Ah, the fish pun, a longstanding feature of British comedy. If anyone has heard them all, it’s probably Nathan Outlaw, champion of ecologically sourced British seafood and executive chef of one Michelin star restaurant Outlaws at The Capital Hotel, Knightbridge. I bet it gives him quite a haddock. I’ll try to resist.
The design of at Outlaws at The Capital blends seamlessly into the design of the hotel, with just a slightly lighter shade of wood and some glittering, modern chandeliers to make the most of the high ceiling. With only 34 covers, the restaurant is quite small, but tables are nicely spaced and tall windows admit lots of light from peaceful Basil Street outside. Depending on the location of one’s table, a diner can get a glimpse of the kitchen through a pane of glass in one of the walls, and sketches of seahorses are a simple and appropriate decoration. With a number of other restaurants on the go, including the two Michelin star Restaurant Nathan Outlaw in Cornwall’s Port Isaac, Outlaw has a worthy head chef in Pete Biggs, who runs the London kitchen and has been working with Outlaw for ten years.
As we perused the menu, a selection of bread appeared, along with some appetite-whetting bite-size fishcakes with herb mayonnaise. Charlotte’s requirement for gluten-free bread, of which we had notified them in advance, and there was a well salted butter to slather onto it. However, since she was not able to eat the fishcakes, she was given a tiny portion of gazpacho soup and I could feel her envy as I tucked into mine…
For the first course, I decided to go against the grain and order the barbecued pigeon on a chicory tart with pistachio and grapefruit. The flavour combination was interesting and the crispy tart provided a pleasing contrast to the tender pigeon breast, although I generally prefer pigeon to be a bit rarer. Charlotte chose the lobster risotto, which was perfectly al dente and full of plump chunks of lobster. Both starters had citrus elements, good flavours with which to start a meal. We told sommelier Isaac that we preferred red wine and were provided with a bottle of very drinkable 2011 Gamay from the Levin family’s Loire Valley vineyards that was bright with cherry and spice.
The Levin family, who own The Capital Hotel, describe their wines as having Old World tradition with New World style and they are strong advocated of eco-sustainability and organic wine production.
Naturally, we both opted for fishy mains. My hake was deliciously tender, resting on a bed of baby leeks and borlotti beans, the flavours of which were ignited once eaten with the salty and sweet crab meat and dressing that accompanied them. Charlotte had chosen the grey mullet, with red peppers, olives, saffron and shellfish sauce, which was divinely aromatic. Between mouthfuls, she told me that the fish was expertly cooked and that the spinach was amazing.
Unable to pass on the cheese course, we decided to share. It is a shame that the cheese trolley seems to be on the way out of fine dining restaurants, as there is something pleasurable in the conversation that it demands, the learning a little about the cheeses and the ability to choose exactly what you fancy after a meal.
That said, the plate of four cheeses that we were served represented most of the key cheese families, with the highlight being a ‘Three Year Old Crackler’, a Davidstow cheddar made especially for Nathan Outlaw. Isaac chose a Croft 1994 vintage port with the cheese and it was very good – quite sweet, rich and full-bodied.
To finish the meal, I had chosen strawberry and champagne sorbet with basil cream and vanilla shortbread, of which I found the basil cream to be silky smooth and necessary in balancing the other, sweeter, components of the dish. Although the sorbet was tasty, I must confess that I am always disappointed to find that there is no chocolate option on a dessert menu. The wine pairing for this was a 2014 Contero Moscato d’Asti di Strevi, Piedmont, which had a fruity nose of ripe melon and was quite floral and delicate on the palate. By contrast, Charlotte’s Reisling Auslese 2014, by Wittmann, Rheinhessen, had a honey aroma and a refreshing but sweet flavour of tropical fruits. Charlotte’s dessert was elderflower ice cream sandwich with lime curd, sugared almonds and meringue, which she said was reminiscent of a lemon posset with a great crunchy texture supplied by the nuts and meringues. We left the restaurant smiling and took our (chocolate) petit fours the short distance to the bar, where we could enjoy them with an espresso martini – what else? – and exchange fish puns.
Outlaws at the Capital serves the very best of British seafood, cooked well, with the kind of care and expertise that the delicate ingredients require. Fish lovers shouldn’t miss out on this excellent restaurant and those who love good food of all kinds should pop in when they are next in the area. Just for the halibut.