‘The first person I ran into at Richard Corrigan’s new restaurant was’ Richard Corrigan. As I arrived outside, about to walk in, he walked out, escorting another gentleman with him. Pointing across the street, he showed off the squatters that had moved into the £6.5m townhouse directly opposite. At 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, a black flag hung from the first floor, a neon turquoise light shone inside and members of the Da! Collective chilled on the balcony.
The chef-patron seemed less than delighted, but maybe that was because these illegal occupants had attracted more media attention than the relatively quiet opening of his new flagship restaurant the previous night. Can you blame the man? With his name literally above the door (and on the cutlery), he clearly means business here. In fact he is so serious about Corrigan’s that he opened it the same day he announced the closure of his Michelin-starred Lindsay House – in May 2009 the Soho townhouse’s lease is up and it is not being renewed. Thus, he has moved both himself and Lindsay’s head chef, Chris McGowan, to his new residence in lavish Mayfair, where he will surely be more comfortable: ‘the Soho neighbourhood proved tough. Many of my staff were attacked, the restaurant was broken into…’
‘The older I get, the more puritan I become about food, the more I want to leave it alone.’ Only 44, but having already led a rather full life (his bill at the Groucho Club used to be bigger than his mortgage), Corrigan wants to return to what he knows and likes best: effortless, confident food, a sort of basic reinvention of Lindsay House. His inspiration is his childhood. He was raised on a bog-land farm in County Meath, living without electricity until nine years old, and, with six brothers and sisters, his family grew, fished and hunted during the day what they ate for dinner (think wild duck, home-grown pig, mother’s soda bread, fresh-churned butter). Cooking was part of daily life and motivated him to chef professionally at only 14, as a trainee in his hometown Kirwin Hotel. Ambitious and always the rebel, at 17 he moved to Amsterdam for four years, working as chef de partie at several top hotels and restaurants, as well as meeting his future wife there. In 1965, he relocated to London and Michel Lorrain’s Le Meridien Hotel. After a year, he was head chef at Stephen Bull’s Blandford Street. Next, following stints at Mulligan’s, Mayfair and Bentley’s, he returned to work for Bull, but this time on Fulham Road, where in 1994 he won his first Michelin star. 1996 saw Searcy’s caterers hire him as a consultant to help improve their Brasserie at the Barbican; a partnership so successful it evolved into a joint venture, Corrigan Restaurants, between Searcy’s owners, Richard and Nigel Goodhew, and the chef, after he could only afford half the price of an undervalued Georgian building he had found in Soho. This building bought, it became Lindsay House in late 1997. Within two years, Corrigan won his second, and Lindsay House its first, star with Corrigan crowned ‘Outstanding London Chef’ at the 2000 Carlton London Restaurant Awards. More recently, in May 2005, the chef jumped at the chance when it became possible to purchase his former employer, Bentley’s; reopening the then century-old restaurant in 2006 to critical acclaim. The same year, his profile rose considerably after winning the ‘starters portion’ on the first series of Great British Menu and cooking for the Queen’s 80th birthday (he has also fed Tony Blair at No.10, Jordan’s King and Queen, Irish president Mary McAleese, plus London’s mayor). A couple of months ago, last August, he opened another branch of Bentley’s in Dublin.
For this, his latest venture, as mentioned, Corrigan brought with him Chris McGowan, whose importance he repeatedly stresses. Previously sous chef to Koffman at La Tante Claire and Rhodes at City Rhodes, the head chef clearly has pedigree, but also follows closely Corrigan’s style: robust yet sophisticated cooking, firmly based in country cuisine. In addition, Jacques Dejardin (formerly of Gaucho Grill, Swallow Street) is the new manager and Andrea Briccarello (Bentley’s and Umu) head sommelier, looking after a 280-bin list focused on organic and bio-dynamic producers.
Corrigan’s occupies what was Chez Nico at 90 Park Lane and where Nico Ladenis famously gave back his three stars before hanging up his chef’s whites in 2002. It had also been part of the Grosvenor Hotel, but after a fruitless three-year effort to draft in a top chef to fill it, the property has instead been sold to Corrigan – coincidentally, the man who, since 2006, has constantly been linked with a deal to run the hotel’s own fine-dining establishment, though he always denied it. Now that the chef has taken over and installed an independent restaurant, the bond with the hotel has been broken and a new emphatic entrance constructed on Upper Grosvenor Street.
