Cornwall may be Nathan Outlaw’s adopted home but he’s always had a thing for London hotels. Until 2018 his London base was at the aptly-named Capital. After a brief break he’s back with his highly anticipated new seafood restaurant Siren at The Goring. This is famously the hotel of choice for the Royal Family – formerly the “granny annexe” for the late Queen Mother where she enjoyed eggs Drumkilbo in the dining room, to this day it operates as their emergency B&B in case of any power cuts in Buck Palace. The dining room still very much exists whilst Siren is Outlaw’s new fish-focused adjunct.
Going to The Goring is always a fabulous experience: the doormen in top hats, that sumptuous bar, carpets thicker than brie and now a brand new purpose-built restaurant overlooking the secret garden (Jeremy Goring’s collaboration with Nathan Outlaw reportedly cost £4 million – a lot of money for what is essentially a conservatory). It has been sensitively designed by Russell Sage Studio to remain consistent with the hotel whilst the flowery upholstery on the chairs blends in with the trees of the carefully maintained lawn beyond.
We started the evening, as any bon vivant should, in the bar. Unfortunately, the welcome at the threshold was slightly frosty. Apparently they weren’t able to find room for three people as it was “full” despite there being plenty of seats and indeed vacant stools by the bar. When we then explained to the gatekeeper we were here for a pre-Siren pre-prandial, a table magically appeared and the chameleonic floor manager swung from officious to obsequious. The classics only just befit their £18 price tag (the French 75s are particularly decent) but don’t bother with the “Garden Negroni.” Ostensibly to get you in the mood for semi-alfresco dining, the use of Seedlip Garden and matcha tea gave it a slightly astringent edge that was actually rather unpleasant. Sometimes classics should be left as they are. Soothing renditions of Abba songs on the piano satiated our mood.
In both the bar and Siren there seems to be a predominance of male staff, perhaps perpetuating The Goring’s rather old-fashioned outlook. Whether under Outlaw’s direction or not, Siren at least tries to break the mould by affixing a dangling brooch chained to their double-breasted jackets. It’s eye-catching, yes – especially when the catch of the day is presented to you on a silver platter and the various reflective surfaces dazzle you – but it’s a sartorial gaffe of the highest order (the brooch, not the fish).
Some people say such classics are passé. I say that’s hake news
As for the grand poisson himself, we were told that Mr Outlaw is only there in person one day every three weeks. Anyone expecting to be served by a celebrity chef may be disappointed (go to Cornwall instead), but of course it’s unrealistic to expect him to alternate between Cornwall and Belgravia. So, for the most part, he has to leave the kitchen in capable hands.
And capable hands they are. Within minutes of ordering the wine (from an impressive list, guided by a friendly French sommelier who allowed us to taste various whites), bread was served with whipped cod roe for smearing. Can there be any greater joy than whipped cod roe on bread on a balmy summer evening overlooking The Goring’s garden?
Next up, half dozen Dooncastle oysters were polished off with sheer élan: ludicrously clean, clear and gorgeous. Following oysters with more (why not?), the second batch were cooked and crispy with an oyster sauce. These were delicate and well-balanced though not quite as impressive as the first.
Meanwhile, cured monkfish with fennel and dollops of yogurt had a beautiful freshness and acidity but overall it was a simple and somewhat underwhelming dish which stung at £16.
The baked hake with seaweed hollandaise and shrimps was hugely comforting in a Rick Stein kind of way. The influence there is hardly surprising as Outlaw once worked for Stein and it’s certainly not a criticism. Some people say such classics are passé. I say that’s hake news.
The whole lobster – a slightly more decadent choice at £56 and one of the most popular dishes – was similarly faultless.
The sign of a good kitchen is one that can show equal strength in areas outside their usual comfort zone. Though not traditionally in Outlaw’s wheelhouse, there’s a steak on the menu and for the vegetarians one, lone alternative dish for completeness. Whilst we didn’t try any non-seafood dishes, the desserts were inconsistent. The raspberry choux bun, at £14, was a bit of a disappointment – bathed in what was like a chocolate fountain, the remains of a bubbling Vesuvius of molten cocoa. It was too much.
it’s virtually faultless, classic fish cookery
Overall, it’s virtually faultless, classic fish cookery though not really a religious experience. Arguably you can have more ground-breaking, more exciting fish dishes for half the price over at Cornerstone in Hackney. This begs the question: has Outlaw been outshone by his own protégé Tom Brown? I love Cornerstone but I’m not really sure they can be compared. Siren isn’t trying to be modern and clever. Nor is it rustic Cornish pub food. It’s understated but sassy.
That said, one doesn’t just have to pay to breathe the air around Belgravia, but one needs an additional junk bond or two to pay the bill at Siren. When the damage report was delivered on another silver platter, this prompted a debate about VFM (and an urgent call to the bank). Nearing £100 per head for the food alone (sans booze), it does seem a bit much, even factoring in the postcode.
Will the price put people off, especially in these straightened times? Jeremy Goring and Nathan Outlaw are right to be concerned about the impact of Brexit on hospitality and indeed a ‘no deal’ Brexit poses huge risks to the UK food supply. Perhaps they can remain sanguine about UK-sourced seafood, as well as being bankrolled by reliable clientele to keep them Brexit-proof – a mixture of well-heeled tourists, red-trousered blue bloods and pescatarian cognoscenti, as well as illustrious cheffy patronage (apparently Clare Smyth sat at our very table just two nights before us; Jason Atherton just before that). Will that be enough to weather the storm? I hope so, as it’s an inherently good restaurant, but sadly not somewhere you can return to time and time again without some serious debt finance.
5 Beeston Place
by J A Smith