After walking past the water feature of the imposing US embassy in Vauxhall and over an artificial stream, we arrive at the impressive entrance to Darby’s, the new Irish-American ‘Oyster bar, Bakery and Grill’ from husband and wife restaurateurs Robin and Sarah Gill. Our eye is first drawn to the magnificent central bar which dominates the space with high (5 meters) ceilings and exposed concrete slabs, dropped panels and hanging foliage from the gantry.
After being greeted and led to our table, we take in the layout of the space: fixed curved banquette seating, loose tables, one long communal table, lounge seating along the windows and counter-height tables next to the bar. The lighting is subtle and utterly effective – mainly low-level, table lights mounted on the fixed banquette seating, theatrical narrow spotlights by the lounge seating, and candle lights adorn the loose tables.
The kitchen is clearly visible from where we’re sitting – an entirely open space with no doors, and a wide view from back to front of house giving an intimate view of the chefs at work (including an impressively explosive flambé). As we take in these fireworks, our eye is drawn to the white metro crackle tiles of the walls with a grey paint finish above, while the floor is lined with Herringbone light oak with black and white checkered mosaic for the apron of the bar.
Darby’s runs far smoother than the country whose embassy perches on its doorstep (thankfully). The servers were extremely knowledgeable on the menu, ingredients, and explained the specials well. Simple waiter stations housed order machines, glass racks, serviettes and menus. The drinks menus are leather-bound, while the food menus are printed on quality card, since the food changes daily.
The owner’s father was a renowned trumpet player in New York City, and so pictures of trumpets adorn the walls. Even a trip to the bathroom upstairs holds surprises, with an active butcher's table, cured meats and racks of wine lining the mezzanine. The look and feel of the bathroom is somewhat different to the rest of the space: colourful and quirky, in contrast to the sophistication of the main dining area. However, it works.
Of course, all this would be irrelevant if it weren’t matched with exceptional food. Luckily, Darby’s delivers. We shared an assortment of plates of which we highly recommend the beef fillet tartare with bone marrow & chestnut mushrooms, truffled Baron Bigod, fig & walnut sourdough, and the pappardelle beef ragu. The owners are behind such Clapham hotspots as Counter Culture, The Dairy and Sorella; now they can add Darby’s to their south-west London repertoire.