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Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, Rock, United Kingdom

July 2, 2011 1 comment

Sometimes part of the fun of planning a holiday is to come up with excuses for the destination. For me, I have mastered this art to a new level: a weekend break in Ludlow in Shropshire has turned into a 10-day long holiday, including a “detour” of over 200 miles to Rock in Cornwall. This year I decided a two-night stay in Rock would be a good idea – with both evening meals at Restaurant Nathan Outlaw. Last year when we went there for one night, the only thing in Rock that we manage to visit was Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, which had opened for merely a month and was still finding its feet in the new venue of St Enodoc Hotel at that point. Within a week of sorting out my reservation of two dinners at the restaurant (it was that good last year that one dinner would simply feel too much of a wasted effort to travel all the way there) and the stay at the newly-refurbished hotel, the restaurant was awarded two Michelin stars. It was a good sign and it was just what I had expected.

Now that I have been to the restaurant a few times and got to know the staff a bit, it felt like going to visit old friends rather than just a visit to a restaurant. The service was friendly and informal, and it was nice to see that they were not trying to cram in more seats – the restaurant still felt spacious enough that each table still had its privacy.

As the restaurant only offers one single set menu these days (which was a wise move given the capacity), I was concerned about dining on two consecutive evenings in the same place. However, I was assured that I would get a different menu on the second evening.

Dinner 1 (19 April 2011)

The amuse-bouche was mackerel with horseradish salad and wholegrain bread – it was an impressive start: a deliciously moist piece of fish.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Mackeral with Horseradish salad on Wholegrain bread

The first course was John Dory with tarragon, St Enodoc asparagus, bacon and hazelnut: the fish was firm and beautifully cooked, and the tarragon sauce was bold without overpowering the flavour of the fish.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - John Dory

The next course was crab salad with apple and fennel. Crab was one of my favourite seafood. The crab here was fresh and cooked nicely (anything less than that, I’d have thought “what a waste of food”). The combination of the apple and crab pate worked well in this very refreshing dish.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Crab Salad

The third course was bream with saffron, mussels, olives and pepper. These ingredients produced a rather bold but refined bouillabaisse flavour. It was as if I was suddenly transported to the south of France. Another impressive dish.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Bream

The “main” course  was turbot with lamb belly, beetroot and rosemary. As it’s lamb belly, the dish had a rather strong smell which could be problematic for some people if they did not know the strength of that smell. But for me, it’s not a problem. I thought that the lamb belly would overpower all the other flavours of the dish, but to my surprise it provided a nice balance to the sweetness of the beetroot discs and jus, and the flavour of the turbot was not buried underneath all these other flavours. Another well-executed dish.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Turbot

After such a flavoursome main course, it would be hard to find something to cleanse the palate sufficiently for the desserts. But here it was: Rhubarb jelly with vanilla cream, rhubarb and ginger sorbet. It was a light pre-dessert, with the rhubarb pieces not too sharp or overpowering. I usually would not go for ginger biscuit but this one had a nice clean taste to it without being too much of the ginger taste lingering afterwards. All the ingredients just worked very well together.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Rhubarb Jelly with Vanilla Cream

The dessert was chocolate orange cheesecake with orange-yoghurt sorbet, cocoa syrup and orange curd. If there’s anything I did not like about this meal, it would have been the use of milk chocolate but that’s more a personal preference of  dark chocolate and I thought the taste of milk chocolate was a bit wishy-washy and might have worked better with a darker chocolate which would give a stronger body of flavour. However, the orange curd and sorbet were delicious.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Chocolate Orange Cheesecake

Petit fours

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Petit Fours

Dinner 2 (20 April 2011)

For the second evening, we had a different menu.

The first course was lemon sole with crispy oyster, cucumber and dill. As usual, the fish was cooked to perfection – at this point I must say I’d expect nothing less than perfection really on the fish-cooking front. The sauce had a flavour that was a cross between mayonnaise and tartare sauce, and it went well with the fish and the oyster. If there’s anything I had to nitpick on this dish, it would have been the batter of the oyster – I thought it might have worked better with a lighter batter.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Lemon Sole

The second course that arrived at our table won hands down on the colour alone: Bream with beetroot barley. The vibrant maroon red colour of the beetroot was stunning on a white plate. Often at many places the beetroot would have such a vinegary taste that it would ruin the rest of the ingredients, but not here – the beetroot had sufficient flavour without overpowering the fish. The smoked bream pate on top of the beetroot and parsley had a nice flavour, and the these two main ingredients provided an unforgettable mixture of texture and taste.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Bream

