Since moving to South London, I have often wandered longingly past The Dairy, drawn in by the simple wooden furniture, sprigs of meadow flowers on tables and clientele of fashionable young professionals. Yet it’s The Dairy’s menu that truly captivates me. Created by chef Robin Gill, who hails from Noma and Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, it takes diners on a tour through Britain’s finest, seasonal ingredients, paired sparingly, often simply, but oh so beautifully.
On a warm evening in early August, we begin our tour with a stream of snacks. Gently charred baby courgette rests on a bank of tangy goats curd, soothed by sweet pea purée and a pool of honey from the restaurant’s rooftop garden. Succulent chicken oyster and crispy skin is thrown into sharp relief by tart kefir and sour, fermented leaves. Fresh sourdough steams as we tear open the crust and smear it with decadent bone marrow butter and a chicken liver mousse whose airy texture belies a deep, meaty flavour. Paired with a glass of red wine, these snacks alone make a fine meal. Happily, they are only the warm up.
We soon set sail with a sublime fillet of mackerel before reeling in the catch of the day: buried beneath sea-salty samphire and fresh peas there is a firm, yet flaking, piece of pollock, swimming in a smoky, fragrant dashi broth blended with summer herbs and Amalfi lemon. It is exquisitely fresh. Back on dry land, we enjoy tender pink lamb shoulder, which needs no accompaniment aside from a sauce of its own juices and a bed of buttery white coco beans. These dishes may be served on hefty stone bowls, but they have been cooked with the utmost delicacy.
We share the optional course of truffled brie de meaux and honey on walnut toast, but regret our greed when it transpires dessert is a triptych of indulgence. First, there is a ‘pre-dessert’ rosewater ice-cream sandwich, dusted with enough lip-tingling fig sherbet to offset the sweetness. Next, almost at the end of our journey, we arrive at food Mecca: salted caramel, cacao, malted barley ice cream. Each ingredient appears in multiple forms – a caramel sauce refashioned as a nut-studded caramel shard, a bitter chocolate crumble softened into dark truffles – to create an equilibrium of textures and flavours. All that’s needed to lift me into a truly transcendent state are a few warm peach doughnuts, which are promptly delivered to the table.
We are here to celebrate our anniversary, but I’m so moved that I ask my boyfriend if I can marry the chef(s). He gives his blessing, with the caveat that I make regular food deliveries.