Followers of Nathan Outlaw's career look set to seek out the Michelin-starred chef in his new abode in Fowey, Cornwall, where his menu is big on local produce. Joanna Wood reports
Ever since Nathan Outlaw netted a Michelin star in 2004 for his Cornish restaurant, the Black Pig, in Rock on the Camel estuary, industry watchers have locked him on to their radar. They followed him on to St Ervan Manor, where he again hauled in a star, and it's a sure bet that they will now track him down to his new kitchen in the Marina Villa hotel in Fowey.
Outlaw moved to Cornwall's southern coast at the tail end of last year after St Ervan's owners decided to sell their property (he was head chef), but it's only now, after a minor refurbishment, that the Marina Villa's 45-seat restaurant has reopened as Restaurant Nathan Outlaw. He doesn't own the restaurant, but has full say on how it - and the food and beverage operation at the hotel - are run.
It's early days yet, but the signs are good. The first à la carte menu uses about 70% local South-west produce and sports some of Outlaw's signatures - a beetroot risotto, for instance, paired with cured salmon among the starters (£8), which he first developed at the Black Pig. And there's a familiar black bream option (£8) among the starters, too. "It's so simple," says Outlaw. "All you've got to do is get the right ingredients, then you can concentrate on flavour."
The dish is described sparingly in the menu - "black bream, parsley and lemon nage, white beans" - but there's a lot of kitchen skill going in to keeping it simple, as getting fish "right" is not always a given for many chefs. With its creamy nage, Outlaw's bream is comforting but not heavy, primarily because he pan-fries the fish lightly before putting it into the nage to poach off in the sauce's residue heat.
Outlaw's confidence in simplifying his dishes extends to their description on the menu. All five options at each level are curtly listed, with no overeffusive listing of cooking techniques or endless ingredients. "Short menu descriptions add an element of excitement to the meal, so that when there's a quirkiness to a dish people are surprised," he says.
There's definitely a surprise package in the scampi starter (£12), listed as coming with gammon and pineapple, sage and onion. A bit of retro surf ‘n' turf, which could be disastrous in the wrong hands. Outlaw uses langoustine tails for his "scampi", which he roasts off. The gammon is braised for 12 hours, picked, then mixed with pickled pineapple (pickling's a bit of a favourite technique to give the acidity to sweet and sour elements in many of his dishes at the moment) and formed into a sausage. Fresh pineapple is also added to a sage and onion sauce, while a touch of onion purée gives yet another texture.
Outlaw has had a good reaction to the dish, but the biggest seller on the opening menu so far has been a hogget option (£18) which resides among the main offerings. Out of 36 covers on one night, 20 were the hogget. "Hogget's the best of both worlds. You can still cook it pink like lamb, but you get a stronger, muttony flavour and you can braise it," says Outlaw. His dish has a tasty bit of pink loin and a texturally contrasting, deeper flavoured piece of braised leg. Seasonal veg - sweet, young carrots, purple sprouting broccoli - a garlic mash, rosemary-infused sauce and surprise package of anchovy tempura for a bit of crunch, complete the dish.
The hogget uses classic flavour pairings in a novel way, and Outlaw extends this rule through to the desserts, which he works on with pastry/sous chef Gordon Gray. A rhubarb sponge with stem ginger ice-cream (£9) is made with a financier sponge recipe, but has a strip of rhubarb through its middle, and a fruit purée tuile as well. Caramel pear with amaretto mousse (£8) is a poached scooped-out pear filled with a pear mousse which contains crushed amaretti biscuits - and is served with a fresh pear sorbet bolstered with a subtle kick of poire William. It's selling particularly well.
Restaurant Nathan Outlaw has been open less than a month, but it's clear there's a lot more to come from its chef-patron.
What's on the menu
- Scallops, squash, curry and seeds, £12
- Squab pigeon, pickled chicory, espresso and orange, £12
- Venison, parsnips, red cabbage, chocolate and thyme, £18
- Sea bass, pickled fennel, vanilla gnocchi, £20
- Chicken, wild mushrooms, sherry and shallots, £20
- Bitter chocolate fondant, coffee ice-cream, £9
- Apple tart, cream cheese ice-cream, £8
- Praline parfait, orange and hazelnut, £8
- British artisan cheese (including Celtic Gold, Cornish Blue), £10
Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, Marina Villa hotel, Esplanade, Fowey, Cornwall. Tel: 01726 833315