How We Met: Oskar Kinberg & Ollie Dabbous: "We went to watch tennis at Queen's. Ollie was sat there, shades on, fast asleep"

 

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The Independent Online

Ollie Dabbous, 33

After working at restaurants including Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, Hibiscus, Mugaritz, The Fat Duck, Noma and Texture, Dabbous (right in picture), opened his own, eponymous, restaurant in 2012 with co-partner Oskar Kinberg. Gaining rave reviews for its pared-back modernist style, it also netted Dabbous his first Michelin star. The duo opened a second restaurant, Barnyard, in March this year. Dabbous lives in London

We met at [private members' club] the Cuckoo Club, in London, six years ago. I worked in the nightclub's kitchens, and Oskar was the head barman. Coming from a Michelin, military-style background, it seemed quite a sociable working environment, where the chefs, waiters and barman all mingled.

As a young chef you don't really go out drinking in fancy places, so it was also the first time I'd had cocktails done to that high level. The first drink Oskar created for me made me stop and pay attention: it was like a julep but made with an Asian variety of mint called perilla, which comes without the heavy menthol. There was also a bacon-infused bourbon cocktail with chocolate, raisin and hazelnut sauce; just thinking about it now, I'm still throwing up in my mouth.

We had a lot of mutual friends and we'd go out a lot; fuelled with enough booze and other things, we'd go to dodgy karaoke places. We're equally bad singers, though Oskar seemed to think he sounded legendary.

Knowing someone like that engenders trust, though more importantly I'd come to respect his ability and it was clear that he wanted to make something of himself.

We had a shoe-string budget for Dabbous [which the duo opened in 2012 to critical acclaim]. Necessity forced our hand in many ways: ceremony or fuss costs money, though we wanted something stripped-back anyway. When you've got so much on the line and have had little sleep, it's easy to fall out with people, but we had a gallows humour at times, and every small disaster became funny.

I think you can tell a lot about our differences by the food we eat. When we go out to eat, I'll have a pizza with nothing on it, just a margarita – I'm quite ascetic in general – while he'll go for one with everything on. Having said that, there are few people I know who are as brutally straightforward as he is – and I admire that honesty in him.

A lot of bartenders – like a lot of chefs – can be quite self-indulgent, serving drinks they want you to have rather than what you want to drink yourself. But I think that now there's a balance and finesse to Oskar's cocktails: there's nothing overly sweet or alcoholic.

We're still mates, but these days we are so busy that we rarely have time for any water-cooler chat: when he walks in on Tuesday, I'm already running around and we don't stop to chat about life until we get to have a few drinks at the end of Saturday-night service. I look at what I'm doing now as a sports career: I'm dedicated to it, but I've told Oskar that I'd rather do this for a finite amount of time than watch standards slip.

Oskar Kinberg, 30

Rising from bartender to bar manager at the Cuckoo Club, Kinberg co-founded Dabbous and new casual-dining venture Barnyard with chef Ollie Dabbous. He lives in London

I'd worked in the Cuckoo Club for a couple of years when Ollie came to work in its kitchen. I worked in the bar, but I noticed him as he had a bit of a rock-star quality, with cool shoes, funky sideburns and hair that continually went through various bleached styles.

After he finished work for the evening, he'd come and have drinks at the bar with me, or I'd sometimes go over to the kitchen and he'd make me a cheeky steak. It was a tight-knit gang there and we started going to the same parties and hanging out on our days off.

Every time after a few drinks, we'd be like, "We should do something together." And on one bus ride home from a mate's place, we finally started going into details [for what became the restaurant Dabbous] and I realised we were really doing it.

Starting your own business is never smooth-going, and on the first day of opening, builders from upstairs accidentally ripped out our phone cables, so for quite a while we had to get all calls forwarded to our mobiles and we had to write down the credit-card details of our customers, as the machines were broken.

There are no arguments [in terms of the menu] as it's clear who does what; I'm in the bar, Ollie's in the kitchen. He's meticulous, writing recipes down to the gramme, and he really knows how to cook.

We have very different personalities; he's super-organised; I'm more of a cowboy: I try to keep everything in my head, but then forget half of it. There's a spartan approach to many things Ollie does – his home, what he drinks and eats – and he has a real eye for every detail.

Despite the pressures of running a restaurant, I've rarely seen him lose it. I do remember one incident, though, when he went mental over how the loo roll was folded in the toilet; he'd said something to the staff about it like 10 times, and when it didn't get done, he got cross.

There's never any down time with him; it's actually quite inspiring, but every day I see him he looks exhausted; it does him in, but somehow he keeps on going. He does fall asleep in the strangest of places – he can sleep anywhere. I remember one occasion when we went to watch tennis at the Queen's Club. It was an exciting match, but when I looked to my side Ollie was sat there, shades on, fast asleep.

Dabbous and Kinberg's new restaurant, Barnyard, is now open at 18 Charlotte Street, London W1 (barnyard-london.com). 'Dabbous: The Cookbook', is out now (£50, Bloomsbury)

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