Darby’s opened in May 2019, the sister restaurant of Robin Gill’s The Dairy. It is located in Nine Elms in the shadow of the new US embassy, a striking cuboid building that resembles, for those familiar with Star Trek, a thinly disguised Borg cube surrounded by a moat. The theme of the food at Darby’s is Irish, with oysters and Guinness available. The restaurant is named after Robin Gill’s father, who was a jazz trumpeter. There is outside seating in good weather, and a butchery room upstairs with various animal carcasses hanging and ageing. In total they can seat around 150 here counting the bar, though the restaurant itself has barely half that many seats. The menu offers snacks, starters and grilled dishes.
The wine list ranged from £25 to £320 in price, with a median price of £73 and an average markup to retail price of 3.1, which would not raise many eyebrows in Mayfair but seems high for Nine Elms. The list had labels such as Urlar Sauvignon Blanc 2016 at £42 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £14, Domaine de l'Enclos Chablis 2017 at £70 compared to its retail price of £17, and Chateau Musar 1999 at £95 for a wine that will set you back £48 in a shop. For those with the means, there were grander offerings such as at Domaine Etienne Sauzet Puligny Montrachet 2016 at £180 compared to its retail price of £73, and Dom Perignon 2008 at £270 for a wine whose current market value is £163.
A snack of eel, olive and green chilli pepper was pleasant, the three elements served on a skewer. Although the olive was nothing remarkable, I liked the eel, whose flavour stood up well to the spice of the chilli (13/20). This was better than truffle arancini, this apparently having a mixture of grated real truffle and truffle oil. The latter is a chemical that has a passing resemblance to a true truffle in the same way that a Morris Minor resembles a Mercedes SL i.e. not so much. The centre of the arancini was curiously watery rather than the usual filling of risotto rice. It was harmless enough, but was not a particularly good example of the breed (11/20).
Bread is made from scratch in the kitchen, with for example fig and walnut sourdough offered with Baron Bigod cheese as a possible first course. This was very pleasant, Baron Bigod being a Brie-like cheese from Suffolk. The bread had good texture and although this was essentially posh cheese on toast it was certainly a very pleasing comfort food dish, though it could have been a little hotter when it arrived (12/20).
Grilled fillet of sea bass was a simple dish but was good quality, and accurately cooked. Again it was warm rather than really hot, which was a pity (13/20). Pappardelle with Dexter beef ragu topped with pecorino had no such issues. The pasta had good texture and the beef was excellent, the ragu having plenty of flavour (14/20). It was a large, very generous portion. Much as I love ragu, it was so rich and generous that I couldn’t finish it. On the side, borlotti beans with peas and herbs were good, the beans being quite tender and the peas pleasant (13/20). Mash was described as “seriously buttery” on the menu but was actually not especially buttery if you have ever tasted Robuchon’s mash. This is not a bad thing, as I like my mash to actually taste of potato with a hint of butter rather than of butter with a hint of potato (14/20).
The dessert menu was not especially appealing, at least to me, though I could barely try anything after my defeat at the hands of the beef ragu a little earlier. A taste of peach sorbet revealed a smooth but somewhat watery sorbet (11/20). Better was a brown butter waffle with milk ice cream and currant jam. The waffle itself was not great, the ideal of the species being ultra-light, such as the one I ate a while back at Ferme au Grives. The jam was fine but the milk ice cream was rather insipid (12/20). Coffee was from Caravan and was very pleasant.
Service was from that rarest of London creatures, an English waiter. He was very charming and looked after us very well. The bill came to £47 a head without wine. If you shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical cost per person might come to around £70 or so. The food was a touch erratic in standard but Darby's has an interesting menu, attractive room and setting and friendly service, so will doubtless prosper.