Note that the Marina Hotel has now closed, but Nathan Outlaw's cooking can be found at his new premises.
Tucked away in the picturesque village of Fowey is the boutique Marina Hotel, in which resides the restaurant Nathan Outlaw. The dining room has a lovely setting overlooking the harbour, and is quite casual, with no tablecloths but linen napkins. The menu draws heavily on the excellent local seafood, and has a tasting menu at £70, starters at £10-£15, main courses £26-£29 and desserts £10-£13.
The 14 page wine list was particularly enjoyable. It is organised by style, with well-chosen producers and, above all, at mark-ups that are fair. The fine Mas de Daumas Gassac red 2004 was listed at £47 compared to a retail price of around £28, Cristal 1999 Champagne is listed at £165 for a wine that in recent years has reached crazy prices (thanks to its appearances in rap videos; I kid you not), and will now set you back perhaps £300 to buy so this is actually well below retail price! The superb and rare Marques de Murrietta Ygay Especial 1998 was £95 for a wine that costs about £40 to buy. Another bargain was the wonderful Didier Dagenau Silex 2007 for just £100 compared to a shop price of about £66. The wine glasses used, Riedel, are also top of the range. Bread is baked on the premises daily, and is a choice of slices of mini-loaves, white and multi-grain, cut very thinly (6/10).
We began with extremely good nibbles: tomato jam tart with feta cheese had delicate pastry, and the tomatoes tasted properly of tomatoes, which is a rarity in the UK these days. A warm corn-beef fritter with anchovy mayonnaise was nicely balanced, while salt cod brandade with garlic mayonnaise also had a nice balance of distinct but complementary flavours (8/10). A further amuse-bouche was pea soup with good flavour, slightly creamy and served with a fried quail egg; the dish was carefully seasoned (7/10).
Black bream had excellent flavour, was timed well and served with rosemary potato dumplings that had good texture, a creamy sauce with just a little lemon to provide acidity, and some welcome spinach (8/10). My mackerel was the best dish of the night, local fish that had superb flavour, offered with red pepper marmalade tart and a smoked paprika mayonnaise. Mackerel has a robust flavour that is well suited to strong accompaniments, and I thought the dish was prettily presented, carefully conceived and well executed (9/10).
Local turbot also had good flavour, served with a cream sauce flavoured with potted shrimps, shallots, broad beans and a little spinach (7/10). My main course of duck was cooked nicely pink, and was served with pistachio, cherries, pickled endive and potato cake, with cooking juices. The duck itself was of good quality but conceptually the dish did not need two acidic elements to balance the richness of the duck, and the endive itself was quite sharp; moreover the potato cake was a little tasteless, and I wondered whether a fondant potato might have worked better. This was still an enjoyable dish, but for me was a little out of character with most of the dishes by trying for one element too many (6/10).
Cheese was a selection of British cheeses in good condition, such as Rachel goat cheese, Keen’s unpasteurised cheddar from Somerset and Dorset blue vinny (7/10). Pre-dessert was passion fruit cream with raspberry sorbet and a raspberry garnish. The sorbet had smooth texture and the raspberry flavour came through well, though I’d have liked to see more passion fruit flavour emerging (7/10). Lime and vanilla curd with mango sorbet and shortbread biscuit base had clear flavours, and the lime gave a refreshing clean flavour to the dish (7/10). Chocolate mousse was made from a strong 75% dark chocolate and had a pleasing richness, balanced by a yoghurt sorbet and black cherries; a classic and sensible flavour combination (7/10).
We had a second dinner the following night. Nibbles were different (the menu changes daily, at least in part) and to a similarly high standard: a fried goat cheese ball with tarragon mayonnaise, crab mayonnaise with coriander crackers, and a mini-Scotch egg made with a quail egg (8/10). Red mullet was excellent, served with pickled mushroom nage and thyme oil, which went well with the fish (7/10). Risotto of lobster had rice that had absorbed its stock well, the lobster was tender (when so often it is overcooked) and an orange flavour that I was not convinced about conceptually was subtle enough not to affect the dish (7/10).
It was unusual to see “wreckfish” (stone bass, which tastes rather like sea bass), and this was again cooked carefully and served with a creamy sauce with mussels, spinach, peppers and a flavour of saffron that was carefully limited and avoided the metallic taste that can easily occur (7/10). A pineapple tarte tatin was an unusual idea but one that worked fine, the pastry good and a Moscavado sugar ice cream with it a balance to the natural acidity of the pineapple (7/10).
Service was very friendly over the two nights, with our German waitress Steph (who previously worked at Bareiss) being particularly capable. There were one or two trivial aspects of the service that could have been improved, e.g. wine was poured into the glasses a bit fuller than ideal, but given the casual environment such little tweaks are barely relevant. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience here. Nathan is a talented chef and, in my conversation with him, came across as passionate, humble and willing to listen to advice (a useful characteristic that is by no means universal amongst young English chefs).