Ollie Dabbous


Ollie Dabbous

After quietly honing his craft in some of the world’s best kitchens, Ollie Dabbous exploded onto the London food scene with his eponymous restaurant in 2012. Today, he’s at the helm of Hide – one of the most ambitious culinary projects the city has ever seen – showcasing his iconic ingredient-led cooking in stunning surroundings.

Of all the talented chefs working in Michelin-starred restaurants across London right now, few have generated such hype, buzz and respect as Ollie Dabbous. His cooking is the perfect example of how minimalist presentation, deftness of touch and a mastery of technique can come together to create world-class plates of food. But the journey to where he’s got to today has taken a lot of graft, determination and grit – and it all started as soon as he was old enough to get into a restaurant kitchen.

‘I became a chef simply because I loved eating,’ he says. ‘I think different people are good at different things but cooking is something that I picked up quite quickly, whereas I struggled in other areas. My family wasn’t particularly into food, although my grandmother was a good cook and we always ate quite healthily, but a love of it just developed inside me. So as soon as I was legally able to cook I started getting holiday jobs in kitchens.’

Ollie’s first big break came when he landed a job as a commis at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons – a place renowned for producing excellent chefs. ‘I started at the bottom of the heap. I only had some pretty basic skills, but I made up for that in resilience, enthusiasm and a willingness to learn as much as I could as quickly as possible. I loved the lightness of touch and organic approach Raymond Blanc and Gary Jones had – the clarity of flavour they could get out of ingredients was incredible.’

Le Manoir would be Ollie’s home for the next two-and-a-half years, seeing him eventually move up to chef de partie and responsible for ordering in hundreds of thousands of pounds’ worth of fish every year. He credits his time at the restaurant as forming him into the chef he is today, and implements many of the same training techniques amongst his own staff. Despite being offered the position of sous chef, however, he decided to leave to experience something new. That led him to Hibiscus, working under chef Claude Bosi for a year, before upping sticks to San Sebastian in Spain for a position at the legendary Mugaritz.

Mugaritz opened Ollie’s eyes to a different way of cooking – while Le Manoir was where he mastered the basics, his time in Spain exposed him to a more minimalist, contemporary form of cuisine. The next step was to get experience opening a restaurant from scratch; an opportunity he found back in the UK. ‘I came to London to help open Texture with Agnar Sverrisson,’ says Ollie. ‘It was great because apart from Hibiscus I’d worked in quite rural or remote restaurants, and as a twenty-something being right in the middle of the action was exciting. It was also great to know what it was like setting up a restaurant from scratch, and I’d worked with both Aggie and a lot of his chefs at Le Manoir previously.’

Throughout his time at Hibiscus, Mugaritz and Texture, Ollie did as many stages as he could, experiencing the kitchens of The Fat Duck in Bray, wd~50 in New York, Pierre Gagnaire in Paris and even Umu for a day, just to get a better idea about Japanese food. ‘It’s something I’d really recommend to any young chef, but only once they’ve got a few years of cooking under their belt,’ he says. ‘Otherwise it can be hard to appreciate and understand what you’re experiencing.’

At this point Ollie was determined to open his own restaurant, which meant he had to leave Texture (‘I couldn’t do the hours there and make a plan for my own restaurant at the same time’). Being an unknown chef in a recession-hit economy meant he found it incredibly hard to find investment, and it took him around two years before he could scrape together enough money to finally open Dabbous in 2012. ‘I was using pots and pans from my own house, we put some old tables and chairs in the dining room and then opened the doors,’ he recalls. ‘Cashflow was really tight and we were on the verge of bankruptcy before we even opened.’

Ollie’s fortunes very quickly changed, however, as Dabbous became an instant hit. Critics heaped praised on his dishes, the restaurant’s industrial décor and relaxed service (which culminated in a Michelin star eight months after opening), and within weeks tables were booked up months in advance. ‘Our initial goal was to break even in year one and then go from there, so we really weren’t prepared for the attention. Obviously I was confident in what we were doing but I wasn’t sure how it would be received, as everything was so stripped back – something you didn’t see as much of back then. I’m very self-critical and basically didn’t take a single break in the first six months, but I was thrilled that my own style of cooking was getting good reviews. We had an incredible team, too, and the dishes we came up with had such a creative streak through them.’

Dabbous’ success catapulted Ollie into the culinary spotlight, and for the next four years a table at his restaurant was one of the hottest tickets in the capital. He launched two other restaurants (Barnyard and Henrietta) during this time, but then in 2017 all three closed. This was because Ollie had been approached by Yevgeny Chichvarkin, the owner of Hedonism Wines in Mayfair, to see if he’d be interested in working on one of the biggest restaurant projects London had seen for years – Hide.

‘I loved Dabbous but we’d been looking for a bigger site,’ he explains. ‘When I first saw Hide it was this big empty building the size of an aircraft hanger in the middle of Mayfair – I felt like I couldn’t not be involved. I really liked being able to riff off the views over Green Park in the dishes and all the little tactile touches to the place were amazing – everything from the smell of the soap to the menu covers was painstakingly discussed and perfected.’

Ollie had already gained experience of building a restaurant from scratch during his time at Texture, but Hide was a much larger beast. When it eventually opened its doors in April 2018, everyone was keen to see whether it could live up to the hype. Under what must have been an immense amount of pressure, Ollie and his team lived up to expectations, and Hide’s two restaurants (Above and Ground) and bar (Below) were a resounding success.

‘We’ve got a massive team here and an amazing kitchen, so there’s no excuses when it comes to the quality,’ he says. ‘The dishes at Above might be a bit more theatrical and minimalist compared to those on Ground, which are more comforting and homely, but they’re both very well executed. It was fun to come up with dishes for things like the afternoon tea menu, too, because I’d never done that before.’

Hide won a Michelin star just six months after it opened, maintaining Ollie’s reputation as one of the UK’s brightest and most accomplished chefs. He stresses the fact that none of it would be possible without the incredible team he has around him, however – a vital part of running such a large operation which sees around 1,500 plates of food being served every night. ‘The head chefs, sous chefs – everyone is doing an epic job and we’re all becoming more self-assured and working together more seamlessly as things become second nature. The kitchen has this quiet confidence about it which is really nice to see, so now we’re really focusing on becoming more efficient and fine-tuning the little things.’

Ollie has truly found his stride at Hide, evolving the food that affirmed his reputation at Dabbous and honing his ability to present dishes that look simple and natural but showcase a true mastery of technique and skill. Critics were worried that the chef could suffer from second album syndrome and fail to live up to the stratospheric hype of his first endeavour. A meal at Hide – whether it’s breakfast or afternoon tea at Ground or the full tasting menu at Above – instantly puts those fears to rest.