We talk pukka ingredients, Cornish hospitality and Padstow favourites with Prawn on the Lawn founder and chef Rick Toogood
What’s Prawn on the Lawn all about?
My wife Katie and I started Prawn on the Lawn in Islington, six years ago. It was supposed to be a fishmonger first and foremost, with a seafood bar where you could enjoy a glass of fizz and oysters while you waited, but increasingly people came for the food. This led to the business becoming more of a restaurant than a fishmongers. After the success of the London venue, we opened a second in Padstow in 2015.
The menus at both restaurants are completely dictated by what the fishermen have caught that morning. We get deliveries from our Cornish boats throughout the day so the menu can change up to six times from dawn ’til dusk. It’s great because it keeps our chefs on their toes, which encourages creativity, while the small plate set-up allows customers to try lots of different things.
What’s shaped your approach to cooking?
I was really involved with cooking as a kid and grew up in a family where everything was on the table and everyone tucked in. I think that was a big influence on the sharing-style menu at Prawn on the Lawn.
We don’t follow a set cuisine. Instead, the line-up is inspired by experiences and holidays: Sri Lanka, Greece, Thailand, Spain, France, UK – our influences are wide ranging. It’s super varied and the most important thing is that the dishes aren’t overcomplicated. The quality of the produce is so good, we want to enhance, not overpower, flavour.
I used to visit Rock every August with my dad when I was growing up, so I’ve always been aware of the quality of fish and seafood here. When we first opened Prawn on the Lawn in Islington, we were coming down regularly to meet our fishermen and we realised that opening a site in Padstow would mean better control over the produce. We also knew about Padstow Christmas Festival and the big names that it drew, so we saw it as an exciting opportunity.
What’s the best thing about living and cooking in Cornwall?
The quality of the ingredients around us. Ross Geach at Padstow Kitchen Garden grows most of our veg and he’ll let us know what will be ready the following week, so we can plan dishes.
Johnny Murt and his brother Martin bring in locally caught shellfish and fish straight off the boat – we never know what we’re going to get. This is how it should be; we’re dealing with nature and it dictates what we’re able to serve. The lifestyle of living by the sea is also great – it’s a slightly different pace from London life.
That’s a tough question – it’s like choosing between your children. It would probably be red mullet as it’s such a unique-tasting fish and you can do so much with it. I tried it in Greece once where they floured the fish whole, fried it in oil and served it with a lemon and oil dressing with a little sea salt sprinkled on top – so simple but amazing. I’ve recreated the dish at the restaurant.
Where’s the Cornish food scene going?
It’s pretty exciting right now, and we’ve watched the industry evolve so much since we moved here in 2015. People are starting to realise how great food and drink is in Cornwall, and more people are heading here for their holidays rather than going abroad.
Fave local places to eat out?
It’s hard to narrow it down but Tom Sellers (Story By The Sea), Tom Adams (Coombeshead Farm), Andy Appleton and Nathan Outlaw are all doing exciting things in Cornwall at the moment.