How many times have you made a dinner reservation more than a week in advance? Before I moved to London, my answer to that would be ‘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 that I definitely had to book in a couple of weeks earlier but generally I’m just not that organised. But I am working on it…
Unsurprisingly, I have a rather long list of places I 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 works, and don’t even bother trying to get in before the dinner rush 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 is a restaurant making me queue outside for 2 hours, I don’t care how good your lobster is.
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 have really good food, sometimes both, but after all the weeks of anticipation and hype, do they 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 my (much more organised) friend could find when she checked over three weeks earlier.
The dining room at the The Dairy is inviting; the rustic wooden table is laid out with mismatched plates, there are some flowers adorning the table which looked like they came straight from the garden, the lighting is comfortably dimmed. The menu is seasonal and split into simple categories- snacks, garden, sea, land, sweets- 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 their eyes as much as their mouth, I thought each dish was beautiful- whoever’s in the kitchen really cares about what they’re putting on that plate and exactly where they’re putting it. And yes, they did taste as good as they looked. My 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 small, there was definitely room for a little extra- aged Comte cheese with maple and thyme crackers were enjoyed on one side of the table, whilst the other side tucked into a devilishly good salted caramel with cacao crumb and malted barley ice cream.
The Dairy was well worth the wait; if I am organised enough I’ll definitely be making another booking. And I’ll remember to take plenty of spare change, because while the plates and prices seem small, they all add up to be a little more than your trip to the local corner dairy.