For many chefs, opening a restaurant outside of their native country is the dream. For others, it’s more important to establish themselves at home first. This is exactly what Brit chef Nathan Outlaw did. He garnered years of experiences in other chefs’ kitchens — notably Rick Stein’s Padstow restaurant in Cornwall, England — he then set about doing the same in his own kitchen. Building his repertoire of recipes, honing his skills and working with local producers and artisans to perfect his craft.

Outlaw has four restaurants in the UK — Restaurant Nathan Outlaw in Port Isaac; Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen, also in Port Isaac; The Mariners Rock, a pub in Rock, and Outlaw’s at The Capital in London — and at the core of his cooking is simplicity. Dishes that are not overegged nor flamboyant, but oozing with elegance.

In Outlaw’s 2014 book Nathan Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen, Heston Blumenthal says: “[…] I was judging a competition in which [Nathan] was taking part. He served up a risotto that was so beautifully balanced, it stopped me in my tracks and I remember thinking, this chef is definitely going somewhere.”

Outlaw’s cuisine takes you straight to the sea — to that calming place that evokes joyous memories of peace and happiness. He does this through his fresh ingredients and delicate flavour combination and the subtle memory of beachside endeavours drifts over.

He lets the ingredients breath on the plate. There’s no overcrowding, nor do the components fight to be heard — or rather tasted.

It is only fitting then that the chef partners with what is arguably the world’s most iconic hotel — Dubai’s Burj Al Arab — and its famed ‘underwater’ restaurant Al Mahara for his first overseas project. The hotel is now approaching its eightieth birthday and its general manager was keen to liven things up. “Anthony McHale, Burj Al Arab’s general manager, ate in one of my restaurants in Cornwall before he moved [to Dubai]. The hotel opened almost 18 years ago and he told me he wanted to jazz up the dining scene — make it more accessible, more affordable, and seafood restaurant Al Mahara was a key focus,” Outlaw explains.

“When he rang me up I thought it was a hoax. He said, ‘I think you’re the right guy to come over and have a look at the restaurant. Knowing your food and how you operate, you’re level headed, you know how to run a good restaurant, so come have a look.’ As soon as I saw the place and saw what it could potentially be, I knew I had to do it; it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

In case you haven’t visited the restaurant before or aren’t familiar with its USP, it’s set in a decadent underwater, well, fish tank. In a way, the roles are reserved and the fish, surrounded by beautiful coral, are looking in on the guests as they dine at the luxurious scallop-back chairs in the blue-lit room.

What makes this most decadent of dining rooms unique to Outlaw and his style of hospitality? “For me, classic good cooking, looking after your customers, and great hospitality will never go out of fashion,” he says.

“Before the [restaurant’s] revamp, Al Mahara was a fine-dining French restaurant. Today, Nathan Outlaw at Al Mahara celebrates a British style of cooking without losing any of its original charm. We simply added the ‘Outlaw’ touch to it and took it up to the next level. Diners can look forward to experiencing a more down to earth style of hospitality, with a fun and buzzing atmosphere,” he adds.

The menu serves up classic ‘Outlaw’ dishes, such as the lobster risotto, orange, basil and spring onions, complemented with other dishes featuring subtle regional touches, such as the citrus-cured brill with anchovy, smoked almonds and basil labneh.

While Outlaw has a clear culinary style, each of his restaurants are unique and fit their locations, instead of fitting some kind of ‘Outlaw mold’. “[My restaurants] are all different, as is the customer base. In the Burj Al Arab, we are offering a four-course menu with a set menu price — six to seven choices for each course that will change seasonally. Each dish on the menu has been created specifically for the Burj Al Arab and the menu is a reflection of my style of cooking, which is one of simplicity but with complex flavour combinations using local, seasonal, responsibly sourced ingredients.” He continues: “What I like to do with my dishes is let the seafood shine and allow the impact to come through in the taste. I don’t like to play with the fish too much…I like to hook it and then cook it, simple and uncomplicated.”

Outlaw says: “I’m a big believer in non-fussy food with great flavour. My style of cooking is one of simplicity, but with complex flavour combinations using local, seasonal, responsibly sourced ingredients.

“The food at Al Mahara is ingredient led and speaks for itself. I love to serve raw, pure seafood, so raw scallops and of course oysters; turbot with a seaweed crust is another of my favourite dishes to cook.”

Outlaw’s style of cooking is his signature and it’s woven into every menu that he lays his hands on, with, he says “some fantastic British delicacies [delivered] to the Middle Eastern palate, while using local ingredients and experimenting with some local influences”.