The third course was sea bass, brown shrimps and shellfish sauce. Often I’d get very frustrated with people overcooking the seabass, to the point where the flesh of the fish would just disintegrate at the slightest touch. Here, the cooking was once again impossible to fault. The shellfish sauce was sweet and provided an interesting extra dimension to the dish.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Sea Bass

The main course was turbot with piccalilli sauce and ham hock – again a combination of flavours and texture that worked perfectly together: the freshness of the fish came through in the middle of the saltiness of the ham hock and the vinegar flavour of the piccalilli.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Turbot

As we enjoyed the meal so much, we decided to just be a bit greedy and added the cheese course. We had a selection of six cheeses: Wyfe of Bath, Stratton Belle, Tunworth, Keltic Gold, Davidstow ‘3 Year Old’ Crackler, Beenleigh.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Cheese

I must admit when I saw the menu, I was not looking forward to the pre-dessert of Sea buckthorn cream and sorbet. Maybe it was a bad experience I had with sea buckthorn elsewhere the year before. But the concern was totally unfounded – this dish was so nice that I could easily have had another one without any problem. The ultra-smooth sea buckthorn cream and sorbet were refreshing and light. It was a truly pleasant surprise.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Sea Buckthorn

The dessert was chocolate sponge, with coffee syrup and vanilla ice-cream. This was a variation of chocolate fondant with a smooth ice-cream. The syrup had a nice sweet flavour. Once again the meal finished on a high note.

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw - Chocolate Sponge

Both dinners were exceptional, but if I really had to choose, the second dinner had a slight winning edge – it was probably the best meal I’ve had in the past 12 months also (and this was reflected in the perfect score).

Considering the size of the kitchen and the number of staff, it was impressive that Nathan Outlaw managed to produce such a consistent set of dishes. If you are after really fancy elaborate cooking in the Heston Blumenthal or John Campbell style, you won’t find it here. This is returning to the basics: good quality fresh food with simpler cooking style in order to let the ingredients speak for themselves. Nathan’s use of locally-sourced seafood coupled with flawless cooking has made this one of the best restaurants not just in the Southwest England, but in the whole of UK.

My Favourite Restaurant is here!

Address: St. Enodoc Hotel, Rock, Cornwall, PL27 6LA, United Kingdom
Telephone: +44(0)1208 863394
Website: www.nathan-outlaw.com

Opening Hours: 
Lunch: Friday & Saturday 12:30 – 14:00
Dinner: Tuesday to Saturday: 19:00-21:00

Food: 10/10
Ambience: 5/5
Service: 5/5
Total: 20/20 [Based on two visits in April 2011]

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Gidleigh Park, Chagford, United Kingdom

April 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Hidden in the middle of Dartmoor, it takes a special trip to go to Gidleigh Park; but it’s well worth the effort. In 2009 I paid my first visit to Michael Caines’ 2-Michelin starred restaurant and was well impressed by the quality of the food and service, and decided that I simply had to return to this special place on my week-long gourmet holiday down in SW England.

After the disappointing visit to Vineyard at Stockcross earlier in the week, I got a bit skeptical about another Relais & Chateaux place. After raving about Gidleigh Park, it would have been a disaster if the place didn’t live to my expectation, let alone the expectation of my American friends who came over to the UK specifically for the gourmet week. Also the brilliant dinner at Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham the night before pushed that bar even higher.

The tasting menus came in two choices: the seasonal one or the classic one. Both looked equally appetising. These were the dishes featured in the two menus:

Tasting Menu

  1. Red Mullet, with fennel salad
  2. Tartlet of Quail and Quail’s Eggs, with onion confit, black truffle and smoked bacon and a light quail jus
  3. Loch Duart Salmon Confit, herb puree, lentils, horseradish and Parmesan cream sauce
  4. Warm Pigeon Salad, with apple, hazelnuts and roasted foie gras
  5. Local Venison, with braised belly pork, chestnut puree, roast winter vegetables and raisins soaked in jasmine tea
  6. Selection of British cheeses (Sharpham Elmhurst, Little Wallop and Devon Blue)
  7. Apple Jelly, vanilla foam
  8. Hot prune and Armagnac Souffle (Prune and Armagnac ice-cream)

