Dairy opened in March 2013. Robin Gill is the head chef, with his wife Sarah running the front of house. The restaurant name is due to its setting in what was once a dairy, at the corner of Clapham Common. The restaurant has an urban garden, which it uses to supply some of its vegetables, and carefully lists its suppliers on its web site, indicating an above-average interest in the quality of ingredients being used. Robin was head chef at Almeida and also worked at Manoir aux Quat Saisons. The narrow dining room is simply decorated, with basic chairs and no tablecloths, an open kitchen and bar to one side of the room, which seats 40 diners at capacity. The menu follows the “small plates” format so popular these days with London restaurateurs. A seven course tasting menu was available at £45, or you could order a la carte, the costliest dish being £11.
The wine list, ordered by style, starts at £18 with a median price of £33. Examples of the wines were Gran Cerdo Usabiaga 2011 at £18 for a wine that retails at £12, the lovely Chateau Musar 2005 at a reasonable £49 for a wine that will cost you £25 in a shop, and Grand Cru Mailly Brut Nature Francis Boulard at £78 for a champagne that will set you back around £31 to buy.
A nibble of gazpacho was very pleasant, though the tomato flavour could have been more intense (13/20). Bread is made from scratch, a sourdough loaf served warm, and it was genuinely good. The crust was excellent, the texture soft and airy (16/20). Potted salmon with Guinness soda bread had reasonable salmon flavour and quite light soda bread (13/20). Crab with sweetcorn and fresh hazelnut was a good combination, the Cornish crab fresh and shell-free, the balance of the flavours harmonious (14/20).
Chicken liver mousse was served in a little jar with blood nectarine and apple, with toast on the side. The intensity of the mousse was impressive, silky smooth in texture, the fruit providing the necessary acidic balance. This mousse could have come from a much grander kitchen (16/20). Fresh peas, celery, mint ice cream and fried bread was a successful dish, the peas and celery having very good flavour, though for me the mint intensity could be dialled back a little (14/20).
Apple wood smoked eel was served with bacon, radishes and ember oil buttermilk. I particularly liked the flavour of the eel, the bacon working nicely with this (14/20). Coca beans with slow-cooked egg yolk featured tender beans and good quality Scottish girolles (14/20). Beef short-ribs were slow cooked and very tender, served with burnt onion and summer mushrooms (14/20).
For dessert, summer berry mess had good meringue and ripe fruits, along with vanilla parfait (14/20). I slightly preferred this to salted caramel and chocolate, which for me lacked enough depth of flavour (13/20). Coffee was good, and there were even a few nice petit fours.
Service was efficient and friendly. The bill for all this came to £51, including corkage charge and a glass of wine, plus coffee. This seemed to me a very reasonable price for the quality that appeared on the plate. Dairy is a restaurant that shuns luxury ingredients but delivers very capably prepared dishes at a modest price point. Even on a mid-week August evening it was packed out, and I am sure it will continue to prosper.