Kitchen confidential: chef Robin Gill dishes up his digital haunts.

Dublin-born restaurateur Robin Gill is the chef-proprietor of Sorella in Clapham and Darby’s in Vauxhall, as well as of the restaurant at the Great Scotland Yard Hotel and Birch Community in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire. And yet, unlike for many who spend their days at the pass, it was far from his childhood dream to become a chef. The son of a musician and a dancer, he got part way through an arts degree and then trained as an electrician before he donned his chef’s whites for the first time. It only took the one service, however – with all its attendant thrill – for him to be hooked. In that moment, he knew unequivocally that this was the life for him.

Armed only with a Michelin Guide, he quit Dublin for London and knocked on the door of every restaurant of note in his by now well-thumbed food bible. Eventually he landed a job at The Oak Room, Marco Pierre White’s three Michelin-starred restaurant, an experience which he describes as having initially been ‘hell’, but which served up some invaluable lessons, both gastronomic and otherwise. His next stop was Italy, where he first learned to make pasta by hand and then bagged his place behind the stove at Don Alfonso 1890, a two-starred eaterie in Naples, with its own farm and beehives. That focus on seasonality has been front and centre of Robin’s work ever since.



Next up, he came back to the UK on the back of an offer he couldn’t refuse: to work in the butchery section of Raymond Blanc’s legendary Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons – another temple to seasonal cooking – where he stayed for four years and rose up through the ranks, before becoming head chef at D&D’s The Royal Exchange.

When the time came for Robin to strike out on his own, he knew precisely the vibe he wanted to go for. Having casually worked the service at the world-renowned Noma in Copenhagen thanks to a friend who was a chef there, he got a taste for the relaxed atmosphere that prevailed there, which enabled punters to variously wander in for a quick drink and a snack or come for a blow-out meal – and everything in between. And so it was that, in 2013, The Dairy in Clapham was born, his first and hugely popular venture, which opened to great critical acclaim. For Robin, the secret will always lie in the produce: daily, he builds menus around whatever seasonal ingredients his suppliers happen to bring him. It worked. He then launched a deli, known as Counter Culture, as well as Sorella, an Italian place in homage to his Neopolitan training; and finally Darby’s, an Irish-influenced bar and bakery, in Vauxhall.



In the wake of the pandemic, Sorella, Birch Community, The Bermondsey Larder and Darby’s are the survivors in his stable. Throughout, Robin has remained tirelessly busy, most recently working with StarChefs to create a home dining experience that launches for St Patrick’s Day (17 March), available for nationwide delivery. Each box includes four courses ‘designed to evoke nostalgia around Robin’s experiences of growing up in Ireland, and to celebrate the exceptional produce he takes pride in sourcing.’ It promises to be spectacular. Order it here.

Here he tells us how he uses digital resources to sniff out the best dining experiences around the world; why a terrible review lead to worldwide coverage for his bistro; and why he once threw his phone under a train to make a point.

Images: Food Story Media

My favourite website...


It’s impossible to have just one, I have a few for different things. For music, I use Rough Trade for discovering new albums, I love The Modern House for perving on beautiful properties and design ideas. And I love Hot Dinners for keeping up to date with restaurant news and dinner inspiration.

My favourite app...


Right now, I’m using AllTrails to discover new walks with our dog. It’s really easy to use and great for exploring. That and Spotify which I think is genius. Oh Shazam is a thing of wonder too, which I link to my Spotify.



My favourite blog...


The Local Tongue is brilliant for finding out about some of the best and most interesting dining experiences around the world, all through stories told mostly by chefs in the know.

My favourite podcast...


The only podcast I listen to is The Blindboy. Every Wednesday he dives into hot take obscure facts that, true or not, are told with great humour. It’s also kind of like a therapy session whereby he speaks openly about mental health without coming across all preachy.

My favourite YouTuber...


I don’t have one. My son is obsessed with gaming YouTubers who I seem to have built up a deep hatred for. I wish most of them didn’t exist.

My most recent buy online...


An outdoor fire pit for our garden. I’m obsessed with fire and the idea of camping.



Last book you downloaded or read...


The Great Shark Hunt by Hunter S. Thompson. I got lost down a Wikipedia tunnel researching stories about the charismatic and troubled writer and how he started. This book has many extracts from his first reporting of the Hells Angels, among other larger than life characters.

Favourite tweeter...


Liam Gallagher is absolutely hilarious, outlandish and, well, just very Liam Gallagher.

Favourite Instagrammer...


Noel Fielding, for hilarious and colourful content.



Favourite tech gadget...


Temperature probe. Helps me cook accurately.

The most useful gadget/item on your desk...


My Sonos. Amazing sound and not stupid pricing.

Most useful digital resource during lockdown...


My Fitbit app has been pretty useful in keeping me motivated to keep mentally and physically healthy.

Most inspirational digital resource during lockdown...


Kip Hideaways has been really inspirational for exploring the British countryside. Really beautiful and unique properties of all types for all types – everything from log cabins to tree houses and coastal shacks, every one of them charming.

First thing you look at on your mobile when you wake up/in the morning...


Unfortunately Instagram. Really trying to stop that, but also BBC Weather.

Last thing you binge-watched...


White House Farm, a true story about a disturbing occurrence set in the eighties in Essex.

Favourite brands have you discovered online...


Country Fire Kitchen for bespoke fire cooking tools is amazing.



Social media allowed me to meet...


New customers to our restaurants. It was instrumental in driving new traffic to our establishments.

The best digital advice I've been given...


Don’t react or respond to negativity online, especially Twitter. There are some craze bags out there, so best not to engage.

My screensaver is...


My family.

My standout online memory...


I always enjoy online comments on restaurant reviews. We once had a crazy person make outlandish accusations regarding a lunch she had with us which caused quite a sensation – so much so that it pushed our review to the most read story in The Guardian. I was actually accused of writing it as a clever marketing strategy. There were thousands of comments and it basically went viral and put our little bistro in the press worldwide.



My pet online hate is...


Trolls.

Do you have any online rules or resolutions?


When I’m out with friends or family I really make an effort to just put the phone away and enjoy the moment. I once threw my phone under a train in protest against my friends who wouldn’t leave their phones alone.

The Internet. On balance, a force for good or ill?


Used correctly, a force of good but like anything balance is essential.

By Nancy Alsop
March 2021

READ MORE
Gill Meller
Tom Kerridge
Felicity Cloake

Nancy Alsop

Editor

Nancy is a magpie for the best in design and culture.

FIND OUT MORE