Unsurprisingly, I have a rather long list of eateries I really want to try out, but as it happens, thousands of other food-crazed Londoners also seem to have the same list. I’m learning the hard way that booking a Saturday night dinner on the Thursday beforehand rarely ever works, and I don’t even bother trying to get in before the dinner rush anymore – because there’s always a rush. On the flipside, I guess I should be grateful for the places that do take bookings, because the one thing I find more ridiculous than that is a restaurant that takes no reservations at all and makes me queue outside for two hours; I don’t care how good your lobster is.
In all earnest, how many times have you had to make a dinner reservation more than a week in advance in NZ? Before I had moved to London, my answer to that would have been “almost never”. There would be the odd occasion like High Tea at Hippopotamus for Mother’s Day or a big boozy BYO for me and 20 of my workmates, which I definitely had to book in a couple of weeks earlier, but generally speaking, I’m just not that organised. Who is? But I am working on it…
So, does it pay to be organised? The restaurants which are constantly booked out are either the latest darling of the London food crowd or actually have really good food – sometimes you hit the jackpot and get both, but after all the weeks of anticipation and hype, can they ever manage to live up to expectations? This is what I pondered to myself as I headed towards The Dairy in Clapham on a chilly Wednesday night at 6.15pm – the first available table that my (much more organised) friend could find when she checked over three weeks earlier.
The dining room at the The Dairy is quite inviting; the rustic wooden table is laid out with mismatched plates, there are some flowers adorning the table, which look like they came straight from the garden, and the lighting is comfortably dimmed. Off to a good start…
The menu is seasonal and split into simple categories: snacks, garden, sea, land, sweets. They are all a couple of items in each, all made for sharing – or if you would rather, there is also a tasting menu. With four of us, the ordering was pretty easy; we asked for one of almost everything and away we went.
The meal kicked off with a tasty pumpkin morsel and toasty warm sourdough buns served with lightly whipped, smokey butter. From this point I had a very good feeling about the rest to come.
As someone who eats with her eyes as much as with her mouth, I thought that each dish was beautiful – whoever is in the kitchen really cares about what they are putting on that plate and exactly where they’re putting it. And yes, they did taste as good as they looked.
My personal highlights were the fluffy piles of Cornish crab sitting in a rich bisque, the punchy applewood-smoked eel, and that Yorkshire wood pigeon perfectly paired with celeriac and bitter leaves. And because the plates are all rather small, there was definitely room left for a little extra-aged Comte cheese with maple and thyme crackers as well as the devilishly delicious salted caramel with cacao crumb and malted barley ice cream.
The Dairy was definitely well worth the wait; if I am organised enough in the future I’ll definitely be making another booking without hesitation. And then I’ll also remember to take plenty of spare change along as well, because, while the plates and prices seem small, they all do quickly add up to amount to a little more than your average trip to the local corner dairy.
The Dairy, 15 The Pavement, Clapham Old Town, SW4 0HY, open for lunch Wednesday-Saturday and Sunday, open for dinner Wednesday-Saturday.