Since opening in 2008, Corrigan’s Mayfair has been garlanded with an enviable host of accolades. After just three months it gained (and has retained) three AA Rosettes, with the Evening Standard’s London Restaurant of the Year and the ‘AA London Restaurant of the Year’ following in quick succession. At the National Restaurant Awards it gained one of the highest new entries at number five. Since then, it has featured consistently with high marks in the major restaurant guides.
fine dining guide first visited in 2011, finding much to admire in the welcoming hospitality and generosity of spirit which epitomise the approach of chef-patron Richard Corrigan. Now that new Head Chef Alan Barrins has been at the helm for over a year, it seemed appropriate to revisit.
Certain features of the long, oak floored, low ceilinged room, lit by dainty chained bell shaped lamps – an odd arrangement – remain. Blue leather chairs and soft banquettes, adding to the club like feel, continue to offer comfortable seating around well-spaced tables dressed in fine napery. The art deco antique mirrored walls now provide the backdrop to more recent additions to the decor – paintings from Richard Corrigan’s private collection.
Private dining for 30 can still be enjoyed in the glamourous Lindsay Room, whilst smaller groups of foodies can book the Chef’s Table or Kitchen Library (directly opposite the passe) which seat 12 and six respectively. The glamourous bar, which occupies half of the main dining room, can also be used if all tables are booked.
Happily, the food philosophy remains the same: sustainability, sourcing from small individual suppliers, the use of top rate organic produce – including vegetables from Richard and Virginia’s recently purchased 150 acre estate in County Cavan – are fundamental. This is not the place for cutting edge cookery – and all the better for it. Cooking fads are largely rejected in favour of classical techniques producing honest, robust cooking with bold flavours, including nose to tail dishes, served with generosity.
Head Chef Alan Barrins who came to England 11 years ago from his native Sligo in north west Ireland has a distinguished CV. This includes two and a half years at the Lanesborough with Paul Gayler , Arbutus and Les Deux Salons with Anthony Demetre (also two and a half years), and the highly acclaimed Rockpool in Sydney (two years). However, it was at the more modest but no less worthy Charlotte’s Bistro in Chiswick, where he was Head Chef, that he was discovered by Richard Corrigan, who ordered the whole of the menu in a busy lunch service!
Whilst Richard has a general oversight, ensuring that seasonal produce such as game – including the acclaimed grouse pie – are available, Alan has a large degree of freedom in menu construction, taking the best from his varied experience to put his own stamp on the final product. He hopes to take the restaurant further, developing the underused bar area and creating sharing dishes such as whole terrines, casseroles and roast suckling pigs, especially for the private dining rooms.
With a brigade of up to 12, Alan’s kitchen can provide for 120-130 covers, maintain a consistently high level of cooking. This is no mean achievement given the extensive a la carte menu which features 11 starters, 12 mains, and 6 desserts. Menus also change each month. Particularly busy times are Friday lunch, and Sunday lunch where a highly competitive price is charged for three courses (with five options at each stage). At dinner, trolley dishes such as rib of beef and suckling pig allow for an element of old fashioned theatre in the highly refined service.
The magisterial wine list is arranged primarily by wine characteristics, rather than by region or grape. This makes for interesting reading, particularly as the sommelier mixes and matches the idea according to peoples’ general understanding of wine tastes, grapes and regions: A style we may find expanded upon by other restaurants in due course. The wines chosen by the sommelier for our meal skilfully matched the chosen dishes.
Restaurant Manager Magdalena Gorska is affable and welcoming, helping to put diners at their ease. Her experience at Claridges, not to mention Gordon Ramsay’s eponymous Chelsea restaurant and the Savoy Grill has stood her in good stead for the more personal service which she prefers and can offer at Corrigan’s. Exchanging her training as a sommelier for management, she is a knowledgeable front of house, engaging and likeable. Leading an efficient, friendly and unobtrusive team, she ensures the service operates as a well-oiled machine, but one with personality and humour.
fine dining guide returned to Corrigan’s on a Thursday evening in March to sample dishes from the carte. Menu descriptions are understated, allowing for an element of surprise when the dish arrives.
