Chef refuses to open up about future at Oyster Bar
IT'S the talk of the town -- but celebrity chef Richard Corrigan will neither confirm nor deny that he has left the kitchen of his famous St Stephen's Green restaurant, Bentley's Oyster Bar & Grill.
The chef, who is usually so forthright in his opinions, has refused to clear up the rumours sweeping town that he's no longer cooking in the high-profile restaurant. "I can't comment on whether I have left or not," he said.
The star chef and Barry O'Callaghan (who owns 70 per cent of the lease for the Bentley's premises) have supposedly agreed to keep Corrigan's leaving a secret until O'Callaghan and his team find a replacement.
"It is all over town," another well-known restaurateur told me on Thursday night.
O'Callaghan is the man behind the highly borrowed EMPG where his stake, once worth €1bn, has fallen dramatically.
When I initially contacted Corrigan on Thursday evening -- he was abroad on holiday with his wife and family -- to ask him had he gone from Bentleys, he said repeatedly: "I can't comment on this. My hands are tied. I can't discuss this. Can't say anything."
Have you left Bentley's?
"I can't comment."
"Is that a yes or a no?"
"It's a no comment."
I pressed him: "But only you know whether you have left or not?"
Corrigan, who I have known over the years from nights out in London, was uncharacteristically reticent on the whole affair, but later on Thursday evening, he texted me to say that there is no dispute.
"I want to open a new Bentleys in Dublin on my f**king own. No partners. I love my country. I will be investing €3m."
He rang me later that night to say: "I don't do shareholders, mate," adding that the new restaurant would be opening in the summer of 2011 in Dublin.
Since he opened Bentley's in July 2008, Corrigan's restaurant has become a second home to the great and the good. The Michelin-star chef, who made his name with his restaurants in London like Lindsay House in Soho and Bentley's in Piccadilly as well as Corrigan's of Mayfair, was different in that, unlike Gordon Ramsey and other chefs who opened restaurants in Ireland, Corrigan intended to be hands on.
Opening in a recession wasn't the greatest idea but Corrigan made it work. Then, after Christmas, the rumours started that all was not well with the main investors in the restaurant. And then the biggest rumour of all -- the star man had left.
Drew Flood, the general manager of Bentley's Oyster Bar & Grill and Townhouse, told me: "I speak to Richard every day and he has definitely not gone. He is still very much at Bentley's as far as I'm concerned. Richard is an incredibly passionate man. There is no disharmony."
But is there a star chef with his name over the door any more? "I will be involved for the foreseeable future because it is my f**king brand and I own the f**king brand," Corrigan told me on Good Friday. "Sometimes some things don't work out in life. I am going to dedicate more time to Corrigan's of Mayfair in London. That's what I'm going to do." He again refused to confirm or deny whether he had left. "I am pursuing lots of other ideas. I am looking at other opportunities."
One of them, he added, was to become creative director of La Stampa Hotel Group on Dawson Street in Dublin. "I have been in discussions with the owner, Louis Murray, about reinventing Jammets Restaurant in the present restaurant in La Stampa, Balzac. "Jammet's was the best restaurant in Dublin in the Thirties, Forties and Fifties on Grafton Street. We are looking to make it the best f**king restaurant in Ireland.
"Malcolm Strammer, the head chef in Balzac, is Ireland's answer to Marco Pierre White. In fact, he's f**king better," Corrigan said, adding that Strammer worked for him in London for over a decade. He said that he was coming to Dublin this week to sign a deal with Louis Murray.
"That's true," confirmed Murray. "We are deep in negotiations. It is going very well. If it is signed, we would hope to have Jammets open in six weeks with Malcolm working under the direction of Richard. It's exciting for Richard and myself but nothing has been signed," stressed Murray.
It would be a fascinating development for Corrigan to become involved with a restaurant a few hundred metres around the corner from the restaurant on St Stephen's Green. It would be further proof, if proof were needed, that Corrigan's passion for Ireland remains undimmed.
"All my children are schooled in Ireland. It makes me so f**king angry to see what the banks have done to my f**king country. I am investing big-time in Ireland next summer. My new restaurant is going to be the best restaurant in the f**king country, There is no dispute with Barry O'Callaghan. I can categorically tell you that, Absolutely none.
"In fact", added Corrigan, "I had a drink with Barry two weeks ago and I wished him all the best. Bentley's is thriving and it is a testament to Barry and his management. Barry is a great f**king guy. There is no animosity -- I don't do animosity with exes.
"I wish him every success going forward and look at the great chef he has in Sean Smith. Who gives a f**k about Richard Corrigan? Sean Smith is the f**king future. I kicked all their f**king arses into shape. Bentley's is thriving. Bentley's is a great f**king restaurant," he added.
And Richard Corrigan, I need hardly add, is a great guy.