Classic Tasting Menu

  1. Tartar of Marinated Tuna, with scallops and lime, Oscietra caviar, soused turnip and beetroot, wasabi cream, honey and soy vinaigrette
  2. Terrine of Foie Gras, with Madeira jelly, truffled green bean salad
  3. Brixham Turbot, leek, wild mushrooms and chive butter sauce
  4. Cornish Duckling, with joney and spices and an apple galette
  5. Dartmoor Lamb, with boulangere potato and confit shoulder, fennel puree and a tapenade jus
  6. Selection of Devonshire cheeses (Sharpham Celeste, Sloe Tavy, Quickes mature Cheddar and Harbourne Blue)
  7. Orange Tartlet, orange confit sauce
  8. Caramel and Cardamon Parfait (Milk chocolate mousse with nougatine and a cardamom foam)

Although both tasting menus looked so tempting, we decided to opt for the a la carte menu, simply because there were some equally wonderful dishes there.

For starter, I opted for the Quail Raviolo – this was one large raviolo filled with quail meat, with truffled quail egg yolk on the side, and a herb puree precisely spreaded out onto the dish. The whole dish looked like a beautiful piece of artwork.

Darcy opted for the Loch Duart Salmon, which was served with caviar, salmon jelly and cucumber, and drizzled with honey, soy and wasabi and Greek yoghurt vinaigrettes. It was another dish that was beautifully presented, and the quality of the salmon just completely wowed her.

Bob opted for the Red Mullet with Thai puree and fennel salad – I recommended this to him, based on the Brixham Scalliops with Thai puree that I had last year, which had a wonderful fragance that brought my memory all the way back to Thailand! Russell had his usual choice of Terrine of Foie Gras with rhubarb compote, rhubard and lemon grass jelly, pickled rhubard and girolle mushrooms. Both dishes were precisely executed.

Everyone at the table had thoroughly enjoyed the first course. There was a sigh of relief for me.

For the main course, Darcy once again went for the fish – this time it’s the Boudin of John Dory with Langoustine, served with apple and ginger puree, pink grapefruit, chicken and vanilla jus; while Russell went for the Saddle of Venison accompanied by braised belly of pork, chestnut puree, roast vegetables and raisons soaked in jasmine tea. Bob and I decided to go for the Cornish Duckling with star anise, orange braised chicory and orange scented sauce – so essentially a glamourous Canard a L’orange!

For dessert, the choices included Selection of Cheeses, Passion Fruit Mousse (which came with rice pudding ice-cream and a coconut tuile), and the Hot Prune and Armagnac Souffle featured in the tasting menu. However, Bob decided to go for the Hot Apple Tarte which was served with vanilla ice-cream and Somerset cider coulis – being a tee-total, the coulis was omitted from the dish.

I opted for the Banana Parfait with chocolate and lime sorbet, which I had the year before. It didn’t disappoint.

The winning dessert, must be Russell’s Trio of Chocolates: This consisted of hazelnut and milk chocolate parfait, dark chocolate mousse on a chocolate sable biscuit, and white chocolate ice-cream. A real dream dessert for any chocoholics.

The service throughout the evening was efficient and friendly, without over-imposing which can be the downside of so many of the Michelin restaurants. After dinner, we moved to the comfortable sitting room and sank into the sofa to enjoy the petit fours and coffee. What a pleasant way to finish off the evening – the hardest activity was to finally drag ourselves upstairs back to the room after such an unforgettable meal.

If I really have to find one fault in Gidleigh Park this time, it would have been the aperitif. They were just a little bit too generous on the creme de cassis in the kir royale – making the drink a bit sweeter than usual. But then this is very much a personal taste, and if I make a fuss about this, I’d risk myself turning into a grumpy old man!

The meal may not have all the fancy tricks that Heston Blumenthal would have at the Fat Duck, but it’s genuinely well executed and after scoring a nearly perfect 19/20 last year, I am ready to give Gidleigh Park this time to a perfect 20/20.

Address: Gidleigh Park Hotel & Restaurant, Chagford, Devon, TQ13 8HH, United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)1647 432367
Website: www.gidleigh.com/restaurant
Opening Hours: Daily for lunch and dinner

Food: 10/10
Ambience: 5/5
Service: 5/5
Total: 20/20 [Based on visit in March 2010]