db Eats: Henrietta

db’s Lucy Shaw heads to Ollie Dabbous’ new venture, Henrietta in Covent Garden, for one of her most exciting meals of the year so far.

The concept: Ollie Dabbous made a serious splash on the London food scene when he opened his eponymous Dabbous in Fitzrovia back in 2012, which quickly shot to fame after the Evening Standard’s longtime restaurant critic Fay Maschler gave it a rare five star review, hailing Dabbous as one of the brightest young talents to have emerged in London in years.

Having dabbled in country pursuits with Barnyard on Charlotte Street, following the closure of Dabbous, Ollie is now shacked up in the shiny new Henrietta Hotel in Covent Garden where he’s cooking up a storm in one of the most exciting openings of the year. The venture at the 18-room townhouse hotel is a collaboration between Dabbous and the Experimental Group, which bought us both the Experimental Cocktail Club and Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels.

The must try flatbreads

The décor: Set across the ground and the first floor of the hotel, the 80-cover restaurant is effortlessly cool and laid back to the point where it looks more like a café than a site with Michelin ambitions.

Walls are open brick, the floor is formed of hexagonal honeycomb tiling, and the loos are baby pink with grey marble basins and secretive sliding doors.

Ollie and his team can be spotted slaving over the hot pans in the open kitchen with low hung, Tom Dixon-style copper light fixtures. The homely interiors immediately put you at your ease and in the mood for a rollicking good time. 

The food: With Dabbous steering the ship hopes were high, and we weren’t left disappointed. His philosophy is simple: to create bold, beautiful plates of food with local, seasonal ingredients.

What makes Henrietta so exciting is the calibre and quality of the food being served in such a casual environment. A simple flatbread topped with pickled crab, garlic butter and coastal herbs was sublime – the acidic tang of the pickled crab balancing out the richness of the butter. I hoovered up all four slices in seconds.

Decorated with edible flowers, a starter of burrata with wild strawberries and fennel pollen tasted like English summertime in a bowl – a playful, sweet-savoury twist on strawberries and cream that showed off the talent of a chef at the top of his game. Equally compelling were the sheep milk curds with pistachio, lime and marigold shoots – a fresh, creamy, crunchy celebration of textures that left you licking the bowl clean.

Steak tartare with nasturtium

My main, barbecued quail with fenugreek, toasted wheat and almonds, was served on a skewer to avoid you having to fiddle with tiny bones. It paid similarly close attention to texture as the sheep milk curds, the wheat and almonds offering an almost granola-like accompaniment to the pink, smoky meat.

Signature dishes: While I didn’t try it, the beef tartare with nasturtium and rye is fast becoming a signature dish, as are the freshly baked madeleines with Chantilly cream that have been sending London foodies into a Proustian state of sentimental reverie. The cherry blossom ice cream is also a thing of beauty.

The drinks: Looking after the libations are drinks historians Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller, so expect well-researched tipples that show off the pair’s irreverent sense of humour.

Our favourite sip was the Cat’s Cradle cocktail, which combined Cognac, Cointreau, lemon juice and toasted biscuit syrup in a cleverly balanced combination that was in no way overly sweet or cloying.

The wine list is confidently curt, with the majority of drops offered by the glass. Our highlight of the night was a generous glass Vasse Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay from Australia’s Margaret River region, which glinted golden in the glass and offered equal complexity, elegance and sophistication as a top white Burgundy.

Who to know: He’ll probably be too busy, but if you can nab a quick chat with Ollie Dabbous he’ll no doubt furnish you with pearls of culinary wisdom.

Don’t leave without: Paying a visit to the pretty pink loos. It’s probably worth ordering the madeleines too so you can join in enthusiastically when your friends start rhapsodising about them, and boast that you tried them first.

Last word: This review is almost sickeningly positive but that’s because there is very little to fault in Henrietta. The food is bold, clever, beautiful and darn right delicious, while the cocktails are on-point and the service is chatty and smooth.

This little restaurant is destined for big things and should shoot for a Michelin star as it encapsulates all that is great about the London dining scene at the moment with its easy charm, seasonal small plates and cosy interiors, proving that fine dining can be incredibly fun.

Henrietta, 14-15 Henrietta Street, London WC2E 8QH, Tel: +44 (0)203 794 5314

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