If Irish restaurants are having ‘a renaissance’ why is this top chef staying in London?

... And where does top Irish chef Robin Gill eat in Dublin and London? ‘

‘Time moves very quickly, it’s a very exciting city,’ says the London resident chef Robin Gill. Photograph: Jamie Lau / John Lewis Partnership

‘Time moves very quickly, it’s a very exciting city,’ says the London resident chef Robin Gill. Photograph: Jamie Lau / John Lewis Partnership

 

Robin Gill is one of Ireland’s top chefs. He has three restaurants in London, including the acclaimed The Dairy in Clapham and will open his next in Nine Elms near to the new US Embassy in spring 2019. He lives in Brixton with his wife Sarah and son Ziggy

November is Food Month in The Irish Times, with food-related content in all our sections, plus reader events, competitions and exclusive content at irishtimes.com/foodmonth
November is Food Month in The Irish Times, with food-related content in all our sections, plus reader events, competitions and exclusive content at irishtimes.com/foodmonth

When did you leave Ireland, and what were your reasons for leaving?

I left Ireland in 1999 to work in Marco Pierre White’s infamous 3-star Oak Room in Piccadilly, London. This was, at the time, probably the best restaurant in the world so it was an incredible opportunity.

Why London?

Apart from the opportunity to work in a world class restaurant, I had a feeling that anything could happen in a big city like London.

Why did you become a chef?

My father suggested it after I dropped out of going to college. I was always cooking at home and had a huge desire to travel so it seemed like a good idea at the time.

It is still a dream to move home one day, but right now I’m enjoying the opportunities that London has given me

Tell us about your career so far?

I started my career in kitchens in Dublin then made the move to London. Next, I ventured to Italy to work at two-Michelin-starred Don Alfonso 1890 on the Amalfi Coast, a restaurant with its own farm.

From Italy it was back to the UK, when a two-week placement at the infamous Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons alongside Raymond Blanc turned into a four-year stay. In February 2012, I embarked on somewhat of a culinary expedition which saw me on placement in some of the best restaurants in the world including Noma in Copenhagen and Frantzén in Stockholm.

Chef Robin Gill. Photograph: Jamie Lau / John Lewis Partnership
Chef Robin Gill. Photograph: Jamie Lau / John Lewis Partnership

Upon my return to London, I stumbled across a ramshackle old building on a leafy corner of Clapham Common and along with my wife Sarah, family and close friends got to work. Thus, The Dairy was born on St Patrick’s Day 2013.

In April 2016, Counter Culture joined the family, a snack bar with just 15 seats located right next to The Dairy. Currently Counter Culture is on a world tour of sorts, offering menus focusing on regional cuisines and for the winter months, it’s a Southern Barbecue feast. Our most recent project, in January 2018, was the launch of Sorella. Sorella is a local Italian restaurant with an approach inspired by my years on the Amalfi coast. This year has also seen the launch of my first cookbook, Larder, back in May. 2019 is shaping up to be the most eventful for us yet so watch this space!

Your new restaurant, Darby’s which is due to open next year in Nine Elms, has Irish food doesn’t it? Why have you moved in that direction?

It will have what I like to call “Irish hospitality” and the finest Guinness in London. I will be sourcing the best of Irish shellfish, seaweed, beef and cheese but serving them slightly contemporary and without fuss. We also have a farm in West Sussex where we will be sourcing most of our vegetables, fruit and wild ingredients. There will be a bakery onsite, an in-house butchery, charcuterie and a beautiful grill for cooking over-fire.

Why did you call it Darby’s?

That was my father’s nickname and he had a great love of fine things without fuss. I’m trying to create a timeless restaurant with old-school charm and style like him.

What does your day look like?

Making breakfast with my son Ziggy, school run, meetings, meetings, meetings, cooking, cooking, cooking and some exercise if I can fit it in somewhere!

What challenges do you face in your work?

I think the biggest challenge is keeping everyone happy, keeping hours down and creating a good life/work balance. I believe that if you choose a career that kind of takes over your life, you may as well enjoy it and have fun. I believe in creating an environment where creativity is rewarded.

I’m part of a community in my area, so it feels like home  although I never call it that, I still refer to Dublin as home

Do you need to raise your voice in your kitchens?

Never

Would you come back to Ireland to open a restaurant?

Would love to, the ingredients we have on our doorstep are up there with the best in the world. It is still a dream to move home one day, but right now I’m enjoying the opportunities that London has given me.

Is London better than Dublin for a chef?

Not necessarily, there is a wider choice of places to learn your craft, but there are more and more amazing restaurants opening in Ireland so it’s a good time to be a part of what I think is a bit of a renaissance.

What is it like living in London?

Time moves very quickly, it’s a very exciting city that can bring challenges but keeps the blood flowing. I live in Brixton and have feel like I’m part of a community in my area, so it feels like home at the moment although I never call it that, I still refer to Dublin as home.

Where are your go-tos there to eat out?

The Quality Chop House, Brat, Bibendum, Kiln, Smoking Goat, Sabor, Kudu, Som saa. All of these are absolute knock-outs and quite different.

Is there anywhere in Ireland you’ve liked to eat?

I love: Coppinger Row, Kai, Chapter One, Forest Avenue, Paulies Pizza, Delahunt and Hartley’s.

If you were to move anywhere else, where would you go?

New York, it’s my dream to open something there.

What advice would you give to someone interested in cheffing abroad?

I would always do as much research into the restaurants as possible, pick between three and five restaurants and spend at least three days in each to grasp the culture of the kitchen before you make your choice.

Are there any other Irish people in your circles?

Oh yes plenty. The great Richard Corrigan throws an extravagant Paddy’s Day party in his Mayfair restaurant that attracts a crowd nicknamed the Murphia. That grows year on year, that’s a great circle to be in.

What do you think your future holds?

Hopefully loads of money and less work.

Is there anything you miss about living and working in Ireland?

The people! I miss home but I get back maybe 15 times or more a year. I manage to blend some work in there too that helps keep me grounded and one foot sa bhaile.

Brexit? How goes it?

What’s Brexit?

www.the-dairy.co.uk

www.countercultureclapham.co.ukwww.sorellarestaurant.co.uk

If you work in an interesting career overseas and would like to share your experience with Irish Times Abroad, email abroad@irishtimes.com with a little information about you and what you do.

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