Siren, the first new restaurant in the 109-year history of the Goring hotel in London, opened last week, offering a selection of the best and freshest fish and seafood from around the UK. Its creators, Jeremy Goring and Nathan Outlaw, tell Janet Harmer how their partnership is built on trust, respect and having a good time
Siren may have a sinister connotation in Greek mythology, where the name describes the half-bird, half-woman creature, who lures sailors to their destruction on the rocks, but at the Goring hotel in Belgravia, the new London home for chef Nathan Outlaw, the meaning is much more auspicious.
Jeremy Goring, chief executive and fourth-generation incumbent of the hotel, explains that Siren was chosen as the name of its new restaurant for its romantic inference. “We do want to lure customers in, but in our case it will be for a seafood supper in a fabulous and friendly environment, surrounded by beautiful, tranquil gardens,” he enthuses.
The opening of the 55-seat Siren restaurant is a big deal for the hotel, which was founded by Goring’s grandfather, Otto Richard Goring, in 1910. It involved a £4m building project to create the new restaurant and kitchen and to transform the bar, making it the largest single investment in the history of the property.
It provides a counterpoint to the hotel’s well-established Michelin-starred Dining Room. Of course, it has also brought together two of the strongest brands in hospitality – the fivered-AA star, 69-bedroom Goring hotel and two-Michelin-starred chef Nathan Outlaw. But this is not just about a recently formed commercial partnership, rather the coming together of two like-minded people who have a shared heritage.
The connection between Outlaw and the Goring family goes back many years and is centred around Cornwall. Outlaw, who is originally from Kent, has lived and worked in Cornwall, on and off, for more than 20 years, and it is where his two standalone restaurants are based – the two-Michelin-starred Restaurant Nathan Outlaw and one-Michelin-starred Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen. Jeremy’s mother comes from Cornwall and it is where his father George now lives. In fact, George Goring was one of Outlaw’s earliest customers at his first restaurant, the Black Pig in Rock.
Goring makes it clear that it is unlikely that the hotel would have teamed up with any independent chef other than Outlaw. “If Nathan hadn’t agreed, we would have run it ourselves,” he says. “We have a history between us and it felt like a very natural arrangement.”
Similarly, without the Goring hotel, Outlaw says he would not have stayed in London after his six-year contract running the F&B at the Capital hotel in Knightsbridge came to an end earlier this year. “Once the ownership at the Capital changed (the hotel was sold by David Levin in January 2017 to the US-based Warwick Hotels and Resorts after being owned by the family for 49 years), I intended to remain in Cornwall.”
Outlaw says that the Capital’s new corporate ownership didn’t fit in with what he wanted to do, explaining that is also why he was happy to step away from running the Al Mahara restaurant in the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah hotel in Dubai after two and a half years. “Going to Dubai was a fantastic experience and I learned an awful lot from what on paper is deemed to be the most luxurious hotel in the world, but during my time there I experienced three chief executives of the group and four general managers of the hotel. It became too impersonal – I didn’t know people’s first names.”
In contrast, the relationship Outlaw has with Goring and the rest of the hotel team is one of easy-going banter and respect. Teasing and self-deprecating quips from Goring fail to ruffle Outlaw, who appears totally calm and laid-back in the run up to the opening.
Both recognise that opening a restaurant of this stature is incredibly hard work for everyone concerned and are determined to do everything they can to ensure the team will have fun and enjoy the experience.
“During the first few months, people can crack because it is so tough,” says Goring. “There are so many unknowns with staff and customers not knowing what to expect. Our job is to try our very best to iron out any problems to enable the staff’s working conditions and lives are as best as they possibly can be.”
Creating a positive vibe around the workplace has been key, believes Outlaw, in recruiting a new team of 35 staff, all who are directly employed by the Goring. “I’ve now opened around eight or nine restaurants and I’ve never previously been fully staffed on day one. Coming for an interview at the Goring, you know straight away that it is a nice place to work.”
