Friday, September 23, 2011

Metro review - Dallow's at Sale St

The following review of mine appeared in Metro, December 2010. You can read my review of Simon Gault's new restaurant Fish in the latest issue, out Monday 26 September.
Dallow’s is a fine-dining restaurant housed entirely inside mega-bar Sale St. You could be forgiven if you wondered why someone would launch an upmarket restaurant inside a massive, cranking nightspot. I’ve eaten there twice and I’m still wondering.

Chef Nick Honeyman’s menu is imaginative and ambitious, but his food has to fight very hard for your attention. The biggest distraction is bar noise, which is a big, big deal on a Friday night, with the only protection against it a tall, thick curtain separating diners from drinkers.

Surprisingly enough, when you’re trying to conceal the combined sound of 300 men exaggerating the importance of their jobs while their dates sing along to the Black Eyed Peas, a heavy set of drapes doesn’t quite cut it.

The noise is one thing Dallow’s can’t do much about, but there are plenty of things it can. Like getting a dedicated landline, or at least putting callers on hold while staff loudly discuss the merits of their request.

Or fixing the lock on the toilet door, which was clearly busted on my first visit and still hadn’t been fixed 10 days later. Maybe they want their guests to walk in on each other.

The food is mostly very good. Honey­man’s modern French menu has five entrées and five mains, but there are so many interesting moments within it that you’d be well advised to take advantage of his “surprise degustation”.

At $60 for five complicated courses and $40 for some excellent wine matching, it’s difficult to see how he makes money out of it, but of course that’s not your problem.

According to our maitre d’, the degustation is priced accessibly because that’s how the chef would most like us to enjoy his food. Unfortunately, on my first visit the existence of a degustation was not explained until I was paying the bill, although there was a short apology that no one had mentioned it earlier.

So I got it next time. It starts with cured Atlantic salmon, served with grapefruit, pomegranate, blood orange foam and baby fennel, all of which punch hard on the tastebuds, making for a long mouthful in which melting slivers of salmon burst with different spikes of flavour — sour, sweet citrus, tart, and aniseed.

Next came fatty, crunchy pork tails sitting on butter-sautéed prawns, with apple and lychee providing sweet notes and helping with the match, a delicious cold glass of Framingham Gewürztraminer.
That’s when Peter Gordon sat down for dinner at the next table, and we started tasting a bit of kitchen panic. Fish with escargot and fennel emulsion was badly overcooked — it had been fantastic from the à la carte menu last time.

Beef assiette was an impressive dish, but the small lean section of scotch fillet seemed a waste of a beautiful cut and was shown up by the tasty piece of braised bavette next to it.
Desserts were unspectacular but nice enough — most notably an off-menu roquefort and a white chocolate bavarois.

Dallow’s is ambitious, and the food certainly has its moments. But who is the restaurant for? If you’re at home and in the mood for fussy foams and emulsions, would you want to go eat them in a nightclub? If you’re drinking at Sale St already, wouldn’t suggesting to your friends that you all slip through the curtain for a quick degustation feel a bit... intense?

Nick Honeyman is a chef with promise and ability, but I fear he may be the right guy in the wrong place.