 2013 I was able to make the first available Saturday booking for April this year.

Still, despite all the buzz I was determined not to ramp up my expectations, after all I was now steely and hardy from two years of Michelin dining. Extravagant tasting menus, matching wine flights, sous-vide, hay-smoked, foam-topped, micro-herb- garnished…there wasn’t a technique or a dish I hadn’t tasted. Or so I thought.

And then came the Avocado, basil and almonds in a chilled Osmanthus broth. the third plate of our tasting menu to grace our table at Dabbous. A plate that made me rethink my dislike of the humble avocado, as it took centre stage in a broth garnished with fresh basil (with possibly zesty lemongrass notes), whilst contrasting nicely with the brittle texture of almonds.

That one dish outlined for me, the charm of Dabbous. The thing that makes is so. Simplicity without flavour compromise. Seasonality without extravagance. Texture without complication. These were the values that illustrated our nine course menu.

There were other dishes that astounded, we were lucky enough to try the Coddled egg with mushrooms and smoked butter – a dish the restaurant is famed for and has only just brought back on its menus after a presumably well deserved hiatus. A perfectly charred octopus with moscato grapes certainly hit all the right spots too.

But the menu is not entirely without flaw. And here is where I get a little confused with my experience Vs the Critics. The use of certain ingredients, seasonal though they may be, on more than one dish and often in quick succession too I.e. smoked butter, chestnuts, bitter leaves etc… does impact your excitement in the same way a slow release puncture deflates a birthday balloon. You start off giddy with the first four dishes and then feel a bit flat with the second half of the performance because it all starts to look and taste a bit same-y.

I was hoping the ominous sounding iced lovage served with a shot of a Blooms Gin (the latter of which, you get if you are doing a wine flight – as we did) would raise the menu back to its initial glory but fun as it was, it was really just a glorified palate cleanser.

The only dessert, was a Barley flour sponge soaked in red tea and served with Tahitian vanilla cream. I am afraid this stodgy cake was neither light nor appetising and the vanilla cream wasn’t the right choice to bring the evening to a close (not when you’ve consumed so much butter beforehand). The most interesting aspect of this dessert was the beautiful antique-looking azure-blue sundae glass it was served in. Bit of a crying shame really, as this dish was almost the antithesis to the whole menu.

So there you have it. Confused? So am I. Has the pedestal been raised too high to maintain? Is this strangely inconsistent approach all my opinion or is it the result of a restaurant coming off its initial hit of fame?

Well you’ll just have to go and find out for yourself…and go you should, because despite its flaws (seriously what restaurant is perfect!) it has some wonderful insights to offer your appetite and at £59 for nine courses, it’s of the best value tasting menus to be offered by a Michelin starred restaurant.

A final tip; Do opt for the matching wine flight if you can. Don’t be fooled by the really rather young sommelier, he knows what he’s doing and has put together some enjoyable combinations.

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Pinot Noir tasting and Tom Cook’s ravishing Ravioli at Le Pont De La Tour

I’m something of an old hand when it comes to wine tastings, spending many a tipsy evening with hubby dearest at the charming and dangerously local Le Pont Wine Shop. Their tastings are just the right balance of informative without being formal.

I also love how each tasting varies dramatically depending on the producer/distributor leading the evening, which keeps the programme fresh and intriguing. Though I should note I shan’t be attending another Austrian night. As much as I love my Gruner V, I simply cannot drink wine whilst watching a PowerPoint presentation ‘for fun’!

Since our feisty toddler has entered the scene though, the wine tastings have taken a back seat. Hubby and I didn’t think it fair to go without one another (not when it was ‘our thing’), or that it was worth the astronomical babysitting fees to simply nip down the road for a few.

But when I saw the words Pinot Noir chalked up on the wine shop’s blackboard – I knew it had to be done. I approached the topic gingerly, found hubby enthusiastically felt the same and hey presto, we came to a compromise – we’d each go to a tasting to make it fair. And so we did. He tried the Barolo tasting with the lads from work a week before and I the Pinot Noir, with a fellow oenophile.

And I’m glad I did, as there were some stunning wines on show including the 2009 Pinot Noir, Monterey, California La Crema and the 2011 Julia’s vineyard, Santa Maria Valley, California, Cambria. Pierre-Marie Patteiu, the UK Manager of Jackson Family Wines deftly briefed us on each wine and what to expect before being given some time to sip and conclude thoughts (as well as deciding which wine to spend your redeemable £10 on).

You also learn a good trick or two at these tastings and that all is sometimes not what it seems. I’d long since written off Jackson Family wines because of the Kendall-Jackson tie up, a brand akin to Jacobs Creek and the like. This they know, I’m told on the evening. So instead of branding across these beautiful wines they’ve kept the individual identities of the wineries and estates to create a boutique feel. So that us would-be connoisseurs at home, quick to judge, may be happily drinking a Jackson Family wine without knowing it. Clever. Very clever.

Five tasting glasses and a few cheeky refills later, my friend and I walk a very short distance next door to Le Pont De La Tour – one of my favourite locals. Executive Chef, Tom Cook, has done a fabulous job in keeping the menus fresh and intriguing so that myself and I’m sure fellow locals, make up a good proportion of its returning clientele.

On this night we opted for the less formal Bar and Grill but before I get to the food it’s good to note that you can open wines purchased in the shop (post a tasting session) without corkage charge, in both the bar and grill and the main restaurant. There’s also a nifty 20% off the food bill. Not bad.

The food; both friend and I ordered the moules mariniere for starters and my god, that gigantic bowl would fill you up alone. Thankfully we’d grown quite an appetite and victoriously conquered the moules mountain before moving onto our main.

Now I know there’s nothing wow about ravioli on a normal day but the beautiful pumpkin ravioli in a mushroom sauce – not the exact title but you get my drift – was ravishing. If you can ever describe a dish as ravishing – it’s this one. The sauce was silky, rich and deep in flavour and earthy with flecks of complementary herbs. In fact, it was so good that my friend and I took to mopping up the dish with the remaining contents of the bread basket.

Shortly after that my friend polished off a rather boozy rum baba but my taste buds were still yearning over that ravioli and with all that bread inside me, I opted to finish off with an expertly-made Aperol spritz.

Our sauce mopping actions were obviously noted and conveyed to the kitchen, as Mr Cook himself ventured towards our table and we gushingly praised his culinary efforts before revealing our blogging nature. So here it is Tom, praise indeed. I shall be back yet again!

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