While Dubai exudes glamour and the promise of a luxury lifestyle, it doesn’t come without trepidation. Access to the best seasonal produce — or rather, the lack of access — means chefs in this region have to get creative with their sourcing. Outlaw says: “The biggest concern I had opening a restaurant here in Dubai was the quality of the seafood, because I have the best seafood you can probably get in the world where I am in Cornwall. But I got here, opened the fridge, and saw the seafood was brought in from where I live back home. I thought to myself, this isn’t going to be a problem. The Burj Al Arab has been importing the best fish and ingredients from all over the world for 17 years now so I’m really lucky that all the contacts have already been made.” Could he be persuaded to use native seafood? “I’ve been to the Dubai fish market and it’s amazing. I would like to look at using local ingredients in the menu in the future, as I am a big fan of supporting local businesses and products and I’d love to be able to introduce local sustainably sourced seafood. It’s definitely in the plan.”

Outlaw’s lobster risotto dish is one of his oldest, having introduced it in his very first restaurant in 2003. Outlaw adds: “I’ve also introduced some really typical British puddings, such as sticky toffee pudding and a treacle tart.

“The sticky toffee pudding on the menu is actually my daughter’s recipe. She’s 11 years old and won a Sticky Toffee Championship with it. It was a blind tasting and she was the youngest entrant by far, so I’m very proud to have it on the menu.”

Dubai’s restaurant scene has been heating up (again) for some time, with fellow Brit Jason Atherton opening Marina Social Dubai in 2016 and the Palazzo Versace Dubai launching a series of collaborations with some of the world’s best chefs. So how does this British chef see his own contribution to the restaurant scene faring?

“We’ve had a nice mix of customers, from people staying in the hotel to couples who’ve been dining here for so many years and are excited about the changes. Their feedback has been really positive. We’ve had foodies, and people who have flown in from the UK, which is hugely supportive,” Outlaw says. “There was also a gentleman who booked a table for two more nights, which was a massive compliment in itself. We treat everybody the same and what really matters is that they relax, have a great time and enjoy not only the food but the whole experience.”

For Outlaw, getting the right team behind the project was key to its success and “a deal breaker”, he reveals. Al Mahara’s head chef is Pete Biggs, who has been working with Outlaw for over 15 years. Biggs was residing at Outlaw’s at The Capital at the time and Outlaw had him and the restaurant’s general manager, Sharon McArthur, flown out to Dubai to get a feel for the project. They were instantly sold. “[…] If they’d said no, I wouldn’t be here because they are the ones who are going to carry my name on the front of the restaurant,” he says.

Outlaw explains that Biggs started with him as an apprentice chef straight out of college. He then opened Outlaw’s at The Capital in Knightsbridge in 2012, which subsequently earned a Michelin star in 2014, adding that “he has a proven track record for producing extraordinary dishes”.

While there’s no designated Michelin Guide to Dubai or the UAE, Outlaw firmly believes the Middle East hub has firmly established itself on the foodie map. He says: “Dubai itself has very much claimed its spot and can definitely play with the big boys. As a chef it is one of the places you want to be. The city has attracted top talent from across the globe and offers world-class hospitality. One of the things that really excited me about the opportunity, as well as being in Burj Al Arab, was the fact that it’s a buzzing scene now.”

While Dubai exudes glamour and the promise of a luxury lifestyle, it doesn’t come without trepidation. Access to the best seasonal produce — or rather, the lack of access — means chefs in this region have to get creative with their sourcing. Outlaw says: “The biggest concern I had opening a restaurant here in Dubai was the quality of the seafood, because I have the best seafood you can probably get in the world where I am in Cornwall. But I got here, opened the fridge, and saw the seafood was brought in from where I live back home. I thought to myself, this isn’t going to be a problem. The Burj Al Arab has been importing the best fish and ingredients from all over the world for 17 years now so I’m really lucky that all the contacts have already been made.” Could he be persuaded to use native seafood? “I’ve been to the Dubai fish market and it’s amazing. I would like to look at using local ingredients in the menu in the future, as I am a big fan of supporting local businesses and products and I’d love to be able to introduce local sustainably sourced seafood. It’s definitely in the plan.”

Is Outlaw’s expansion to Dubai the start of a Jason Atherton-style move to (restaurant) world domination? “I never thought I would open a restaurant outside of the UK to be honest, but the culinary world continues to surprise me. Who knows what is around the corner, but first I want to make a success of Al Mahara and the Burj Al Arab, before I look at doing anything else.”