the gentlewoman

The Reader

Growing up in Clapham, south London, Amy Corbin always dreamed of owning her own restaurant – hardly surprising for the daughter of Chris Corbin, one half of the renowned British restauranteurs Corbin & King. After a brief dalliance in interior design, she and her partner chef Patrick Williams took the plunge in 2017 and opened Kudu in Peckham, SE15, a chic, intimate dining room where they serve modern European plates with a dash of South African spice. As this month’s reader Amy, 28, talks to Lucy Milligan about starting from scratch and never reading the same book twice.

Amy Corbin

Lucy: I’m curious about the restaurant’s name, Kudu – as in the antelope?

Amy: More like the South African bread. That’s our signature dish here, the one everyone already knows about before they visit. It’s called mosbolletjiest in South Africa; brioche style bread, brushed with cumin and baked in a cast-iron pot. We serve it with a saucepan of melted butter, infused with either bacon or baby brown shrimp.

L: That sounds divine! But you’re not strictly a South African?

A: Right – we’re a modern European restaurant with South African influences. It’s a way of eating that draws on Patrick’s experience of working as a chef in fine-dining restaurants in Cape Town and London, while still referencing the food he grew up eating in Durban. For example, we recently added a new dessert to the menu: a rich chocolate mousse with a peppermint crisp. It’s delicious, sophisticated and inspired by a South African candy bar. Having different influences and a seasonal menu keep things interesting for our customers, as well as for the kitchen.

L: The dining room definitely feels welcoming.

A: It used to be a fried chicken shop so we had to rip it out and start again. We actually discovered more space when we started stripping the walls; we must have found 15 layers of paint and wallpaper, and ended up with an extra foot on each side of the room. But we’ve kept the original brickwork where we could; we wanted there to be a sense of what was here before.

L: And the dining room is your domain, right?

A: Correct – I’m front of house. Before Kudu, the entirety of my experience was four days in one of my dad’s restaurants! Of course, growing up at home, I couldn’t not be aware of my dad’s work and I’ve always wanted to match his professionalism, but it’s still been a learning curve.

L: What’s the secret to flawless service, in your opinion?

A: It’s in the details. It’s taking the time to greet every guest and ensuring that they leave feeling satisfied and cared for. There are plenty of restaurants that don’t take the time to do that because the floor staff are on an hourly wage and haven’t had proper training. I want every customer to have the same experience, and to always feel welcome. That’s what keeps them coming back.

L: When you go to other restaurants now, can you turn off that professional eye?

A: No, it’s impossible. My pet peeve is leaving dirty plates on a nearby table while you are still eating. Of course, restaurants are busy environments and sometimes clearing a table just isn’t the priority, but if it’s not the very first thing you do, you should always ensure it’s the second.

L: Do you ever take time off from it all?

A: Even on our days off, you’ll find us in our flat, reading recipe books! We recently picked up a copy of Roots by the Michelin-starred chef Tommy Banks. It’s a real celebration of British ingredients. I’m also a big fan of the BBC Good Food website – as a home cook, you can’t go wrong there.

L: Do you get much time to read other types of books?

A: Not as much as I would like, so every time I see my Mum, she gives me something she’s recently finished. So far, it’s a real pick-and-mix of novels. I think the last one was 50 Shades of Grey!

L: And do you have old favourites that you always return to?

A: I never reread books. Or rewatch films. Why would I, when there’s so many new ones to try? I’m a bit like that with restaurants as well. Of course, Patrick and I have our special few – Kiln in Soho, The Naughty Piglet in Brixton – but there are so many new ones out there, we keep a list of the places we want to try. At this point, I can only go to each place once if I ever want to make it through them all.

Interview by Lucy Milligan. Photograph courtesy of Amy Corbin. Would you like to be the next featured reader? Then sign-up sister and tell us about yourself!