Keeping working hours under control are a big deal for chef and owner alike. “I’m hoping to get the chefs doing four days and under 50 hours a week, which is very rare in the industry,” says Outlaw. “Over the years my food has got simpler, not to make it easier, but to reduce the hours involved. In order to retain staff, you have got to give people a life outside the industry.”
Goring explains that the hotel has installed a fingerprint attendance system made by Bodet. “I would imagine most people would imagine we would install such a system to ensure staff turn up for work on time,” he says. “We have, in fact, installed it for one reason only – to make sure people work less, as it is only too easy in this industry for the 45 hours someone is scheduled to work to creep up to 60. Having the data has helped reduce staff hours.”
A decade in design
The plan to launch a second restaurant at the hotel was first mooted 10 years ago when Goring was involved in negotiations to take over an adjacent vacant building. However, the deal fell through and the project was put on the back burner.
“I had always wanted to build a second kitchen as previously, any food order for the bar came upstairs from the basement kitchen, through the restaurant and across the lobby,” says Goring. “It was back-breaking for everyone, particularly the runners. We needed to find a way to get quicker, hotter and better food to our guests in the bar and lounge.”
Once it was agreed that a new kitchen would be built below the bar and lounge, it was a natural progression to add in a second restaurant to the development. “The result is that we have created a F&B hub, with a new casual dining option and standout cocktail bar sitting alongside our fabulous fine Dining Room.”
Backed by funding from HSBC bank, much of the project cost went into the excavation and structural work required to build the new kitchen in the basement, before interior designer Russell Sage took over.
Sage, who previously created the royal suite and whimsical lobby at the Goring, has been inspired in the colours and fabrics he has used by the connection – via the glass structure of the new space – to the garden. At the same time, references to fish and the sea are subtle and classy. Handcrafted plasterwork by Somerset-based sculptor Geoffrey Preston, dividing the bar from the restaurant, features mermaids and sea creatures, while artworks elsewhere reflect the illustrations of monocellular organisms from 19th-century German marine biologist Ernst Haeckel.
David Morgan-Hewitt, managing director and stalwart of the Goring for 29 years,
describes the design as “very classic. It is very us; we have not departed from our DNA, but it is a restaurant for the 2020s.”
The garden – unique for a London hotel – has always been a key feature of the Goring, but now more than ever before it is being celebrated. Not only is Siren surrounded by the outside space, but the garden has been redesigned by leading expert Jekka McVicar, who has planted more than 100 different herbs, now used in the menus of both the restaurant and cocktail bar.
Outlaw’s father, Clive, who previously ran the bread section and oversaw afternoon teas at the Capital, has been appointed chef-gardener. “Dad will be bringing in produce from his allotment in Kent, as well as liaising between the head gardener Alex Jones and the kitchen,” says Outlaw.
On the menu
The à la carte menu has a major emphasis on daily changing specials, inspired by the best fish and seafood available on the day, such as Dooncastle oysters from County Galway in Ireland and Scottish langoustines and scallops, as well as, of course, deliveries from Cornwall.
“I want to create a restaurant for regulars, which is very difficult to do in London where there is so much competition,” says Outlaw.
“Around 65% of the menu is composed of dishes which people in time will think of coming to the Siren specifically for, such as the crab risotto.”
Most of the daily specials will be either steamed or cooked over the charcoal Ox Grill, with no more than a simple dressing “to showcase the freshness of the fish and seafood”.
A food menu will gradually be introduced to the bar, with classic dishes such as club sandwiches and lobster omelette alongside baked potato with caviar, smoked fish platters and even fish fingers. “And don’t forget the salty squid balls,” giggles Goring.
Outlaw intends to be at Siren on a daily basis until he and Goring are happy that the restaurant has reached an expected standard, then he will visit once a week or fortnight.
A kitchen brigade headed by his trusted lieutenants Andrew ‘Ginger’ Sawyer as head chef and James Rhodes as sous chef are running the show on a daily basis, supported front of house by restaurant manager Sean Cooper from the Clove Club and bar and lounge manager Tiago Mira, previously at Annabel’s.
