The setting: London. The year 2012, year of the Olympics. A Brit finalist at Wimbledon, a Brit actually winning the doubles at Wimbledon! Whatever next? Will the economy up and right itself? Two hopes as they say. Bob and no. All the same, this drenched summer of love has a pervasive bubbling excitement that sets our nerves jittery with keen anticipation.
As one observes all the new visitors arriving in this great city, the joy lighting up their faces is evident, in the way you know your own face beams when you reach a new and thrilling destination. Its quite a thing to watch and I for one gain an almost perverse satisfaction from sharing these historic surroundings, and the thrills they raise.
What I hadn’t given much consideration in advance of the games descending upon us, was that the types of people who make it over to an event of this scale are generally pretty well heeled and of an adventurous bent. London is filled with the kind of people who love events, and venues, and travel and sport, and have a few quid to burn. I find myself hoping these visitors find the best places to hang out in, and don’t wind up in the tourist traps and tin-pan alley dives that we clued-up comrades fervently avoid.
So, imagine this one being read with a youthful Simon Callowesque dramatic intensity, as though playing a part in a Raymond Chandler novel about some fop lolloping about a newly gleaming London in a heat haze and a mist of rain, with great affectation and a penchant for booze. Because it was precisely that penchant that led me to the fabled Oskar’s.
You know, when your mind and body are awash with the feeling that the life you are fortunate or misfortunate enough to live is an intense and heady mixture of heavenly moments and grave pain, inspiring in you a gamut of feelings ranging from esctasy to rancor? No? Well neither did I; or at least not until I had been to the subterranean cocktail bar at Dabbous.
That theatrical riposte was not just waxing lyrical at the daisies for the damn hell of it. Those who are fiendish lovers of the lotions and potions of a cunningly crafty cocktail bartender should put Oskar’s bar to the test. An unassuming fellow with genuine creative flair who tends what could easily be described as one of the most original bars in London, Oskar is the characteristically unassuming Swede who breathed life into this haven for bon vivants.
The restaurant on the ground floor is notoriously although unsurprisingly hard to get a table at; after all where else in Fitzrovia can you get five star dining at three star prices? An art deco building, all clean lines and large windows on to elegant Whitfield Street, you almost don’t realise you’ve arrived. Once inside, décor is pared back modern industrial chic; a masterpiece in understatement and ticks all the boxes for me. A little known secret is that if you head for the bar and put your name on the list for a table in the restaurant, you might just get lucky. Worth knowing. There is even a pretty respectable bar menu, in case the floor is heaving. Wagyu steak sandwich with tobacco butter and onions pickled in wheat beer, anyone? Like a lot of what happens at Dabbous, it seems faintly absurd on paper but once you tear in, it all starts to make perfect sense.
Back to more important matters. Booze. How best to tell it? I have puzzled over this for long enough now, allowing the depth of the experience to take shape, to form nuggets of story telling. Like, the one about the pewter tankard filled with tequila and topped with frothing Sierra Nevada pale ale. Yes, you read that right. The raggedy brazenness of such a blend is softened with the introduction of Slider (drink made from cider infused with gin-soaked sloes), elderflower cordial and acacia honey. Resulting effect? I nearly slid off my stool. The end.
Another was a take on the classic julep, entitled “Bulletproof” incorporating greengage liquer that wends its syrupy way down through the crushed ice as a sub-zero serpent of sweetness. The bouquet that hits your nose instantly refreshes, taking the edge off the intense sugar hit.
The names are cute too. Like the delightful “Saké, saké good price?” spun from rum, plum saké, dandelion and burdock (remember?) kaffir lime, manuka honey and egg white. Ingredients alone are so varied and cunningly sourced that it feels as though you’re being taken on an exploration of some familiar and some new terrain.
After several of these lovingly crafted liquid soliloquys I began to lose track of the plot somewhat; allowing my eye to wander around the well stocked back bar, up to the little American oak casks they use for ageing. Ageing what? Themselves? Life? Little oak time machines. The syrups used for flavouring and sweetening are also made on the premises which is a cute touch. Even the toilets are cool, all moody lighting and scented candles.
And that dear readers is the end of the epic journey. Adieu adieu, etc etc and yet more Latinate if you please. Hic, sic.