An esteemed culinary career ignited by the sea, Michelin star wizard Nathan Outlaw takes food columnist Chantal Borciani on a gourmand’s tour of the Cornish coastline!
A master of seafood and the seasonal, Nathan Outlaw has wowed food critics, trained under the tutelage of top chefs, earned his Michelin stars and stripes and is now synonymous with the finest Cornish dining.
Widely regarded as Cornwall’s greatest chef in residence, Nathan’s eponymous Port Isaac fish restaurant holds two Michelin stars and has also been crowned the UK’s top restaurant in the 2019 Food & Drink Guide – for the second year running. Not bad for a boy who grew up hundreds of miles away in Kent.
The son of a chef, aged eight Nathan was buttering toast during breakfast service in his dad’s kitchen. He worked in kitchens on evenings and weekends and his first job out of Thanet’s catering college was at the Intercontinental, followed by stints with renowned chefs including Gary Rhodes and Eric Chavot.
Passionate about seafood, Nathan soon landed on Rick Stein’s doorstep in Padstow. “It was 1996, and at the time there were only really a handful of excellent fish restaurants and Rick’s Seafood Restaurant was the place. I just knew I had to do it. I told myself, if you’re going to work somewhere, work in the best place in the world for seafood’, and that was Rick’s,” Nathan says. “It was a brilliant time to be working there. It was manically busy but good fun.”
Today, Nathan owns his two Michelin star Restaurant Nathan Outlaw near Port Isaac and Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen, located literally metres down the road, which boasts another coveted star. He usually spends a couple of days a week in London, where he is slated to open a new restaurant at The Goring hotel, where Kate Middleton famously spent the night before her wedding to Prince William.
“I’d be lying if I said I was ever not ready to come back to Cornwall after a couple of days in London. I mean, just look at it.” Nathan is sitting by the kitchen pass in Port Isaac, and gestures to the window where barrelling surf races towards the Cornish shore and a winter’s sunset floods the sky with crimson and mauve spindles. “I’d always had my eye on this building,” he says of the Restaurant Nathan Outlaw property, which overlooks the charming and tiny bay of Port Gaverne. “I’ll never leave this place. And that’s the first time I’ve ever felt like that.”
Positively effervescent when it comes to Cornish produce, Nathan eschews trends and continues to write his set tasting menu at Restaurant Nathan Outlaw everyday depending on the catch that comes in.
For Nathan, who has made his home in Cornwall, West Country traditions and its bewitching landscape are all part of the county’s rich allure.
“If you arrive on a Friday evening, head to the pub. I like the St Kew Inn – it’s a real Cornish hostelry that dates back to the 15th century. You might be lucky and hear some shanty songs being sung there.
“There are so many beautiful beaches both on the north and south shores but I tend to visit Trevone most. I like it there because there are two beaches; one sandy and one rocky so you get the best of both worlds. I also like the little beach just below my restaurant at Port Gaverne. It’s tiny, but when the tide is low you can explore all the rock pools with the kids. I love walking along the Camel Trail and the walk from Port Isaac along to Port Quinn has amazing views and will really blow away the cobwebs.”
A foodie through and through, Nathan has recommendations for every day of the week. “For a Saturday lunch head to somewhere like Appletons at Trevibban Mill vineyard and winery where you can enjoy relaxed food food in a beautiful setting.
If you’re a keen home cook, Nathan recommends heading to the Port Isaac Seafood School down by the harbour where George Cleave and his team will show you the day’s catch and give advice on how to prepare and cook it.
“On Saturday night, head to one of the really nice restaurants, my one’s pretty good!” Nathan laughs. “And down the road at the Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen of course. Paul Ainsworth in Padstow is really good, a lovely restaurant right in the centre of the harbour town.
“There are some superb restaurants if you want to head further afield, too. I recently visited The Driftwood on the Roseland peninsula – Chris Eden is head chef there and is the only Michelin star Cornish chef ever so that’s a bit special.”
“Down in the Penzance area, The Shore is run by Bruce Rennie and impressively he does it all himself. It’s just him in the kitchen and he cooks fantastic seafood. Ben’s Cornish Kitchen is another Penzance gem, where diners can enjoy Cornish food cooked to a very high standard.”
With unmissable sights including nearby Marazion’s tidal island and ancient castle of St Michael’s Mount, the Jubilee Pool, an Art Deco lido on Penzance’s Promenade, plus the outlying microclimatic Isles of Scilly just a ferry hop away, Penzance has never been short of reasons to visit, but thanks to an influx of inventive chefs, its food scene is now really coming of age. Another food haven not to miss is the town’s first smokehouse at The Cornish Barn where hip cocktails are served alongside home-smoked Cornish meat and fish. And with local vineyards, breweries, bountiful fish markets and farms across both shores, it’s little surprise Cornwall is a magnet for gourmands and top chefs alike. Round off your visit trying local ales in the seafaring inns that dot both magical coasts, Nathan says, and you’ll soon see why this eminent chef would never live anywhere else.
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Where to stay:
North Cornwall: The Scarlet
For the ultimate Cornish beach escape, this eco hotel set on the spectacular north coast is simply unbeatable and is an easy drive from Padstow and Port Isaac. With a reed-fringed outdoor pool, two clifftop hot tubs, an award-winning spa and a sea-view sauna, The Scarlet offers five-star relaxation rooted in the heart and soul of its Cornish location. Local art adorns the walls, the whole hotel smells incredible thanks to the Cornish Oula toiletires and around every corner guests are greeted with soul-soothing views of the sea. The adult-only retreat blends into the hillside overlooking the creamy surf of Mawgan Porth and the marigold beach lies just footsteps through the wild grass meadow garden. Settle into a sea-view couples pod, enjoy fine dining with one of the best sunsets in Cornwall and then doze off to the sound of waves hitting the shore. The South West Coast Path winds right along the front of the hotel, ideal for hikes across to the glorious expanses of Watergate Bay. A spellbinding coastal retreat.
Marazion: Godolphin Arms
Experience the time and tides of Cornwall like never before; guests can watch the shifting sands around Mounts Bay as the tide sweeps across the causeway eventually lapping at the hotel brickwork. Fall to sleep to the sound of the sea and wake to the ever-changing vistas and sunrise above St Michael’s Mount. For beach walks, sensational sunsets and extraordinary access to St Michael’s Mount, this commanding position is second to none. For the best views in the house, book the remarkably well priced family apartment in Room 11, where sea views abound and a picture window captures the endless beauty of Mounts Bay and the iconic castle.
Penzance: Chapel House
One of the most exquisitely designed boutique hotels in Cornwall, Chapel House occupies a captivating Georgian townhouse in the old quarter. Dating back to 1790, with former inhabitants including Admiral Samuel Hood Linzee of HMS Temeraire, the guesthouse has been painstakingly restored and today mixes the old with contemporary flashes of genius. A baby grand sits alongside abstract art, beamed bedrooms boast sumptuous open-plan polished concrete bathrooms, and crackling in-room log burners contrast with vibrant Ercol furniture – staying here is an adventure. Flooded with natural light, the property’s plethora of picture windows make the most of the jaw-dropping sea views.
The stylish top loft bedroom is a particular favourite and features an en suite bathroom glass ceiling that retracts so guests can bathe under the stars with the view of the chapel spires. The graceful décor extends to two apartments that adjoin the main house, which provide guests with even more privacy and living space. Apartment 1 has no less than three balconies and panoramic views of Penzance harbour. An exceptional find, with Bruce Rennie’s The Shore just footsteps away.