The Irish chefs behind some of London’s most hotly anticipated restaurants
Robin Gill, Patrick Powell and Anna Haugh show Marie-Claire Digby around their new kitchens
Robin Gill at work in the kitchen at Darby’s. Photograph: Paul Winch-Furness;
THE CHEF: ROBIN GILL
The restaurant: Darby’s, Embassy Gardens
High above Darby’s, Robin Gill’s new restaurant in London and his fourth in the city, a 25m transparent acrylic swimming pool will be suspended in the sky, connecting the 10th floor of the residential building in which his latest project is located, and the neighbouring block.
The Sky Pool is a world first, according to Irish property development company Ballymore, which is delivering 1,750 homes, as well as commercial and retail space, in this Embassy Gardens project, south of the Thames, in Battersea.
Residents, not just of these two buildings but of the entire development, will be able to order post-swim refreshments from Darby’s – perhaps to cope with the adrenalin rush of that mid-air dip – to be enjoyed on the skydeck, summer bar and orangerie alongside the pool.
But the real action, the craic, will be on the ground floor, where the restaurant and bar will seat 120 customers inside and a further 30 on the terrace, which looks on to the new US embassy, a striking glazed cube that came with a $1 billion price tag.
Darby’s, unlike Gill’s other neighbourhood restaurants, The Dairy, Counter Culture and Sorella in Clapham, is a giant space, with an oyster bar, a bakery, a meat curing and charcuterie room, and even a bandstand. The decor takes its inspiration from New York bars of the 1950s, with lots of wood, velvet and leather and low-hanging opaque glass lighting. It is a tribute to Gill’s jazz musician father Earl (Darby) Gill, and the hangouts he enjoyed visiting when on tour in the US.
The Dublin-born chef had carte blanche to do whatever he wanted with the space, and is delighted with the result, overseen by New York design company AvroKO. “I wanted to make sure that wherever you are, there is action going on. There’s a great sense of space, but it still feels quite cosy,” he says. “I want it to be a place for all occasions.
“I am nervous, but confidently nervous,” he says, just hours before welcoming more than 350 guests to a launch party last week. After a soft opening, the restaurant and bar will officially launch on Monday, bringing a four-year plan to fruition.
On the menu
Darby’s will serve food all day, from a full Irish or a Mangalitsa bacon sourdough sandwich for breakfast, a salt beef and celeriac remoulade bagel to go, through to a full lunch and dinner menu, along with snacks from the bar and oyster counter. The kitchen’s impressive wood-fired grill will work its magic on Dexter and Highland beef, and the day boat fish on offer will include whole wild turbot as well as cod and monkfish, with seaweed butter.
The bar has a vast selection of premium Irish spirits, and an Irish-influenced cocktail list, as well as Guinness on tap and plenty of Champagne to wash down the oysters. From 5-7pm , Monday to Saturday, half a dozen oysters and a pint of Guinness will be £10. The oyster bar will have three varieties of the shellfish available every day, including Dooncastle from Connemara, and the snack menu includes three types of house-made charcuterie – coppa, pork and fennel salami and bresaola.
Gill has signed a 20-year lease on the space and says, “It’s all on me, and my team now.” His partners in the new venture are his wife, Sarah; his long-time collaborator Daniel Joines; head chef Dean Parker; and head baker Matt Thornton. “These are people who I’ve worked with for years, who I believe in, and I couldn’t do it without them,” he says.
Later this year, the Dubliner will have another major opening to mastermind. “I am overseeing the food concept for the Great Scotland Yard hotel, and that happens in October.” But, for now, his focus is on fine-tuning and promoting Darby’s. “With such a large business as this, and because it’s in a new area, I can’t just rely on cooking good food and hoping people will come.”
It’s no secret that Gill loves Ireland and is a frequent visitor home, but as his business empire expands, does it mean he won’t ever be coming home for good? “I always say I might . . . then something like this [Darby’s] happens.”
THE CHEF: PATRICK POWELL
The restaurant: Allegra, Manhattan Loft Gardens, Stratford
“I honestly believe this is the best restaurant space in London, if not Europe. It’s stunning, with real wow factor.” Patrick Powell, the Mayo-born 33-year-old former head chef at London celebrity hotspot Chiltern Firehouse, is not exaggerating.
Next month, Allegra will open on the seventh floor of the landmark Manhattan Loft Gardens skyscraper in Stratford and it is hotly tipped to be the most impressive launch of the year in the UK capital. The restaurant will have 80 seats inside and a further 50 outside, on a weatherproofed terrace with its own kitchen and wood-fired grill, under a triple height cedar clad cantilevered roof.
