Last month 60 lucky chefs swept up the spectacular staircase at Ollie Dabbous' Hide in Mayfair, London, for the latest Chef Eats Out, held in association with Udale Speciality Foods. James Stagg reports
Ollie Dabbous opened Hide in Mayfair last year in partnership with Hedonism Wines, and just months after opening the restaurant was recognised with a Michelin star and a host of rave reviews – praise that was universally echoed by the chefs present for the latest Chef Eats Out event.
Dabbous said that recognition from fellow chefs is always welcome. "You want other chefs to enjoy the food," he said. "You know what they go through. They will be curious but, for me, it is nice to cook for fellow chefs."
The menu was a mixture of Hide classic dishes, with Dabbous careful to avoid "anything too avant garde" as "chefs don't want anything too fussy". The meal began with a selection of bread accompanied by perfectly pliable butter. The bread, including an exquisite mushroom brioche, is baked on-site, and provides an enduring first impression.
Hayden Groves from BaxterStorey said it was "a treat to start with something as simple yet delicious as the bread and butter – it was incredible and there's nothing better than having some butter that you can spread straight onto it".
Dabbous explained that it was this type of detail that he was constantly seeking to get right. "From the bread and soft butter to the pastel de nata, which are flashed in the oven and brushed with salted butter just before serving, it's the little details that matter. They are not in themselves hard, but they make the difference. It's lots of little bits of attention to detail that add up to a great experience."
After the bread and a crisp livener of Gem lettuce with camomile dressing – that Compass's Alice Sibley said "really tingled the tastebuds" – the experience began in earnest with celeriac, avocado and angelica seed in a chilled pine broth.
"Often the first dish of a tasting menu will be a chilled broth," explained Dabbous. "Something cold, verdant and vibrant that wakes the palate."
The delicately balanced, fresh flavour of the broth had all the chefs guessing what it contained. "I loved every second of the celeriac," said Bartlett Mitchell chef-director Pete Redman. "It was so complex and interesting: sweet, salty, savoury and citrussy."
The broth was created with white onions combined with sugar, salt and water before being vacuum-packed and steamed in the oven, Dabbous explained. "We open up the bags and add bonito flakes, pine, lemon zest and juice, and a tiny bit of Chardonnay vinegar. It's fresh and zingy."
This was followed by a dish that Dabbous admits he "can't shake off", but for good reason: the nest egg is a huge crowd-pleaser, and its reach has extended beyond the plate to influence the design of the lampshades in the restaurant, which resemble eggshells.
"I hadn't had the nest egg before," admitted Yuma Hashemi from the Drunken Butler restaurant in London. "I didn't know about it. It was beautifully presented: the smokiness, the texture. It's great to have a dish that as soon as it's presented everyone touches and engages with it. We love cooking eggs in our restaurant, so it was great to see."
Next up was roast scallops, warm spiced buttermilk and crushed swede with crystallised pumpkin seeds. It was a warming, autumnal dish that perfectly demonstrated the seasonal change obvious through the restaurant's floor-to-ceiling windows framing Green Park.
"Buttermilk, I guess, is my version of a beurre blanc, as it's is a bit lighter and has less butter," Dabbous said. "The sauce contains milk, butter, garlic and lemon juice, and when we melt the butter we fry some turmeric and garam masala and infuse it with some star anise. We then split it with smoked rapeseed oil to give it a level of comfort and a grown-up taste.
"The food I serve is product-based and seasonal anyway, but with the outlook we have over Green Park we really need to represent the seasons," he added.
The two scallops skewered over crushed swede, served alongside the vibrant buttermilk, were "incredible" according to Vincent Woolley from the Pantry in Newmarket. "I especially enjoyed the squash served just crushed, as most chefs would have puréed and passed it to make it as smooth as anything," he added. "It was great to have some texture and it was really autumnal. Everything was presented beautifully."
Stuart Oliver from Kesgrave Hall in Ipswich said the balance of the dish was what impressed him most. "With the scallop there was great sweetness," he explained. "I thought with the squash and sage it would be too sweet, but the buttermilk cut through it perfectly."
The chefs then moved onto the main event: Udale duck served two ways – brushed with honey and lacquered in lavender, cumin and coriander seed, served with confit tamarillo and a duck jus; and a second serving of a duck broth enriched with duck fat with a chestnut agnolotti and bronze fennel.
Dabbous explained that the hit of spice on the duck came from fennel, coriander, cumin, lavender and Szechuan peppercorns. "I've always liked serving it with tamarillo and the broth on the side is a little treat," he added.
"The broth is a bit like one of those comforting dumpling soups. We did one at Dabbous with acorn flour noodles and duck fat back in the day, so it's a variation on that. There's no point trying to redefine the wheel, as ideas change over time and evolve. But over time we gain a bigger repertoire, so events like this means we have lots to draw from."
While all the chefs were impressed by the spicing and cooking of the duck, it was the unexpected bonus of the smoky leg meat broth with chestnut agnolotti that really set pulses racing.
Blair Stevenson from RA Venues said: "Both broths really impressed me. The crust on the duck was great too. It was a powerful counterpoint to the duck and it was great to be able to pick out the various spices."
Oliver added: "The duck and the broth were amazing – you could see a lot of time and effort have gone into the dish. The attention to detail was wonderful. I was really looking forward to the éclair too, as to have just that is quite brave."
This bravery paid off with a luxurious éclair that had real depth, thanks to the toasted vanilla. "There will always be a pastry, choux or doughnut on the menu, because with dessert it's important to offer pleasure and a small sense of gluttony," Dabbous said.
It was certainly another crowd-pleaser. And the petits fours of pastel de nata and a mini baked Alaska provided a memorable way to finish a special meal.
Hashemi summed up the mood: "This was the first time I've been to Hide and I was so impressed with the faultless cooking and epic wine list. The food was just amazing. The attention to detail is incredible and the service – the way front of house move – is just perfect. Everything is so professional."
- Freshly baked bread; whipped salted butter
- Gem lettuce; camomile dressing
- Celeriac, avocado and angelica seed in a chilled pine broth
- Nest egg
- Roast scallops, warm spiced buttermilk and crushed swede with crystallised pumpkin seeds
- Dry-aged duck in two servings
- Toasted vanilla éclair
- Hide petits fours
- Nyetimber rose NV
- Poggio al Tesoro Solosole Vermentino Bolgheri 2018, Tuscany, Italy
- Blank Canvas Pinot Noir 2015, Marlborough, New Zealand
A message from our sponsor
"Chef Eats Out provides diners with an exclusive opportunity to experience the culinary excellence of outstanding restaurants and chefs such as Ollie Dabbous and we are delighted to help facilitate this through our support of the event.
"It was wonderful to experience Ollie's precise and technically perfect cooking in the luxurious surroundings of Hide. The dishes he and his team produced were well-balanced, complex and creative.
"We especially enjoyed the duck served two ways, with everyone impressed by the spicing employed on the breast meat as well as the delicacy achieved through the leg meat broth. The duck that Ollie cooked was aged in our Himalayan salt chamber. This results in a firmer product with a more intense taste."
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