British Michelin-starred chef, Nathan Outlaw is getting ready to introduce a more accessible F&B offer to the luxurious Burj Al Arab, with his signature fine-dining, sustainable seafood.
Dubai has been on Nathan Outlaw’s radar since Gordon Ramsay first opened Verre at Hilton Dubai Creek in 2001, however he had never been to the emirate before being offered the opportunity to open a restaurant at the iconic Burj Al Arab Jumeirah in the space occupied by seafood venue, Al Mahara. He had never even planned to do a restaurant abroad, explaining that his career has evolved “organically”. However, when he received a phone call from the recently-appointed general manager, Anthony McHale, who had eaten at one of Outlaw’s Cornwall venues, he jumped at the chance.
“He gave me a call and I thought someone was winding me up,” Outlaw tells Catering News. “Obviously I knew about Burj Al Arab, and when he invited me over I fell in love with the place.”
Outlaw began his career working with the late Peter Kromberg at InterContinental Hyde Park in London, and later held positions alongside Gary Rhodes and Eric Chavot. However, it wasn’t until he joined Rick Stein in the seaside town of Cornwall in the south-west of England in 1998, that his passion for seafood was sparked.
In May 2003, Outlaw opened his first restaurant, The Black Pig, and was awarded his first Michelin star a year later at the age of just 25. Today, the chef has four restaurants in the UK: Nathan Outlaw and Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen in Port Isaac, Cornwall, Outlaw’s at the Capital Hotel in London, and The Mariner’s Rock Public House in Rock, Cornwall.
With the Dubai restaurant having been in the works for around a year now, it’s been a tough job for Outlaw to keep quiet on his plans, he admits, particularly at Taste of Dubai earlier this year where he got the chance to meet his competitors-to-be. “The Taste Festival helped because I got to meet a lot of people, albeit they didn’t know what I was up to!” he says. And while he has only been in Dubai a handful of times, Outlaw is impressed with the restaurant scene. “I’ve now been to Dubai three times and have eaten out at a lot of the restaurants. I think it’s become much better: it’s so vibrant and it will continue to get better and better, so it makes complete sense to do something here.”
Having started his career in a hotel, and currently operating a restaurant within the Capital Hotel in London, Outlaw has no qualms about opening his first Dubai venture within a hotel, and in fact is positive about this. “I find hotels a much more supportive environment,” he says.
“You have your ups and downs whether you’re a standalone or whether you’re in a hotel. The relationship you have with a hotel really works as long as you pick the right ones, and for me it makes big sense to be associated with a hotel like [Burj Al Arab].”
The chef is well-known for his British seafood, high quality ingredients, classic, yet accessible fine-dining style, and a focus on sustainability, which is something he is very keen to continue for the Dubai chapter of his story. So while he will take inspiration from signature dishes on the UK menus, Outlaw is going to incorporate local ingredients as much as possible.
“Everything comes around, but my food has a touch of classic in it, and classic never goes out of fashion, especially if you do it well. I think we’ll stand out as a restaurant like no other in Dubai, which is really the aim of what we’re doing”
One of his “old faithful” signature dishes, which has been on his menus since the opening of The Black Pig, is the lobster risotto, for which he has already sourced local produce. “I learned about a local lobster that yields quite a lot of meat so we’re going to see if we can do something with that. That’s why I’m trying to use the fundamentals of my cooking, but incorporating as much local stuff as I can,” he says. “I’m searching out a lot of the local seafood to see what it’s about and finding out what I can do; how I incorporate it into my food. I think that’s really important and it’s how I run my restaurants in the UK.”
Outlaw spent some of his time during his recent trip to Dubai down at the seafood markets in Deira and met a man he describes as “the self-proclaimed guru of the Dubai fish market”, who explained to him which sustainable varieties are available. Since overfishing is a well-documented problem in the waters around Dubai, Outlaw says he will have to be extra cautious.
“I’m very careful with [sustainability] so they would have to really prove to me that it’s sustainable and I’d have to see it with my own eyes before putting it on the menu,” he says.
Outlaw is also intrigued to discover that many of the local varieties of fish and seafood are best suited to a raw preparation, and he looks forward to putting some marinated dishes on his menu as a result.
“It’s quite exciting for me because that’s one of my favourite types of preparation – the raw dishes,” he says, adding that he doesn’t like to call raw preparations ceviche since they are not necessarily Latin American. “I just call it marinated!” he laughs.
The menu itself won’t be a tasting menu or à la carte, but a four-course set menu with six or seven options for each course, making up a total of 24 dishes, which will evolve with the seasons. And embarking on his first venture abroad, Outlaw is excited about the potential for experimentation this presents.
“The reason I get out of bed to cook seafood is because I love the potential for it to be different, so I’m like a kid in sweet shop coming to a new country where I’ve got so many things I can do,” he says.
In addition to learning about local produce, Outlaw has been doing lots of research into local tastes and one thing he has picked up on is the regional love of desserts.
“One of the greatest things I’ve discovered is the sweet tooth of the Arabic market, which is perfect because I’m going to do British puddings and they are really sweet,” he says. “Something like a sticky toffee pudding with dates as the main ingredient would be right up their street.”
To ensure the food and service is up to the same standard as his British venues, Outlaw has appointed two trusted employees, who opened his London restaurant just over three years ago. Head chef Pete Biggs and general manager Sharon McArthur have been working with Outlaw for 15 and 10 years respectively, and Outlaw says they are indispensable to the project.
“This will ensure the standards I want and the standards the hotel wants from the restaurant are there. When I was invited to open the restaurant here, they were the first people I spoke to. If they had said no, I wouldn’t be doing this. It’s almost impossible to do something like this without having people that have worked with you for a long time.”
And Outlaw himself will spend two to three weeks in Dubai to ensure a successful launch in September, and aims to be back in the emirate every seven to eight weeks to check that everything is running smoothly. He feels that his restaurant will also help to improve the image of Burj Al Arab’s F&B offer, with something more accessible than what has existed before.
“Going forward it’s part of our agenda to make sure people realise that Burj Al Arab is accessible, that you can afford to eat there. It’s not going to be overpriced, and we’re going to make it really inviting to come here,” he comments.
The restaurant will close between May and September for an extensive refurbishment, which will include the addition of a terrace to create extra light, and hopefully drive in more lunch business. However, the signature floor-to-ceiling aquarium will remain in place.
Explaining how the restaurant will compete on the Dubai market, Outlaw says: “With all the seafood restaurants I’ve seen in Dubai, I haven’t seen too many fine-dining ones. Even though we’re going to make it more accessible and relaxed, it’s still going to be a fine-dining restaurant because that’s what I’m known for.
“I think the street food and casual dining trend is very fashionable, but only really the good ones will survive in that space,” he says, adding that his strength is in being classical.
“Everything comes around, but my food has a touch of classic in it, and classic never goes out of fashion, especially if you do it well. I think we’ll stand out as a restaurant like no other in Dubai, which is really the aim of what we’re doing.”
Catering News’ interview with Nathan Outlaw also appears in the May issue of the magazine