When you think about chefs who are renowned for cooking with fish it used to be that you would think straight away about Rick Stein. Rick has been a long-term supporter of all things fishy and has done wonderful things for promoting sustainable fishing. However now there is a new culinary Neptune: Nathan Outlaw (the first tortured aquatic pun in this piece).
Nathan’s eponymous restaurant in Cornwall has long been on my hit-list for when I do manage to get down to that picturesque corner of the country, so I was very excited when I found out that he had taken on a restaurant in London’s Mayfair at the Capital hotel (to be found around the corner from Harrod’s) on the swankiest of swanky streets, where the cars parked on the streets cost more than houses in many parts of the country. On entering you are greeted by impeccably dressed hotel staff who saw us to a very comfy and intimate bar where I had a gin martini (of course!) to whet my appetite whilst we perused the menu.
The restaurant is overseen by Head Chef Tom Brown, although Nathan does cook in the London restaurant at least once a week. The restaurant has held a Michelin star for a couple of years now, in recognition of the excellence of the food. As you would expect the menu centres largely on fish, although vegetarians and non-fish lovers are catered for, the selection is unashamedly limited, this place is rightly an homage to the glorious fruits de mer.
We were shown to our table, which was a rather large and nicely presented table by the window. The dining room has a lovely high ceiling and is well-lit, which is a blessing for those of us who are obsessed with taking photos of our food (guilty!). We decided that we would go for the five course tasting menu; however we swapped a couple of the dishes from the a la carte menu, which allowed us to expand the selection of dishes that we could try.
The first of our two starters was Pickled Mackerel with Grapes, Verjus and Horseradish Yoghurt. The dish was served in an extremely attractive manner with the bright green from the dressing. There was a strong aroma of dill emanating from dish when it was set down in front of me, which I found very enticing. The mackerel itself was delightful, soft and fresh and not the oily fish that one would expect. There was a nice crunch that came through from some cubes of cucumber perched atop the fish, additionally there were some pickled onions that gave a pleasing sweetness every so often. This was a thoroughly enjoyable start to the meal.
Our second starter was a Red Gurnard Soup with Squid, Orange and Sea Lettuce. The soup itself was very rich and deep with bags of flavour – this was the best part of the dish. The Gurnard was soft and tender, but I thought it was a little under-seasoned, a touch more salt would have added a bit more. The orange segments added a sweetness to the dish which I liked but found a little out of place against the rest of the dish.
We decided against taking an accompanying wine flight with the courses and instead opted for a bottle of 20112 Estate Riesling Trocken from Sybille Kuntz (Mosel, Germany). The wine had a very nice, grassy aroma with bright green apple notes and a touch of candied pineapple. I had expected to get that whiff of petroleum that you so often find in Mosel Rieslings, but it was not to be found at all. On tasting the wine was clean and fresh without being overly tart. It was a very well made and balanced wine with pleasing lime cordial style flavours and a decent finish. Not a knock-you-over kind of wine, but certainly a very food-friendly wine as its cleanliness and purity paired nicely with the fish dishes.
For the first of our two mains we had Hake with Spring Cabbage, Mussels, Cider and Clotted Cream Sauce. This was a very impressive dish in terms of its appearance, with the fish sat resplendent like a Mermaid on a rock (that’s the second tortured sea analogy in this piece…) and the crispy leaf of Sea Purslane adding a little further drama. The hake itself was just magnificent, it had simultaneously a crispy skin and an extraordinarily soft and flaky yet firm and meaty texture. The sauce too was glorious, sweet and sour, but with a beautifully thick texture. This was cooking of the highest order.
The last of our savoury dishes was John Dory with Celeriac, Tarragon and Roast Chicken Dressing. The celeriac had a lot of structure and the chicken broth was smooth and deep, but packed in a heck of a lot of flavour. The John Dory was, once more, beautifully cooked but was noticeably more delicate than the hake that preceded it. I very much liked this dish, but I think that the hake beat it in terms of impressiveness and deliciousness.
Time to sweeten our palates! For dessert we had a Chocolate Mousse with Cornish Stout Cake, Cream Cheese Ice Cream and Lime. The mousse was simply divine, it packed in so much chocolatey flavour and was wonderfully smooth; like the most decadent Angel Delight that you have ever had! The cake was nice, but was rather outshone by the beautiful mousse – something I was not expecting. It was served with a Brandy Snap which had a lovely crunch to it and a nice (deliberately) burnt profile to it. The ice cream was nice and I think the cream cheese was a clever addition, giving it a very distinctive flavour profile.
To accompany our sweet we decided to have a glass of Graham’s 20 year old Tawny Port, which was served from Jereboam. It was a very impressive sight to see the sommelier lifting this gargantuan bottle and pouring it so delicately into our glasses. Fortunately the bottle was half full (I’m definitely a half-full kind of person…), I’ve got no idea how he lifts it when it is full!
This was an excellent tasting menu experience that I enjoyed tremendously. The food quality was top-notch and the presentation of the dishes was really beautiful. I thought the services from the waiters and sommelier was exactly what you’d want: attentive, informed and fine-tuned.
If fish is your thing then I would firmly urge you to make a trip down to Outlaw’s at The Capital and let Tom and his team look after you. Now to just make it down to Cornwall to visit Nathan Outlaw’s main restaurant!
I’ll leave you now with my favourite fish-based song from Mr Scruff…