Hhow much seafood can a person eat in two days? That’s the challenge celebrity chef Nathan Outlaw seems to be throwing at guests who visit him in North Cornwall. Lobster dumplings, gurnard tostadas, monkfish tail, roast turbot, crispy ling and marinated sea bass. . . After two evenings and two mornings of hospitality at Outlaw, I ate 13 different varieties of seafood, as well as a crab sandwich for lunch. In fact, all weekend in Cornwall, I’m playing a game of deliciously indulgent bingo — local food lends itself particularly well to rhyming calls. Twenty-one — cream scone! Sixty-six—fish and chips! Forty-nine — sparkling wine!
Outlaw, whose friendly face often appears on the BBC Saturday kitchenran his two restaurants in Port Isaac for almost a decade. They have both been hugely successful, but recently, driven by the pandemic and his two now grown children, the 44-year-old wanted to shake things up, so in early May he opened his first guest house, a Victorian seaside mansion on the outskirts of town.
It’s goodbye to juggling his Port Isaac businesses with the high-octane cuisine at London’s top hotels (his restaurant at the Goring closed permanently during Covid) and Dubai’s ‘seven-star’ Burj Al Arab (he ended his partnership with the hotel last year). And hello to making full Cornish breakfasts – the usual suspects plus pork pudding – for B&B guests six days a week.
A room at Outlaw’s Guest House
Outlaw’s Guest House has eight rooms and offers a two-night adults-only Foodie Retreat package. On the first evening, visitors eat at Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen; the second night is dinner at Outlaw’s New Road. Each has a Michelin star, but the Fish Kitchen is the “cheeky little sister” with a more casual setting and globally-inspired dishes.
On arrival at the Guest House, despite the multi-course menus awaiting us, we laugh at the millionaires’ shortbreads with the perfect caramel/shortbread ratio (50-50), which were made by the 18-year-old daughter of Outlaw, Jessie, pastry chef in training. Admittedly, this business is a family affair: while trusted crews – aka the “Outlaw Gang” – are in place to run the two restaurants, it’s Outlaw and his wife, Rachel, who are responsible for the operation of the B&B. The couple met as teenagers while working at seafood restaurant Rick Stein in Padstow. “We were that cliché: me a waitress and him in the kitchen,” says Rachel, who returned to work from home after two decades of accounting for her husband’s empire and raising their two children. There are no deep-pocketed investors, so the outlaws poured their own money into this project and designed the property to look like their home: local coastal landscape art, pottery and Cornish ceramics, and an honesty bar for sneaky nightcaps.
On our first evening, a five-minute walk downhill into town, a crowd of Jubilee weekend tourists sit on the Platt (as the locals call the quay) overlooking the harbour, eating fish and chips under obscuring clouds. In the middle of the action is Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen: a tiny 15th-century fisherman’s cottage perfect for pint-sized people. Outlaw oversees the restaurant but avoids cooking there: “I couldn’t work there. I’m too big, I can’t fit in,” explains the chef, who rightly thinks he would have been a rugby ace if he had only started playing.
We have cod roe on chunks of brioche and elderflower margaritas before the six-course tasting menu – I vote the monkfish satay the winner – and a cheap Cornish wine. Countless hours later, we stumble back up the hill, understanding why Outlaw’s restaurant regulars have long begged him to open rooms and grateful that he answered their pleas.
The sea view from Outlaw’s Guest House
The next morning, freshly stocked with smoked haddock and kedgeree mackerel, it’s time for a speedboat trip with ex-fisherman Jeremy Brown (£25 pp; boaty-portisaac.co.uk). Waters are choppy, stomachs are full, heads are achy, but hopes are still high for spotting minke whales, puffins and dolphins.
Fortunately, seats in the ‘entertainment area’ at the front of the 10m Humber Rib are bagged by children on board; I hide behind. Ten minutes later, we have only recorded one “possible porpoise sighting” and hopes are dashed. Then, suddenly, a fin appears at two o’clock. Shortly after, our boat is surrounded by a group of dolphins. Sophie, the five-year-old on board, fears a dolphin might jump into the boat, which seems almost plausible. The combination of sea spray hitting our faces and playful dolphins makes the hangover evaporate.
