At the turn of the century, Dublin-born chef Robin Gill spent a few years working in a restaurant on the Amalfi coast. Before he left, he worked with Marco Pierre White at the Oak Room. When he returned, he went straight to Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir. Working with Pierre White and Blanc, Gill learned about the discipline of classical cooking – and the sheer slog of a six-day week.
It was, however, Gill’s experience at the Don Alfonso 1890 on the Amalfi Coast that has had the most profound influence on his own restaurants. ‘I saw for the first time how brilliant farm-to-table cooking can be,’ he says. ‘The owner used to drive to the farm at 4.30am, work on the farm, pick the best produce and drive it to the restaurant kitchen. We’d shave the fresh artichokes and season them with the lemons and olive oil from the farm. Don Alfonso has two Michelin stars, but what was being put on the plate was relatively simple.’
Later, Gill took a six-month sabbatical and travelled around France, Spain and Scandinavia, where he did a stint at Noma. His critically acclaimed trio of London restaurants, The Dairy, Counter Culture and Sorella, all reflect his travels by having a very close relationship to the ingredients they use.
‘We have a rooftop garden on top of The Dairy, which is quite a challenge compared to a farm on the Amalfi Coast,’ says Gill. ‘We also lease some land in West Sussex from Full Circle Farms, who offer urban restaurants the chance to cultivate their own plot of farmed land. It not only supplies most of our fruit, vegetables, eggs and some meat, but also ensures our food waste creates really great compost.’
Gill’s next opening will be Darby’s, a large restaurant project at the Embassy Gardens development. He is a little terrified of the scale of Darby’s, but is excited by the prospect of showing off all he has learned on his travels. ‘It’ll be a really fun place, but we won’t shove our ethos in people’s faces,’ he asserts. ‘If anyone looks at the website they’ll be able to read how our back-to-basics cooking starts 10 steps before it even gets to the kitchen. It’s all about respecting the seasonal produce that we have grown.’