Stocked with reclaimed furniture, mood lighting and craft beers, The Dairy could be just another formulaic south London eatery, but instead it’s building a reputation for regional, seasonal and meticulous food.
Head Chef Robin Gill’s CV must read like a who’s who of the chef world with stints at Noma and Le Manoir under his belt and his Michelin-star taught, forensic attention to detail shines forth in his food. The devil really is in the detail here with slate and stone plates arriving covered in a startling array of delicate morsels, smears and cubes.
The Dairy has an informal, small plates (in substance, not in style as the design of the plates proved) menu where guests are encouraged to pick generously from a selection of dishes categorized as garden, land and sea.
I took my mum for a quiet lunch one sunny afternoon in summer and we weren’t disappointed. The first plates arrived looking as though they had been assembled by elves, not the chefs who wandered between the kitchen and the huge robata grill. Everything was achingly pretty, from the slivers of beetroot and pixie-sized dill fronds on the potted salmon and zingy rhubarb and apple top on the butter-smooth chicken liver mousse to the bites of sweetbread that came in crispy batter jackets alongside an earthy cut of goat. The Wye Valley asparagus, hen egg and smoked custard was rich and complicated, in spite of the egg white being cooked to the supremely cheffy consistency of snot. The garden was followed by the sea in the form of a punchy smoked pollock brandade with charred leek and sorrel – a curious mixture of cold, salt and ash that tasted like a mouthful of sea.
While dish after dish was accomplished and challenging, some of the most delectable things here came unordered and uncharged. The meal started with globs of barely set cheese served on squares of bright green vine leaf that tasted like primula from heaven and were quickly followed by Gill’s signature butter, whipped with a smoky applewood aftertaste, served in an unctuous lump smeared onto a pebble and accompanied by a home-baked loaf swaddled in its own little potato sack.
The finale came in the form of a wee vintage biscuit tin whose arrival had my mum squealing in anticipation of ecstasy, a squeal that was short-lived as she was distracted by the jewels concealed inside: gleaming fruit jellies, peppery doughnuts, still warm from the fryer that tasted as though they were rolled in sherbet and buttery tuiles as thin as parchment.
The petit fours were delivered by Gill himself, who’s adopted that thoroughly modern chef conceit of visiting each table during the meal and who smiled kindly in the face of my mum’s staunch egg white criticism, at least while he was out of the kitchen anyway.
The only niggles were the service from waiters who were so relaxed they were almost stationary. Perhaps it was the sheer weight of the slabs they use as plates that slowed them down, but either way my mum had to get up to remind the waitress about a forgotten coffee order, which, when it did arrive in a gimmicky glass was disappointingly lukewarm. Ignoring this minor mishap, The Dairy has a pleasingly unpretentious wine list, ingredients sourced from their onsite garden and is a Clapham gem that needs to be visited before the foodie whispers spread too far and it’s booked up for 2014.
The Dairy, 0207 622 4165, 15 The Pavement, Clapham Common, London, SW4 0HY
Images: The Dairy