I hate admitting it, but a raving review can influence my decision to move the restaurant to the top of my “must visit” spots list. The Dairy in Clapham had been on my list for a long time and for one reason or another I had to cancel bookings there multiple times. But when I read the fantastic review of their sister restaurant, Counter Culture, in Time Out last week, and managed to get three out of their 14 seats for dinner with my friend Guy who was visiting from LA, I couldn’t believe our luck.
My friend Guy loves exploring new areas, so we wandered around Clapham and had a drink at an adorable bar called WC before dinner—yes, it’s the former lavatory under Clapham Common tube station, reconfigured into a tight-quartered hipster wine & cocktail bar. We stopped to buy some bottles of wine on the way to Counter Culture as the restaurant is BYOB.
The restaurant is adjacent to The Dairy and we sat at one of the two tables outside Counter Culture and had a drink as we waited for our seats to be ready. Their menu is tiny, so we decided to just order everything on it and to start the meal outside until the counter seats vacated, where we would be able to watch the chefs in action. The “master of ceremonies”, the uber friendly, tattooed, Irish, and extremely cool Coco made us feel part of the family and, even if service was somewhat scattered, it made it all part of the quirky charm of the experience.
What we ate:
Sour potato flat bread, cultured cream: this fluffy and tasty bread was served with a dollop of sour cream and a house-made nduja (spicy Italian sausage) paste that takes them 10 days to make and took us less than a minute to devour. The bread with sour cream by itself is ok, but when you mix them both with the spicy nduja, the result is a blend of creaminess, spiciness and fluffiness that is just perfect!
Cellar ferments and pickles: a generous jar of pickled veggies, including carrots, Jerusalem artichokes and others crisp bits. Stewart and Guy loved it and I found it a bit too vinegary, but I guess that’s the point of pickles right?
Crab crackers, Korean spiced brown crab dip: this dish of crispy crab crackers (reminiscent of the prawn crackers that are sold in bags, but of course much better) was served with a creamy crab dip and wakame pickled seaweed. Once again, the components together created magic and each made the other parts of the dish better. The textures were interesting, the flavours new and unique, and the dish was delicious.
Asparagus, fresh cheese, preserved lemon and toasted almond: this dish was one of the smaller ones (doesn’t go far shared 3-ways!), but fresh and delicious. The asparagus are seasonal and tender; the combination with the cheese and lemon made it even springier and the toasted almonds added a great texture.
Octopus: perfectly tender octopus with sea aster (wild edible plant), potatoes and spiced yogurt. At this point of the meal Guy exclaimed: “we really don’t have food like this in the US”, these combinations are so original and special!
Bambi dog, sauerkraut, crispy shallots: I am not usually a hot dog lover, but this was so interesting we wanted more – sadly they were out at that point. But the sauerkraut was crunchy, the crispy shallots perfectly crisped, the white bun a pillowy sweet contrast, and the venison sausage itself, extra juicy (from the added pork fat) albeit thin. On the whole, it’s meaty and delicious with great contrast of flavours and textures.
When I went to the toilet at The Dairy (Counter culture is too small for one), I grabbed a menu to analyse for future visits, and ended up begging Coco to ask the kitchen next door if they would send two dishes over as Counter Culture had run out of the duck on the menu. She managed to make it happen!
From The Dairy we had:
Roast celeriac, sunflower seed, and almond milk: roulade of celeriac (one of my utmost favourite things ever and which Guy hadn’t tried) and seaweed with and almond milk cream and sunflower seed miso paste! The dish was exceptionally cool looking and even though the seaweed overpowered the celeriac, the flavours worked well together and, once again, it blew us away with originality.
Bone marrow agnolotti, wild garlic, St George mushrooms: this is one of those dishes that you have one bite and you immediately know you will crave having it again before you even finish it. It was one of the best dishes we’ve had in a long time. The delicately stuffed little pastas were filled with the marrow and wild garlic (I think) and topped with the mushrooms and truffle shavings. Not really sure what was in the filling versus the topping and what the sauce was (I could believe it’s dressed with marrow), but whatever it was, it was absolutely exquisite and we scrounged every drop left on the plate.
Back to the Counter Culture menu…
Cheese: Spenwood sheep’s cheese served with fig chutney and ale & oat crackers topped with pumpkin and sunflower seeds. These crackers were among the best I’ve ever tried with some perfect nuttiness and texture. They were flavourful, but complimented the cheese. The fig chutney was the first chutney since we moved to the UK that made me think that chutney has a reason to exist (I usually hate the onion chutneys served with cheese here). We were lucky this was a special on the menu. Simple, but great in every detail.
A naughty little pick me up: that’s what they call dessert and they just have one option, which that evening was a tiramisu made with a mascarpone mousse, stale sponge in clarified vodka (they clarify the vodka so it can mix smoothly with the cream without making it curdle), coffee sponge mixed with coffee syrup and topped with coffee granita (made a la minute with liquid nitrogen from the tiniest little contained I’ve ever seen). None of us are huge tiramisu fans, but this was very tasty. But not as blow-you-away as their other dishes.We wanted to go to The Dairy for dessert as they have more options but when we were done at Counter Culture, the kitchen at the Dairy had already closed.
In sum: right after dinner we started looking at the property agencies’ windows in Clapham. The food at Counter Culture and The Dairy would be reason enough to make us move to the neighbourhood. I guess the gorgeous park and the lively bars we had drinks at afterwards were fun too! We had dinner at Bonhams two days before, a spot that people had been raving about. We had a very disappointing dinner for £130/head. At Counter Culture, for the three of us, dinner cost less than £100; throw in the wine we brought and we got off for the price of one at Bonhams. Finally we found more places to add to the list of restaurants we craved going back as soon as we walked out of. Can’t wait for a full meal at The Dairy, their sister spot The Manor or an immediate return to Counter Culture. I hesitated writing the review, as Counter Culture is so small that I am afraid I will never get a booking again as people discover it! But I guess my readership of 50 from around the world probably can’t damage it more than Time Out I guess… go and go soon!
On the setting, the space is tiny and some of the seats face the wall (I advise against those) and the tall banquettes facing the kitchen are too low and not very comfortable, but who cares, the food is great and we can’t wait to be back! It is all part of the restaurant’s charm.
16 The Pavement, Greater London SW4 0HY