Wednesday, 28 December 2011

An anniversary food fest

Today is my husband's and my second wedding anniversary, which we happen to be spending in the same county and state where we got married 730 fateful days ago. We are not doing anything particularly exciting to celebrate this occasion--not because we don't care about it, but because we had a premature recognition of this momentous event a couple weeks ago, when we visited the two-Michelin-starred Nathan Outlaw restaurant at the St. Enodoc Hotel in Rock, Cornwall, UK.

(The St. Enodoc Hotel, Rock, Cornwall, UK)

Although the establishment is, apparently, fairly well known--it has been named as the Best Seafood Restaurant in the UK by The Good Food Guide, for instance--I only found out about it by accident because it was featured in an airline magazine I browsed through during a flight to Scotland last spring. Once I knew that such a snazzy place was only just up the road from Falmouth, I knew that I had to find an excuse to go there. For months and months I waited around, trying to find the perfect occasion for a visit, until finally I realized that our anniversary was a pretty good fit: My husband loves food, I love food, and we love each other, so it seemed a match made in Heaven.

Of course, the thing I didn't quite bargain on was how very unromantic it is to eat a 6-course meal (plus an amuse-bouche and bread), since by the time the final plate is cleared, it takes all of one's energy and concentration to get from the table to the car, and then from the car to the hotel room, prior to collapsing in a stuffed heap on the bed. However, it hardly seems fair to complain about being well-fed, especially since the food we consumed, in this case, was absolutely terrific.

(Chef Nathan Outlaw)

Outlaw's fine-dining restaurant experience revolves around a seafood tasting menu which can either be ordered with or without a matching "wine flight." Having already sampled the exquisite but expensive tasting menu at Jamie Oliver's nearby Fifteen restaurant, I was a bit worried at how much the 2-Michelin-starred Outlaw restaurant would charge for something comparable. However, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was "only" 85 pounds per person (with the accompanying wine tasting, which we did not do, costing an additional 75 pounds per person).

Uncharacteristically, and throwing all caution to the wind, I decided to begin the meal with a cocktail--champagne and gin mixed with lemonade, creating some sort of a lemon spritzer. I actually found it quite tasty, despite my normal aversion to the flavor of alcohol. Because I never drink I immediately became very...well...chatty. We were then given an amuse-bouche--or, rather, two: some raw salmon and horseradishy spread on little toasts, plus some deep-fried crab balls. We were then brought a plate of freshly-baked bread and butter. In retrospect, it would have been a very good idea to have skipped the bread, or at least to have eaten it very sparingly. However, we'd both been starving ourselves in anticipation of a giant meal, and by that point (about 7:30 PM), we were ravenous; thus, we each had a couple slices apiece.

(One of the fish dishes served at Nathan Outlaw's restaurant. Unfortunately, not one of our fish dishes--I took my camera along but was too distracted by enjoying the gustatory delights to remember to get any photographic evidence of our experience.)

The next course was a mackerel cocktail, described on the official menu (of which we received autographed copies as souvenirs) as "smoked mussels, oysters, cucumber, and horseradish." The oysters were fried (a tradition in my family, so an unexpected taste of home) and covered with crumbs that had been soaked in squid ink--my first time eating that particular ingredient. The entire cocktail sat in the bowl of a little serving glass whose stem was filled with a homemade coleslaw.

Next up was a thin strip of cod with piccalilli spices, bacon, and 
puréed cauliflower. The skin had been left on the cod and was perfectly crisped; normally I would have been tempted to peel this off but the entire dish was so delicious that I ate every last bite--even the piccalilli spices, which clearly included little bits of pepper (not my favorite of vegetables).

Perhaps my favorite course was the bream, which was served with brown shrimps and squid and was covered by a saffron sauce. This was accompanied by toasted bread served with what I think was a fish (mackerel?) paté specially designed to work well with the saffron. As pretentious as our waitress seemed while explaining that to us, my first bite immediately proved her to be correct--it was an amazing bit of culinary wizardry of which I could have happily eaten another portion.

(Nathan Outlaw in action)

By this point in the meal, my husband and I were both feeling a bit full--not only from the food but also from the entire bottle of sparkling water that we'd already managed to consume before starting on our second (which we also finished; where did we find the room?). I think we were both quite ready to move on to the dessert portion of the evening, but our next serving was the "main course," if such a thing exists in a tasting menu: brill, served with nuts, beetroot, hog's pudding (not a blood product, as I originally feared, but merely a type of sausage), and mushrooms. This dish was also delicious and the fish melted in our mouths, but I was beginning to feel rather nauseous from all the food and was forced to chew very slowly and take lengthy pauses between bites. I had no idea how I could make it through a further two courses.

