Restaurants: Sows' ears, silk purses

Pigging out with Caroline Stacey
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Even by the standards of restless chefs, Richard Corrigan, who has left a trail of potted hearts and other offal across London, seems fleet of foot. From County Meath in the middle of Ireland, via Amsterdam, he first made his mark over here at Mulligan's in London's Cork Street, where he put Irish cooking on the A-Z. He turned up at Bentley's in Swallow Street, then quickly earned a Michelin star at what was Stephen Bull's Fulham Road. There followed a brief consultancy at a short-lived East End greyhound stadium intended as a gourmet night out with dogs as a backdrop, which has since been demolished.

Corrigan can afford to make idiosyncratic choices. Such is the attraction that he holds for foodies, that they will follow him, if not to the ends of the earth, at least to Hackney - and thence to the Barbican Centre where he recently settled at Searcy's restaurant, making it worth a journey once more into that concrete labyrinth.

Now, in what should be his most lasting tenure, he has gone into partnership with Searcy's at the Georgian townhouse in Soho billed as Richard Corrigan... at the Lindsay House.

To deter the casual Friday night Soho cruiser, admission to the exclusive new Corrigan's - the restaurant has fewer than 50 seats on two small floors - is gained by ringing a brass doorbell.

I found my date in the small back parlour decorated with calligraphic quotations from Irish writers, a tribute to Dublin literary life only slightly marred by the misspelling of "Guineas". Thence, it was upstairs to a timeless, tastefully neutral dining room of stripped floorboards, linen-white walls and dust-sheet-like chair covers. We had to force ourselves not to whisper.

A few reminders of a less rarified world impinge: apart from a quotation from Joseph O'Connor (brother of Sinead), the lavatories vibrated with a techno beat from the bar next door; over the dining-room door the "Fire Exit" sign stands out so conspicuously from the calico plainness it could be Britart. Hot cooking smells gust from below stairs.

The menu, too, has blasts of contemporary eclecticism: polenta with a free-range egg and girolles; oysters, sauerkraut and red wine butter; wild duck with bok choy, pineapple and chilli; its backbone uncompromisingly meaty. "Would you call it fusion?" asked my consort. No, at a push to summarise it: sort of highly individual haute cuisine, characterised by earthy ingredients and fruity flavours. Even given the fashion for pig's trotters, Corrigan goes further out on a limb than most in his paeans to parts of the pig and other offal, and here he seems even more inclined to indulge in extremes. It is notoriously difficult to turn sows' ears into silk purses - I last met and rejected a boiled and hairy pig's ear in Portugal - yet Corrigan succeeds. And while the offal alone is all very well, some of his latest pairings seem somewhat wayward.Unusually, the best things about our dinner were free and came in, or alongside, coffee cups. It was a three-cup dinner, beginning with an amuse gueule of sensational lobster cappuccino with a side-serving of what I think we were told was stewed pig's ear and a salad of mache and mooli - a wonderfully varied introduction. Second cup was a dessert chaser; the final one an espresso with a magnificent chocolate truffle.

Each cup puncuated an even-more-extraordinary course or two. A starter of daube-based game terrine worked well: wine-sodden juices turned to jelly around dark, slow-cooked meat, with a fruity chutney, Another, incredibly wrinkled ravioli of veal knuckle, shredded and warmly spiced, came with langoustines. This was the first of what I now realise were two courses of down-to-earth surf and turf. The second was a pork-meat/seafood combo of cod steak, not quite as luscious as cod can be, with a backbone of huge juicy prawns arranged along it. Beside it, was pig's foot - the meat, skin and even cartilage rendered tender, almost as silky as the earlier ear, with pretty red specks of orange capsicum on a pat of spinach. Each half of the plate was good in its own right, but should one eat alternate mouthfuls or one after the other? The Spanish often mix sausage and seafood, but these two made no attempt to integrate. A simpler and satisfying plate of lamb's sweetbread on watercress had a side serving of unctuous mashed potato with oxtail and onions.

After all this topping and tailing, the palate, if not the heart, needed something sweet. Puddings deliver it in spades: a poached pear, not too much so, being sharply offset by almost crystallised pieces of pink grapefruit; an intensely chocolatey fondant (the flourless baked variety that's cake round the outside and melting chocolate within) was fantastically matched with sharp-sweet kumquats. These were preceded by the second coffee cup of warm creme anglaise covering a prune (soaked in tea, with a piece of star anise as another clue to its flavour). After the coffee and chocolate truffle, my arteries felt distinctly harder than when I arrived.

A visit to the Lindsay House is not to be undertaken lightly: at its best, Corrigan's cooking can be an out-of-body experience, here in a bijou setting it feels strangely dislocated from London. Its earthy depths and heights are also unlike anything else in London. Dinner costs around pounds 40, lunch around pounds 25 before you look at the wittily and helpfully arranged wine list

Lindsay House, 21 Romilly Street, London Wl (0171-439 0450). Lunch Mon- Fri, dinner Mon-Sat. Set lunch pounds l6.50 two courses, pounds 19.50 three courses, dinner pounds 28 two courses, pounds 38 three courses

More strong meat

St John, 26 St John Street, EC1 (0171-251 0848). The motto of this restaurant, conveniently located close to Smithfield meat market, is "Nose to Tail Eating" so be prepared to do exactly that. Choose between Pig's Head salad or Bloodcake and fried egg. For the more squeemish, respite is offered, however, with offerings such as pigeon with chard or skate with black butter. Almost worth a separate visit is the bar menu, bread oven and biscuits. Average price per head in the restaurant, around pounds 20 without wine.

The French House Dining Room, 49 Dean Street, W1 (0171 437 2477).

The French House Dining Room occupies a spartan room above the Soho pub of the same name. It is a welcome oasis of calm amidst the frenzy of Soho, but with a bird's-eye view of all the goings-on on the street below. The chef and one of the proprietors, Margot Clayton, is married to Fergus Henderson of St John. The menu changes daily and considers itself defiantly British but other influences, such as Mediterranean, are also at work. No-fuss dishes such as ox-tongue with sausages and mash or roast rabbit are unadorned but carefully executed. Puddings are also simple - expect something like sticky treacle and date pudding or wibbly-wobbly jelly. Average price per head (dinner), pounds 30. Aoife O'Riordain

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