One unexpected element of a window seat at Above at Hide is that the view out of the floor-to-ceiling windows puts you directly in the sightline of the top deck of the Number 9 bus as it trundles along Piccadilly. It takes a lot to distract the senses from the cooking of Ollie Dabbous and his team but, should rapport with your dining partner be on the short-of-sparkle side, then making eye contact with a random, ever-changing collection of commuters is an effortless lubricant to conversation.
‘Should I raise my glass to that bloke?’ my dining partner asks. ‘Best not,’ I conclude. For I cannot think of a less likely conduit to friendly interaction than to give a wink and raise a glass from the window of a one Michelin-starred restaurant to a bloke in a tracksuit top who’s reading the Metro while eating an egg mayo sandwich. The prices I’m about to write down, after all, may initially shock you, and all regular eaters of egg mayo sandwiches. The eight-course tasting menu with the ‘classic’ wine pairings (the cheapest of the three wine pairing options) at Above at Hide costs £245. Per person. Before service.
Yes, we’re in a pandemic. And that is, even by London standards, an extremely ambitious price point. Yet, there are ways of making it feel more palatable. Opt for the eight courses and you’re in for a four-hour experience, which, for two people, costs no more than a train fare and overnight stay in Edinburgh.
Now, I adore the Scottish capital as a staycation option. But I will take four hours in Above at Hide over 48 hours on the Royal Mile. Because this is, quite simply, one of the most accomplished, daring and beautiful dining experiences in this country right now.
It was nearly a decade ago that I ate at Dabbous, Ollie’s eponymous restaurant in Fitzrovia; a place where waiting lists were year-long and dishes set a new standard for intense, highly-focused flavours and unusual ingredients. It was where I ate meadowsweet for the first time – an almond-tasting perennial herb the hazy aroma of which I now covet to the point of drinking meadowsweet tea when nobody’s watching.
There’s a more modestly-priced ground floor brasserie here – formerly called Hide Ground, now simply Hide – and a wine bar in the basement next to a cellar groaning with bottles of Screaming Eagle at prices that even Elon Musk would think twice about (guests can also choose wine from Hedonism’s nearby store – the largest in the world – which will be delivered to your table within 15 minutes). It’s after climbing a gargantuan oak staircase that looks like a Lewis Carroll-imagined approach to the world’s poshest treehouse that you arrive at Above, where Primal Scream and The Velvet Underground provide the soundtrack and the waitresses wear tops with puffed-up sleeves that make them look like Regency-era weightlifters.
What Ollie and his team began in the late Dabbous has been, if anything, augmented and escalated. These are small dishes of dexterity, wit and aesthetic allure which consistently manage to show off ingredients to their best advantage.
Highlights (and there are, quite honestly, nothing other than highlights in this meal) include an egg shell, filled almost to the top with a thick sauce of smoked butter and mushrooms, in a nest of hay that smells of Guy Fawkes Night. Then there’s the fragile, tartlet of ricotta with a beetroot carved and scalloped to resemble a rose flower. In other dining rooms this would look far too try-hard. Here, it succeeds in looking deceptively simple and tasting of everything earthy, sweet and deep that a beetroot should.
Next there was a roasted apricot with confetti and Osmanthus. Lightly doused with almond and soy milk ice cream, it’s a fairly obvious combination of flavours that here leaps off in a new unexpected direction; each component becoming familiar friends in the mouth to create a cheesecake-like texture that seems to almost deftly trapeze on the tongue.
As for the wines, we are guided by Federica who hails from Lombardy and who, for reasons that baffle me, does not quite yet have her master sommelier qualification. I can only assume it’s lost in the post; the enthusiasm with which she explained her choices was a genuine pleasure to listen to, in the same way that hearing Michaela Coel talk about good drama is interesting; puppyish vivacity combined with intuitive skill.
Federica’s choices were absolute bullseyes, from the hazy, dry, almost cider-like Georgian Rkatsiteli, to a sake from the Tosa Brewery in Kochi, on Japan’s Shikoku island, that was as crystal clear and pure as drinking from the sleeve of a geisha’s kimono on the summit of Mount Fuji.
Best of all, the atmosphere here is not one of cathedral-like genuflection at the altar of Ollie. This is Michelin with its scuffed moleskins on; the laughter coming from the couples and small groups of fellow diners is full throated and convivial, not braying or nervous.
But what’s really stayed with me after the long, long evening at Above at Hide is how much this experience feels like a genuine conversation with the hedgerows, tidal pools, marshes, seas and fields of this country. It’s not affected; that only happens when a chef’s manifesto takes precedence over taste. That’s never allowed to happen here and nobody is crass enough to call the tasting menu a ‘journey’.
This is simply an opportunity to taste the creations of a chef who has succeeded in the almost cruelly difficult challenge of evolving from critic’s darling upstart to stalwart of London fine dining. May his reign be as long, but perhaps not as bumpy, as the route of that Number 9 bus.
Above at HIDE, 85 Piccadilly, Mayfair, W1J 7NB, Tuesday 6:00pm until 11:00pm, Wednesday-Sunday 12:00pm until 3:00pm and 6:00pm until 11:00pm, hide.co.uk