I hate being late. More than that, I hate being late for food. What I really really really hate is being late for my birthday lunch at a two Michelin star restaurant. No prizes for guessing how our lunch at Restaurant Nathan Outlaw began.
Fortunately for me, the staff are far more accommodating of tardiness than I am. But simultaneously unfortunately for me, it means that my first chance to meet Nathan Outlaw himself involved a rather windswept and frazzled Ellen giving what must have appeared to be a pretty cursory ‘hi’ as my attention returned to the view of Mr M trying to park our car in Port Isaac’s packed terraced car park below. Not quite the meeting I’d imagined, in which a cool, calm food blogger charmed Mr Outlaw before sashaying up to our table to dine.
So, tip number one. If you go to Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, leave time to park! There’s no private car park. The restaurant is handily close to the public one but it’s horrendously busy, so you’ll definitely get a space but you might have to wait – leave time for this bit to save the frazzled lateness described above.
Tip number two – if you’re looking for the Michelin star restaurant, go to Port Isaac, not Rock. And Restaurant Nathan Outlaw is not the same as Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen, that’s his other place down by the harbour. I say this because of all the people I told about our jaunt to Port Isaac, only a minority knew he had relocated his restaurant from the St Enodoc Hotel in Rock, to a rather unassuming building up on the hill in Port Isaac. A quick Google as I write this and I see that the restaurant’s Wikipedia page is yet to be updated. No biggie, but thought I’d best mention it in case you book a table and end up in the wrong place.
Once you’ve dealt with the odd potential obstacles in getting there (come on, it’s got two Michelin stars, it’s worth a few hurdles), you can be guaranteed to sink into one of the most relaxed ‘posh’ restaurants I’ve ever been to. No starched napkins and tablecloths, no awkward silence in between hushed words and gingerly-used cutlery. There’s music on, hustle and bustle, and a chilled out vibe that – especially if you’ve just got yourself in a bit of a tizz about being late – is guaranteed to help you breathe a sigh of relief.
And then there’s the view – floor to ceiling windows looking out to sea. By this point it doesn’t matter what the building looks like from the outside. It’s all about its backdrop, sourced for free from Mother Nature herself.
We had the option of either the tasting menu or a lunchtime four-course set menu, and went for the latter. This came with an early agreement that we’d definitely add the optional fifth course of cheese (come on, it was my birthday!). Since we’d driven over from Padstow, we decided the matching wine flight wouldn’t be a good idea, but the sommelier said he’d happily recommend the odd glass of vino that would suit more than one course so we could nurse, rather than quaff, them.
We started with a glass of Annie’s Anniversary Brut from the local Camel Valley Vineyard. I’ve wanted to go to this vineyard on our past few trips, but we have yet to make it there. Next time! Soon our first course arrived. Port Isaac Lobster with Soused Carrots. The lobster was creamy and light, the carrots crunchy and sharp. Simple, but delicious. And just the thing to whet your appetite for the courses to come.
Second was smoked bass with tomatoes, courgette and green sauce. Cannelini beans (I think) in the sauce added a nice texture, as did a bit of fish in what seemed to be a light, fresh tempura batter, giving it a nice crunch. The colours were beautiful, and set off even better by the pink crockery (no all-white plates and bowls here folks) and more than once, my fork stopped on its way to my mouth as I saw Nathan Outlaw himself carry a tray of plates up the stairs from the kitchen.
I’d love to think that I’m important enough that he was putting on a show to impress me, but we all know that’s not true, which means he’s a boss who mucks in. A good sign, surely?
The main course was TO. DIE. FOR. I seriously have not had a main course as good as this in a long time, which is particularly interesting given my propensity to choose meat for mains. This was Cod, with Hispi Cabbage and Porthilly Sauce. ‘Hmm, cod and cabbage’, thought I. ‘Not exactly the fine dining I was looking for but it’ll probably be good’.
Oh Ellen and your understatements!
Describing this course as ‘good’ is a bit like describing Saddam Hussein as ‘not a very nice man’ or Mother Teresa as ‘quite nice’. The cod was perfectly cooked and clearly cut to an exact size and came on top of a perfectly arranged disc of finely shredded cabbage, and with a single potato.
But it was the sauce that was a winner. It’s made from softshell crabs from nearby Porthilly that are made into a complex bisque that I think our waitress said includes tarragon, tomatoes and cod stock. It’s cooked for hours then blended until it’s beautifully smooth and creamy – yet without any cream. Seriously good stuff folks, although I nearly lost half of it down my front as my jaw dropped at the description by the gentleman sat behind me. ‘It’s really delicious, like a very good tomato soup’.
I don’t know where he gets his tomato soup from, but I’m thinking I need to find that place!!!!!
By this time, I’d moved on to rather a nice glass of wine – O Rosal from Bodegas Terras Gauda in Galicia in Spain. Don’t be fooled into thinking this choice was anything, in any way, shape or form, to do with my knowledge of wine. I simply went with what I was advised. And very nice it was too, even to my uneducated palate.
Dessert was worded as nonchalantly as the main course – Blueberries, Hazelnut and Yoghurt. By this time we’d learned our lesson. This was never going to be simply blueberries, hazelnut and yoghurt, was it? No. I’m not sure what the yoghurt had been made into. Parfait? Mousse? Either way, it was blimin delicious. Smooth and rich, yet delicate and light at the same time. It came with slightly tart berries, a hazelnut crunch, and a scoop of lemon sorbet flavoured with fresh mint to make a great mixture of flavours and textures on the plate.
By this point, we wondered if we’d made the right choice adding the cheese course. But then we were told that Nathan Outlaw had recently been praised for his cheese course (ironic really, since he’s one of the country’s best fish chefs, but a compliment nonetheless), so decided it was our duty to try.
Again, the presentation was flawless, and so, so clever. The Ragstone Goat’s Cheese with Beetroot and Pine Nuts looked more like a dessert than a cheese course, with the goat’s cheese layered between deep-fried fennel crackers like a mille-feuille. A seriously good-looking course, and even better-tasting. Never again will a bogstandard cheeseboard be impressive!
We finished with coffees and petit fours – which obviously were great too – and spent some time taking in our wonderful surroundings and laughing at the antics of people in the car park below in the same way I’m sure diners were watching us a few hours before. We left rather reluctantly, sad that our experience had come to an end, but feeling as happy as the cat that got the Felix and ready for a nap in much the same way as a satisfied feline would be.
I was even given a second chance with Nathan, being allowed to pop my head round the kitchen door and say thank you as he filleted a fish. You’ll be pleased to know I messed it up again. No such thing as cool and calm. Instead, I regaled him with the tale of my neighbouring diner’s description of his Porthilly sauce before beating a hasty retreat when I realised he had a knife in his hand.
Oh well, maybe I’ll have to keep practising my sashay until next time…
Mr Manning paid in full for our meal at Restaurant Nathan Outlaw. It was, after all, my birthday treat.