Above the dark wooden door, against the grey limestone, CORRIGAN’S is embossed in bold gold. Once within, dim, amber lights, sunken ceiling and the flicker of candles from the main dining area infect instant good cheer. A long bar, behind which sits a large mirror of reflective foil lined with whiskies, liqueurs, cognacs and other wonderful, colourful bottles, is directly on the right and one must walk through it to reach the seventy-seat dining space. The rus in urbe motif, inspired by the current game season and hunting lodges specifically, has been implemented by Martin Brudnizki, the Swedish-born designer so hot right now (The Ivy, Scott’s, St. Pancreas Grand, Tierra Brindisa). Brudnizki’s style is comfortable elegance and that is the look sought here with soft, burgundy-trimmed, arctic blue armchairs and a banquette which encircles the entire room. The street side is dominated by reflective foil squares broken up by inset, mostly shrouded windows. The opposite side is dominated by a large painting of gloomy moors, heaths and bogs borrowed, as is most of the artwork, from Corrigan’s very own collection. On the far, back wall is glossy, cherry-wood panelling crowned with frieze of game figures – ducks, pheasants etc. Other teasing hints to the theme – Brudnizki was entrusted with incorporating ‘witty references’ to it – include antlers on wine buckets and lamps with feathered shades and duck-leg-shaped stands. Upon oak floorboards are tables laid thickly with white linen and set with heavy, monogrammed, silver cutlery, bread plate, metal salt shaker, wooden pepper grinder and large glass urn holding chunky candle. Crockery is Dibben. The candles are the prime source of illumination, but there are also large lamps sitting in the window bays and clusters of burnt-orange-shaded, chain linked, light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. Private dining is catered for with a ten-person Club Room that has a kitchen-view as well as the Lindsay Room, which, for larger functions, can hold thirty.
The menu is simple and reads deliciously. It will change four times a year, naturally with the seasons, and is currently bursting with game, wild fish and seafood. I am happy and sad and in dire need of Sebastien’s (one of the managers) support: ‘which ones do you like?’ he asked hopefully. ‘All of them,’ I replied desperately…In the end, I told him how much I wanted to pay and asked him to decide what to feed me.
Canapés: Montgomery Sablés and Olives Stuffed with Goat’s Cheese. Crunchy, crumbly savoury sablé biscuits (read ‘mini-cheddars’) made with Montgomery cheddar were flavoursome with a long, lingering cheesy finish. The olives, filled with feta, bread-crumbed and deep-fried, exploded with each juicy bite, releasing salty-sharpness.
Bread: Cheese & Onion; White; and Soda Bread. Instead of the simple offer of a roll or bun or slice, an entire tin bowlful of different breads was placed upon the table. Cheese and onion rolls had lovely onion aroma and crisp crust, but could have done with a stronger infusion of Montgomery. White buns were soft, fluffy and redolent with yeasty goodness. Soda bread, a Corrigan special made with jumbo oat flakes, wholemeal flour, buttermilk, honey and black treacle, was deep, rich and moreish. All baked on the premises, they were accompanied by creamy, unsalted Irish butter.
Starter 1: Game Broth, Livers on Toast. The serious stuff started with pheasant broth brimming with Puy lentils, potato, carrot, celery and a touch of cream and cumin; a small slice of toast, thickly smeared with pheasant liver – which I was instructed was best begun with – sat alongside. Obediently, the liver was tasted first: the lovely offal was surprisingly delicate and softly irony. Next, the soup was sampled. Steaming hot, rich yet light, it was very nice. Pleasantly pink pieces of pheasant were tender and tasty, whilst the vegetables, crunchy. The Puy were firm and peppery, combining with the earthy cumin, to pep the potage.
Starter 2: Langoustines, Spiced Chick Peas. Succulent, shelled Scottish langoustines came sitting in chickpea purée spiced with coriander and chilli, drizzled in pressed olive oil. The sweet shellfish were delightfully plump and had good, firm bite. Smooth and creamy puréed chickpeas – essentially humus – were nutty, earthy and distinctly seasoned with warm, lemony coriander and spicy chilli. A simple, pleasing composition.
