Saturday, 19 April 2014

L’Enclume – April 2014

How time flies! I last dined at L’Enclume in December 2013 (see here) – when you are blessed enough to have the UK’s best restaurant just 1½ hours drive away, a four month gap somehow seems way too long! 

The biggest news since that visit, aside from the naming of Simon’s, soon to be open, Claridge’s based restaurant Fera (which means ‘wild’ in Latin) is the fact that on Monday sous chef Tom Barnes won the 2014 Roux Scholarship.

This meant that not one, but two Roux Scholars cooked my lunch, as Tom was back working alongside 2011’s winner, L’Enclume head chef, Mark Birchall.

Simon was in London working with the group’s third Roux Scholar, Chef Dan Cox, getting ready for the opening of the year. It’s amazing that Simon has such a strong team – the 3rd star has to be ever closer… if ever a restaurant qualified as "Une des meilleures tables, vaut le voyage", L’Enclume is it.

I treated myself to the 20 course lunch:

Oyster pebbles – with the fabulous ‘oyster leaf’, one of the few dishes that remains since my last visit.

Chicken dumpling – a brioche dough ball, filled with a chicken ragu made from all the best bits; topped with crispy skin.

Ragstone, malt, tarragon – my least favourite of the canapés. Not because I don’t like the flavour but because it seems more fitting as a part of a cheese course or crossover dish than a canapé.

Smoked eel with ham fat – although the croquette itself hadn’t changed the new straw and cloche presentation added a bit of theatre and a whole lot of smoky essence.

Cow’s heel, curds, onion ashes – loved this one. The ‘wafer’ had been made from a cow’s Achilles tendon using what I can only surmise was a technique taking inspiration from a pork scratching? As usual, my words cannot do it justice but unlike Achilles himself, it was without weakness. 

Raw scallop and caviar – another dish unchanged from last time. You don’t mess with perfection.

Asparagus and crab sack – it’s always good to see what lurks in Simon’s sacks. This time it was filled with crabmeat and topped with a mushroom crumble and the first of the season’s Wye Valley asparagus.

Creamed potatoes, Tunworth and duck gizzards – vying for dish of the day, the next little pot topped with Viola petals and English truffle featured creamed potatoes, Turnworth cheese and a rich duck gizzard ragu.  


White turnip, maran egg, nasturtium leaves – growing up, one thing I wouldn’t eat was turnips… I think it’s because Worzel Gummidge’s head was made from one but the guys at L’Enclume sure do make them sexy. The thin ‘noodles’ of cured pork fat helped.

Valley venison, charcoal oil, mustard and fennel – another main stay on the menu… such wonderful bold flavours.  

Glazed langoustine, carrot, watercress, raw langoustine, scurvy grass, hazelnuts – for me, this is the one that took the title of dish of the day. The langoustines were exceptionally good quality. The first part of the dish featured a rye cracker topped with the raw langoustine, grated hazelnut and lumpfish roe.

The second part had the glazed langoustines, black pudding and alliums topped with an airy langoustine cream and watercress.

Salt baked beetroot, ox tongue, yoghurt and apple marigold – visually striking though it was with the vibrant pink beetroot wafers, this was the only dish that was not entirely to my taste. Each component was good, especially the cubes of glazed ox tongue but they didn’t come together for my palate; I found the wafers too sweet and was unconvinced that apple marigold was the ideal leaf to accompany.

Brill grilled over spruce, mussel, salsify and sea vegetables – back in the game with this one. The salsify (both the cream and root) was superb; as were the plump mussels and perfectly cooked fish.

Holker milk fed lamb, sweetbreads, kales and ramson – another killer dish. Stunning sweetbread, delightful hen of the wood mushrooms, swede and a classical flavourful bone roasted sauce.

Rye, stout, gingerbread – the first of three canapé style dessert dishes. A lovely, subtle stout cream lifted by fresh mint leaves.

Sea buckthorn and butternut – excellent with a liquorice crumb.  

Caramel, sheep’s milk, celery – an interesting one this; very much a ‘crossover’ dish with savoury touches. I was not completely sold on it and would like to try it again.    

Yorkshire rhubarb, apple, sorrel and brown butter – this was absolutely delightful; a perfect example of Rogan’s wizardry in getting the most from ingredients; exquisite rhubarb and sharp Granny Smith puree.     

Yoghurt, pear, walnuts and sweet cicely – having shattered the candy cloak sprinkled with sweet cicely powder, the penultimate course was another masterpiece of subtlety and balance.

Celeriac / Sweet cheese / Malt / Douglas fir and apple – to finish, miniature ice cream cones and a refreshing glass of Douglas fir and apple ‘fizz’.

As mentioned, I firmly believe that Simon Rogan’s flagship restaurant serves “Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey” and it is only a matter of time before Michelin bestow their highest honour upon L’Enclume.

Then, along with Simon’s presence is London, hopefully further international recognition will follow as some of the Worlds 50 Best panelists and alike finally start making their way to Cartmel.

L'Enclume on Urbanspoon

Friday, 18 April 2014

#RestaurantWars: The Battle for Manchester

For those that haven’t seen or heard of it, ‘Restaurant Wars: The Battle for Manchester’ is a BBC2 (8pm Mondays) behind-the-scenes documentary series which aired its first episode last Monday.

The programme’s main protagonists are Two Michelin starred chef Simon Rogan and former starred chef Aiden Byrne.

Filming follows these Culinary Commanders as they rally their troops and fire food at their targets throughout the planning and opening stages of the ‘battling’ The French and Manchester House.

The French by Simon Rogan: historic setting 

Making a brief background appearance on the show at the opening night of The French and having eaten at Manchester House during opening week, I visited both restaurants once again this week to see how ‘the battle is developing’… yarbles did I!

