A London super-chef, version 2.0
Claim to fame: Acclaimed chef Ollie Dabbous, pushing new boundaries
Reason to go: Unlike Dabbous’ former restaurant, you can actually get a table here
To look out for: A menu strong on veggie dishes, such as ricotta dumplings in a garlic buttermilk soup with chervil
Ollie Dabbous became an insta-hit back in 2012, a virtually unknown chef who wowed critics with his particular brand of refined yet playful cuisine, and saw the reservation books of his eponymous Dabbous fill up months in advance. The enormous success begat nearby bistro Barnyard, but in 2017 Dabbous abruptly closed both to focus on his latest venture, Henrietta.
For any hard-working chef the advantages of this new site are obvious. The dining room occupies the ground floor of a boutique hotel smack in the heart of Covent Garden, so there’s constant passing trade, and the rent’s paid. Dabbous and his crew can instead concentrate on the kitchen and bar.
Henrietta’s pretty, quite unlike the stark masculinity of Dabbous’ first restaurant. She also appears to be a magnet for female visitors, as there’s a constant swarm of lovelies convening around cocktails in the hotel bar’s street-facing window. Those in for a longer stay will find the wine list starts mid-priced, then climbs steeply; many diners therefore prefer to stick with the brief but well-considered cocktail list.
The dishes beg for Instagram snaps with their careful use of color and plating. A puck-like grilled flatbread topped with sesame-flecked labneh, pickled vegetables, viola petals and pea tendrils looks like a well-stocked corner of Covent Garden, at the time when it was London’s flower market, from the Victorian era until the 1970s. Blossoms and herbs litter the plates like hedgerow clippings: dill fronds, nasturtium leaves, flashes of red and blue petals. Foraged ingredients appear: meadowsweet, dandelion, Scottish chanterelles. Key ingredients are name-checked: Sussex Slipcote cheese, Ibaiona pancetta, Paris Brown mushrooms.
Yet the dishes aren’t just about appearances. Wonderfully imaginative ingredient combinations and intelligent interaction of textures are this kitchen’s forte. There’s grilled socca, resembling a parmesan crisp, draped over tender pink lamb, the barbecued smoky edges contrasting with calamint, pink violet mustard brightening up a couscous base. A dessert of raspberry and beetroot sorbet typifies the Henrietta approach: lightness, vibrant and pretty color, yet unexpected and confident pairings of ingredients. Not everything is a complete success – a final plate of chocolate truffles infused with pencil shavings didn’t taste of chewed school pencils, merely of chocolate that tasted a bit musty – but most dishes more than make the mark. Henrietta also has one big trump card when compared to Dabbous: you can get in, and same day dinner reservations are not unknown.