The Crumber

Michel Roux Jr, the chef patron of the two-Michelin-starred Le Gavroche in London, reflects on the humble crumber, an essential tool in the ritual of fine dining

I’m not sure where the first crumb scraper (or ‘table crumber’) was used, but it’s become a staple for any formal restaurant. We use a modern incarnation at Le Gavroche that is as small as a pencil, but some of the older ones I’ve seen are amazing – silver and ornate and decorated with the most beautiful detail. They’ve been adapted over the years by adding a brush, and then a roller. Now they are more discrete, which, I think, is better.

There’s a ritualistic aspect to waiting staff coming to your table and deftly sweeping away any bits of debris that may have escaped from your plate, although I do think some restaurants overdo it a little; unless you don’t have a bread plate, there’s no need to crumb in between every course. In my opinion, you should do it after the main course. It marks a moment, that transition from savoury to sweet, in the refreshing of the table.

Fewer restaurants now use tablecloths, so there is less need for a crumber, but I feel the humble crumb scraper offers a real sense of occasion, of distinctiveness, that will always have a place in dining.

Photography Jack Orton

This article is taken from issue 23. To buy the issue or subscribe, click here.

Park and Hide: Ollie Dabbous

As the founder of one of the most talked about London restaurants of recent years, Ollie Dabbous has set the bar high for his new venture. Port meets the celebrated chef to find out how it’s going.

In September 2016, Ollie Dabbous – the darling of the new London food scene – stood in a vast, hangar-like space on Piccadilly, contemplating an ambitious venture. A few months earlier the chef, now in his late 30s, had controversially shut his celebrated eponymous restaurant, Dabbous, for which he had won a Michelin star within eight months of opening, and a rare five stars from the Evening Standard. Now he would be heading up a much bigger prospect: two restaurants, the largest wine list in London, and the backing of a Russian billionaire and Dabbous regular, Yevgeny Chichvarkin.

HIDE opened earlier this Spring, the vast space now divided into three floors – ABOVE, the flagship taster menu restaurant; GROUND, for more casual dining; and BELOW, a bar. The launch of the year so far, it earned Dabbous considerable coverage in the press, even if the headlines focused on the size, and the panorama of Green Park afforded from the top floor. The statistics – that the restaurant spanned 12,000 square feet and employed 150 staff – almost overshadowed Dabbous famously masterful cooking.

Nest Egg

Quietly, however, without fanfare, the food at HIDE shines through, and it becomes apparent that the size of the restaurant, and the depths of the cellar, are details that will be quickly brushed past in the many, inevitable word of mouth retellings. Through the courses of raw tuna with prickly ash and Exmoor caviar, Dabbous’ uplifting and famous Nest Egg, and slow-roast goose with charred kale, there was a sense of clarity; a balance of flavour that marks Dabbous’ food out from the sparse and simple imitations of his style, served in self-consciously minimalist restaurants. Clearly Dabbous can exist happily on any scale, only here, looking across the traffic of everyday life to the urban oasis of Greek Park, he has found a fitting home. 

Dressed in a set of chef whites designed by Maria Grachvogel for the restaurant, rather than his trademark tight white t-shirt, Dabbous spoke to Port about the particulars of contemporary fine dining, staying down-to-earth, and how Dabbous has changed him as a chef.

Ollie Dabbous

For a taster menu, the HIDE lunch menu is very light and easy. How do you find that balance? 

The food I like to cook has always had a focus on light, clean flavours, so it’s never been something I’ve set out to achieve, but here a big influence was the use of natural light in the architecture. When I was beginning to think about the food you would want to eat here, especially with the vegetables at the beginning and the broth, I thought about the light and view over Green Park. You see the busses go past and people jogging – a little vignette on London life – and that suggested something organic and light, rather than something quite ‘cheffy’. 

It seems to be quite a modern approach to fine dining.

Hopefully it’s the right thing and reflects people’s desires to eat a bit more healthily without it feeling like you’re missing out, or being purged of anything flavoursome or tasty. There’s ways to achieve that sense of luxury and indulgence without piling the calories. Our second course on the basic menu, for example, is the raw tuna dish which is incredibly indulgent texturally but there’s very little fat content in it.

Raw tuna with prickly ash and Exmoor caviar

The taster menu for HIDE is notably down-to-earth in terms of pricing. Where does the motivation for that come from?

I’ve always felt fine dining was a bit flabby or bourgeois, and thought there could be a way of streamlining the experience without compromising the food. With HIDE, I wanted to get a broad demographic through the doors; I don’t want it to feel like the cliche Mayfair restaurant clientele. When we opened I wanted to have a taster menu under £100 and the entry-level glass of wine to be a fiver. Then, if you want to spend more, theres the breadth and depth of the cellar of Hedonism wines, and the £30 corkage for that service has been a winner so far. 

