What's the draw?
You'd be forgiven for thinking your options for where to eat in Clapham were a bit thin on the ground, what with the influx of Bryon and Bodean chains popping up left, right and centre. But you'd be wrong; there are a whole host of independent restaurants serving noteworthy food, two of which are the brainchildren of chef Robin Gill, formerly of Noma and Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons. He now runs The Dairy with wife Sarah, an intimate spot focusing on seasonal small plates and natural wines, with the menu changing almost daily. Bare brick walls juxtapose chipped vases full of fresh meadow flowers and mismatched upcycled wooden chairs line rustic oak tables. Plus, it's much more than just a restaurant; there's a neon-lit bar, stocked with natural biodynamic wines, and a rooftop complete with herb garden, veggie patch and 80,000 strong beehive, hence the iconic bee logo.
What to drink?
As above, the bar is pretty well stocked, and being one of the only restaurants in Clapham that's a) open late and b) in possession of a late licence, rumour has it after-hours drinks at Gill's gets pretty raucous. With a Loquat bellini as zingy as this, though, you can see how; it's an elegant combination of fresh peach and fizzy British prosecco, an easy pre-meal apéritif. If a cocktail doesn't tickle your fancy, there's a whole host of craft beers, some sourced from local South London breweries, and wines, grouped on the menu by adjectives; the reds fall under 'sleek, bright, intense', 'elegant, graceful, complex', 'dark-toned, fleshy, energetic' and 'bad boys'. It's quirky, eye-catching and, for the lazy wine lovers among us, marvellously clear. We go for a bad boy, naturally, a 2013 Josephine Gut Oggau, a marriage of subtle rich, soft and spicy notes all at once. Revel in the simplicity of the order – they've made selecting the perfect bottle faff-free with a matter of adjectives, quite something for those keen to order well but apprehensive to get caught in a tête-à-tête with the wine waiter.
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What to eat?
With seats directly adjacent to the open kitchen, you can nosey the chefs at work, which is always a perk of dining at an open-plan restaurant. It's a small kitchen, but this doesn't stop the chefs moving fast: they assemble variations of just-picked veg from the roof, locally caught meats and fresh fish with effortless ease, crafting small mounds of ingredients on heavy, concrete plates. Food is preempted with a plate of three dainty hors d'oeuvres: pickled jalapeños and crème fraîche cut through cuttlefish crudo, parsley mayonnaise complements a delicate bite-sized kimchi and cabbage roll, and crab mayonnaise complements a Jerusalem artichoke crisp. It's a touch that nods to the creativity of the chefs in the kitchen, and their ability to create forward-thinking flavour combinations from unelaborate ingredients. Next to steal the show are the snacks: biting, creamy fennel gazpacho topped with thinly sliced apple and almonds and truffled Baron Bigod fig and walnut toast, outrageously decadent, earthy and nutty and dangerously good drizzled with Gill's own rooftop honey. For mains, salty Cornish mussels come wrapped up in a tangle of green kimchi and brown shrimp, swimming in the cooking juices, and mackerel crudo glistens in thin slices on a bed of equally shiny olive oil dressed green tomatoes and coriander. Not forgetting, of course, buttery mushroom tagliatelle, hand-rolled in house and topped with a generous lashing of tangy parmesan cheese. To finish, sip strong Allpress espresso and 'oooh' over the sweetcorn fudge and popcorn petit four. It's smart but simple food done really, really well, in a charming setting, for less than a three-course meal at Pizza Express would set you back. Needless to say, we'll be back.
Snacks from £3.50, mains from £9, drinks from £3.50. 15 The Pavement, SW4 0HY; the-dairy.co.uk