According to many sources (I Googled it) the most popular New Year’s Resolutions include such fun activities as: getting into shape; organising time better; eating healthier; becoming more environmentally conscious and learning a new skill.
What I like about Google is that if you search long enough (selectively overlooking anything that doesn’t fit with your exact way of thinking) you’ll eventually come across something to back up your own thoughts and opinions – with that in mind, some of the top resolutions are: take a trip, eat properly and enjoy life more!
By ‘properly’, I assume they mean at the world’s finest restaurants… so in an attempt to kill three birds with one stone, I have booked a trip to Paris (via Singapore) for this April.
In December, I started posting a ‘run down’ of my Hungry Hoss Top Ten. Conscious of the fact that I have not yet written about the ‘top three’ and hopeful that I may have to change the list post Paris – it’s about time that I cracked on and finished the blogs.
So, in at three: with five AA rosettes to its name – the UKs 2nd Best Restaurant according to the 2012 Good Food Guide, culinary alchemist Simon Rogan’s increasingly popular, most spectacular, exemplar of all things molecular – the stellar L’Enclume.
Having visited L’Enclume several times over the years, I have followed its development with interest - it started out as a French restaurant with a French name, meaning ‘The Anvil’ (aptly named for a restaurant housed in a space formerly occupied by a thirteenth century blacksmith); French people, front of house and many fine French ingredients on the menu, used to create food with a distinctive French flair.
As Simon and his team grew and experimented, they started to plough their own furrow (literally). Slowly the restaurant became more and more Anglicised. For a while, L’Enclume operated with dual nationality as they began to discover and use an increasing variety of the phenomenal produce found on their Cumbrian doorstep.
Over the years however, L’Enclume has almost entirely shrugged off its Gallic roots. The name remains, some of the French front of house staff remain but set in the charming picture box village of Cartmel, the restaurant is now ‘as English as apple pie’ or more fittingly, ‘as English as sticky toffee pudding.’
At L’Enclume, inventive cooking reigns - their philosophy of using Britain’s finest, most obscure, heritage and foraged ingredients results in food as unique as it is special. Much of the food served is grown and raised on their own farm, sourced from the local area or from artisan suppliers throughout the UK and Ireland.
You may have heard the Southampton born chef being referred to as a ‘mad professor’ but at times it seems unclear if Simon is ‘Dr. Frankenstein’ having grown the monstrous, gastronomous empire that now includes L’Enclume, Rogan and Co, Aulis, his Cumbrian Farm and London’s Roganic.
Or, meant with the greatest respect, that he is the ‘Roganstein monster’ created from the chefs he trained under in Jean-Christophe Novelli, John Burton-Race and Marco Pierre White; fused in his Aulis laboratory with the essence of Heston and Redzepi and enriched on his farm through some kind of organic osmosis with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall like qualities.
As a certified devote of Michelin, I’m not one to knock or judge what they do or say, but you will hear time and time again, that surely L’Enclume is worthy of more than one star? I have eaten at a number of two and three star places around the world and would, without hesitation, claim that Simon Rogan’s cuisine is beyond ‘excellent’ and ‘worth a detour’ that should qualify for two-starred status.
|Stay at L'Enclume House (alongside Rogan & Co) in the village|
I could go on gushing, telling you about how wonderful the dining room is, with it’s white washed walls, beams and rustic charms; and about idyllic the setting of picturesque Cartmel; and how charming the rooms that they have dotted around the village are (we like to stay in ‘The Bradshaw), but before I completely strip my thesaurus of its superlatives, I better tell you something about the food.
My wife and I visited back in October, along with my parents who were over from Spain. We selected the £89 twelve-course ‘Menu 2’ (the other options being the eight coursed Menu 1 for £69 or Menu 3, featuring twelve vegetarian courses for £89).
After some delightful Duck Scratchings the first amuse bouche was a Stichleton Sablé with a silky, smooth Avocado Crème topped with Dried Raspberry.
Beetroot and Mozzarella, celery and dill – served in ceramic sacks, a wonderful concoction featuring a beetroot meringue and mouse, celery and dill gel, topped with iced mozzarella studded with delicate dill flowers.