Starter 3: Salad of Game Birds, Romesco Sauce. Mesclun, resting upon romesco sauce, was wrapped in gently pickled pumpkin shavings and surrounded with strips of temperate mallard and pheasant. Both birds were moist and delectable; the pheasant a little gamier, whilst the wild duck had distinct, yet faint, fishiness. Fresh leaves of sorrel, frisée, escarole and dandelion were crunchy and mildly bitter. The nutty pumpkin had unexpected tartness and vigour, combining agreeably with the game. Catalonian romesco (tomato, onion, roasted garlic, hazelnuts) assuaged the sharpness of the salad, supplying some moisture and crunch too.
Fish 1: Butter Poached Haddock, Lobster, Creamed Parsnip. Immaculate tarragon-sprinkled haddock fillet, lying on a haricot blanc bed and swimming in creamed parsnip and haddock velouté, was topped with lobster tail and claw. Simple poaching allowed the fresh, fishy, subtly salty sapidity of the haddock to come through well. The velouté was thick and creamy, its sweeter, earthy parsnips picking up on the slight sweetness of the fish and lobster, which were also complemented by the aromatic tarragon’s aniseed pepperiness. The beans were nicely soft and nutty.
Fish 2: Steamed Sole Fillet, Cèpes. Fine, firm-textured fillet of Dover sole with butter and tarragon emulsion and sitting on cèpe purée, came layered with sautéed slivers of cèpe. The purée, especially intense and earthy, with the meaty mushrooms were a nutty and woody counterpoint to the milder, buttery sweetness of the sole, which had also been poached. In contrast to the deep fungal flavours, the herby emulsion gave the dish gentle zest.
Fish 3: Red Mullet, Creme Fraiche, Fennel. Cherise-coloured, moist red mullet, again poached, was accompanied by a salad of fennel and cucumber, fennel leaf purée and mizzling of crème fraîche; small cucumber spheres peppered the plate. Poaching with crème fraîche is a method discovered by Corrigan in Scandinavia and ‘lends a clean, citrusy, creamy acidity’ to the fish. The natural, distinct shellfish savour of the mullet was also easy to appreciate and worked brilliantly with the fennel’s aniseed essence that counteracted the oiliness of the fish. The herby dressing, very reminiscent of Turkish cacik (copied the world over; you may recognise it as raita or tzatziki), was refreshing and snappy whilst the salad, warm and crunchy. The crisp cucumber balls burst forth with watery, grassy coolness. This was my favourite of the fish.
Meat 1: Roast Partridge, Bread Sauce, Sprouts. Roasted leg and breast of partridge, placed over caramelised sprout shoots and celeriac purée, arrived surrounded with roasted chestnuts, baby carrot, parsnips and baby onions; alongside, came parsnip and chestnut-crowned bread pudding. The juicy bird had delicate gamey flesh and crunchy, rich skin; its deep jus roti had been absorbed by the nutty sprouts that retained their bite well. The earthy celeriac complemented the sprout’s nuttiness as did the crumbly chestnuts and parsnips, the subtle sugariness of whose was a theme continued with the carrot, pudding and baby onions which had soft inner layers that unravelled under roasted caramel shells. The chef’s reworking of classic bread sauce – spiced with cinnamon, clove and tarragon and transformed into a warm mousse – was so far the only aspect of the dish (and the meal) I did not enjoy; its airy, mushy, doughy consistency simply did not agree with me.
Meat 2: Roe Venison Cutlet, Pumpkin, Mashed Potato. Double-ribbed cutlet of roe deer, divided into two and dished with pumpkin cube trio, tortellini of venison and pumpkin, over purée of more pumpkin, rosemary jus and roasting juices, was partnered by chive-infused pommes purée. The charry crust of the chops, charged with nice smokiness, encased tender, pretty pink meat which, due to roe deer’s diet of herbs and shoots, was mild and smooth. The candy-like gourd had good graininess and its purée, power whilst the pasta, built like a lady’s belly button, had meaty-nutty-sweetness. The rosemary was an excellent complement to all the elements: naturally harmonising with the game, its pine-like woodiness working with the charred flesh and lemon-like zing enlivening everything. The ample mash, mottled with oniony chives, was not Robuchon-buttery, but smooth, satisfying and richly savoured with perspicacious potato starchiness. This was a meal in itself; hearty, filling and comforting.
