It’s a drizzly Wednesday in May, but as guests arrive for this evening’s event, the sky brightens, and Embassy Garden’s 25-metre sky pool is illuminated. Floating 10 storeys above the ground and transparent, it connects two luxurious residential buildings in London’s newest neighbourhood and is a world-first.
But American Express® Gold Cardmembers haven’t travelled to Nine Elms to gaze at its architectural marvels. United by a passion for great food and writing, they’re here for the latest edition of American Express’ Eat Life series – Eat Books – with award-winning author and journalist, Dolly Alderton.
The gloomy weather is soon forgotten as literature lovers are greeted with ruby-coloured negronis. During the drinks reception, guests have the opportunity to peer into plans for the building’s lavish apartments and penthouses before further interior design inspiration is revealed as they are led to their table in Darby’s.
This Irish-influenced, New York-inspired oyster bar, restaurant and bakery is Robin Gill’s latest offering. For culinary enthusiasts who’ve followed his journey, it’s easily his most impressive. Having risen through the ranks under the guidance of revered chefs such as Marco Pierre White and Raymond Blanc, Robin burst onto London’s dining scene when he opened Clapham’s ground-breaking The Dairy in 2013.
Having earned a reputation within the industry for this commitment to produce and provenance, it comes as no surprise that the acclaimed chef’s introduction to the evening sees him talk about foraging for fresh ingredients at 7 am that morning. The early start clearly agrees with him. Wearing a Hawaiian shirt and bursting with enthusiasm for what’s about to be served, he welcomes everyone to the event before walking diners through the menu.
Referencing the stylish surroundings, Robin explains that Darby’s is a love letter to the 1950s and 60s Manhattan jazz bars where his musician father used to play. From the counter-style seating at the marble bar to the dark wood parquet floors and brass lamps, it’s certainly an elegant take on old-school New York. And while the dining room is huge, it’s infused with an intimate atmosphere that makes it the perfect backdrop to candied conversations.
Cue Dolly Alderton, renowned for her way with both written and spoken words, as those in the room who tuned into her legendary weekly podcast, The High Low, can attest. As a trio of delicious snacks are placed on the tables – crispy pork nuggets, mustard and pickles; smoked eel Gilda, Gordal olive and pickled green chilli; and gougère – choux pastry puffs filled with creamy Gubbeen cheese and pickled walnut – Dolly takes to the stage to introduce her first novel, Ghosts. A story of love and memory, ageing and identity, friendship and family.
Within minutes she admits to host and acclaimed writer Christie Watson that her inspiration came from being ghosted on several occasions herself. The pair immediately delve into the perils and pitfalls of dating in the 21st century. It’s like eavesdropping on a frank exchange between two friends while, at the other side of the room, a team of chefs meticulously plate up the first course.
There’s a pause in the discussion as plates emerge from the kitchen, and attention turns to a starter of green asparagus, seaweed gribiche and watercress, paired with blush-pink Mirabeau Pure Rosé, followed by Farmer Tom’s Hereford beef rump, beetroot and horseradish alongside crispy beef fat potatoes and a leaf, fennel, and radish salad.
Emerging from the kitchen to oversee service, Robin continues to delight diners – moving between tables to share a drink, talk about the inspiration behind the dishes, and share a few tips with enthusiastic home cooks throughout the evening.
Glasses are refreshed with pours of Mirabeau Étoile Rosé, and diners are personally invited to a restaurant section dedicated to book signings. Clutching their copies of Ghosts, the Gold Cardmembers exude excitement at the opportunity to meet Dolly. The area erupts with laughter as she scrawls dedications on opening pages, answers questions, and poses for photos with the guests.
Dolly returns to the stage as dessert is served, and the conversation continues. It’s funny, honest and touching – filled with smart observations about modern life – and, with diners taking their final sip of Mirabeau Sparkling La Folie, an evening of food and books comes to a close.
If you have an appetite for more delicious events and dining opportunities, Eat Life’s ongoing programme, exclusively designed for Gold Cardmembers, continues to serve a memorable feast.
This summer’s at-home BBQ cooking class with Jack Croft and Will Murray, the duo behind Fallow – an award-winning BBQ restaurant with sustainability at its heart – promises to bring people together across the country as they get to grips with their grilling techniques and tune in for a live Q&A. While food-themed walking tours in London, Manchester, Birmingham and Edinburgh see restaurants open their doors for a ‘Gold Restaurant-Hopping Tours’ event.