I think the motivation ultimately comes from when you start your career and you value every penny you’ve got. Chefs don’t work for much money when they’re learning the trade and even long on into their career. I had to work hard to earn the money that was in my pocket and I still remember that now.

After all, you are still young and so these memories will be fresh in your mind.

I’ve never lost that perspective and I never want to. I remember things that used to frustrate me or motivate me, and I try and empower the staff as much as I can, to give them all the tools they need, the recipes, the space. A little bit of empathy goes a long way and I try to look after them – they’re the most important asset you’ve got as a chef.

Dabbous was a particular success – what convinced you to shut up shop and work on HIDE?

I couldn’t turn down the offer to set up HIDE, and after five years at Dabbous it was feeling smaller by the day. I needed a fresh challenge. Then Yevgeny emailed me out the blue – it felt like a one-off so I got things moving straight away – closing the company, keeping my initial investors happy, and then moving all the staff across. I started working on the menus straight away in a little test kitchen on an industrial estate and, after four months of that and a six week break, I was typing the menus up.

Vegetables, flesh and bone, bread and broth

Did any dishes carry over to HIDE from Dabbous?

I didn’t want to bring too much with me because it’s a new restaurant with a new name, but it’s nice to have a little nod to the previous restaurant, and the Nest Egg is a dish I first cooked about eight years ago. It’s been refined over the years but it’s still very simple – as with all the food at HIDE, I want it to make sense as you eat it.

What’s your opinion towards Michelin? 

We have clear aspirations and I think we are cooking to a high level, and being very self-critical about it. We would love to get some accolades for what we’re doing but ultimately it’s up to the judges to say if we deserve it or not. It’s always more about the work of the staff in any case – a pat on the back for their hard work. There’s nothing like getting official recognition when you’re a young chef to bolster you.

Roast Huntsham Farm suckling pig, salt-baked turnip and golden raisins

It has been a few months since HIDE opened. Has it changed you at all as a chef?

It’s forced me to delegate more, which I needed to do and is also something I feel more comfortable doing given the strength and depth of the head chefs on each floor. But my day to day existence is, as it always has been, completely unglamorous: early starts, late finishes, dirty aprons. I always say you’re only as good as your last service and I think if you have that mentality it will benefit you in the long term.

Where do you go from here? 

Making it as sustainable as possible, as enjoyable as possible… and I’ve got another book that I need to write at some point. At the moment it’s all about just constant refinement – you get a little bit better everyday, a little bit easier everyday, just through being smart. It’s been satisfying being involved in something of this scale from the get go and seeing it become what it is, and hopefully it will get better and better.

A Moveable Feast: Noma Mexico

Whole grilled pumpkin with a kelp and avocado fudge

Inspired by Mexico’s rich food history, Copenhagen’s most famous restaurant has opened a temporary outpost in Tulum 

Noma in Copenhagen has been voted the world’s best restaurant three times. Since 2003, head chef and co-owner René Redzepi has taken an innovative approach to Nordic cuisine, with items like deep fried moss, edible flowers and ants all making appearances on the menu. While the original restaurant is relocating to Copenhagen’s Christiania neighbourhood, Redzepi has transported Noma to Tulum in Mexico for a seven week residency.
Staging successful pop-ups in Tokyo and Sydney, Redzepi and the team at Noma have been on the road for the last two years, but Noma Mexico is the third and most ambitious venture yet. Conceived as an open-air restaurant nestled between the jungle and the beach, it offers a meticulously researched tasting menu based on Mexican ingredients and traditions. For Redzepi, this was an opportunity to pay tribute to a country that has excited him for over a decade.
Noma Mexico
When the concept for Noma Mexico presented itself, Noma’s former sous chef, Rosio Sanchez, was the first person Redzepi asked to join the endeavour. She was brought up in Chicago by Mexican parents, from whom she learned a great deal about Mexican cuisine, ingredients and flavours. 
“For the last 6 months, Rosio, a small team and I have been traveling all throughout the country from Merida to Ensenada, from Oaxaca to Guadalajara, and everywhere in between,” says Redzepi. “We searched to find that special chile, to understand the seafood, to taste just a few of the infinite variations of mole, and to find inspiration in the vast and wonderful culture.”
To create new and compelling dishes, Redzepi and Sanchez also teamed up with Traspatio Maya – a nonprofit group of 15 Mayan communities situated across the Yucatan Peninsula – who provided them with hyper-local ingredients. Indigenous delicacies such as rare wild bee larva, pure sweet and sour melipona honey from the Calaukmul reserve, white naal teel corn and pumpkin seeds have been used to create an incredibly diverse 15-course menu. Other items include pinuela, tamarind, crickets, grasshoppers roasted in garlic, chile peppers, jackfruit, mangoes and Yucatan limes. Spice also appears throughout, with dishes ranging from cool masa broth with droplets of habanero oil to pasilla peppers with chocolate sorbet boiled in melipona honey. 
Noma Mexico is open until 28 May 
Photography by Jason Loucas