By Jonathan Byrne
Amazing – The Dairy, Clapham Common
My friend Richard, who is new to London and exploring areas, first found The Dairy on The Pavement at Clapham Common; as I live close by, it’s a shame I’ve not visited before. We called in for drinks one sunny July Tuesday afternoon on the outside tables of what, we’d assumed, was a bar to order drinks and snacks. The snacks were so impressive that we explored the menu further and ten spotted a cook book Larder by Robin Gill. The book’s introduction tells an impressive story of Robin’s discovery of his love of food; good and appalling experiences of working in restaurant kitchens and his progression to working in two Michelin star environments. Five years ago Robin opened The Dairy cooking impressive food. He now has three restaurants.
Richard and I returned for an indulgent Saturday afternoon trying the Tasting Menu and drinks paring. A good job we both have hearty appetites and could take our time as there is plenty to eat and drink. Compared to the dishes served as snacks at prices of £12 and 13 each, the Tasting Menu at £48 is fantastic value for money and the best route to genuinely enjoy and understand what excellent food Robin Gill serves.
Drinks paring or Wine flights often leave me feeling short-changed as the pouring’s are usually less than a glass and at the end of the meal it would have been far better value to have brought drinks and a bottle of wine. Not so at The Dairy, each generous glass is served with care and warmth. Both the Sommelier and its individual waiting staff have in depth knowledge of the wine, its provenance and why it matches the dish is accompanies …. Knowledge which must have been acquired over a period of time. In an industry notorious for high staff turnover, The Dairy must inspire and positively engage its staff to remain so loyal. Perhaps a lesson Robin Gill learned after some appalling bullying in his early chef years.
The Snacks on the tasting menu were almost a meal in themselves. A warm creamy cheddar filling wrapped in beetroot leaves – sublime. Captivating flavours of pressed cucumber, pickled sour cherry, mint and marigold. The most heavenly Andalucian olives which almost melted in the mouth, with these we were offered a Marismeno Fino sherry which has dry almond flavours able to meld with each distinctive snack.
With five more courses to come we tore only the crispy crust from the sourdough accompany a light creamy chicken liver mouse, although the smoked bone marrow butter alone would have been perfect with the bread. Another clever match of a Spumante from the romantic Emilia Rogmagna region of Italy, Quarticello produces a light and flowery Cascina Ronchi brute nature.
When I revisit The Dairy I shall seek out Bone Marrow agnolotti with girolles and runner beans’ hoping it has remained on the menu. The crunch of runner beans balanced the soft pasta and woodland flavour of the girolles blended with rich marrow. Another biodynamic wine produce by a family vineyard of Celine and Laurent Tripoz – Macon Loche has zesty floral tones matching the richness of the dish.
Our expectations of a fish promoted for being inexpensive were that it might be flavourless. The care and skill that has gone into preparing a flawless fish veloute transformed Lady Hamilton Pollock with English peas, broad beans and samphire into second most memorable flavour of the day and an utter triumph. Again it was cleverly matched with a fragrant Alsace Riesling from Pierre Frick with rounded flavours to further develop the delicious veloute.
A generous glass of Australian Kooyong Massale Pinot Noir 2016 excited us in preparation for both fast and slow cooked White-faced mutton, Cuore del Vesuvio tomatoes and borlotti bean stew. What a riot of flavours, with each element bringing new depths. Our favourites were the beans and slow cooked mutton.
At this point we took a breather and enjoyed finishing the Pinot Noir. In fact our conversation distracted me from both the menu and verbal description when we were served a palate cleanser of White Peach sorbet. I was not expecting the dry cleansing taste of Capezanna olive oil poured over the sorbet removing any sweetness. The shock to my taste buds was exactly what I needed to focus me on the food again and amused Richard.
What else does one serve with pudding but Tokaji?! So the world class rated Dobogo Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos 2008 got our vote with captivating rich honey sweetness and rounded hazelnut background. Richard chose malted barley ice cream with ribbons of salted caramel and a dusting of cocao – sweet and rich. I’m not a pudding fan so berries, cherries and buttermilk caught my imagination. The menu description does not do justice to what, for me, is the perfect dessert. A mound of delicate buttermilk panna cotta sprinkled with berries, cherries and oat crunch and crowned with the lightest refreshing herbal granita.
With this the experience came to £102 per person; quite steep for a lazy Saturday lunch – however, an amazing value for money and something Richard and I will definitely try again.