I have a pretty undeveloped palate – my cooking expeditions are usually strictly regulated by the precise instructions of a cook book and not by my own intuition of say which herbs and type of cheese complements which type of poultry. I am further confounded by what would be the right amount of ingredients to produce the right taste for the finished product. I wouldn’t be able to discern that a particular dish had a dash of nutmeg or a pinch of aniseed. I love KFC’s fried chicken, mee mamak goreng from KL road stalls, all Keralan offerings by the delectable Kayra, all the restaurants I covered in Travel Anecdotes – Bangkok Dining, and the lobster with truffle oil from Le Brassiere Mediterrene of Mougins. I guess you could say I pretty much like food in a crude and rudimentary way – Yum or Yuck.
It was only lately, when watching friends express their love of cuisine-development (a dear friend had recently manifested her restaurateur aspirations so successfully, another designs luxury cakes in her spare time and only creates Ottolenghi inspired dishes for dinner parties) did I start to listen in a bit more to group conversations about the chemistry required to harmonise a menu, the finesse of presentation and the fuss over Michelin stars. That of course and the Helen Mirren Michelin comedy movie The Hundred Foot Journey. After getting infected by the food hype of my contemporaries and reading further about the food-designer concept (this was a great guide for me) I decided that it was time for me to have a first Michelin experience.
1 Michelin Star for Lunch
I just learnt that it takes years to attain even one Michelin star. The reviewer tries it once, enjoys it, and keeps returning over the course of several years to evaluate whether the joy experienced in that first round can be consistently repeated. One star means the restaurant is very good, two means that it is excellent and the third means that it’s worth traveling the world for. Things that matter include, amongst others, the quality of ingredients, how meticulous and disciplined your team is and creativity. I’m paraphrasing of course, my main reading for it can be found here. It’s definitely not the same as getting a glowing report form Tripadvisor! The Michelin reviewer is anonymous to the restaurant. I read that there are only 80 of them in the world, and that the secrecy of their Michelin related identities are supposed to be concealed even from their own family. Another urban myth is that should their identities be discovered by the relevant public, they need to be holed up in a secret cover house till the palaver dies down. I don’t quite believe this last phenomenon really I mean this is about tasting good food, not aborting a terrorist attack.
Anyhow after reading enough about the concept and going through what’s on offer in London, I decided that 1 Michelin Star ‘Outlaws by the Capital’ was the chosen one, and lunch would be right meal to sample (for both practical and wallet-related reasons). It was more pescatarian based (we both enjoy seafood more than red meat and anything pork related is a no-no), the use of best British ingredients (we were in London after all), it was right next to Harrods (for a quick spin post lunch) and the set lunch menu looked delightful (as you would see below). So book a table we did (it does run quite a strict policy on cancellations though, cancel after 24 hours and your credit card will be charged 20GBP, 15 minutes late without calling and you lose your reservation).
Ambiance and Service
Outlaws of the Capital is part of The Capital, a luxury boutique hotel located on Basil Street and literally 2 minutes away from Harrods and Knightsbridge tube station. You can basically feel the subtly luxe vibes the minute you step out of the underground. And once you step into the smart dining room, you have this strong instinct that this was going to be a pleasurable experience. I don’t know what it was – maybe a combination of the friendly and professional staff, the decor of the room which is not so ostentatious as to make you clutch your credit card protectively but chic enough to make you stand up straight and pay attention, and the way the seats are arranged where you feel you can sit intimately with your companions and have a natural conversation while absorbing five star food. The team knew the perfect balance between pushing the envelope without crossing the line. They were friendly, proficient, chatty and knowledgeable about the menu.
This was my starter, the Cured Mullet. The mullet comes with pickled mushrooms, mushroom ketchup with tarragon dressing. It was soft and flavoursome. It was like comfort-food dressed in a designer outfit which is the best combination that food can be.
This was my husband’s starter. The goat cheese tart comes accented with celery and walnuts. The cheese melted in my mouth beautifully and the base of the tart was crisp and delectable. Another win.
We both ordered this for mains. It comes with warm tartar sauce and the haddock you see in the photo is concealing a gathering of delightfully braised broccolis. Presentation wise, I always find breaded fish looks abit peasant-like (very pub food) but the meat of the fish was perfectly succulent and the broccoli was really tasty. I don’t think it was aesthetically our favourite but certainly won taste wise.
Grilled hispi cabbage, preserved herrings, hazelnuts, mustard dressing. This was my side and I loved it. It’s cool how the cabbage (one of my least favourite vegetable) can be converted into something so scrumptious once other players come onto the stage. And having this as a side to the breaded haddock above sort of gave the mains a final impact.
Pavlova with yogurt sorbet. My husband gave up from the get go and said he wouldn’t have dessert so it was left up to me to take on the responsibility. I’d say this was good, but the pavlova was really too much and too sweet for our liking (and capacity). It was the only dish we had trouble completing and we did it together. I was actually eyeing the Cheese Plate for desert but thought oh, it’s too calorific. Of course, I don’t know why I thought the pavlova would have less calories (it didn’t, I almost died when I checked it on my calorie tracker). In hindsight we should have gone for the third option, the Almond Profiteroles but no matter. It’s not that the Pavlova was bad it was just an excess of flavours and amount after we had already ravaged 3 plates of savoury.
I thoroughly enjoyed our first Michelin experience. Not being a food connoiseur, I didn’t absorb the lunch through a critical food lens but was predisposed to loving everything. We have eaten at some flashy hotel restaurants before and I guess what made the difference between a Michelin experience and a generic 5 star hotel restaurant is the creativity invested in bringing out the best of the flavours, the warmth you receive from the service and the passion the team exuded in the actual food. I don’t know if we will continue to repeat this Michelin dining trend (I probably need to find an equally enthusiastic girlfriend for this kind of adventure) but if I am, then that was a great start and if I’m not I’m glad that was the only experience. Subtle but delightful.