The project’s credentials are impressive: the 42-storey skyscraper in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is owned by developer Harry Handelsman, who was also responsible for the St Pancras Hotel and Chiltern Firehouse; the double-cantilevered tower was designed by SOM, the architects behind the Burj Khalifa in Dubai and One World Trade Centre in Manhattan; and the interior fit-out is by Space Copenhagen, which designed the original NOMA restaurant.
The 145-room Stratford Hotel will operate out of the building’s first six floors, with a brasserie at street level headed by ex-Soho House chef Ben Harrington. A private lift will whisk diners to Allegra, which occupies the entire seventh floor, and above will be 245 short- or long-stay apartments and a further two roof gardens.
“Calling it a roof garden kind of undersells it; it’s like a meadow in the sky,” Powell says as we stroll around the massive outdoor space, where there are numerous water features and extensive planting done to resemble the wildflowers of nearby Hackney Marshes. Wooden daybeds are dotted around, waiting for post-lunch snoozes or pre-dinner lounging. There is a herb bed too, providing supplies for the kitchen and botanicals for the bar.
“We want people to come and stay all day, or if they’re coming at night, there’re here for five or six hours; we want people to enjoy the space,” says Powell, who worked at Knockranny House and L’Ecrivain, and spent some time in Melbourne, before arriving in London seven years ago.
On the menu
Staggering as the views are, hunger will set in at some stage, so what can diners expect? “It’s going to be two different offerings, on the terrace and at the bar we will have an all-day menu with a long list of dishes – oysters, house-made charcuterie, salads, crudos, snacky bits – international and fun. The main room will be a bit more serious, with an a la carte, and a small tasting menu that will be derived from that,” Powell says.
The menu will change frequently – “it is very much product-driven and seasonal” – and will be designed around “the best things that we can get our hands on that people want to eat”. Much of the produce will come from the restaurant’s farm in Kent.
“Some dishes will have a sharing element to them,” Powell says, mentioning rib roasts from retired English dairy cows (rather than the imported Galician). “It’s some of the best beef I’ve ever had.” Roast chickens will be presented to the table, taken away to be carved and plated, and then a second serving, perhaps the thighs made into croquettes, will arrive. All of the meat and fish will, weather permitting, be cooked at the outdoor wood-fired grill, a huge built-in feature of the dining terrace.
The main kitchen is just as impressive a space, flooded with natural light, equipped with every gadget and gizmo a chef could desire, and having an Athanor stove, Powell’s pride and joy and “the Rolls-Royce of stoves”, at its heart. “I really wanted to create a place where people are excited to come in to work every day.”
THE CHEF: ANNA HAUGH
The restaurant: Myrtle, Chelsea
Across town, just off the King’s Road, at the leafier end of Chelsea, you’ll find another newly opened restaurant with an Irish chef at the helm – but this one couldn’t be more different from the big budget Gill and Powell projects. There are no backers here, no international design team, not even a PR company involved.
Anna Haugh opened Myrtle, named in honour of the matriarch of the Allen family of Ballymaloe fame, at the beginning of the month, after an intensive search over a period of two years. “I looked through the window before I even got to view it and I was like ‘I’ll take it’, I knew straight away,” says the Tallaght woman of her three-story premises on a pretty side street. “I couldn’t have picked a more perfect site, except it’s not in Ireland.”
On the menu
The 37-seater is a charming space, offering a concise menu that she describes as “modern European with Irish influences”, with four choices at each course. Clonakilty black pudding, Burren Smokehouse salmon, Ballymakenny Farm potatoes, Burren beef and Crozier Blue cheese are name checked on the lunch menu when I visit. The Irish ingredients are sent over to her by courier. “Reaction to the menu has been really good,” she says.
Former head chef at the Soho restaurant, Bob Bob Ricard, Haugh has also worked for Gordon Ramsay, Shane Osborne and Phil Howard in London, and for Derry Clarke at L’Ecrivain in Dublin, as well as being head pastry chef at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris.
This is her first solo venture, and it is her own cash that is bank-rolling it. “I’m always amazed that people would rather gamble with someone else’s money rather than their own. I just couldn’t imagine doing it any other way,” she says, recounting how unexpected renovation setbacks ate into her start-up cash and hastened her opening. “I signed the lease in March and I opened in May. The truth is, if it had taken any longer I might not have opened at all.”
She is giving herself three years to get this spot, which she hopes will become a “neighbourhood restaurant that people will return to all the time”, on a firm footing so she can leave it for periods of time to pursue another dream. This one is based back at home, and involves an Irish take on street food – “a real Irish food experience, aimed at tourists”, she says.