Siren will provide hotel residents and outside diners with an alternative to the
Michelin-starred Dining Room, where the kitchen is currently being led by head chef Richard Galli, following the departure of executive chef Shay Cooper earlier this year.
Could Siren emulate the Dining Room and achieve a Michelin star? As far as Outlaw is concerned, he believes there is no reason why not, given that “everything we shall be doing at Siren will be no different from what we are doing in Cornwall”. However, he admits the best accolade is walking into the restaurant and seeing that it is packed with people having a good time.
Goring explains that aiming for recognition from the guides has never been
something that the hotel has aimed for at the expense of the enjoyment of guests.
“However, when a body like Michelin, which is the leading authority, endorses you, we feel very grateful. With the rise of sites like TripAdvisor and social media, Michelin is more important than ever before in having trusted experts who provide the most important benchmark in the world for great restaurants.”
• Cured monkfish, ginger, fennel, yogurt £16
• Crispy oysters, cabbage, oyster salad cream £24
• Lobster and asparagus tart £20
• Crab risotto £22
• Chilled cucumber soup, fresh cheese, garden herbs £14
• Dover sole, cockles and clams, clotted cream sauce £42
• Turbot herbed and battered, warm tartare sauce £36
• Baked hake, fennel, seaweed hollandaise £26
• Fisherman’s squid and scampi stew £36
• Summer vegetable gratin, hazelnuts, herbs £25
• Baked scallops, rosemary and orange butter £12 each
• Lobster grilled over fire, herbs, garlic £56
• Grilled whole monkfish, crab sauce, warm tartare sauce £60 for two to share
Puddings and cheese
• Raspberry ice-cream choux bun, dark chocolate sauce £14
• Gooseberry pavlova, custard ice-cream £14
• Strawberry tart, yogurt sorbet £16
• Seasonal sorbets and ice-creams £12
• Selection of British cheese, chutney, biscuits £20
Nathan Outlaw – career history
Born in 1978 in Maidstone, Kent, the son of a chef, Outlaw’s career was determined from the outset. By the time he was a teenager he was a familiar
figure working alongside his father in the kitchen. On leaving college, he moved to London to work in a junior role at the InterContinental hotel on Park Lane, under the late Peter Kromberg, and also spent stints with Gary Rhodes and Éric Chavot.
On discovering a passion for seafood, he headed down to Cornwall to knock on Rick Stein’s door in Padstow and landed himself a job, where he worked his way up to sous chef and also met his future wife, Rachel. Jobs followed at
the Lord of the Manor in Upper Slaughter, Gloucestershire, and then at the Vineyard in Stockcross, Berkshire, where he was appointed to his
first head chef role under John Campbell.
Outlaw decided to return to Cornwall to open his first restaurant in 2003 – the
Black Pig in Rock, where he was awarded a Michelin star within eight months.
Other restaurants followed across the county – at the Marina hotel in Fowey, at
the St Enodoc hotel in Rock and the Mariners bar, also in Rock – and further afield at the Capital hotel in London and the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah hotel in Dubai.
Today, Outlaw has consolidated his portfolio of restaurants to three: the two- Michelin-starred Restaurant Nathan Outlaw and one-Michelin-starred Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen, both in Port Isaac; and Siren at the Goring, London.
Restaurant Nathan Outlaw has consistently held a perfect 10 score in The Good Food Guide since the 2017 edition, topping the publication’s list of top 50 restaurants for the last two years. Outlaw was named Restaurateur of
the Year – Independent at the Catey Awards in 2017.
Outlaw is the author of five cookery books and is a familiar face on TV cookery programmes, including Great British Menu, MasterChef: The Professionals and Saturday Kitchen.
Outlaw & Goring
Nathan Outlaw on Jeremy Goring…
“It is a privilege to be working with Jeremy and to be part of the Goring family business. I would never have done another restaurant in London if it hadn’t been within a family setting.”
Jeremy Goring on Nathan Outlaw…
“You couldn’t get anyone less prima donna than Nathan, he has been very relaxed about everything. Foolishly he has trusted us!”