Irish magic – and not a leprechaun in sight
70-74 City Rd, London EC1Y
‘Daffodil Mulligan,’ says my friend J D. ‘Sounds like a down-on-his-luck, former pro golfer who has been reduced to flogging flowers on a street corner. Before being given one more shot at the big time.’ Were it a Hollywood film, he’d probably be played by Adam Sandler or Kevin Costner. But it’s not a Hollywood film.
For Daffodil Mulligan is neither golfer nor even a man. Rather the daughter of Biddy Mulligan, a legendary Dublin street seller, purveyor of much Irish ‘spirit and hospitality’. And the inspiration behind a new restaurant from that very distillation of Irish charm and good craic, Richard Corrigan. The room is a haven of civilised calm among the rattle and clatter of building sites that surround Old Street Tube, with vast picture windows, open kitchen and wicker-backed chairs.
The room is a haven of civilised calm among the rattle and clatter of building sites that surround Old Street Tube, with vast picture windows, open kitchen and wicker-backed chairs
Despite being owned by three Irishmen (Corrigan, John Nugent and Tony Gibney), and having a menu packed with Ireland’s bounteous bounty, it steers admirably clear of hoary-handed cliché. So no shamrocks, fiddlers or leprechauns. Not even any ponies running wild between the tables. Alan Partridge would be less than impressed. But Daffodil Mulligan is very much a family affair, with the impeccable front of house run by Corrigan’s son, Richie.
The problem, though, with reviewing a Richard Corrigan place is Corrigan himself. Because try as I might to ensure everything that comes out is added to the bill, he simply pays no attention, swatting off my plaintive bleats with a wave of his mighty arm. He has always been thus. To pretty much everyone. Much to the horror, I suspect, of his accountant. So I can’t bang on about golden crubeens, served with a pot of Colman’s mustard, their delicate, Panko-ed shell cracking open to reveal softly seductive nuggets of ham and trotter. Or the plump curl of langoustine, barely cooked, wallowing in an intensely sweet soup made with the very last of the sweetcorn (and all the vegetables come from his Irish property). A tribute to an old Lindsay House classic.
And it’s not like we didn’t order (and pay for) most of the menu anyway. ‘He told me it was just going to be stew and oysters,’ says Joe with a shrug. The oysters are great. As you’d expect. Carlingford rocks, big and ballsy, with their cool, briny swagger. And English natives, from West Mersea, rather more sweet and subtle. Like the Colman’s with the crubeen, there’s very much a feel of Anglo-Irish entente here.
Cherry clams are vast, fist-sized crustaceans from Dorset, served with the merest squeeze of lime. Once you wrest the meat from the shell, they have soft chew and surprising delicacy, bruisers with a sensitive side. Vongole comes in what tastes like the essence of chicken gravy. Then that traditional Irish classic, deep-fried chilli chicken with chorizo mayonnaise. Fresh from the Cliffs of Moher. It’s as grand as it sounds, and you get the feeling that Corrigan and his head chef Simon Merrick feel rather liberated in this kitchen, set free from the seafood classism of Bentley’s, and the more refined reaches of Corrigan’s Mayfair.
The oysters are great. As you’d expect. Carlingford rocks, big and ballsy, with their cool, briny swagger
Beef tartare is served in an oyster shell with an umami heavy oyster cream. It’s a bold dish, as it should be, but never brash, the highly seasoned, finely chopped flesh swooning in a lusciously lactic embrace. Tartare deluxe, but stealth wealth rather than ostentatiously rich. Perhaps best of all is a whole chicken – the legs chopped off and cooked separately – enclosed in a salt pastry crust and baked. Dear God, I don’t think I’ve eaten a better bird, perfectly steamed so the flavour is trapped inside, with a mushroom duxelle slathered under the skin. Each mouthful is a tender, fecund, umami explosion. Huge chunks of cep are an extravagant but lovely afterthought.
What a dish. What a lunch. And I even managed to pay the bill.
About £45 per head