Hide’s Kinberg: ‘We are here to open up people’s perceptions’
Oskar Kinberg, bar manager of Michelin-starred London restaurant Hide, tells SB about his partnership with Ollie Dabbous and his simple cocktail ethos.
*This feature was first published in the September 2018 issue of The Spirits Business
Unlike the entertainment world, the food and drinks industry isn’t awash with famous double acts. While supported by talented teams, most Michelin-starred chefs and leading mixologists rule the roost with a singular and ambitious vision. Oskar Kinberg and Ollie Dabbous are an exception to this rule. They might not be Laurel and Hardy, but over the past six years they have worked together to launch some of the most popular destinations for eating and imbibing in London.
But their ethos is not one of complete collaboration – Kinberg’s business is drinks and Dabbous’ is food. “It’s best to stick to what you’re good at,” says Kinberg, whose polished appearance bears a stark contrast to that of Dabbous, the leather jacket-wearing “kitchen rock star”. “Anything in between we discuss and share ideas about,” Kinberg expands. “But Ollie very much runs the restaurant side of things and I run the bar.”
Kinberg moved to London in 2005 from his native Sweden after completing a year of compulsory military service. By his own admittance, he saw bar work as simply a fun way to earn cash, but quickly developed a passion for the craft. “Once I started working with some good people I got hooked,” he recalls. “I became a sponge, taking everything in and devising my own style. The place I really started to take my career seriously was at The Cuckoo Club.”
The Mayfair venue was also where he met Dabbous, who was recruited to head up the kitchen at the same time as Kinberg moved into management of the bar. Each respected the other’s work and came to realise that their ambitions were fortuitously aligned. “We would meet on our days off and be like ‘what do you wanna do’? And we realised we wanted the same thing,” says Kinberg. “We figured two heads were better than one, and thought that if the restaurant didn’t work the bar might do, or vice versa. It happened that both worked out well.”
Indeed, in 2012, the eponymous Dabbous opened in Fitzrovia to almost instant critical acclaim. Eight months after its launch, Dabbous was awarded a Michelin star, while Oskar’s Bar in the venue’s basement became a celebrated drinking destination on its own merit. But the road to success wasn’t easy, especially with only a shoestring budget. “At the start it was a question of whether to have chairs or glassware,” Kinberg muses. “There was a compromise on everything, but it worked out well and we didn’t think we’d be sitting where we are now, six and a half years after opening Dabbous.”
Kinberg and Dabbous later collaborated on Barnyard in Soho, but closed both venues last year to focus on a major new project – Hide. Opened with financial backing by Russian telecoms billionaire Yevgeny Chichvarkin, owner of Hedonism Wines, Hide is a three-storey fine-dining mecca that has had foodies chomping at the bit for a table since it opened in Green Park this year. For a first-class cocktail experience, guests can descend a labyrinthine staircase that leads to Hide Below, which is presided over by Kinberg.
The entrepreneur believes he “couldn’t push things any further” at Dabbous, and calls the beverage programme at Hide Below a “more polished version” of its predecessor. “Things are much more refined and confident now,” he says. “It’s more mature and a little less try-hard, from my perspective.”
Hide Below encompasses Kinberg’s core ethos of good service and unfussy drinks with a culinary twist. The serves include: Creamed Corn Soda, made with Bulleit Bourbon, sweetcorn, Angostura bitters and soda; the CrossEyed Mary (named after the Jethro Tull song), containing Ketel One vodka, olive oil, fino Sherry, tomato consommé and spices; and the Adam & Eve, a milk Punch made using Somerset cider brandy, Diplomático rum, fino Sherry, fig leaf, spices, lime and clarified milk – which Kinberg says is Below’s bestseller.
The cocktail menu changes seasonally and does not list classic cocktails, but the bar team is happy to whip up traditional Martinis, Negronis, Old Fashioneds and more. “We make a great dry Martini,” says Kinberg. “We use frozen birch sap instead of ice – it makes the drink smoother and richer.” In today’s concept-laden cocktail landscape, he never wanted Below to become a “themed” venue. “Our ‘theme’ is just good service, good drinks and a good atmosphere. That’s what I look for in a bar – I don’t want to go in and feel like I’m in a circus. Drinkswise it’s all about what’s inside of the glass rather than what’s on top of it, taking recognisable flavours and trying to make them taste as good as possible.
“We are not here to intimidate; we are here to open up people’s perceptions. If I read a menu and don’t understand what’s on there, I won’t order anything.”
Kinberg endeavoured to ignite consumers’ imaginations with his Cocktail Cookbook, launched in 2016. “It shows how easy it is to make ingredients yourself,” he claims. “I always say that if you can make tea you can make a homemade syrup – it’s the same sequence; you just heat something up and add sugar to it.”
Kinberg would be open to writing another book in the future “if the opportunity came up” but has no plans to do so at present. He also wouldn’t rule out going solo for a new venture, but for now is looking forward to the busy autumn/winter period at Hide.
“First service is always a car crash and there are a million things you haven’t thought of, but I am really happy with how things are going,” he says. “I was pretty relaxed and confident in what we were planning to do and I’m relieved it’s all come together.”
Ultimately, venues such as Hide deal in pleasure at its most refined, and the feeling extends to Kinberg himself, who says: “I like to enjoy what I do every day – it’s not just about the next big achievement.”