Dessert 1: Spiced Ice Cream, Macerated Figs, Madeleine. Roasted black figs, soaked in some port, sat in partially melted ice cream soup sparked with saffron, star anise, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon, which hid the madeleines lying beneath. The fruits’ millions of small seeds had melted together into honeyed jam, made sweeter and richer by the port. Warm, bitter seasoning had intensely imbued the ice cream with sweet heat; highlighting the fig’s own subtle spiciness. The freshly-baked madeleines had absorbed all the fruity juices, fiery ice cream and punchy port to become deliciously moist and sticky.
Dessert 2: Rhubarb & Custard. Next, it was poached pink rhubarb log stack, steeped in its own coulis; amber-crusted pristine egg custard tart; and rough quenelle of ginger ice cream perched upon pistachios. The soft, sugary-tart rhubarb had perfect balance whilst gingery, spicy ice cream came with crystallised chips of stem ginger. The tarte, creamy and dense, had a well-baked crumbly pastry base and caramelised finish. A gentle ginger burn continued long after the empty plate was cleared. This pudding, offering simple, classic combinations of sweetness and sharpness skilfully composed, was just lovely.
Dessert 3: Lime & Cheese Soufflé. An intriguingly titled teaming of lime and cheese turned out to be lime and mascarpone – a revelation that softened the surprise of savoury in this sweet. A thusly flavoured soufflé was served separately with same-savoured sorbet and saucière of crème Anglaise. The piping hot soufflé, speckled with zesty lime, was well-made with mild acidity, from both citrus and cheese, and airy texture. Additional Anglaise was creamy and tangy whilst the sorbet, contrastingly cold and silky.
Petit Fours: Pistachio Macaron; Pâte de Fruit; Lemon Tart; and Amaretto Truffle. A platter of petit fours – crisp-coasted, chewy-centred macarons; fruity-sour jellies; concentrated, sharp tart with crumbly pastry; and thick, grainy chocolate that delivered a nutty-sweet slap – concluded dinner. The best of the bunch were the toothsome truffles, then lively lemon tart.
Eleven courses (discounting petit fours, canapés and all the bread I ate) and I enjoyed it all. Never having eaten at Lindsay House or Bentley’s, I did not know what to expect from Corrigan’s food, but I was impressed with what I found. Dishes, simple, robust and gratifying in taste, were prepared and presented cleanly and without fuss. The emphasis was on the ingredients and getting the best out of them. The cooking, simple and straightforward on the surface – lots of roasting and poaching – can leave a chef vulnerable: any mistakes in execution and anything, but the freshest, choicest raw materials, are immediately discernable. Luckily for Corrigan’s, and even better for me, the chef here knows exactly what he is doing and the produce is the best that Britain has to offer. Provenance is paramount: shellfish from Scotland; fish from Cornwall; lamb and venison from Wales; game, wild and shot by R. Johnson in Lancashire; and salmon from Sally Barnes’ smoker (which employs only three people). In total, over twenty suppliers of fish have been used and I believe only the foie gras, rouget and cèpes (their season is about to end anyway) are French. The quality is perceptible and palatable; the mallard actually has a fine fishiness; the red mullet actually tastes of shellfish…
The food is good indeed, but the experience is really made by the staff here, ALL of whom are terrific: from the charming, cheerful greetings from Marie and Susan at the door, who considerately came over several times to see how I was; the decisive, knowledgeable and amiable Sebastien who proved an able judge of what I would like; attentive, informative, friendly Gabriel, Manuel and Susana all of whom helped pass the time between courses (eleven courses remember….lots of time to pass) with pleasant conversation. Most importantly, everyone seemed so very genuine; I could tell you little bits about each’s background now – but I won’t. Furthermore, the atmosphere is great. Walking in from the cold, I was enveloped with warmth and coddled in comfort. The quivering candles especially were inspired; their effect had me continually looking around for the fireplace.
The food is ‘full of flavour, not flavours’ and what you see is what you get. In a word, it is honest; in two, honestly tasty. Combined with the people, the ambience, the fact that I can return and have twelve more courses, each different to any I have already tried, it is enough to make me go back. However, I feel I must prepare you all for one thing – and some are really going to hate this – although triflingly small, there is a £1.50 cover charge.
I wrote at the start that the launch had been rather muted, but now I think I can see why: they wanted the food to do the talking. As I complete this critique, reviews from the professionals are flooding in, all positive, startlingly positive actually, and from even the fiercest of critics: either Richard Corrigan must have some impressive influence or I am right.
28 Upper Grosvenor Street, Mayfair, W1K 2NG
tel: 020 7499 9943
nearest tube: Marble Arch