Restaurant review: Padstow might belong to Rick Stein but Rock's top chef Nathan Outlaw operates by his own rules

Outlaw's at St Enodoc, St Enodoc Hotel, Rock Road, Rock, Cornwall

My starting point today is twofold: first, a presumption that you don't live in Rock, in Cornwall (and my sincerest to those of you who do); and second, a determination to make you visit Nathan Outlaw's magnificent restaurant there.

Putting these foundations together, I must tell you that half the charm of the place derives from the ferry trips you will need to make if coming from Padstow (unless you go the long way round, driving past Wadebridge on the A39), which is a bit like those boat trips to mystical Tibetan kingdoms across mist-covered lakes in Shaolin films. This watery approach makes the chef-patron's lovely name somehow apposite, as if he operates beyond the gastronomic jurisdiction of the mainland.

The other half of the charm comes from the restaurant itself, 20 minutes' walk across a golf course from John Betjeman's elegant grave in the tiny Church of St Enodoc. The church gives its name to the main hotel in Rock, which has two Outlaw restaurants: a super-posh one with a £95 tasting menu, and a cheaper one, which I visit, and is just about affordable if you save up.

Outlaw's at St Enodoc has plenty of outdoor seating, on a wooden deck that overlooks the harbour, and catching the evening sun makes for one of the better views in the beautiful south-west. Two breads are served with butter before the meal: a white with Davidstow and Rosemary, and a brown with Doombar, brewed just up the road. Both are very good, particularly the latter. But the best of the treats before the meal proper is four hake-and-smoked-coley fishcakes, spherical in shape and therefore almost like bon bons, with a herb mayonnaise whose flavour hisses delightfully in the palate.

To start, I have a lobster risotto with basil and orange, spring onions and lobster dressing. This is less than the sum of its parts. The spring onions overpower the risotto, which is lacking in flavour. The citrus-cured salmon, ginger and coriander yoghurt is better, but the ginger and citrus acidity are so zingy they cut right through the fish, whose flavour I search for in vain. Salmon is such a delicate beast that sometimes the trick is to leave it in peace.

The mains offer less fishy options, in every respect. I have rump of lamb with fine beans, aubergine and pink-fir potatoes, a delicious variety of this starchy stable. The lamb is hot, tender and intense, and the aubergine has a smoky flavour that complements it very well. We also share John Dory with broccoli, chilli, garlic and mushrooms. For probably the ugliest thing in the sea, this fish is remarkably tasty; and here its plump white flesh absorbs the almost-Thai spices around it very well.

Other mains we try include gurnard with bulgur wheat, olives, and red-pepper shellfish sauce. This crimson fish, which competes with John Dory in the ugliness stakes, used to be instinctively tossed back into the sea by trawlers, who couldn't bear the sight of it. In the past few years, though, its popularity has grown exponentially. Outlaw's crew shows why, with a perfectly composed plate that combines Mediterranean and English flavours.

My highlight, however, is an outstanding venison with hispy cabbage, creamy parsnip purée, and espresso sauce. Most of us, I imagine, wouldn't dare to put coffee on meat; yet, together with the autumnal whiff from the parsnip, this constitutes one of the best dishes I've had this year.

The desserts are solid, English, and excellent, especially the sticky toffee pudding with prune and Armagnac ice-cream.

Yet perhaps the best thing about this meal is the waiter, Jorge (though he may spell it differently). This chap warrants an immediate pay rise and promotion on account of being indubitably the most charming, personable, attentive and helpful fellow ever to migrate from Portugal to the south-west.

At the end of the meal, Jorge provides some complimentary vanilla shortbread and dark-chocolate fudge with salted peanuts. This is a fabulous end to a fabulous meal. Cheaper than its more glamorous sibling, and with only a couple of obvious shortcomings, this superb restaurant is worth getting that ferry for.


Outlaw's at St Enodoc, St Enodoc Hotel, Rock Road, Rock, Cornwall. Tel: 01208 862 737. £120 for two, with drinks

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