Darby’s, London SW1: restaurant review
Try Dooncastle oysters, buttery mash with smoked bone marrow gravy, and Pump Street chocolate mousse at Robin Gill’s large-scale restaurant and bakery in the shadow of the American Embassy
Looking for restaurants in Battersea? Read our review of south London restaurant Darby’s, and check out more places to eat in Battersea here.
Darby's in a nutshell
Darby’s has all the charm of a laid-back drinking den, with the benefits of one of London’s most assured chefs – whether you’re keen for shellfish and fizz, small plates and cocktails, or whopping steaks and a bottle of red, you’re well catered for here.
As one of south London’s most prolific independent restaurateurs and chefs, it was the vibe of Robin Gill’s most casual restaurant, Clapham’s Counter Culture, that inspired the owners of Embassy Gardens to collaborate. A big fan of fermentation, curing and generally mixing things up (as fans of his other restaurants, The Dairy and Sorella will know), Robin’s latest opening is perhaps his most ambitious yet. And he’s enlisted the best of his crew to help, including head chef Dean Parker and bartender Wesley Yeung, alongside Emma Underwood (previously of Sticky Walnut, Where The Light Gets In and Stem) leading front of house.
What's the vibe?
Inspired in name and nature by his jazz musician father, Earl ‘Darby’ Gill, the grand space houses a bakery (with bread, pastries, bagels and sarnies ready to take away), open kitchen (complete with open-fire stoves) and oyster bar. With a 1950s Manhattan feel, there are bottle-green tiles, fluted velvet banquettes and booths, herringbone floors, dark wooden tables and colonial-style chairs. Seating spills out onto the terrace, looking up to the embassy.
What's the food like at Darby's?
The menu’s split into snacks, oysters, starts, sharing mains, daily specials, and sides. Things start off well with Dooncastle oysters (served with shallot vinegar, lemon, black pepper and Tabasco – depending on your penchant) from Galway Bay. They’re some of the best bivalves you’ll get in London (and we’ve done the rounds). Then, in quick succession, we make our way through “‘Gilda’ little perverts, witty and spicy” which we learn are Robin’s take on Basque skewers of pickled chillies, slivers of eel, juicy olives and chives. Truffle arancini arrives as crisp golden balls that yield willingly with each bite – soft and earthy, dangerously delicious. Charcuterie is cured on-site so order a selection and you’ll get the chance to try moreish mortadella, soft folds of sweet hams, and bouncy, fat-flecked salami.
Jersey milk ricotta agnolotti arrive bobbing around in a vibrant green, courgette sauce, with salty hunks of nocellara olives and toasty pumpkin seeds (almost ready to pop from their shells) under a generous dusting of more cheese – comforting and fresh all at the same time.
Specials on our visit included a whole roasted turbot and famed Hannan Meats côte de boeuf. Whatever you choose, be sure to order the sides – “seriously buttery mash” lives up to its promise and has the option to add smoked bone marrow gravy (you’d be mad to miss this), while soft braised chard and nettles with pecorino is the sort of Sunday roast cooking you wish you could recreate at home.
Depending on your level of restraint during dinner, the dessert list tempts with sorbets drowned in East London Liquor Company vodka, homemade croissant and tonka bean ice cream sandos and Pump Street chocolate mousse that is as light as it is full of flavour.
And the drinks?
Order champagne or Guinness with your oysters, then move onto classic cocktails, or the well annotated wine list. Choose from “offbeat’, “iconic” or “easy and harmonious”. The Kir-Yianni assyrtiko from Amyndeon in Greece smells of summer peaches and is incredibly light and refreshing against the rich food.
Have a drink under Battersea Power Station – the white negroni at Fiume is a definite must – before boarding the Thames Clipper to arrive at Darby’s in style. And keep an eye for live music each Sunday.
Darby’s, No.3 Viaduct Gardens, London SW11 7AY
Words by Laura Rowe
Photos by Paul Winch-Furness