Nestled behind Harrods in the heart of Knightsbridge is Outlaw’s Michelin starred restaurant in the Capital Hotel. Catches that come into the Cornish village, caught by local fishermen, are expressed to London and “on the plate within twelve hours,” according to Outlaw’s keenly articulate Head Chef, fellow Cornishman, 28-year-old Tom Brown. And recognising that London itself is a port, a few fishes and dishes, including some poor Soles (Lemon and Dover), arrive even fresher from the Kent coast.
Our Spring Menu featured a shoal of diverse marine creatures from flatfish to shell dwellers. Rather than gently easing into the flavours, an hors d’oeuvre of cod’s roe dip loudly announced the fish theme with a powerful tang of the sea. The accompanying breads were as soft as southerner on a Geordie night out and rich in taste and texture. Ronald, our Maître d’ and a man who might have given Tom Hiddleston lessons in poise and composure, proudly told us that even this was an Outlaw production: Clive, Nathan’s dad, baked all the breads for the restaurant.
Ronald also neatly disposed of the hoary commonplace of wine-with-fish apartheid, offering wines of colour but still recommending a fruity Sauvignon Blanc from The Capital Hotel’s own vineyards. It was served so crisp and chilled the initial swig exploded like that first bite into a Granny Smith.
My starter was cured monkfish draped with fennel, parsley and lemon providing an incongruous but delicious combination of an almost savoury ‘umami’ with tiny dashes of sweetness leaping around the mouth. Claire went for a pickled mackerel with grapes, verjus and a horseradish yoghurt that delivered another surprisingly successful blend of sweet, sharp and smooth.
Nathan’s signature Red Gurnard Soup contrasted the Sea Robin’s firm white flesh with sweet orange bits and salty sea purslane, continuing the Outlaw appeal to as many of our taste receptors in a single bite as possible.
For my main, for my name, I went for Brill. A dish which could have comfortably included ‘iant’ after it. Resting on celeriac, dipped in a tarragon and roast chicken gravy, it seemed a very British Surf’nTurf. The Brill’s earthy, meaty, flavour was offset with a sweet parsnip-like celeriac and a light ‘umami’ chicken juice. Claire decided she’d get turbot charged, which was served with asparagus and a creamy potato tureen and flavoured with a tang of lemon and the gentle bite of shallots.
For pudding it was a divine Chocolate Mousse with Cornish Stout Cake, topped with a Cream Cheese Ice Cream smoother than David Cameron’s body oils, and possibly richer than him too.
There is no doubt that Tom Brown’s city incarnation of Outlaw’s restaurant, 250 miles away in Cornwall, is worthy of its Michelin star. He is a passionate advocate of sustainable fishing and what he calls, “cooking that lacks pretension.” Even if it is a far cry from what most of us mortals usually eat, in or out, within the context of top restaurants the food does have a certain homeliness. Certainly I can see how, for Brown who has been wrapped up in this world of gastronomic excellence from an early age, this menu seems down-to-earth, or at least down-to-the-sea-bed. Tom Brown’s school days were relatively short, leaving at 17, to fish and cook, but he is plainly a man of passions. An autodidact and inspired classicist, tattoos of Prometheus, Icarus and Socrates writhe around his arms while he carries a copy of Plato to read on the tube into work. Brown is a thinking man who instinctively, and from long experience, knows how the sea’s flavours work. So if you want to excite your taste buds, stimulate your gustatory perceptions and arouse your olfactory receptors, all without paying a heavy price in calories, head to Outlaw’s at the Capital.