And there he is, the same barrel-bodied, chunky-faced, ebullient figure he was from the very beginning. The drift of short, curly hair is almost white now, and there are a few more lines around the eyes, but the eyes themselves still flash with the same humour, intelligence and devilment they did when I first met Richard Corrigan at Mulligan’s of Mayfair – what? – thirty years ago.
‘Oh, come on, Matt-hew, a dozen oysters. You can manage those. And a crab salad. And what about a partridge, just spatchcocked and roasted with a little black pudding on the side. And some of those ham hock croquettes.’
‘Crubbeens, you mean. Seems a bit much to me.’
‘Oh, coooome oooonn’.
I’ve reviewed Richard Corrigan’s food more often than that of any other chef, as he went his rollicking way from Mulligan’s to Bentley’s of Swallow Street; and thence to Stephen Bull in Fulham Road with the divine Marian Scrutton running the front of house; on to Hackney Dog Track (a somewhat improbable incarnation that didn’t last long, but I managed to squeeze in a review before the whole track development went bust, taking Richard’s restaurant with it; it still remains one of the best and most enjoyable eating sessions of my life); before heading to Searcy’s in the Barbican; then going independent at Lindsay House; before returning to Bentley’s in Swallow Street as chef/proprietor this time; as he is at Corrigan’s; and now at Daffodil Mulligan. I love the return to a Mulligan named restaurant.
In that time his cooking has scarcely changed one iota. I can still remember the crunchy, slithery crubbeens at Mulligan’s, and the the booming-flavoured, pot-roasted guinea fowl that came after, sitting proud and plump on a hillock of root veg glossy with beef marrow.
There was a wild and brilliant period when he first went to Bentley’s when he dressed roasted rabbit with crab stock and turbot with chicken stock and you never knew which you were going to get. His dishes have become more orderly, more classical possibly, as time has gone by, but even so the character of his cooking is as instantly recognisable now as it was then; subtle and graceful touches building on the qualities and potent flavour of brilliant primary ingredients. Rowley Leigh, himself a great chef, once wrote of Richard something along the lines of ‘He cooks with the heft of a heavyweight and the touch of an angel’, a description that is as perfect as it is precise.
Take the crab salad at Daffodil Mulligan: a leaf of Little Gem lettuce piled high with sweet white crab meat topped with a fat, black, glistening slug of black caviar. Beside it rests a cloud of brown crab meat that had been blended with cream and squirted from an espuma, topped – and this is where the touch of an angel comes in – with a fine dusting of pork crackling crumbs. It sounds a bit weird, but it works brilliantly, the crumbs crunching like porky popping candy, broadening out the range of flavours, filling in between them.
And here’s another mouthful – a plate of oysters and big gooseneck clams. The oysters are very good, exemplary, but oysters all the same. But a kind of tartar sauce including horseradish and cornichon had been added to the mighty meaty clams, giving them a sharp, tangy biff.
There was a native lobster,too, that had been roasted in the wood-fired oven and served in one of those cast iron dishes and on a discretely fermented bed of kimchi. Think about it – those caramel candy notes of the crustacean, the chilli ‘’n’ vinegar sharpness of the kimchi. Yes please.
And the spatchcocked partridge with the black pudding; the roasted bacon joint; the mallard and pheasant Wellington (interestingly – at least I think it is – the Iron Duke was born in the same village as the Iron Chef); and a meringue on a bed of poached quince and dusted with cinnamon and nutmeg.
And there the big man was, dashing backwards and forwards by the range and the wood-fired one and the bar, cajoling, encouraging, bribing, enticing, those meaty hands moving with the daintiness of a miniaturist and the precision of a brain surgeon.
‘Ah, Matt-hew. This is the food I like to cook. It comes from here,’and he smacks his chest.’
It seems to me, he’s back where he started. After years of having to discipline his more exuberant creative instincts to the demands of high-end restaurateuring and financial survival, he has found a place, and a team, who share his intuitive, free-flowing manner. It’s not highly polished, carefully calibrated, Instagram-friendly, but, Christ, it tastes good, each mouthful, each flavour and flavour within flavour. It speaks of an almost heroic generosity of spirit and talent. Oh, coooome oooonn.
Daffodil Mulligan, 70-74 City Road, London EC1Y 2BJ
Tel: 0207 404 3000