Nathan Outlaw – A Cornishman in London:
I’m a huge Nathan Outlaw fan, as is my friend Kay. We’ve watched his cookery demonstrations at Boscastle for three years in a row, we’ve had a cookery class from him and we’ve eaten at the Seafood Grill in Rock (not the fine dining restaurant, we’ve never been well organised enough to get there). So, we were both excited to learn that he was opening a restaurant in the Capital Hotel, just round the corner from Harrods. Lunch, to try the place out, was a must. It opened at the start of October and we wanted to give it a chance to settle down so booked for the 30th – just before I was due to go to Tuscany.
Nathan himself was there the day we visited. He’d already explained his plans to commute weekly and to use that as an opportunity to bring some of the great Cornish fish we’d already enjoyed up regularly. When I arrived, a little late, he was busy chatting and I didn’t want to interrupt, but I was delighted he was going to be in the kitchen.
The set menu is exceptionally well priced at £20 for two courses and £25 for three. One of the things I’ve found about lunchtime set menus is that you need three courses to feel that you’ve had a meal. Nothing like that here, the portion sizes are generous and you get a side order of vegetables included with your main course. So, although the menu is short, you really do feel as if you are getting good value for money. The bread is complimentary and you get truffles with your coffee if, like us, you are too full for dessert.
The restaurant itself is comfortable and not too large. There’s a window into the kitchen so you can Chef-watch if that’s your thing and there are a few reminders that this is a Seafood Grill, including a gilt seahorse on the wall. But, other than that, you could be anywhere. Service, for our lunch at least, was rather formal and seemed just a little incongruous. I suspect it’s partly that the Grill in Rock has a similar menu but is a much more relaxed environment and that was my personal benchmark. And, perhaps that ‘Brand Nathan Outlaw’ to me is informal, smiling and charming, without in anyway undermining the fabulous food served and the well-deserved Michelin stars. Or, perhaps it’s just that no matter how hard anyone tries, the tide is not going to miraculously come in along Knightsbridge sweeping away the sandcastles built in the windows of Harrods and Harvey Nichols.
We started with an amuse bouche of tiny fishcakes with what from memory was a wasabi mustard sauce. Delicious crispy morsels they were incredibly light inside.
I loved my first course of venison carpaccio with Dorset truffle and beetroot. But since all the ingredients make my top ten desert island list, that’s perhaps not suprising. Beetroot works exceptionally well with venison for me, and the addition of a little truffle made the dish just perfect.
Kay’s scallops were pronounced excellent and finished off really quickly.
My main course of plaice with parsley dumplings tasted as good as it looked. The plaice was firm and not watery with a delicate flavour. The parsley dumplings light and fluffy. And our side dishes were so generous that, having ordered an extra one, we couldn’t finish them.
But, the mackerel ordered by my friend didn’t quite work for her. It appeared looking beautiful, slightly charred skin from a grill, a pretty garnish of orange and a horseradish sauce. And the first fillet was fine. The second one though appeared rather pink and raw – she was concerned it wasn’t cooked. It went back to the kitchen and vanished. A good while later our waiter appeared to tell us that ‘that was how it should be’ but without the dish. By then I’d finished and Kay was just a little disappointed. Not by the food (she’d enjoyed the first piece of mackerel), but by the lack of speed in resolving the issue and the fact that half her lunch then vanished! Did the kitchen ever get to hear about it? Obviously I don’t know, but my instinct is perhaps not…
We went on to ask the waiter about the wine list which, for us at least, lacked the lovely Camel valley wines we’ve come to associate with Cornish food. He thanked us for our suggestion and promised to pass on our feedback.
Now, Nathan had jokingly told me that one reviewer had suggested he needed to employ Cornish front of house. I don’t think that’s the issue. I do think on the day we went there seemed to be a disconnect between what we know and love about Nathan’s food and the style of service. I’ve waited a couple of weeks to write up this review because I know we both came away feeling that something was not quite right. Nevertheless it’s a welcome addition to Knightsbridge and a great place to enjoy some excellent fish.
And, because we know and love Nathan’s food, we will be back.
Outlaw’s Seafood Grill
22-24 Basil Street, Knightsbridge, London SW3