An Irish boy in The Dairy



The introduction to Robin Gill’s book, Larder enraged me and brought me close to tears. Robin’s graphic description of his long and tortuous journey through many kitchens both in Ireland and the UK to become a chef, makes harrowing reading and speaks volumes about the reason why there is now a proper chef crisis in so many restaurants, What Robin, who comes from Malahide in Dublin, and many others have had to endure is NOT OK, the verbal and physical abuse, sadism and downright cruelty is unconscionable and in any other walk of life would land the perpetrators in jail. How come, degrees of this behaviour have been acceptable for so long…

We’re all guilty; we need to ask questions about what’s going on in the kitchen to put the food on our plate. Get a grip, it’s only food after all and it is absolutely not necessary to have a toxic atmosphere to produce delectable morsels on a plate.


In fact quite the opposite, a happy team ooze energy and creativity Myrtle Allen herself was a wonderful example to all of us. In all the years I worked in Ballymaloe House kitchen, I never, ever, heard anyone shout or swear, despite all the pressure of a busy kitchen and Myrtle’s unwavering commitment to quality.

It’s a long road that doesn’t have a turn. Robin eventually chanced upon a 2 star Michelin; family run restaurant in Italy with a farm overlooking Capri called Don Alfonso 1890. There he learned the true meaning of ‘farm to table’.

Robin wrote “It was my first exposure to true cooking with the seasons, when something was in such abundance and at its best and had to be put to use. It was a revelation to me. Whatever couldn’t be used was preserved and kept for a season less generous. It was natural (and beautiful) in every way” He learned how to hold back and let the produce speak for itself. For the first time he truly understood what it means to be seasonal, how to walk the walk, not just talk the talk as sadly so many restaurants do. He spent several years with Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir Aux Quat’ Saisons in Oxford, of which he speaks highly as a teaching kitchen. In 2013 he and his wife Sarah were ready to open their own place on a on a prayer and a shoestring in an old building on Clapham Common. It’s called The Dairy, has a herb and vegetable garden in crates on the roof and is the first of three restaurants Robin and Sarah now own. Finally back to Robin’s book aptly called Larder published by Absolute Press.


This is an interesting and unusual book , a combination of exquisite but seriously time consuming ‘cheffy’ recipes at the back of the book and a whole amazing section on pickling, preserving, smoking, fermenting, making miso, brewing, infusions  and curing  recipes at the beginning of the book that make up the basics of his larder. Many of the recipes are super simple, fun to make and will transform your food as well as get you addicted to stacking your larder shelves.



Robin Gill’s Beetroot Gin


makes 750ml (1 pint7fl oz)


4 raw beetroots, peeled and diced

750ml (1 pint7fl oz) gin


Add the diced beetroot to the gin in a large sterilised jar seal and leave to infuse in a cool, dark place for 3–4 days.

Strain through a fine sieve.

Store the gin in a sealed jar or bottle in a cool, dark place.

From Larder by Robin Gill (Absolute Press)  Photography © Paul Winch-Furness



Robin Gill’s Charred Mackerel, Cucumber, Dashi, Sea Purslane


Generally speaking, mackerel must be at its absolute freshest – I detest mackerel once it has been more than two days out of the deep blue – so when buying your fish, make sure the flesh is firm, the gills are bright red and the eyes are bright and glistening. We use salt to season and firm up the fish, and I like to serve it medium-rare. This is a really fresh and vibrant dish to serve in late summer.


serves 4–6


dill-pickled cucumber

2 small cucumbers or ½ regular-sized cucumbers

75g (3oz) ice

75g (3oz) caster sugar

75ml (3fl oz) Chardonnay vinegar

a bunch of dill, fronds picked a large pinch of fine table salt


dill oil

150g (5oz) picked dill fronds

150ml (5fl oz) rapeseed oil


charred mackerel

3 medium mackerel, filleted

fresh lemon juice



4–6 teaspoons Roast Garlic Miso Purée (see recipe below), at room temperature, 1 teaspoon per serving purslane leaves

sea purslane, blanched for 30 seconds

Wild Garlic Capers with some of the pickling liquor or capers

160–240ml (6-9fl oz) Dashi (see recipe), warmed – 40ml (1 ½fl oz) per serving

Maldon sea salt


Peel the cucumbers and set aside; reserve the skin. Blend together the ice, caster sugar, vinegar, dill, the cucumber skin and salt in a blender or food processor. Strain through a fine sieve and pour this liquid over the peeled cucumbers. Leave to marinate for 1 hour


Blend together the dill and oil in a blender or food processor for 1 minute. Transfer to a pan, bring to the boil and boil rapidly for 2 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve into a bowl set over ice to cool.


Blowtorch, barbecue or grill (on a hot ridged grill pan) the skin side of the mackerel fillets –you are just looking to scorch the skin and lightly cook the fish to medium-rare. Season the fillets with lemon juice and salt to taste.


