Chef Nathan Outlaw is dragging an old British institution into the 21st century, one deep-fried oyster at a time, writes Anna Solomon
The Goring Hotel, Brexit Day. As I approach the Grade-I listed building, I wonder whether the Union Jacks that adorn the facade are a staple feature, or whether I am about to walk into an atmosphere of jubilation about as palatable as my recent stint on the Central Line.
The Goring is as British as it gets. It is the only hotel to have a royal warrant from the Queen, and the bar was the Queen Mother’s ‘local’. Kate Middleton requisitioned the hotel before her wedding. In the olden days, foreign dignitaries would drop by The Goring before having an audience with the Queen, and Winston Churchill’s mother moved into the hotel in 1919.
Today, The Goring remains a haunt of assorted gentlefolk. I am greeted by an anachronistic doorman in a bowler hat, scarlet tailcoat and gold-trimmed waistcoat. The decor of the Front Hall rings of English eccentricity. Hand-painted wallpaper shows a romantic rural landscape roamed by exotic animals, some of which are caricatures of staff and owners who were fixtures of the hotel’s 100-year old history.
If The Goring is a bastion of the blue-blooded past, then Siren, its new fish restaurant, brings the hotel into the 21st century. Siren is the product of an unlikely partnership between The Goring and Nathan Outlaw, a chef who has appeared on shows such as The Great British Menu and Saturday Kitchen. A combination of the sexy restaurant name and the chef’s swashbuckling surname designates the project as something quite different from the whimsical and charming – but sexless – Goring.
The £4 million, 60-cover restaurant designed by Russell Sage is not located inside the hotel building, but in a gorgeous conservatory built outwards into the gardens. Sage has gone to town on the fish theme: the light fixture is a lobster pot and the candle holders are sea anemones.
Although calling the food ‘simple’ would be a stretch, it is perhaps ‘approachable’. Siren serves fish and chips – though here this means a £39 piece of turbot and rosemary potato wedges. Not only this: the maverick Outlaw deep-fries panko-tossed oysters and serves them with steak. Cue the collective clutching of pearls from The Goring clientele.
We are seated and brought bread – a St John loaf with seaweed butter and cod roe, the simple delight of which is worth a mention. To start we go for the crab tart with celeriac and curry dressing, a nimble creation topped with pea shoots and lashes of olive oil, and the cuttlefish black pudding with apple and kohlrabi. This is a true highlight; the black pudding is rich and oily, balanced by the clean flavours of apple and wild cabbage.
For the main course, we opt for the turbot purely out of a desire to see how Siren justifies battering it. The answer is passably; the fish is delicious, but whether its encasement brings anything to the dish is a matter for debate. The warm tartare sauce and sautéed capers elevate the dish, and I have to admit that the chips with garlic and parsley mayonnaise are crisped to perfection. The seabass main, by contrast, is a failsafe classic. Served with a red wine and sage brown butter dressing, crispy sage and charred broccoli, the supple white fish and warm, familiar flavours are predictably enjoyable.
Having shot myself in the foot by filling up on bread and roe before the meal, I am flagging a little by dessert. However, the lure of feather-light cocoa and peanut choux with chocolate ice cream and chocolate and brandy sauce inspires me to power on. We also order the clotted cream rice pudding with pineapple, a dish rescued from school dinner-esque nostalgia by ‘spicing’ the pineapple and accompanying it with a dollop of gingerbread ice cream.
The Goring still hosts its usual set of royals and MPs, but in Siren it has managed to evade fustiness. Nathan Outlaw pulls off a menu covering everything from pink grapefruit duck breast to fish and chips masterfully. After my visit I also learn that the hotel’s CEO, Jeremy Goring, has been outspoken in his condemnation of Brexit, calling Brexiteer politicians ‘old dickheads’ who have ‘thrown [their] toys out of the pram’ (the Union Jacks were not, then, flags of exultation). This is The Goring of the 21st century – newer, fresher, and less beholden to traditional viewpoints.
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