There's something about Dairy that's so now, so 2013 food trend, that it almost feels like a demonstration, a ‘look, this is how trendy London eats’. Unfreeze a hipster in 10,000 years time and this is what they'll be talking about.
That being said, it also manages to stay just the right side of safe. There are enough neologisms and touches of painterly genius to convince the most discerning food fanboi, but (and this is certainly no criticism) you could bring your mum here and she'd be happy with most things landing in front of her.
The venue is a generic Clapham wine bar; tall bar counter style tables at the front, bigger, rounded oak jobs at the back. Other than the ever-present design lover soothing concrete carried through into the heavy serving plates, there isn't a grand unified design. If anything it's rustic chic meets Lower East Side loft bar. There's not even a jokey cow reference to justify the name.
You can either select small, but emphatically not sharing, plates from an intriguing list of ‘garden’, ‘sea’ and ‘land’ or you can throw yourself at the mercy of the kitchen who'll save you the agony of choice with a well priced set menu. Judging from what we had and comparing with what the table next to us ended up with on the set menu, there's little difference.
Smoked bone marrow butter slathered on hot, fresh wholemeal bread was a delightfully rich hello from behind the pass and one that immediately ramped our expectation levels right up. I won't go through to describe the seven or so plates we shared after this, it's a changing seasonal menu so you'll just have to take your chances, something I heartily recommend you do at the earliest possible opportunity.
We particularly loved the amuse of chickpea and cumin bitteballen, a masterful take on that most vile of Dutch pub snacks. Due to a mix up with the order, we ended up with two portions of heritage beets, delicately cooked and served with a filthily divine hazelnut purée though could quite happily have slipped back later to flirt with some cheese with dessert.
Thankfully we didn't miss out on fresh from the pod peas, served with a light mint creme and delicate celery and a light chorizo and squid scotch egg was another happy highlight, and only one of the few that brought meat to the foreground. The other we tried being a polite and gentle lamb on a bed of squelchy and moreish aubergine puree. It was delightful, but the lamb didn't quite have the depth of flavour I was hoping for, the same true of a beautifully plated but relatively pedestrian sea bass dish from the ‘sea’ section.
Overall, the small plates work well. There was enough to share, even if the heavy bowls didn't always make that easy. If I were being overly critical, I'd have to say that while it doesn't totally kill it yet, there's enough here for me to heartily recommend. There's a real sense of ambition and drive emanating from the kitchen (slightly at odds with a chilled, casual and at times an amiably almost amateur front of house). A couple of the dishes were just a little muted and the service needs to step up (as I'm sure it will once they've been open for a while), but with the ambition in the kitchen and for the price and location it will do very, very well indeed.