Founder of three of the most talked about restaurants in London, this Irish chef takes us on a culinary trip down memory lane
The Dairy restaurant has become a destination dining spot since opening in South West London back in 2013. Robin – and wife Sarah – have since opened restaurant Sorella in Clapham and Robin is also a judge on Irish MasterChef. The couple have a three-and-a-half year old son, Ziggy. Robin’s book ‘Larder’ was released in May 2018 (Absolute Press, £26).
What was your path to becoming a chef?
I tried and failed at most other things and never stuck with anything, before following some pals into the kitchen and to London.
What was the turning point for you?
My move to London at age 19 and working at Oak Room Marco Pierre White.
Did you like cooking when growing up?
Yes. I started by cooking pasta and had an interest in Italian cooking, which then eventually brought me to Italy.
What are your most vivid food memories as a child?
My brother’s charcuterie on my aunt’s farm in County Cork. And my best friend Paul’s parents were great cooks; I remember seeing a brace of birds hanging from the shower head in their bathroom!
Is there a dish that always warms your soul?
My mum’s coddle, which is a traditional Dublin dish. It is comfort food of the highest degree; a stew-like dish made with sausages and potatoes. It reminds me of my father. My mum actually hated it but often made it for the pair of us to eat.
How has your young son Ziggy impacted your outlook on food?
He has forced me to slow down and concentrate on family time and eating around the table at home. I never used to cook in our own kitchen, it was always my wife Sarah, but now I enjoy it, and Ziggy loves getting involved too.
What are your favourite ingredients?
Capers, mustard and all types of shellfish.
You grow your own vegetables, can you tell us about that?
We have a rooftop garden on top of The Dairy and grow herbs and vegetables. We also own a share of a farm in Sussex, affectionately known as ‘our farm’ and work closely with a company called Indie Ecology. The farmers take our food waste and turn it into nutrient-rich compost which they use to fertilise the land. We then collaborate on a growing plan for produce which inevitably dictates what appears on our menus.
How do people want to eat right now?
Simpler, with a huge focus on provenance. It’s great to see the small producers breaking through into the limelight.
Tell us briefly about your new book ‘Larder’?
This book is a celebration of traditional methods of preserving and fermenting with a strong emphasis on building up your secret weapon in the kitchen, your larder. The first half of the book solely focuses on this with sections of fruit and vegetable ferments, meat and fish preservation, pickles, jams, butters, oil, powders and salts to name just a few. The second half is a collection of full dish recipes inspired by the format at The Dairy.
What are your happiest memories associated with food?
Foraging for mushrooms in autumn in the south of Italy with all the chefs and heading back to Don Alfonso 1890 where we
used them in a mushroom risotto.
What is your ‘can’t live without’ electrical appliance in the kitchen?
A very good quality probe (temperature thermometer). It checks the internal temperature of food, it makes it difficult to mess it up.
Are you high-tech or farmhouse kitchen?
Definitely more of a farmhouse kitchen.
What are your favourite restaurants?
They are all in London - Bibendum, Smoking Goat and Som Saa.
Photos by: Paul Winch-Furness
Article by: Susan Springate