I was 20 minutes into my stage at Ollie Dabbous’ new Mayfair restaurant, Hide, when one of the wait staff arrived into the main kitchen and said quietly to the head chef, Josh Angus: “The king of Malaysia is here for his sausages.”
I was waist deep in three crates of fresh ice plant at the time, standing just about in earshot of the gleaming and lengthy pass, with prep in full flow at around 9:30am. Bangers – a Huntsham Farm Middle White pork sausage to be precise – are found on the Hide breakfast menu, which starts at 5am.
With Malaysia being a Muslim majority country and, therefore, not a pork-eating nation, this must all have been some kind of code and his majesty Sultan Muhammad V of Kelantan was not actually in the dining room. I took a quick break from my ice plant picking duties and made friends with one of the two breakfast chefs still at work. Edwin was his name and he made me a truffled scrambled eggs on toast.
Made with Cacklebean eggs exclusively from a little farm in the Cotswolds where chickens are fed paprika to create a deep yellow yolk, and with fresh brioche toast and Australian summer truffle slices on top – these scrambled eggs costs £24, reminding one that this is indeed a £20m restaurant gig run by one of the trendiest British chefs in the most expensive of London surroundings.
Ollie himself arrived in the kitchen soon after I’d finished breakfast and spent the next half an hour tasting different types of exotic-looking cured ham he’d brought to work. Unsurprisingly for a chef like him, his current charcuterie platter is not so ‘everyday’, being made up of goose, lamb and pork jowl.
I was under the tutelage of a commis called Marnix that morning, who has been at Hide since it opened in April. After the ice plant had been sorted, he had me peeling potatoes, picking crab and then sorting snapdragon flowers. Marnix was one of between 20 and 25 chefs working that day and I was the only stagiaire, with the brigade collectively sporting some of the coolest tattoos I’d ever seen.
The chefs at Hide work between five and eight shifts a week, which always include doubles, with Ollie present around four days a week, flitting in and out, keeping an eye on both the Ground kitchen (where I was) and the Above kitchen (a tasting menu affair). A booming ‘oui’ heralded the start of lunch service at 11:30 and I first spent time on the flatbread section which was being run solo by an Italian chef, Pietro. You might be forgiven for thinking a flatbread was a simple affair – but these are Ollie Dabbous flatbreads. I had a go at one: buttered crayfish, pickled cockles, cucumber, dill, seaweed mayo, radish, borage flowers and a bit of garlic. And the freshly baked flatbread, of course.
Angus runs a tight ship, with him and his senior sous Sam stalking up and down the pass like a pair of hyenas. Fire and fury was the order of the day as tickets started to mount, with Pietro earning their wrath early on for slow delivery. I took shelter on the cold larder and quickly realised that they had perhaps the biggest collection of flowers for garnish that I’d seen since my stint at forager supreme Simon Rogan’s Fera at Claridge’s.
I was handed a pair of tweezers by Simba, the chef in charge of the section, and while Dan Doherty at Duck and Waffle once told me, “put those tweezers down, God gave us fingers”, that certainly didn’t apply here. Almost all the starters and main courses include a flower/leaf garnish of some sort, with every plating movement under the watchful eye of Josh, Sam or the revolving Ollie. Many were veritable botanic gardens as they headed out to the dining room, with the new season Herdwick lamb dish, for example, needing sugarsnaps, pink purslane, mint tips/pluches, garlic flowers and pea shoots.
The roast scallops, meanwhile, were to come with sea lettuce, salty fingers, dill, oyster leaves and my freshly picked ice plant. My stage had now become something of a flower arranging occasion with Ollie inviting me back to the pass to help tweezer the wild salmon dish with leek, pickled garlic, tiny tagetes, sweet cicely, rocket, clatonia, mustard leaves, milbuna and primrose flowers.
There were around 51 covers for lunch and, when the dust settled just after 3pm, all chefs piled over the road for lunch in the staff room while an army of KPs cleaned the kitchen for dinner service. I made the mistake of returning to the kitchen via the main door of the restaurant and was immediately grabbed by the scruff like a kitten by one of the maitre d’s, Alberto.
The executive pastry chef, Zacharie Poulot, gave me a portion of his meadow hay ice cream with Tulameen raspberries after my telling off. He’d actually just joined the Fera pastry team when I was there three years ago – and they were dabbling with hay back then too. Small world.