Date night at The Dairy, Clapham

Picture the scene; It had been nearly three months since the husband and I have been on a date night and I’m not even sure the last one qualified. En route to one of our favourite pubs (in our soon to be home town), we had to make an oh so glamorous pit stop at IKEA to stock up on much needed storage boxes for our toddler’s overspilling toy collection.

What’s more disjointed (and probably shameful enough to lose me a few followers!) is that on leaving IKEA, we were starved enough to get blindsided by the cardboard carb fest that is, the IKEA canteen. We scoffed a few veggie hotdogs and chips before legging it. And so our date night became a never before tried mish-mash of fast food starters and pub grub mains.

What’s even scarier than the above shocking revelation, is that at the time, it was just over two months (just under, by the time you read this) until our lives are once again turned upside down, with the arrival of baby no 2. Enough was enough, we needed to reinstate date night, and fast.

I’d had my eye on the Dairy for some time and after the umpteenth rave review on twitter and several hundred glorious Instagram shots of their quirky dinner ware, I decided to jump on the bandwagon and get myself a table. Even if it was a few stops further down the northern line, than we’d normally venture.

We opted for the 10 course tasting menu but if tasting menus are not your thing, fret not. This isn’t your typical tasting menu, dishes are scantily plated with a few morsels at a time, so you don’t need to reach for the gaviscon halfway through (unless you’re me, in which case leaving the house without a pack is living dangerously).

I must say, before I get on to the good stuff, the order of dishes between hubby’s veg menu and my pescetarian menu did get a little confused at times. With a full house on a Saturday night, staff were really up against it. This meant dishes were not always announced, leaving us to decipher one from the other. And hubby’s matched wines didn’t always keep up (in fact, one was missed out altogether but made up for with a dessert cocktail). That said, I was more forgiving of these niggles than I usually would be, because the food demanded it.

There were some outright stars on the night, including a dish of Calcot onions (which seem to be in vogue of late), soft yolk, wild garlic and capers. I loved the mellow flavours of the egg yolk and garlic leaves, together with the crispy onion and salty capers. Spring on a plate I thought.

A simple starter dish of Heritage carrots, fresh curd and linseed granola was a beautiful example of how simple treatment can still result in a flavour sensation, when you’ve got fresh quality ingredients and a chef who knows that they are doing.

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From the sea; skate with black garlic and monks beard – a green I’d never heard of and which has a fresh and slightly bitter taste not to dissimilar to chard – was pretty darn tasty. The smoked cod, nasturtium root, dill and crispy onion was another winner that combined never-before-tried flavours and a range of textures.

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Oh and I mustn’t forget the warm and crispy home baked sourdough bread, which it is now famed for. It is served with a scrumptiously smooth cultured cream and a sticky fennel jam which I scooped up with gay abandon, and the flavour of which is strangely refreshing and addictive.

My only ‘marmite’ dish if you like, was the smoked applewood eel, toasted cauliflower, romanesco and butter. It may be because I’ve never had eel before and the texture really wasn’t my cup of tea. I’m not a fan of tough fish like halibut or swordfish and the eel fell in line with these fish for me. Unfortunately, the smoked flavour whilst starting out as complimentary to the dish, soon became overpowering within a few bites. It wasn’t all bad though, I picked off all the beautifully browned cauliflower tossed in butter.

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Still, desserts saved the day and a fabulous palate cleanser of rhubarb, ginger sorbet and meringue helped wipe away any trace of that eel. In fact I’d go as far as to say the palate cleanser was my favourite over and above the desserts themselves. Tart rhubarb contrasting with fiery ginger and offset by sweet crunchy meringue. Heaven in a bowl. Petit fours of rhubarb jam doughnuts finished both the meal and me off nicely!

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What the Dairy is clever at doing, is combining Michelin quality food in a seriously cool and relaxed manner. In some ways the popularity it is currently enjoying, reminds me of the reaction to Dabbous when it first came on the scene, with its uncomplicated approach and winning flavour pairings.

One to visit, for groups, dates and really any occasion special or otherwise. Just don’t expect to have deep meaningful conversations over dinner if you are there on weekends, as the room takes the term ‘buzzy atmosphere’ to a new level.

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