Let the people come to Cornwall and two-star Michelin chef Nathan Outlaw can do no wrong. And rightly so. A combination of some of the best sourcing available to humankind with robust flavor combinations that showcase the product rather than the chef, coupled (if you are blessed) with a glinting view of the Camel estuary, and the St Enodoc Hotel in Rock morphs into the love child of the south of France and the Amalfi coast. Take the Cornwall to the people of London however, and the reaction is less straightforward.
Reproducing Cornwall in the capital and specifically in The Capital, a five-star hotel of long standing and repute in Knightsbridge, is a gamble. There is 1) the transitory nature of hotel restaurants themselves which can leave a location wanting in atmosphere; 2) there is no view and 3) you are probably not on holiday.
It's pretty safe to say that Nathan did not intend to recreate a corner of Cornwall just around the corner from Harvey Nicks. Instead, it's his staff he had in mind: "It would be very selfish and wrong of me to just stand in the kitchen and not develop my staff. I've got some great people that work with me and I want to provide opportunities for them; there's a lot of untapped talent in Cornwall and if you've got the right people, why not do it?"
The blue stripy-backed chairs and seahorse on the walls are therefore just a cursory nod to the chef's home of Rock while the cloth-free wooden tables are more of a pointed nod to his signature laid back style. Our hunger pangs were allayed by homemade bread, pretty much a restaurant staple these days, although the addition of Doom Bar to the brown added a Cornish je ne sais quoi. We were competently aided on a red that would suit the fish - a Levin Gamay 2010 - youthful but cheeky and packing more of a satisfying punch than first impressions.
Two generous plates bulging with crispy golden balls of fish cakes with herb mayonnaise amused our bouches and set the Outlaw benchmark. Simple. Delicious. Classy. We followed them with two smoked oyster soups and pickled vegetables for C and me; meat for M: cured lamb belly with sweetbread, mint and chicory anchovies. The cream surrounding the oysters was a little just that - cream - but the luxuriousness dressed the oysters well. M's sweetbreads and lamb belly were a highlight - little livery crunchy packages of under-used offal delight alongside a succulent pink slice of lamb. We were all smiling in approval as the next course arrived: one grey mullet for me, ling for C and more meat for M - braised ox cheek with smoked bone marrow.
C declared that the ling was something new for her: "It was well-structured and challenged me to try something new which I would definitely have again." Yes the fish was good, my grey mullet was delicious, but the meat, Mr two-star Michelin chef for fish and seafood? It sent M into meat-induced raptures. Until that is, we cracked into the little smoked bone marrow packages and M stopped the raptures.
It was just the eyes, bright, becoming brighter still, signalling pure pleasure then flashing slight annoyance as I stabbed a piece to sample. I haven't tried anything quite like it: a crunchy breadcrumb outer layer that released a fatty smoky morsel. Goodbye pork scratchings, a new bar snack has been born. I have done pig's cheek a few times but would happily forsake her for the more interesting, complex equivalent that screamed hours of gentle caressing in a warm place.
For dessert, I had chocolate sponge, lemon curd and vanilla ice cream, which was a perfect rectangle of chocolate goo and sponge lightened with a citrus touch from the lemon curd; M went basic old school with a baked rice pudding with gingerbread and rhubard which was ok; C had retro coffee cream with pistachios and a cinnamon brandy doughnut which she loved, being particularly enamoured with the inclusion of doughnut. Coffee and brandy chocolate truffles later, it was quite apparent that we had eaten a two-Michelin star set lunch of three courses (read five with 'extras') for the absolutely unarguable price of £25 without wine.
I don't deem it worthwhile to compare Outlaw's at the Capital with Outlaw's in Rock. They are two completely different products for two entirely different clientele. What they have in common though is what is swift becoming brand Outlaw despite his humble assertions to the contrary: simple flavours and top quality produce that come together in a classy plate of food; in effect, ego-free dining of which Cornwall is very proud.