Nothing beats the feeling of things just coming together. Like the bus arriving as you do, or your friend cancelling as you horizontally draft a text about illness or a cousin’s birthday. It’s a feeling with a unique recipe. 500ml of relief. Two tablespoons of happiness. A sprinkle of unearned deservedness. Then leave to rest for the flavour of smugness to fully mature. Sadly, these home runs don’t last. That’s life. Or luck. Either way, it’s the story of our experience of The Dairy in Clapham.
Our first trip to The Dairy was one of those fall-into-place days. The restaurant is opposite Clapham Common, and it’s got that whole low ceilings, stone wall, and lack of natural light thing going on. You tend to find this type of place in warmer climes, not areas with an O’Neill’s around the corner. But it’s all part of The Dairy’s charm. That and the snazzy British food they’re serving.
When it comes to ordering here, you need a bit of luck. Or a recommendation. Because some things, like the palm-sized venison pie, live long in the memory. It gave us the kind of ecstasy that the UK survived on at the end of the 80s. But then other things, like a loin of venison with pear, and crisps - though perfectly cooked - doesn’t get us going in the same way. Everything here tends to come together. The question is just, how well? The chicken liver mousse is another knockout example. It’s the best we’ve ever had. Plus the homemade sourdough isn’t too shabby either. Those mushroom croquettes though? Meh. This is the problem with setting high standards. They can make good things feel not so great.
Anyway, back to that lovely day. The sun was shining, the birds were tweeting, and nobody on the Northern Line had BO. Bill Withers was playing on loop in our head, and we ordered four courses off the £27.50 set menu. Out of these four, we scored a hat-trick. Slide on our knees stuff for the chicken liver mousse. Shirts off for the venison and porcini pie. And teary thanks to the mascarpone panna cotta in the post-match interview. To paraphrase Chris Kamara: ‘unbelievable chef’.
When your first time is so good, it’s hard to forget it. You become a parent with their favourite child. Looking at a crème brûlée, but talking about a panna cotta. Just don’t let the possibility of that happening, nor the sometimes ‘night off from the kids’ atmosphere dissuade you from coming to The Dairy. Because when everything comes together here, it can be pretty special.
These, translated, are cheese-filled profiteroles. Or rather, in layman’s terms, they’re cheese balls. Glorious, soft, and gooey cheese balls that you want on your table.
There are lots of very good things about this mousse. The first is that it’s incredibly tasty. Rich but not overbearing, and perfectly smooth. The best we’ve ever eaten. The second thing is that it slides so silkily across the (excellent) sourdough, that you become a sort of gastronomical plasterer. It’s very fun.
As far as handmade pasta goes (which is very far in our books) this is a solid 7.5 - 8 out of 10 bowl. The bone marrow is almost smoky, and the artichokes and chestnuts work perfectly. It’s all quite earthy and autumnal. You’ll probably start talking about wanting to go the country, and then forget said desire when you’re on the tube home.
People always go on about how important nurturing is. Paying and giving attention to your little ones. And this hand raised pie is the greatest evidence of this. This thing is all love and no au pairs. Perfectly formed and packed with tender meat and mushrooms, it’s small, but it’s one of the best pies we’ve ever had.
Not quite gooey but definitely not dry, this potato torta is a delicate little thing. The onions and mushroom add some welcome acidity and it’s pretty much impossible to have a problem with anything on your plate. Note: we know what you’re thinking, and you will not be able to recreate this at home.
Less a panna cotta and more a ball of cream. And no, we are not complaining about it. There’s a hidden bit of shortbread underneath and some lovely rhubarb on top. It’s very nice.