The French at The Midland: new life from Simon Rogan 

I visited both restaurants because I’m on half term and wanted somewhere good to eat in the city.

Manchester House: open kitchen and army of chefs

It would be all too easy, tiresome and predictable to continue prattling on giving you tedious war puns; talk about how each chef may or may not have been portrayed and edited differently from their usual day to day personalities and comment on the use of the phrase ‘funk button’ by one of Manchester House’s ‘branding gurus’…

Manchester House - turning up the funk buttons

Instead, I’ll share with you the best thing about these restaurants opening in Manchester… the food!

Dinner at The French by Simon Rogan:

Rye, mackerel, lovage – a crisp rye cracker topped with mackerel tartare, lovage emulsion, salt ‘n’ vinegar powder and mustard cresses.

Baked potato with cheese – an 'innocent' looking baked potato filled with rich, creamy cheese centre and set into malt; simple sounding, yet incredibly tasty.

Celeriac and apple – the most striking of the canapés, what looks like a large pearl set in the oyster shell is actually a celeriac cream coated in an beautifully iridescent layer, decorated with sea herbs, apple puree and a ‘sea water’ gelée. 

Trotter, ham fat cream, sage – my favourite of the canapés, unctuous pieces of pig’s trotter encased in a crisp crumb with shredded crispy sage leaves and indulgent ham fat cream.

Quails eggs in brassica, kale, leeks, mustard – a classic Rogan inspired dish, technical elements but pure at heart.

Breads: Buttermilk brioche, French stick and Manchester Ale – all breads were good… the buttermilk brioche was outstanding.

Swede dumplings, duck yolk sauce, onion, nasturtium – lazy writing I know, but see the quails egg comment.

Ox in coal oil with pumpkin seed, kohlrabi and sunflower – on Thursday I ate at L’Enclume where they serve the similarly presented but completely different ‘venison tartare’. Both are exceptional dishes but I’d like it noted for the record that, after much deliberation, I prefer The French’s ox… I’m keen to taste what Simon Rogan’s Fera at Claridge’s version will taste like.

Caramelised cabbage, scallops, coastal herbs, smoked roes – this dish is one that has remained on the menu for quite some time; a perfect marriage of flavours – the sweet cabbage and scallops with caramelisation for added flavour and texture; smokiness of the roes; salty grassy notes from the sea herbs all caressed in light frothy scallop sauce. 

Roasted hake with seeded breadcrumbs, roasted cauliflower and crispy elvers – a piece of hake which had been given just the right number of seconds cooking to whiten its flesh but leave it silky; texture coming from the seeded crumb and crispy elvers. Elvers from Glass Eels were once popular on menus (probably around the time of The French’s heyday) but dwindling numbers pushed their price up to beyond that of caviar… hugely increased populations over the last couple of years have once again made them sustainable and viable for restaurants.  

Reg’s guinea hen, bacon fat potatoes, turnips, hen of the woods and rosemary – perfectly cooked, excellent quality meat served with rich, indulgent potatoes, discs of and grated salt baked turnip, butter fried hen of the woods mushrooms and a classically prepared sauce where you can taste the bones and hours of work.

Forced Yorkshire rhubarb, crab apples, Douglas fir oats, yoghurt ice cream – I love rhubarb but that crab apple jelly really is something special.

Sass ‘n’ Soda – the usual end to another great meal at The French.

Meanwhile, across the city… Lunch at Manchester House:

Parmesan and onion brioche – the dinky brioche is very good and I liked the creamy espuma topping on the onion consommé but it would be interesting to know if the ‘consommé’ is made in the tried and tested classical way or with some fancy pants distillation machine from charred onions as the main thrust of ‘flavour’ seemed to come from smoke and charred onion powder as opposed to onion. 

Duck confit, watercress and turnip – this is a dish that I very much enjoyed; with the rich duck confit and smooth watercress purée there was a hint of Armagnac in there and a spark of acidity from a tiny dice of pickled turnip. Delightful.

Red pepper, rose and nasturtium – another enjoyable canapé; the tempura batter on the nasturtium flower was perfectly crisp. Also good, although appearing in numerous technical forms, the flavour of red pepper remained relatively pure. I particularly enjoyed the burst of caper that came from a spherification (but the question remains, would an actual caper have delivered the same?)

Salt cod mouse with almonds and broccoli – a mousse, delicate in flavour with a light airy texture buoyed by the crunch of nuts, crumb and brassicas; despite this being what owner Tim Bacon would call a ‘feminine dish’, it was the one I enjoyed the most.

Breast of duck, baby figs and smoked foie gras – a simple dish of classic flavours enhanced by a pan d’épice crumb. 

Braised lamb breast, wild garlic, lamb fillet tartare and young leek – a visually stunning dish; the braised lamb breast with its rich sticky glaze was delicious and I enjoyed the wild garlic powder and the citrus burst from the purple oxalis. The element that did not work for me was the leek cannelloni in which the subtlety of the lamb fillet tartare and diced sweetbreads was lost under the weight of the charred powdered coating.

Iced malt parfait, whiskey, dark chocolate sorbet – I’ve always found the desserts at Manchester House to be very good and this was no exception. The flavours chocolate flavours were strong without being too bitter and were well balanced with the whiskey and malt. One slight tweak I feel could be made to perfect the dish is to use less soil / crumb as the final couple of mouthfuls were somewhat ‘gravelly’.   

Macarons – the lemon one is my favourite every time.    

Whatever ‘Restaurant Wars: The Battle for Manchestergoes on to show in the next two episodes and whether Michelin decide to play ball and award either or both places a star… one thing is for sure, the food offerings in Manchester have greatly improved since Simon Rogan and Aiden Byrne came to town.

The French by Simon Rogan on Urbanspoon  Manchester House on Urbanspoon  

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