I think the serving staff must be used to this reaction from their guests, because they did give us a longer break while transitioning from the brill to the first dessert dish--lemon meringue. The meringue--really a frozen yogurt with a sorbet-like consistency--was light and acidic enough to cut through the weightiness of the preceding savory dishes. It wasn't painful to keep shoving additional spoonfuls into my mouth, so I could at least enjoy the flavor (which is on par with cinnamon-apple as the best dessert theme possible, as far as I'm concerned). All the same, I knew without a doubt that I almost literally had no room left for more. My face must have announced this, causing our waitress to chuckle as she collected our empty plates and ask whether we'd be able to handle the last course. I think my response was probably a sickly groan--assuming I could manage even that.

(More delicious fare at Outlaw's restaurant: smoked sea bass, St. Enodoc asparagus, and English mustard. The menu varies seasonally, and this was a dish produced at the restaurant earlier this year.)

The final course, an almond sponge comprising honeycomb, rice pudding, and pear and ginger sorbet, was probably fantastic. It looked lovely, it smelled lovely, and the tiny spoonful that I tried was pleasant. However, I was just not able to eat anything else. My husband suffered through some of his portion, but even he had to give up--and, given that he normally eats about twice as much as I do, that just goes to show how much food we had managed to consume during our three-hour visit to the restaurant. Our waiter attempted to interest us in some after-dinner drinks, but all I wanted at that point was to put on the baggiest clothes I could find--or perhaps just wrap a sheet around my body--and sleep until the new year or whenever my digestive tract had managed to process everything I had just presented to it. First, though, we had to pay the bill, which was, without a doubt, the largest sum I have ever paid for a meal for two people. I'm not entirely certain that ANY meal is worth that much money, but all the same it was definitely one of the most enjoyable collections of food I've ever consumed (enjoyable until the point when I was about to explode, that is).

Of course, part of what you are paying for is not just the food itself, but also the fame and experience of the chef, the notoriety of the "brand," and the fanciness of the setting. The St. Enodoc Hotel is quite an upscale place, judging not just from the décor but also the prices; even in the off-season, rooms rented out for several hundred pounds apiece. Throughout our meal, we had several different serving people, all of whom were very knowledgeable and eager to please. At one point, my husband and I overheard the sommelier giving his spiel to the guests at the next table over; I'm sure he was giving his clients every penny's worth of the extra 75 pounds per person required to experience the wine tasting, but boy did he sound fake, pretentious, and condescending. Actually, as nice as our servers all were, I felt that most of them were a bit condescending--perhaps because my husband and I were younger than the other clientele, or, though dressed quite nicely, clearly not as upper-class as some of the others? Who knows; maybe we were imagining things. There was one waitress, a German who had some difficulty with her English, who was very genuine and friendly and clearly tried to make our evening as delightful as possible--for instance, she seated us at the table nearest the kitchen so that we might catch a glimpse of Nathan Outlaw through the decorative window (which we did!).

(The Tzitzikama Lodge, where we spent the night after our anniversary food fest)

The only real drawback of the evening was that we chose to spend the night in Rock rather than driving back to Falmouth. We'd expected a longer commute, and we also anticipated being more tired once we'd finished gorging. Being unable to afford accommodations at the St. Enodoc Hotel (especially after paying for dinner!), we booked a room at another nearby bed and breakfast. Although the building and the room looked quite nice online and in person, we both ended up sleeping terribly because of problems with the bed and with the ambient temperature. On top of this, they only served breakfast until 9 AM, so on a Sunday morning after a long and incredibly hard week of long, stressful work days, we had to set an alarm to get out of bed in time for our morning meal. That is most certainly not my idea of a good weekend, nor of a good getaway.

All in all, though, the hotel experience wasn't negative enough to mar what was otherwise a pleasant celebration of our 2 years of married bliss. We also weren't deterred by the pre-dinner detour, down a random and dead-ending country lane, on which we were guided by our confused GPS system. Next year is our "leather anniversary," according to the guide I just found on Google. If a giant gourmet feast is an appropriate substitute for fabric on our "cotton anniversary," I'm not quite sure what I'll need to cook up to swap for next year's animal hide theme...suggestions welcome!

Thanks to the following websites for providing the images used in this post:

No comments:

Post a Comment