Review: Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, Cornwall

Sometimes I like to fool myself that I’m a local when I visit Cornwall. After all, I must have visited a dozen times. I know all the obscure villages; Praze an Beble, Indian Queens, Perranzebuloe, Mabe Burnthouse. I know how to pronounce Fowey and Mousehole (Fo’y and Mowz’l). And I never, ever, ever have brown sauce with my Cornish pasty.

Obviously I’m not a local – you have to have been born here, lived through the loss of the tin and kaolin industries, and probably come to accept the fact that hordes of summer visitors flocking to the caravan parks, holiday beaches and Eden Project in the summer are now what keeps the local economy afloat. Increasingly in recent years the visitors aren’t only here in the summer, and are coming for the food as well as the surfing. And although it was genial Mr Stein who started it all, these days the King of Cornish Cooking is generally reckoned to be Nathan Outlaw. Where did his family get that name, though? Mr Baker… Mr Smith… Mr Thatcher… Mr Outlaw? Hmm. So what does your family do for a living, eh?

Totally distracted, sorry. Restaurant Nathan Outlaw

The St Enodoc Hotel doesn’t overlook the sea, which is a bummer. It’s a big, smart country house hotel in the middle of Rock village that has been given a totally cool, modern makeover. It’s a good’un, the owners (or designers, or whatever) obviously share my taste in furnishing, I basically wanted to nick stuff. That’s Mr Outlaw’s influence, surely. Service in the restaurant was friendly and professional; sommelier and maitre d’ seem to be a husband and wife team and looked after us well. There’s no a la carte, only the tasting menu.

For a hundred quid tasting menu I was surprised by the lack of canapes or amuse bouche. Here’s your bread, here’s your starters. The bread was good. The starters were excellent: a delicate piece of cod with bacon bits on a funky cauliflower puree, and a plate of tiny wobbly queenie scallops in a sweet broth topped with crisp celeriac. Not sure why the two starters were brought out together, I’d have been happy enjoying one then the other.

The next course was almost divine. A piece of lemon sole that could indeed have been filleted from an angel, laid over a crispy battered oyster and a mixture of leek and jerusalem artichoke with a dill broth. This was followed by another masterpiece of fish cookery; gurnard with firm flesh and crisp skin, served with a rich porthilly sauce made from roasted mussels and discs of yellow pickled kohlrabi. I’m not good enough to put into words how well these dishes worked.

Turbot on the bone was the main event, with a scattering of tiny pickled mushrooms and vivid green kale. Nice crispy potato terrine with this, for which I must applaud Mr Outlaw as this is the first main course I’ve had on a tasting menu for a long time that has put potato on the plate. Did I mention the turbot was perfect?

A cheese course interjected next; a goaty piece of crispy breadcrumbed ragstone sitting in a puddle of melt, served with some fruity pieces of beetroot and walnut fragments. This was a r-r-r-eally good cheese course. After all this superbery, I feel a bit sad to report that the desserts didn’t cut it. Blood orange curd wasn’t orangey enough, and the rhubarb and crumble with it couldn’t make me squee with joy. Just nice. The pear tart has a sticky, grainy hazelnut coating that was… well, I love hazelnuts, I’m just not sure chef has hit upon a winning texture here. The yogurt ice cream with it was nice enough.

So, what can I say? I’m quite confident that this meal included three among the best seafood dishes that I have ever had, Nathan Outlaw is an amazing talent with anything you can pull slippery and wriggling out of the ocean. But on this outing, he’s not so magic with puds. And any other £100 tasting menu I’ve bumped into has included at least a couple of nifty little tastebud-tinglers to start your meal, maybe a pre-dessert too, so the absence here feels a bit stingy. C’mon, couldn’t you at least fry up a bit of cod skin and dust it with celery salt? A trip to Nathan Outlaw’s feels a bit like a pilgrimage to a shrine of seafood gastronomy – I’ll leave you to decide whether that’s your thing or not.

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    […] be considered quite a foodie ramble. Taking you past Ricksteinton (aka Padstow), and the home of Nathan Outlaw in Rock, along the rugged Cornish coast which boasts more and more top-notch dining, like a […]

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