I bloody love a complimentary bread basket. I’m not picky: fresh sourdough; fancy studded focaccia; those plasticky white rolls you get on aeroplanes - chuck it in front of me without charge while I’m perusing the menu and I’m yours. It’s not just greed (although it is also greed). Free bread is a basic gesture of hospitality. It’s a welcoming reassurance of imminent nourishment. You’re not going to starve, no matter if the chef quits, or the kitchen catches fire, or your dining companion swans in to announce they’re moving to Mongolia and want a divorce.
I’ve thought about free bread a lot, and I’ve decided that its god tier is homemade soda bread: something to do with the fact that it tastes intensely wholesome, but also, festively, like cake.
You get free homemade soda bread at Daffodil Mulligan, much-loved chef Richard Corrigan’s new restaurant off Old Street roundabout. And that tells you all you need to know about this fabulously hospitable haven of comfort and joy.
It’s an odd space, a bit airport Wetherspoonsy, complete with shiny Heineken taps at the bar and cartoon pints on the windows. And it’s very Irish. There are photos of Sinead O’Connor and Gibney’s stout on tap; a heady blend of U2 and folk ditties on the speakers and session music in the downstairs bar. Then there’s the name, Daffodil Mulligan, which a friend who hails from the motherland calls "very top of the mornin' to ya”. It’s one blithe shamrock away from self-parody.
But thankfully, there are no shamrocks. Instead, Daffodil Mulligan is a proper brilliant restaurant with a menu of delicious things you want to eat. And there’s Richie. Oh, Richie. Richie is Richard Corrigan Jr. and also, we decide after a bottle of pet nat, Clark Kent; hospitality’s own self-effacing Superman. He makes our dinner an absolute joy. It’s Richie who brings the free bread; Richie who not only advises that a Black Velvet (Guinness and champagne) is a waste of both ingredients, but who then makes me a complimentary mini one, so I can make my mind up (it’s delicious - but what wouldn’t be when spiked with such generosity?)
Richie brings us food. Great food. Fists of pork crackling with smoked apple; silky cod’s roe like pureed angels. Kale on toast, a truly Irish salad of lush greens shovelled over with parmesan on a giant crouton. Beetroot with goats curd is slightly gastropubby, but serves as penance for crubben, basically deep-fried rillettes, accompanied by a whole pot of Colmans to burn through the gooey breadcrumbed pig fat.
Then a whole salt crust pastry chicken, showcased whole then returned delivered from its womb of batter, chicken meat as soft and delicate as a kitten's after cosseting in a double layer of mushroom duxelles and pastry. Thank you Richie, we trill, as he masterfully clears plates and refills glasses. Fat daffodil-yellow chips are euphoric; there is also a vaguely Mexican slab of sugar-roasted pork with roasted pineapple and lychee - rogue but extremely lovable. We have no room for dessert, but we are here late and tipsily fan-girling Richie and suddenly there’s an amazing thing in front of us - dark chocolate mousse with banana and milk jam, like a banana split dropped from childhood nostalgia heaven.
I love Daffodil Mulligan. I love the groaning generosity of the food. I love that people are ordering pints of Heineken alongside funky bottles of natural fizz. I love the wonderfully warm hospitality of Richie and the team. And I really love the free bread.
Meal for two: £130
70-74 City Road
Toddle over to outrageously fun Italian wine shop Passione Vino and glug Nebbiolo and Valtellina in the secret basement bar (for those who know) or the top secret top floor bar (for those who really know).