Ollie Dabbous jumped the gun on a host of other young chefs when he opened his eponymous restaurant towards the beginning of 2012. Whilst other Loft Project alumni (as good a barometer of talent as any) were running pop-ups, collaborations, or touring the world, he quietly set up a small, stripped back but sleek restaurant just off Charlotte Street … which got labeled a five-star game-changer and became the hottest seat in town.
I’ve eaten there a couple of times and watched him bake his fantastic seeded bread one Sunday morning too. Both the restaurant and the man were impressive: clean, pure flavours and smart combinations; never over-complicated or fussy, but sometimes complex; extremely focused and driven. Interestingly, it was very clear when meeting Ollie, that whilst he was slaving extremely hard at the stove at that time, he had no intention doing so for any longer than necessary.
So with that early success and the obvious drive in mind, it’s probably no surprise that he’s already turning a hand to becoming a businessman multi-site restaurateur. There have been various rumours of new ventures. But the first to spring up is Barnyard, a casual concept just around the corner from Dabbous.
I’ll flag early on that I am disappointed the second site is not a ‘little sibling’ restaurant. It would’ve been great to get a vaguely associated, inventive wine bar/bistro in the style of Le Dauphin to Le Chateaubriand, or Manfreds & Vin to Relae. Maybe even a 28-50 to Texture, as per Dabbous’ former mentor Aggi Sverrisson. Something that would help push the London dining scene higher.
Instead, well, I’m not totally sure what we have got.
It’s not a bar. You’re definitely supposed to go there and eat, and quite possibly put your name down on a list and wait in line to do that.
But neither is it a restaurant that serves a coherent meal.
If anything, it’s somewhere (an ‘eatery’? *vom*) that serves quick bar style food – the aim, apparently, is for your entire savoury order to appear within 8-12 minutes of ordering. If you’ve the thirst to knock back more than two nicely conceived ‘shandies’ or ‘shakes’ in the short time you’re there, then fill your boots.
A few plates at Barnyard hint at the kind of food cooked up a block away. There was a flavourful and beautifully textured cube of short rib, which was soft and yielding, yet retained a proper bite. “Broken eggs” was a pot of soft, barely cooked egg and many, many garlicky and slightly smokey mushrooms. A reminder of the umami packed coddled eggs that helped to put the chef on the map. Some of the other pairings do too: corn on the cob with meadow sweet; hispi cabbage with clover.
The rib and broken egg dishes are part of a fairly short, occasionally American themed menu. There are two or three dishes under each of the pork, chicken, beef and egg sub-headings, as well as a bunch of eclectic sides. Think lard on toast, chicken wings, beef on toast, cauliflower cheese.
Of the other dishes we tried, nothing was poor, but probably only mince beef and dumpling (singular) came close to the first two things I mentioned. A sausage roll was impressively lacquered, but the filling much leaner, finely minced, harder pressed and colder than I like. (Give me a no frills warm Ginger Pig or The Butchery roll over this any day, what with their coarse, insanely flavoured, juice dripping, finger licking, sausage meat middles.) Charred broccoli vinaigrette needed more char and lashings more vinaigrette to make a strong impression. Cornbread served in a brown paper bag was enjoyable, but it suffers in comparison to both the main restaurant’s bread in a bag, and the superlative cornbread at The Lockhart.
Desserts tempted the inner child. I had an acorn flour waffle quarter, which came with super malt flavoured cream and warm sauce. The flavours were good, but it felt as though the waffle was made earlier and heated for service – to suit the rapid response time. In this case, waffle pan fresh would definitely trump speed. Popcorn soft serve with fudge sauce was fine, but not a patch on the quality of soft serve at Flesh and Buns and Bone Daddies.
Barnyard clearly doesn’t aim to be judged against high bistronomic standards. It has very openly set it’s stall out as a totally casual, plaid shirted, picket fenced, shandy cocktail, er, thing. The food is fine and inexpensive, service is pleasant and efficient, the drinks menu is excellent. Which makes this an option for a quick lunch if you’re in the area, or a classic Charlotte Street date for you crazy kids in your mid-twenties. I had hoped for something else.
Barnyard in 3 words
Not game changing
The food is very reasonably priced. £3 here. £5 or £6 there. Just a couple of the dishes cost over £10 – on account of their use of prime ingredients (like the rib and a suckling pig thing). So budget £20-25 per head to be sated. Lots of good beers, shandies, cocktails and other things will up that spend.
www.barnyard-london.com – 18 Charlotte St, W1T2LZ - 020 7580 3842
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