Richard Corrigan

Richard Corrigan

Richard Corrigan

Richard Corrigan has pioneered the rehabilitation of British and Irish food, reinterpreting the traditional and combining modern luxury with earthy, country cooking. His style, which holds ingredient-led simplicity at its core, is natural and instinctive and his pared back menus continue to be received with acclaim.

Richard Corrigan grew up on a 25 acre farm in County Meath, Ireland, described in his book as: ‘the last gasp of a rural era that in most places in Ireland had disappeared twenty to thirty years before.’ Although cash poor, they lived well, and happiness often centred on cooking and eating. ‘He says the farming mentality made him ‘very unpretentious about good food … We never thought of game as anything special because you’d go out to the outhouses and there were always pheasants and wild ducks hanging behind the door.’ Experiencing the hard work involved in food production also left its mark. He says ‘When you’re out thinning the leek beds and weeding every night, you appreciate what you grow’.

The family produced all kinds of vegetables and made their own pork, ham, bacon and black pudding. His mother churned her own butter and made the family’s bread. They had beehives, but Richard Corrigan remembers: ‘my father always preferred wild honey … If we heard there was a nest of bees, my dad would stop everything and we had to head into the fields, looking to raid it … There’s something quite mad about wild honey.’

He concludes: ‘We weren’t educated about food but we knew a hell of a lot. The whole country cycle of farming, shooting, cooking, fishing, eating is what teaches you. The art of country cooking was much finer than you would ever imagine, people were quite regal in what they liked and didn’t, what was correct cooking and what wasn’t… and the taste! I think there’s an appreciation of flavour and food that’s formed in your childhood.’

Hi first job in the kitchen was as an apprentice chef, at the Kirwin Hotel in Kylemore, Ireland, where the chef was a friend of his father. He says he learned a lot, but keen to get on he looked to Europe, moving to the Netherlands to work in international hotels at the age of 17. He says of this experience: ‘I was at the Hilton in Amsterdam when the chef got a Michelin star. He was a complete nut case. I remember him sending me out in the middle of the night to pick herbs without a torch. We were so frightened of him. When Michelin gave him the star, all the kitchen staff went on strike.’

One of the greatest influences of his early career was Michel Lorrain, a three-star chef from France who consulted for The Oak Room, where Richard Corrigan worked. He says it was the ‘utter simplicity’ of his food that appealed to him so much: ‘Recognition came late for him, so he didn't care about critics, he wasn't interested in being a superstar. Sometimes he'd put a pig's trotter on a plate with nothing else and say, that's it. I think you should show the same amount of respect to humble ingredients as the most expensive ones.’

Another key inspiration was Stephen Bull, who Richard Corrigan worked for at several restaurants during the late eighties and early nineties. First at Lichfield’s in Richmond, Surrey, where Bull won a Michelin star, then at two of his London restaurants – Blandford Street in Marylebone and Fulham Road in Chelsea, where Richard Corrigan held head chef roles. He says Bull helped him realise his own style of cooking, saying: ‘It was the first time I'd seen real intelligence in the kitchen, he had a style all of his own. He was always experimenting.’

Cooking Italian-inflected dishes such as Daube of ox cheek and tongue with chard and field mushroom cannelloni, John Dory with truffled macaroni and langoustine, and Monkfish wrapped in cured ham with globe artichokes and crab juices, Richard Corrigan gained a Michelin star at Fulham Road within a year of opening, in 1994. The Independent at the time described Richard Corrigan’s dishes as ‘some of the best food in London’, noting ‘his talent and the sort of big-heartedness that shows on the plate. He gives you close to perfect food, and lots of it. Hell, it is better than perfect. It is exciting.’