Cod ‘yolks’ and garlic, crispy salt and vinegar – a smooth rich cod mouse with tantalising hints of turmeric and saffron.
Bread – featuring a spelt, unbleached wheat flour and phenomenally good pumpernickel rolls.
English truffle pudding in truffle broth, puffed barley and onions – perfection. Since rediscovering pearl barley last year
Raw scallop, sea herb and sorrel granita – Heartsease flowers with their sweet wintergreen flavour are a favourite of mine (and my chickens) but what amazes me with this dish is, despite the fact that I am used to eating scallop Sashimi in Japanese cuisine, here Simon, to coin an oft-used phrase from X-Factor type shows ‘made it his own’ – a splendid sample of Roganese cuisine.
Jerusalem artichokes, Ragstone, tarragon, malt – If the previous dish was merely a sample of Roganese cuisine, the artichoke dish could be considered an archetypal example - a crème made from a quality artisan cheese in the form of Neal’s Yard’s Ragstone synergising with fancy pants techniques used to make the tarragon oil, malt soil and crisp shards of Jerusalem artichoke skin.
Simon’s maverick cooking style is not always going to hit the spot with everyone - it’s interesting how peoples’ tastes and opinions differ, with the next ‘carrot’ course, my father pulled a face; my wife pulled a face, but for me it was the dish of the evening – the bonus being I got to eat three portions.
Carrots and milk skin, fried bread and pork scratchings – Lifted by the salty crunch of pork scratchings (nothing like Mr. Porky’s) and fried bread, a wonderfully sweet milk ‘skin’, harmonising perfectly with grapeseed oil and the carrotiest carrots I have ever tasted.
Royal Kidney cooked in chicken fat, crab and horseradish – a big fan of offal, my dad was especially looking forward to the next dish and was initially disappointed when I informed him that ‘Royal Kidneys’ were actually a type of waxy ‘heritage’ potato. With a nuttier flavour than their Jersey relatives and cooked to perfection is the rich chicken stock, he was soon won over.
Roasted monkfish in our spices, parsnip and watercress – another bold and dramatic looking dish with flavours to back it up. Subtly spiced monkfish, discs of parsnip, a vibrant watercress purée and delicious Girolles – heavenly.
Shorthorn short ribs cooked for 72 hours, smoked marrow and butternut – ribs sous vide for 72 are going to be nothing short of meltingly tender but for me, the sweet sherry flavour, thin sheets of squash and rich smoky marrow were the real stars of the dish.
Cheese course – as I said previously, I have visited L’Enclume several times over the last few years and the supplementary cheese chariot has always been a highlight. It’s here that I first tasted Époisses de Bourgogne, which became a favourite. Now, supplied by the exquisite “Cartmel Cheeses” that has opened in the village, the cheese selection features some of the finest cheeses from the UK and Ireland, in line with their principles of predominantly using British produce. My selection: Harbourne Blue, Berkswell, Keen’s Cheddar, Ragstone and the Irish Ardrahan and Milleens.
Chestnut, honey oats, anise hyssop, apple – a refreshing dish with the palate cleaning qualities of anise hyssop and beautifully compressed cubes of apple.
Coniston oatmeal stout ice cream, liqourice and sea buckthorn – having previously disliked stout ice cream and not being a fan of liqourice, I wasn’t looking forward to this dish. I even considered asking for it to be swapped with the ‘Blackberries and honey cake, opal plum ice’ or ‘Quince with buttermilk, iced and crispy damson, sweet brackens and rosehips’ that were listed on the eight course menu, but I also believe in giving things a second go and I’m glad I did - total synergy between the two flavours with the tartness of the sea buckthorn.
Sweet cheese with walnut, gooseberry, Douglas fir – another dish, simple in its presentation but constructed with carefully selected and treated ingredients to create wonderful textures and balance of flavours with creamy cheese, tart gooseberry with a fresh subtle lemony, fresh flavour which I assume came either from the cheese or Douglas fir.
Raspberry meringue with white chocolate and an anise hyssop milkshake – another tasty surprise at the end of a memorable meal.
With each year at L’Enclume better than the last, 2012 has already seen the opening of their Aulis Research and Development kitchen for ‘a unique dining experience’ that I can’t wait to taste for myself.