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Back on land, Jeremy’s brother John takes us on his Doc Martin Walk & Talk tour (twice daily in high season, £12.50; 07815 156632). We warn him that we’re not exactly devoted fans of the ITV drama Martin Clunes which has been filmed in the city for nearly two decades, but he’s unfazed. “This is the house where Doc Martin’s aunt Ruth lives”; “this is the school where Louisa works” and so on. But one intriguing thing aside from John is how quickly locals lost interest in being extras when they realized how tedious it was: “Doc Martin’s freshman year, all the locals wanted to be extras, the second year, no one did. Now they have to take them by bus.
The characterful Brown brothers are part of the Fisherman’s Friends, the famous sea shanty group, and Port Isaac royalty. (“The Browns are the Mafia of Port Isaac,” Outlaw tells me later that day, laughing. “People get out on those boats and don’t come back.”) John guides us down Squeezy Belly Alley and past houses with names picturesque – the bakehouse, the cobweb, the pump – where gull chicks nest on the roofs. He tells us stories about fishing folklore and details the changing tides of the city. In 2013, there were eight fishing boats in the port; today there are only two left and one is skippered by his nephew.
Our second tasting menu dinner that night – at Outlaw’s New Road, overlooking the bay – also includes six courses, including raw scallops, which the menu describes as “taken in one breath”. Restaurant manager Anna explains that free diver Jamie Kirkaldy dived about 60 feet and held his breath for up to three minutes in order to provide our supper. I have never savored so many bites.
The next morning we walk five minutes north to Port Gaverne for an invigorating swim to try and build an appetite for our final breakfast of king eggs. Later, it’s a 30-minute drive north to St Nectan’s Glen, an ancient forest and waterfall, and a supposedly magical place in Cornwall. At the top of the trail, we see towering piles of boulders, known as fairy piles, and spot old coins embedded in each fallen tree trunk. These, I discover at the gift shop, are offerings to the nature gods. We pay our waterfall tithe (£7.45 each) and climb the fern covered hill for the best view. I ask my boyfriend, Geordie, what his spiritual beliefs are. “Cricket,” he growls, glued to the England v New Zealand game on his phone. I’m not sure he saw the waterfall.
Stopping for our final gourmet hit – a Sunday roast at St Kew Inn, a pub ten minutes’ drive from Port Isaac – it’s a wonder we could even watch the food, let alone devour vast roasts with all the trimmings. But then our snacks arrive and, like so many times this weekend, the food seems too delicious to refuse. Best of all, it’s a local dish we haven’t had yet: plump Porthilly oysters cooked over a wood fire. Bingo!
Laura Pullman was a guest at Outlaw’s Guest House. Double half board from £845 on the two-night Foodie Retreat package, including afternoon pastries (outlaws.co.uk)
Three other foodie stays in Cornwall
1. Western Wonder
Just outside arty St Ives on the west coast, the Carbis Bay Estate hotel opened Ugly Butterfly last August to great applause thanks to chef Adam Handling’s use of knives, sea buckthorn and others sourced locally (five-course tasting menu from £75; uglybutterfly.co.uk). Also new is the estate’s Walters on the Beach restaurant (dishes from £22), a glamorous seaside outpost for inventive dishes like lobster macaroon with chive and tomato mayonnaise, not to mention artsy cocktails.
Details B&B doubles from £280 (carbisbayhotel.co.uk)
2. Foodie Fowey
With its art galleries and boutiques, Fowey is becoming increasingly fussy. It’s also home to some great little gourmet restaurants such as North Street Kitchen, where clever fish dishes are served in an open hut by the river (dishes from £11; fitzroycornwall.com). While in town, head to the new wine bar, Orgia, for dishes such as orange-dusted burrata and pickled mackerel (mains from £8; theorgia.com) or book a private lunch aboard the Blue River Table’s Tethra, a restored Cornish motorboat the Fal (lunch £85 pp; bluerivertable.co.uk). The Meudon Hotel has subtropical gardens and a new pop-up snack bar in a horse box on its own beach, Bream Cove.
Details B&B doubles from £129 (meudon.co.uk)
Rick Stein’s Cooking School
3. Superb seafood
It’s hard to talk about Cornish cuisine without mentioning Padstow, and it’s equally hard to talk about Padstow without checking the name of chef Rick Stein, whose flagship outpost here produces innovative dishes such as mussels masala and the Singapore Chilli Crab (mains from £19.95; rickstein.com). If you leave inspired, you can also try a lesson at her cooking school to learn the ropes (Taste of Cornwall half-day course from £95). Complete the experience with a stay in one of Stein’s new shepherd’s huts, ten minutes from town, at the Cornish Arms in St Merryn.
Details Two nights B&B in a shepherd’s hut from £320 (rickstein.com)
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