Richard Corrigan worked on several projects with restaurant contractors Searcy in the late nineties, together responsible for a string of acclaimed fine dining restaurants – Searcy’s Brasserie at The Barbican, House and The English Garden. In 1997, Searcy helped Richard Corrigan open Lindsay House in Soho, gaining a Michelin star in 1999. Serving dishes such as Ballotine of rabbit with black pudding, lentils and rocket, and Lamb fillet with sweetbreads, kidney and confit red peppers, Richard Corrigan displayed the influence of his childhood, where no part of the animal was discarded. Jay Rayner writing in The Guardian says of that lamb fillet: ‘The dish was a reminder of the whole animal, rather than just some sanitised version of it.’ He continues: ‘his food has about it an unencumbered and refreshing simplicity. He has technique and good taste, an agonisingly rare combination in London chefs these days.’ Over the years it grew into one of London’s great dining institutions with an extraordinarily loyal customer base, holding its Michelin star for ten years until it closed in 2009. Richard Corrigan said of its closure: ‘I'm happy to be finishing on a high note.’

Richard Corrigan and his backers also opened the private restaurant and bar at the top of St. Mary’s Axe (The Gherkin) in 2004, which serves dishes such as Smoked mackerel, razor clams and lime foam, and Confit pork belly, langoustine, Jerusalem artichoke and burnt apple to the building’s residents and guests.

In 2005, Richard Corrigan bought Bentley’s Oyster Bar and Grill, where he worked in the early nineties before making his name at Fulham Road, reviving a famous restaurant with heritage stretching back to 1916. Elegant canapés such as Ossetra caviar with blinis and sour cream and starters like Crab ravioli with samphire and lobster bisque begin a meal at Bentley’s, while a wide selection of day-boat fish and grilled meats form the backbone of the rest of the menu.

In 2008, Corrigan’s Mayfair opened its doors and was awarded London Restaurant of the Year by The Evening Standard the same year. With echoes of the kind of cooking Richard Corrigan executed at Lindsay House, the menu carries plates such as Smoked fish platter with salmon, eel, haddock scotch egg and celeriac remoulade (testament to his early years cooking in Holland), Turbot with mussels, sea vegetables and salsify and Seared scallops with salsify, blood orange and brown shrimp. His Nettle broth with scallops and horseradish is particularly popular and Richard Corrigan says of this: ‘People in the restaurant always seem to love this. It’s quite a talking point, because there’s something amazing about the textures and the way the slices of raw scallop cook as you eat the soup.’ Dessert could be a gently Irish Honey, apple and stout tart, or a delicate Lime and mascarpone soufflé with lime syrup. The Guardian writes of the restaurant: ‘by every criterion Corrigan's is a triumph’, with ‘hugely enticing menus that eschew any poncery and pretension’, awarding the restaurant nearly the full 10/10. His cookbook and memoir, The Clatter of Forks and Spoons, was also released the same year.

Richard Corrigan appears regularly on television and has hosted the Irish primetime television series, Corrigan Knows Food, one of Ireland’s most popular TV shows. Representing Northern Ireland, he has won the Great British Menu an incredible four times with dishes such as Smoked salmon with Irish soda bread, woodland sorrel and cress, and Whole poached wild salmon with duck egg dressing, wheaten bread and country butter. He now returns frequently to the show as a mentor and judge.

His next project was as owner of Virginia Park Lodge, in County Cavan, Ireland, where he had his wedding reception in 1985. Acting as a base for a major organic vegetable farm, cookery school and functions business, as well as a home, the farm already supplies his London restaurants, with the van leaving the Lodge in the morning and arriving that afternoon. He says: ‘At this stage in my life, I’ve accelerated to the point where I’m almost fanatical about simplicity and about the provenance of ingredients, and I want to turn almost my entire kitchen over to the small producer.’

He has long championed these artisan manufacturers, whose passion and drive he shares, and like the family who raised him is a strong proponent of waste-free cooking – where nothing that can be utilised is ever thrown away.He says: ‘I’m really proud of where I come from, because it’s made me what I am today. Having your own restaurant is like having your own farm, and all good farmers are driven. The energy I put into keeping my restaurants alive is born out of the energy we used to put into our land.’

Richard's latest restaurant Daffodil Mulligan is an ode to everything good and great about Irish cooking. Gibney's, the basement bar below the restaurant, quickly became one of the best places to enjoy a pint in the capital.