An aperitif of champagne – NV Paul Dethune, Ambonnay Grand Cru – was the perfect accompaniment for canapes of olives stuffed with soft cheese, crumbed and deep fried, and mushroom vol au vents exuding the heady fragrance of shaved truffle.
Well baked Irish soda bread and baguette had crisp crusts and firm crumb.
Cooking dishes employing luxury ingredients is hard to achieve unless the raw ingredients and cooking time are perfect. Both were amply demonstrated in a Shellfish cocktail starter which featured poached lobster and crab dressed in Marie Rose sauce. Beautifully fresh, the generous chunks of lobster retained their succulence whilst delicate flakes of white crab meat were sweet and bursting with freshness. These were topped with a giant prawn tempura –again perfectly timed – which added warmth and crispness. These elements were lifted by lemon – properly wrapped in muslin – and suitably accompanied by Melba toast. Here was a traditional simple starter raised to lofty heights, allowing the main components to speak for themselves. (Wine: 2012 Pouilly-Fume Cuvee d’Eve, Dom. Des Berthiers – Loire Valley, France)
A seared veal sweetbread benefitted from a caramelised crust encasing a meltingly soft, creamy interior. Accompaniments of sweet onion puree contrasted with crisp grilled calcot, both adding a deep earthiness to the dish. Capers and cornichons, cut the richness of the offal, giving an acidic bite, whilst a reduced red wine jus brought the whole dish together. (Wine: 2013 Gruner Veltliner, Loiserberg, Loimer-Kamptal, Austria – pungent, peppery)
A precisely timed main course of roast saddle of rabbit was soft and moist. Wrapped with its liver and kidney in Parma ham, the dish would have been improved if the offal was served separately as it tended to overpower the delicate flavour of the flesh. Carrot puree and al dente white asparagus were suitable garnishes, adding sweetness and texture, whilst three cornered garlic gave colour and a herbal freshness. Crispy chicken skin and a rich jus completed the composition. (Wine: 2011 Bourgogne Rouge, Pinot Noir, Domaine Rion, – Burgundy, France.)
It was pleasing to see the humble lamb rump, an under used cut often used in set lunch dishes, appearing as a main course on an a la carte menu. This is one of the few ingredients that is prepared sous vide (at 40-60 degrees for five hours I am told), then finished in the pan. The result was wonderfully flavoursome and unctuous, a real triumph of meat cookery. Served with its sweetbreads – delicious but not needed given the very generous portion of rump – the dish was enhanced by a rich jus spiked with golden raisins, adding sweetness to balance the earthy flavours of sauted wild mushrooms and roasted salsify. (Wine: 2012 Chianti Classico, Isola e Olena – Tuscany, Italy)
A side dish of potato gratin was rich, well-seasoned and not over creamy. Crisp green beans with garlic and preserved lemon proved an excellent combination.
Finally, the skills of the pastry section were shown in the two desserts chosen for their relative lightness.
Rhubarb crumble soufflé – properly made with crème patissiere unlike many contemporary versions – was well textured and flavoured. The ginger crème Anglais worked well with the slight tartness of soufflé. Happily there was no attempt to pour the sauce into the soufflé, a practice I have never understood as it spoils both elements. Velvety smooth ice cream, again served separately, gave another temperature dimension to this accomplished composite dessert
A trio of ice creams – Vanilla, Cornflake and apple and Calvados – proved another appropriate dessert after two generously portioned savoury courses.
Good expresso, macaroons and Bailey’s chocolate truffles completed a memorable meal.
Overall, Corrigan’s Mayfair is firing on all cylinders. Dining here is not cheap, but prices on the carte reflect the superb quality of the produce, the skill in cooking and the excellence of the service. More accessible options, perhaps for those dining for the first time, are the weekday lunch Market Menu (£29 for three courses) and the Sunday Lunch. However, for special occasions, the extensive choice from the carte – perhaps even dining in the Kitchen Library – is not to be missed. Fine Dining will certainly visit again, perhaps in the autumn season to sample the abundance of game dishes for which Corrigan’s is renowned, and will follow the restaurant’s progress with interest