Drain the pickled cucumbers and slice into rounds. Spread a teaspoon of miso purée in each bowl, then add the mackerel. Top the fish with the cucumber slices (fanned). Place the fresh purslane, sea purslane and wild garlic capers to the side. Drizzle over some dill oil. In a jug, season the warm dashi with a little of the pickling liquor from the wild garlic capers. The dashi should be poured over each dish at the table




Robyn Gill’s Roast Garlic Miso Purée


Makes about 650g


350g (12oz) garlic cloves (peeled)

a drizzle of vegetable oil

demerara sugar

175g (6oz) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

150ml (5fl oz) sherry vinegar

175g (6oz) sweet white miso

175g (6oz) malt extract



Preheat the oven to 180°C fan/2oo°C/Gas Mark 6. Toss the garlic cloves in the oil and coat them in demerara sugar. Wrap the cloves loosely in foil to create a parcel. Roast for 25 minutes. Open the parcel and return to the oven to roast for a further 5 minutes. Tip the garlic into a food processor and blend the cloves to a smooth puree.


Put the butter into a pan set over a high heat and cook until the butter starts to foam, brown and take on a nutty aroma. Immediately remove from the heat and cool quickly to stop the butter from burning.


Boil the vinegar in another pan until reduced to 75ml.


Add the brown butter, vinegar, miso and malt extract to the garlic purée and blend until smooth. Cool. The puree can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 1 month.



Robin Gill’s Dashi

makes about 1 litre (1¾ pints)


25g (1oz) dried kombu

1 litre distilled water, boiled and cooled (or use filtered water or still mineral water)

1 sheet of dried nori (about 3g)

15g (½ oz) bonito flakes

2 teaspoons white soy sauce

10 wild garlic leaves (if unavailable use 2 sliced garlic cloves)

Maldon sea salt


Add the kombu to the water in a pan and bring to a very gentle simmer (do not boil). Simmer for 1 hour.

Strain the liquid through a fine sieve into a jug.

Season with the nori, bonito flakes, soy sauce, wild garlic leaves and a pinch of salt. Allow to infuse for 5 minutes. Taste to check the seasoning and adjust as required: the dashi should be salty and savoury with umami. Strain the dashi through the fine sieve.

Once cooled, it can be stored in a sealed container in the fridge for 2-3 days

From Larder by Robin Gill (Absolute Press)  Photography © Paul Winch-Furness



Robyn Gill’s Pickled Radishes


Makes 1.5kg (3lb 5oz)


300ml (10fl oz) water

300ml (10fl oz) white wine vinegar

300g (10 oz) caster sugar

1.5kg (3lb 5oz) radishes



Combine the water, vinegar and sugar in a pan and bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour this boiling pickling liquor over the radishes in a bowl. Allow to cool, then decant into sterilised jars and seal. The radishes are ready to use straight away or can be stored in the fridge for up to 2 months.

From Larder by Robin Gill (Absolute Press)  Photography © Paul Winch-Furness




Robin Gill’s Carrot and Caraway Pickle

makes about 1kg (2¼lbs)


40g (1½ oz) caraway seeds 1kg mixed heritage

carrots 200ml (7fl oz) cider

vinegar 200ml (7fl oz) water

200g (7oz) caster sugar



Toast the caraway seeds in a dry pan until they smell aromatic. Set aside.


Peel the carrots, and then slice into thin rounds on a mandolin.


Combine the vinegar, water, sugar and caraway seeds in a suitable-sized pot. Bring to the boil, then add the carrot slices and remove from the heat immediately. Decant into a sterilised 2-litre jar and seal.

The pickle can be stored for 1 year in a cool, dark place. Once opened, keep in the fridge for up to 3 months.

From Larder by Robin Gill (Absolute Press)  Photography © Paul Winch-Furness



 Robin Gill’s Apricot and Lemon Thyme Jam


makes 6 x 228ml jars


1kg (2 ¼ lbs) fresh apricots

50ml (2floz) water

50ml (2fl oz) fresh lemon juice

600g (1¼lb) jam sugar

100g (3½ oz) unsalted butter, cut into cubes

100g (3½ oz) honey

3 sprigs of lemon thyme, leaves picked

1 teaspoon Maldon sea salt


Before you begin making the jam, put three or four small plates in the freezer. Cut the apricots in half and remove the stones, then cut each half into quarters. Place the apricots and water in a large pot and cook over a medium heat for 10 minutes to soften. Stir in the lemon juice and sugar and bring the mixture up to 104°C/225°F


Reduce the heat and allow to simmer, stirring now and again, for
a further 20 minutes or until the jam has reached soft setting point – use the wrinkle test to check. To do this, take the pan off the heat and carefully spoon a little jam on to one of the cold plates. Let it stand for a minute, then push the blob of jam with your finger. If the surface of the jam wrinkles then it has reached setting point; if it is still quite liquid, then put the pan back on the heat and boil the jam for another couple of minutes before testing again, using different plates from the freezer.


Meanwhile, make a brown butter by melting and heating the butter cubes in a pan over a high heat until the butter starts to foam and brown and gives off a nutty aroma. Once this occurs, remove from the heat immediately and cool quickly by setting the base of the pan in cold water, to stop the butter from burning.


Put the honey in another pan and cook over a medium heat to a dark caramel colour. Remove from the heat and stir in the brown butter. Add to the apricot jam while still warm. Stir through the lemon thyme leaves and salt. Ladle the warm jam into sterilised jars and seal.


The jam can be stored in a cool, dark place for up to 6 months. Once opened, keep in the fridge and use within 6 weeks.

From Larder by Robin Gill (Absolute Press)  Photography © Paul Winch-Furness



About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


Past Letters