Meet the Irishman behind Darby’s, the NYC-inspired oyster bar, open grill, and bakery that wears its Irish roots on its sleeve.
When chef and restaurateur Robin Gill opened Darby’s in 2019, he wanted to create ‘the quintessential neighbourhood joint’. Having opened a string of popular neighbourhood restaurants – The Dairy, Sorella, and Counter Culture in Clapham – Darby’s is the restaurant that was always meant to be. ‘The menu is the thing to look out for, it’s constantly changing.’ This is because as a chef, Robin is ‘completely led by produce’. Not only does Darby’s source the best, top-quality ingredients directly from British and Irish farms, but they’re served fresh within a cosy and lively setting that has community and family at its heart.
The restaurant itself is named after his father, Darby Gill, a talented trumpeter who toured New York and Chicago throughout the 50s and 60s. His dad’s life as a musician in the States even went as far as to inspire the restaurant’s chic interior and its core philosophy. Music, food, and family were the three things Darby loved in life, and all three have very much come to represent the spirit of the restaurant today. From a fully seasonal menu to a yearly Bloomsday Festival (more on that later…), and live music every Sunday, it’s hard to think of a place that offers more. ‘Sunday’s one of our busiest days, a great day for a family day out,’ says Robin reflecting on the atmosphere of the place. ‘It reminds me of the old days in Irish pubs where the parents are in, having a drink, and the kids just vanish until the end!’
Recent investment into the borough has seen it evolve over the last few years with many fearing the effects of this on Vauxhall’s diverse and unique communities. But in Robin’s eyes, this has only brought Vauxhall closer together. Reflecting on the effects of new infrastructure and transport links, he says that not too long ago ‘communities were a bit fragmented. Now that all the property development is coming together and all the access points are merging, the community is also able to come together.’ Keeping the heart and soul of the place present throughout all of this change has meant that ‘more people are coming in and discovering all the cool spots in Vauxhall.’
Fond memories of childhood mischief in old boozers have meant that among these cool spots is a good pub. Robin’s local favourites are the Canton Arms and Nolan’s. The first’s a winner for its stellar food, while the second is a ‘proper Irish boozer,’ just a stone’s throw from Darby’s. ‘It’s like a step back in time,’ smiles Robin, ‘it reminds me of going to Kinsale when I was a kid.’ Another favourite haunt ‘where you can get a little espresso for a quid’, is a little area between Vauxhall, Stockwell, and Brixton known as Little Portugal. During the 60s and 70s, a number of Portuguese families settled in the South Lambeth area, transforming the South Lambeth Road and connecting streets into a buzzing spot bursting with cafes, bars, and restaurants all offering a little taste of Portugal. While you’re getting your espresso, be sure to check out some of their incredible restaurants which we shortlisted last month.
When not getting lost among all the smells and delicacies of Little Portugal, Robin can be found at the serene oasis that is Bonnington Square Gardens. ‘When I discovered that street, it just blew me away. It’s right between all these big skyscrapers like the place that time forgot. I absolutely love it.’ And, as if it couldn’t get any better, its bordering cafe is a prime spot to grab an afternoon sandwich.
Cultivating a strong community spirit is one of the founding pillars of Darby’s and is more than apparent in the restaurant’s range of past and future events. The aforementioned Bloomsday Festival is one that perhaps only the Irish among us have heard of. Celebrated yearly, it’s a commemoration of the life and work of Irish writer James Joyce on the day his epic Ulysses takes place, the 16 June. This year was the festival’s second rodeo and with external funding, it was bigger and better than ever. Boasting a full lineup of Irish talent based in London, it spanned readings, live music, and of course, incredible food. Luckily the party doesn’t end there, with Robin’s good friend and fantastic drag queen and DJ, A Man to Pet, hosting a monthly Sunday drag brunch.
For a place that champions music, community, and food, look no further than Darby’s. And as the son of a musician father and choreographer mother, it’s not surprising that Robin has kept these three things at the core of his life as a chef and restaurateur. Interestingly, it wasn’t always meant to be like that, ‘I was supposed to be a dancer,’ he smiles, ‘so I’m a failed dancer and a chef!’. Well, thank god for that, because otherwise, we might have lost the magic that is Darby’s to the stages of London’s West End!