Katie and Rick Toogood of Prawn on the Lawn: Our Career in Five Dishes
From a simple counter at their North London fishmonger, Katie and Rick Toogood have created a trailblazing seafood-focused restaurant group that puts careful sourcing at the top of the agenda
Katie and Rick Toogood share their career in Five Dishes
You won’t see the dish that was invented to personify Prawn on the Lawn’s name on the menu at either of the group’s restaurants anymore. A lightly ceviche-cured prawn set atop a bed of avocado on toast and sprinkled with chopped chilli and fresh herbs, it was retired by the restaurant a few years ago out of recognition of the impact both ingredients were having on the environment. Pretty much any large prawn sourced in the UK will have been frozen and imported, while avocados have a notoriously large carbon footprint.
Both Katie and Rick Toogood are nonchalant when I ask why they didn’t choose it for this shoot, given it was quite literally their namesake dish. “It felt wrong doing it when we retired it because of the avocados,” Rick tells me. “Well, and the prawns,” Katie adds. “It was hard to keep sourcing those prawns sustainably.”
This seemingly unfazed approach to retiring one of their most iconic menu items seems to really sum up the group’s recipe for success. They originally opened in Islington in 2013 as what was primarily a fishmonger with just 8 bar seats. They didn’t have a license to cook hot food, and so would work with ceviches, pickles and the like, and somehow make loaves of soda bread in a microwave oven. “It meant very minimal use of any butter or anything like that because it was all cures, pickles, ceviches, things like that,” Rick tells me. “Everything was super fresh, with minimal messing with the fish.” It was intentional, though – both of them wanted to create a space where customers were able to come and learn about the seafood they were purchasing, to chat to the fishmonger about how to best to cook it, but also, as Katie says “we wanted to create a space where you can have a glass of wine and hang around once we’re preparing your food and preparing your fish if you’re taking it away.”
You only need to dine at Prawn on the Lawn once to see why it didn’t take long for diners to become hungry for more of the food that Rick was turning out. And their laid-back approach gave them the opportunity to open a restaurant in Cornwall where they could fire up the grill and expand their repertoire.
“When I think about it now, opening a second restaurant in two years and moving nearly 300 miles away is kind of bonkers,” Rick tells me. And yet, that’s exactly what they did. When the opportunity to take on a space in Padstow came up, they jumped at the chance to trial out a second location and be closer to the suppliers they were working with. “At the time it did feel like a big thing,” Kitty adds. “But I think we just didn’t overthink it.” Like I said; unfazed.
It has evidently paid off. They now have Prawn on the Lawn London and Padstow, alongside Barnaby’s, a summer pop-up that originally opened as a bistro, before moving to Trevibban Mill vineyard for the summer season. Their five dishes showcase the conscientious approach that’s a hallmark of this creative couple’s journey in food.
Smoked trout, dill crème fraiche, soda bread
Prawn on the Lawn Islington
Rick Toogood: “Apart from the ‘Prawn on the Lawn’, one of the other key dishes right from the word go was this one. It’s been tweaked slightly, because salmon isn’t so sustainable, so it’s now a cured trout dish, but it was originally with smoked salmon from a place around the corner called Hanson + Lydersen, from this crazy Norwegian guy who apparently used to play piano to the salmon while it was smoking.”
Katie Toogood: “We’d place the order and he’d stay for a glass of wine after delivering it. I think it really showcases original Prawn on the Lawn – and the fact we really didn’t have any cooking equipment.”
Scallops with Thai marinade and Prawn on the Lawn potatoes
Prawn on the Lawn Padstow
RT: “When we opened Padstow, it was the first time we would cook food to order. We’d recently been to Vietnam and had this amazing sauce with some prawns. I ended up tweaking it and adding a bit of coconut milk to roast the scallops in. And then for the potatoes, we kept getting asked to do chips, because the only real side dish we did was bread.” I just didn’t feel it was the sort of place we were. I was experimenting with spice mixes to spice it up a bit, and it’s still a favourite.”
KT: “Rick didn’t want to have chips on the menu, so he was forced to come up with an alternative. I was at Barnaby’s the other day and a customer said to me, ‘You know, I do love everything I eat, but it’s just these potatoes – they’re the thing I love the most.’”
Crab, daikon, sesame dressing
Prawn on the Lawn Padstow
RT: “A huge part of us being able to be successful down in Padstow was having Daniella and Patrizia in London, treating the restaurant like their own right from the word go and putting their own stamp on things. This dish is actually one that Patrizia came up with. It was one of the early dishes she did and it just showed that she completely got what we were about, because it’s quite difficult for someone to come in and understand what’s going on in my head, so I think it perfectlly reflects somone else’s understanding of what Prawn on the Lawn is.”
KT: “When Marina O’Loughlin reviewed us, she said it was her favourite dish. It’s nice because it’s got a bit of Cornwall in the dish, with the Cornish crab, so it’s really just a perfect fusion of the two places. And, again, it pulls on Asian influences which I think is really central to POTL. It just naturally leans in that direction – that’s really the area of the world we draw influence from, Whereas Barnaby’s is a lot more North African and Mediterranean.”
Cockles, Chinese braised pork
Prawn on the Farm
RT: “This was a dish that was born out of Covid. It was winter, the second lockdown, and we’d done one Prawn on the Farm, where they reared these rare-breed Cornish black pigs. It seemed ridiculous that we weren’t using any of the meat that was being reared on the farm. It was a combination of me feeling like we needed to use that produce, and then having an insanely delicious braised pork by BAO we had in a home delivery cooking thing we did with the team. I just suddenly thought that pork would be insanely tasty with cockles. It’s the perfect combination, I think, shellfish and pork, which is not that obvious to do. It’s all about the broth you get from the cooking juices from the meat and the cockles. I don’t even really like meat and it’s one of my favourite dishes on the menu.”
Cull yaw Turkish stew
KT: “At Barnaby’s, we wanted to showcase the amazing meat Cornwall has to offer. The lamb is slow-cooked and served on an aubergine purée and then it’s set down in the middle of the table for everyone to enjoy.”
RT: “Like Katie said, Barnaby’s has always had that North African, Middle Eastern vibe to the food. This is actually a dish done by Eddie, our head chef there, who’s been with us six or seven years now. Engin, the owner of Trevibban Mill, is Turkish, and this is something that Eddie came up with to reflect that. I sat down and ate it at the restaurant and it was just one of the tastiest things I’ve eaten in a long time. He took a marinade that I had previously made, completely tweaked it and came up with this thing of joy. it highlights some awesome produce from Cornwall, and the amazing work Matt Chatfield is doing. It’s literally a perfect dish.”