Have you eaten at Dabbous? Well I haven’t, because getting a reservation is almost impossible! Oliver Dabbous is hailed as the new culinary Messiah of the food world. Previously trained under Raymond Blanc, this young chef has shot to fame and recognition since his restaurant opened in 2012, and since then it has become THE place to dine in London, bar none. Unfortunately however, Jay Rayner (a bit of an idol of mine) says that “getting a table at Dabbous will prove tougher than getting through to a real human being on the TalkTalk helpline.” Ha. I’d rather not even attempt to get a table if that’s the experience I’m likely to have. Been there, done that. Suffered without internet for months.
Luckily for us un-lucky folk who lack the determination, patience and time to wait for a reservation at Dabbous, there is now an alternative option. Around the corner this hot chef has a brand new offering, Barnyard. Replacing what was once my favourite Indian curry house with the worst customer service in London (The Curry Leaf, RIP), Barnyard prides itself in not being “another burger or chicken joint. Just home-cooking, done well and without all the washing-up.” And the best thing about this place is they don’t even accept reservations! Just turn up and wait for a table to become available – as is the fashion in London these days; one i’m not usually a fan of but for once i’ll make an acception, as it means dining here is for those who are either willing to queue, or have the intelligence to visit outside of peak hours.
We went for lunch on Saturday. I feared that as this was opening week, and we were arriving at the peak hunger time of 1.30pm, that the queue would likely be long and painful, and that my hunger might win out over my patience. However after only 5 minutes of waiting at the bar, we were offered a seat up on the mezzanine at the back of the brilliantly decorated restaurant. I suppose Charlotte Street being positioned on the edge of the tourist hot spots such as Soho & Oxford Street rather than the centre of the weekend hustle and bustle means that fewer people are going to simply come across this place by chance and take up all the tables. Diners here are likely to have made a purposeful beeline for this place, so maybe the queues won’t ever become like the ones we’re used to at the other ‘non reservation’ venues we all know and love. Fingers crossed!
Corrugated iron panels line one wall, while stripped wooden planks and exposed brick can be found on the others. The bar and tables are rustic and wooden, and topped with water jugs holding wild flowers, while some of the seats are made out of converted oil drums. Outside is decking fit for al fresco dining, cordoned off with a ‘distress look’ garden fence. It’s not “barnyard” in the British sense – it’s got more of a ‘Wizard of Oz back in Kansas’ kind of feel to it. They’ve paid a lot of attention to detail in the decoration of this place – they don’t want the theme to go un-noticed. And it continues through to the menu.
Drinks wise we couldn’t resist ordering a milkshake, each priced at £4, or £6 if you add a dash of the hard stuff (bourbon or rum). We went for the soft version of the Blueberry Pancake shake which came served in a large milk bottle (very trendy) and was a beautiful shade of purple. On first sip it might not seem quite sweet enough, but the after taste is fantastic – yes, it really is blueberry pancake. It’s thick, refreshing and fruity. I liked.
When it came to the food, the prices are as appetising as the dishes. Mains average £7 and there isn’t too much to choose from. Each are split into categories; pig, cow, chicken and egg. I dipped into the egg category and chose the £8 Bubble & Squeak with black pudding, apple chutney & a fried egg with a side of £3 fries. The portion seemed quite small, but the flavour was beautiful; the bubble & squeak was fluffy, the black pudding brilliantly seasoned, and the apple chutney was wonderful and sweet. When combined with a cut of the fried egg which was runny and nicely salted, each mouthful was fantastic; these simplistic flavours were very well thought out.
Josh chose the Barbecued grain-fed short rib for £12. One mouthful in and he said he wanted to order another plate! The beef was succulent, tender and bursting with flavour. It’s a classic example of the “home cooking done well” that they are aiming for.
In addition we ordered a £4 bowl of crispy chicken wings with smoked paprika, garlic and lemon. They arrived hot (almost too hot to the touch at first) and were oozing with flavour. The citrusy coating was addictive; I mean ‘lick the last of the sauce from the bones and dip my fries in it’ addictive!
We forwent the desserts as the tasty shakes had filled up those last empty spaces in our bellies but that’s not to say we weren’t tempted by the once again reasonably priced offering – each pudding is only £4 and there are four to choose from, including waffles, ice cream and crumble.
While Ollie Dabbous isn’t actually the chef of this new restaurant (rather just the name; he has too much on his hands around the corner), it is obvious that he has a kitchen team who know how to combine classic and complex flavours together to create an affordable menu that will not disappoint.
The service was a little rusty; we got the impression that the all male service team (all kitted out in matching red ‘lumberjack style’ checked shirts) were still trying to work out how to best to go about providing a smooth service, but that can be forgiven. And there was a slight issue with the heating at the rear of the restaurant – apparently it gets very warm back there (we didn’t notice!) and so the only option is to freeze it out with some over-powerful A/C, which we had to ask to be turned off. But honestly, that’s me grasping at straws to find something negative to say about what is honestly a very good new addition to Bloomsbury. I have to say it… while I miss the miserable service & cheap Kormas of Curry Leaf, Barnyard is far better suited to Charlotte Street’s fashionable atmosphere. I’m sure it’s going to do well here.