Darby’s is part of a major development opposite the new US Embassy; how did you get involved?
It’s funny because it all started with a ham sandwich. About four years ago we posted a picture from our deli [now Counter Culture] on Instagram and a guy saw it and messaged his partner, who works for the property developers Ballymore, and told her to look us up. They’re effectively building a new area in Nine Elms and thought it would be great to have in the neighbourhood.
Tell us about Darby’s
This is my biggest project yet: it’s 5,000 sq ft with 120 covers inside and 30 outdoors, so it’s taking what we do at The Dairy and Sorella to an extreme level. We’ve always made our own bread, but here we have a full bespoke bakery with three full-time bakers and we’re aging our own meat. I always wanted to do a decent bar so it’s a real focal point of the restaurant. People can come in and have drinks, and maybe oysters and some crab.
You’re bringing some of your existing team across to Darby’s as well…
The head chef is Dean Parker, who helped me open The Dairy in 2013 and is a partner in the business, alongside head baker Matt Thornton. Emma Underwood [formerly of Stem and Burnt Truffle] has joined us as general manager. It’s always about the team. I cringe when people say they’re my staff like they’re below me, because we’re all in it together.
What’s on the menu?
We’re open all day and you can blow out if you want or just come in for a salt beef sandwich. We’re going to do specials, which I’m going to call Old Pals, like a shepherd’s pie, our version of a hot dog or a chicken kiev, familiar dishes done well. The a la carte menu is available throughout the restaurant, so you can order a shellfish platter or sit at the bar and have a great steak. I want it to be for all occasions, for me that’s what a neighbourhood place is about. It has the grandeur of a special occasion, but I also want people to hang out here.
How is it going to work with the sky pool?
There’s a lift in the kitchen that’s goes directly up to 10th floor pool, which opens this summer. We’re building a barbecue outside up there and we will do a little raw shellfish bar with drinks like vermouth, aperol spritz and champagne.
We hear Darby’s is partly inspired by your dad…
Yes. I was going to call the restaurant Earth Grain and Fire because I’m big in to music and my father was a musician, but I heard him on my shoulder going, ‘What’s that all about?’. His nickname was Darby’s and he used to travel around America with his band in the late 1950s and 60s going to all these bars. This is the largest restaurant I’ve ever done so I’ve also looked to New York for some inspiration. The industry over there does big covers well and has some of the best Irish bars, they’re very alive and basically the opposite of an O’Neills which feels very plastic.
Does Darby’s have more of an Irish focus than your other restaurants?
The Irish influence is mostly around the bar. I’m really impressed by some of the gins and Irish whiskeys and there’s also poitín made by our friend in Dublin. The food is much more classical, focused on the ingredients and craft, so there’s nowhere to hide.
There have been a few Irish chefs opening in London this year…
Yes, Anna Haugh has just opened a restaurant and she’s partly named it after [iconic Irish chef] Myrtle Allen. It’s really nice, London’s our home but there’s a nod to where we’ve come from. Patrick [Powell] is opening a restaurant at the Manhattan Loft Gardens development in Stratford, I don’t know how much Irish influence will have on it but it’s still great that there’s three massive openings from Irish chefs.
Are you using much Irish produce?
Yes, we work directly with a guy from Dooncastle who’s growing oysters with this incredible selection of seaweed, which he’s harvesting and sending over. The flavours are mind boggling. We import seaweed from Japan yet it’s right there in Ireland. We’re making a butter from Connemara seaweed that’s going with all the fish dishes. It’s quite simple, and you can order some jersey royals or a salad on the side.
You’re also opening The Yard restaurant at the Great Scotland Yard hotel in London this year. What can you tell us about that?
While Darby’s is quite classical The Yard is going to be more of a refined version of The Dairy. Initially, we were only supposed to do the restaurant but they asked us to take care of the whole food and beverage so we got to design all the kitchens and back of house spaces. Lewis Wright, who is manager at The Dairy, is going to run front of house. Alex Harper, who I started with at Le Manoir aux Quat’saisons about 13 years ago and used to run The Harwood Arms, is executive chef. It’s 60 covers and will have Alex’s stamp on the menu as well as mine.
What are your long-term plans for the restaurants?
I’ve been very fortuitous with the opportunities I’ve had. For now it’s about getting these restaurants up and running and hopefully they’ll become well-oiled machines. The dream is to create an institution, similar to likes of The River Café or St John. That’s the goal.