When did you first start thinking about relaunching Restaurant Nathan Outlaw as something more casual and inclusive?
I've not been happy cooking in that sort of style and in that sort of restaurant for a few years. Recent events have put things in perspective. It makes sense for me to change things now for a mixture of business and personal reasons. I want to be happy when I'm in the workplace and I want all my staff to be happy too. Increasingly, I think that’s what customers want to see too.
How do you feel about it all now the plans for the restaurant for Outlaw’s New Road have been revealed?
It's like the weight of the world has been lifted off my shoulders. I’ve been much happier since I made the decision because I don’t have to live up to those expectations anymore. A lot of people will probably think I've gone a little bit mad as it's a two-star restaurant, but the main thing for me is being able to cook the food I love.
How different will Outlaw’s New Road look?
Well we’ve put some Covid-19 screens in place. Even though the Government says you don't have to do it, I'm going to go with my gut instincts and keep my staff and customers safe. We've also given it a paint job and got some new chairs in but it's nothing major. We're very lucky because the location is beautiful and looks out over the sea. Whatever we do in the restaurant it will never live up to the view.
How many covers will it have?
With the restrictions we'll only have five tables. That means we’re going to have to run it like Outlaw's Fish Kitchen (Outlaw’s more casual restaurant down the road). They’ll be two sittings at lunch and two sittings at dinner. That way we will do a minimum of 40 covers a day and a maximum of 72 depending on the sizes of the tables we get in.
What will the new format be?
There won't be a tasting menu as we won't have time to get it out with the two sittings per service. This will reduce spend by around 50% per head. Part of this is about making the restaurant work financially and keeping everyone employed but it also reflects a change in how I want to eat in restaurants. I don’t enjoy sitting in restaurants for three or four hours anymore. But they'll be no standard change in terms of the seafood that I buy. And it will all be the same staff that were with me before, not one person has been let go.
What’s the story behind the name?
The restaurant is on New Road. There wasn’t a PR team involved or anything like that. It just felt right. And we did need to change the name. Holding on to two Michelin stars and 10/10 in The Good Food Guide is all very well but it makes people expect a certain kind of experience. If we were just to say: "it's still Restaurant Nathan Outlaw but we're going to do things slightly differently" people would still have those expectations and it would not work. A clean break is what was needed.
What happens if you achieve the same accolades again?
I'm really not bothered about that. I've been cooking for over 20 years and I got my first Michelin star in 2004. I'm over all that stuff. I just don’t get motivated by awards anymore. I appreciate that it’s easy for me to say that because I have achieved them and I understand accolades are useful things for ambitious young chefs and restaurateurs to have. What makes me happy these days is the guys in the kitchen being happy, cooking the best fish I can find and the restaurant being busy.
Outlaw's Fish Kitchen is even smaller than Outlaw’s New Road – what’s the plan for that site?
It will remain closed until restrictions lift. It's too small to work with social distancing in place - the dining room is smaller than most people's front rooms. Luckily it's a very strong business. Rachel (Outlaw's wife and business partner) and I are the sort of people that save for a rainy day, so we can get through this winter. We may use the space for private dining for people from the same household.
Your recently opened London restaurant at The Goring hotel won’t be re-opening. What’s the story there?
Siren was doing very well. But like all London hotel restaurants it was hit very badly by Covid-19 as such a young restaurant it just wasn't viable to keep it open. If I'd been in their shoes I'd have done the same thing. Jeremy (Goring, the Belgravia hotel's owner) and I remain friends. There's no bad blood. I respect the decision, it's just unfortunate that it happened when the restaurant had just started to get into its stride. It's a shame.
Could you ever see yourself opening outside Cornwall again?
The only way I'd ever do anything else would be with someone that works with me who's got to the point where they need that next step. But I'm done with travelling to London every week, I've been doing it for the last eight years. And I won't be taking any flights to Dubai either (Outlaw ran a restaurant at the Burj Al Arab hotel for a couple of years). Over the last 10 years I've been running around like a blue-arsed fly. It's now time to relax and enjoy what I do.