Dovetale arrived this summer to suspiciously little fanfare. You would think a new venture by the two-Michelin-star chef behind Restaurant Story, a place that a decade ago took the London fine dining scene by the scruff of the neck and gave it a good shake, would be the talk of the town.
There is, appropriately, a story behind this: while the culinary world fell in love with Restaurant Story, it never quite warmed to Sellers himself. He was cocky and brash and rubbed people up the wrong way.
His follow-up, Restaurant Ours, swapped the transportive tasting menus with in-your-face destination dining, all slebby razzle dazzle and Instagram-bait backdrops.
Critics hated it (all of them except me, who actually quite liked it) and after one too many negative reviews, Sellers penned an infamously petulant rebuttal to that doyen of the London restaurant scene, Fay Maschler. This did not go well for him, and the episode is, I hazard, not unconnected to the lack of hype around Dovetale.
In the years since, Sellers has stepped away from Restaurant Ours – it’s now “Theirs”, I guess –, closed the doors at Story for a major refurb, and opened both Dovetale and a new wine bar, Story Cellar. If you were grasping for a literary allusion, you might call this the third act of his story – but is it a redemption arc?
Dovetale is a very beautiful place. Located on the ground floor of the new 1 Hotel, you enter through a hall crafted from rough-hewn stone and rustic carpentry. The dining room beyond is an expanse of soft, woody hues accented by splashes of olive and pink. And plants: there are plants everywhere. More than a thousand of them, apparently. It’s designed to look like it’s just been casually dug from a Yorkshire hillside rather than expensively assembled in one of the most exclusive neighbourhoods on the planet. And it works: it’s the kind of space that makes you feel at ease on a subconscious level, your lizard brain responding instinctively to the evolutionary dog-whistle of natural materials.
The menu suggests a kind of European grill, albeit one focused on sustainable British ingredients. The wagyu carpaccio is a great way to kick it all off, the paper-thin slices of marbled meat buried beneath a tangle of parmesan. Our waiter, Giles, recommended wrapping the slivers of meat around the beef fat chips, which tastes like a delicious triple bypass waiting to happen.
On the plate opposite was a mushroom tart with rye custard and kale: crispy in all the right places, soft in all the rest, small but perfectly formed, at once comfortingly wholesome and genuinely impressive.
I followed this with the most daring dish of the evening: steamed Dover sole Veronique, the fish wrapped around scallop mousse and served with grapes, tarragon and cauliflower. It was apparently invented in 1903 by the French chef Auguste Escoffier, who named it after a comic opera that was running at the Coronet theatre.
With the tart grape, creamy scallop, slightly singed cauliflower and hint of liquorice from the tarragon, this is a tough combination of flavours to marry but Sellers does it brilliantly.
My guest ordered roasted Jerusalem artichoke with spelt ragu, served with fresh pear and smoked cheddar – another absurd balancing act of flavours and textures that somehow coheres into something quietly wonderful.
None of these dishes are revelatory, exactly, but like the room they’re served in, it’s all just extremely nice.
There’s a dedicated knickerbocker glory trolley allowing you to craft your own ice cream-based abomination for the princely sum of £18 – this is Mayfair and nobody said it would be cheap – but I headed straight to the adjoining Dover Yard bar for a well-mixed Manhattan, a far more civilised way to end a meal.
It’s hard to fault Dovetale. It doesn’t shoot for the highs of Restaurant Story, nor does it hit the same bum notes as Restaurant Ours. It feels confident, grown up, self assured – and that’s exactly what Sellers needs right now.