Michelin-starred chef Nathan Outlaw is best known for his fine-dining restaurants, but his latest venture takes a more straightforward approach, with the emphasis on local produce. Joanna Wood reports
Cornwall-based Nathan Outlaw has been recognised by guides and critics for some years now as a chef to watch. But he has always been judged in the context of his Michelin-rated fine-dining skills - initially at his former restaurant the Black Pig in Rock, more recently at his current, eponymous restaurant in Fowey's Marina Villa hotel.
Last May, however, he opened an altogether different kind of eaterie, the Nathan Outlaw Seafood & Grill, back in his old stomping ground of Rock. Located in the St Enodoc hotel, the 80-seat restaurant has a panoramic view of the gently rolling slopes and inlets of the Camel estuary. The split-level dining room is unpretentious and airy, with suitably fishy abstract photography on the walls.
"The aim is to champion seafood more than anything, but we've also got a grill element because not everyone is into fish and there's some fantastic local meat," Outlaw explains.
The restaurant's straightforward menu is weighted about 80% in favour of seafood, which comes from Cornish waters, naturally, some of them very close. Mussels and oysters - staples among the menu's starters - come from Porthilly, five minutes down the road. The former are cooked in Cornish beer and cost £7; the latter are £2 each.
Shellfish is always best served simply, but that directness is present across the menu, including dishes such as grilled sardines served with bacon and shallots (£8) or a comforting take on fish pie - Cornish, of course (£15).
While the sardines are no longer on the seasonal menu, some dishes have been constantly listed, albeit with tweaked garnishes. Monkfish tails, for instance, came originally with clams and samphire (£16) but more recently were accompanied by cured local pork and sweetcorn alongside the clams. Whatever the finishing touches, the fish is a sure-fire winner.
Also a big hit with customers is a crab Scotch egg (£8) - "we can't make enough of them" - made by encasing an egg with white and brown crab meat bound together with a bland fish mousse, instead of the usual pork meat. Served with pickled cucumbers, it's a perfect starter or snack to nibble, while having a drink at the small bar, which runs along the back of the restaurant.
The placing of something as simple as a take on a Scotch egg alongside more grown-up, rustically flavoured dishes is key to the grill's menu. With customers ranging from families with babies and young children to holidaying professionals from London and retired couples, it's vital to offer something for everyone. So Outlaw and his head chef, Pete Biggs, who runs a kitchen team of four, always make sure they have a seasonal soup, a steak and a chop of some kind on the menu.
The meat is from local animals, including the rare-breed Cornish Black pig. The latter often comes on the plate in two cuts - with the loin or sometimes a cutlet matched with slow-cooked pork belly or hock. As with all the other dishes on the menu, garnishes are tweaked with the seasons: autumnal cobnuts, at the moment, are mixed in with slow-cooked onions and sage and served alongside the pork with roast squash (£17).
It's the same seasonal story with side dishes (all £2) and desserts (all £6). Opening sides of sweet English peas have segued into early winter root vegetables like parsnips (honey roasted) and turnips (buttered), while desserts have shifted from simple deconstructions of Cornish strawberries with cream to crowd pleasers like caramel panna cotta with poached pears and honeycomb, and blackberry cheesecake.
Although Biggs is the on-site chef, Outlaw's overseeing restaurateur role is vital, because ultimately it is his vision that will determine how the restaurant progresses. He already has plans to develop the alfresco dining on the restaurant's terrace by setting up an outside barbecue next summer.
"We had fantastic weather in June this year and people sat out there all night - we'd be stupid not to see how we can use the space better," he says.
It looks like the residents and visitors to this part of Cornwall are in for a treat.
What's on the menu
- Cornish duck leg with English mustard dressing, £8
- Carrot and pumpkin soup with rosemary butter, £6
- Ham hock terrine with herb emulsion, £7
- Lemon sole with brown shrimps and tarragon butter, £6
- Chargrilled Cornish rib-eye steak with hand-cut chips and watercress, £18.50
- Monkfish tail with clams, sweetcorn and Cornish salami, £16
- Chocolate brownie with raspberry sorbet and pistachio, £6
- Apple and pear crumble with clotted cream, £6
- Custard tart, £6
Nathan Outlaw Seafood & Grill, St Enodoc Hotel, Rock, Cornwall PL27 6LA Tel: 01208 863394 www.enodoc-hotel.co.uk