Leaving Cheshire in the torrential rain to make the journey through Lancashire to Cumbria, thanks to the good people of The Cartmel Coffee Shop who Tweeted that there was 'lovely afternoon sunshine in Cartmel', I knew all would be well at L’Enclume.
True to this and as if by magic, once the Lakeland fells began to rise from the ground, a rainbow appeared in the sky. What treasure could be at the end of this rainbow?
In various mythologies rainbows are thought to bring messages and lo, little did I know that it was set to be the last service from L’Enclume as a one star restaurant. For, the next day, Michelin inadvertently revealed part of the 2013 list on their website - a week before the official release date.
For Simon Rogan and his team of chefs, foragers and Cumbrian hill farmers the messenger brought forth the news that L’Enclume is now a two Michelin starred restaurant.
So, with the gods looking favourably upon Cartmel, I was in for a treat with one of the best meals I have ever eaten.
As I pulled into the now sunny village, evidence of the recent rains was all about - the normally gently bubbling River Eea had made a foray into the normally sheep filled field that L'Enclume overlooks.
Parking up, Simon and I shared a moment of déjà vu, as on my previous visit, (to the kitchen table at ‘Aulis’ - see here) he happened to be crossing the cobbled courtyard between the restaurant and the research and development kitchen as I walked passed taking a few pics.
Stopping to chat, it was good to catch up and find out the latest goings on in the ever-expanding Rogan Empire - the latest acquisition being one of the village pubs, ‘The Pig & Whistle. I asked what food they planned to serve there; “Oh, just pies and stuff like that." came the nonchalant response (but you know that with Simon and his talented team involved, they are going to be some of the tastiest pies you'll ever get to experience.)
He also updated me on his on going plans to find the perfect premises to open somewhere in Manchester – I don’t want to give too much away too early but definitely watch this space! Chef Dan Cox then came out and updated me on the goings on at the farm. Which, thanks to new input from ‘North Country’ Ken Holland, sounds like it is really coming into its own.
Continuing my stroll through the village, I snapped pictures of the medieval arch, village shop, racecourse, ducks and priory to add to my collection… and, of course, popped in to the Pig & Whistle for a swift half.
Soon, time had whiled away and I made my way to my long over due visit to L'Enclume, the first visit since they had gone over to 'no menus'.
Oyster Pebbles – I was hoping this dish would be on the ‘menu’ since first seeing it on Alan Spedding’s ‘Cumbria Foodie’ blog (see here) apple meringue, oyster cream and oyster leaf – wonderful stuff!
Smoked eel with ham fat – a delightful creation with ‘crispy potato’ coating the smoked eel centre, offset on a deliciously silky smooth ham fat cream.
Butternut and fresh curds – this was the only dish I was unsure about; the flavours and textures from the mint powder, sorrel leaves and cucumber were spot on but the butternut wafer got stuck in my teeth.
Squid and chicken – an artwork, set on the canvas of a squid ink wafer featuring strokes of smooth chicken liver parfait; thin shards of crispy chicken skin; daubs of squid ink emulsion and a pop of colour and sweet subtle anise flavour from the marigold leaves.
Crispy potato, coddled eggs – I always love these little ‘flour sack pots’ at L’Enclume; this was definitely the best filling I’ve been served in them to date: coddled eggs, a warm potato mousse, parsley and flecks of truffle, topped with crispy potato and beautiful dinky variegated nasturtium leaves.
Cod ‘yolk’, sage cream, radish, salt & vinegar – not from a giant cod egg as the name might suggest but a cod fillet cream cleverly coated in a gelée-like spherification spiced with saffron. Last time I had this dish it was served sans radish – the addition of which I most heartily approve.
Bread – the selection included Onion & Thyme, Wholemeal with Loweswater Gold Ale (from Cumbrian Legendary Ales – see here) and, my favourite, the Pumpernickel with its delicious hot of molasses and subtle cocoa notes. These were served with the usual cream butter and Maldon salt.
Westcombe dumplings, beetroot and watercress – here, Westcombe cheddar had been made into soft, yielding gnocchi style dumplings and served with candied beetroots, watercress and a vibrant red onion broth; deep in both its colour and flavour enriched with roasted vegetable juices and raspberry vinegar.
Valley venison, charcoal oil, mustard and fennel – of course, the venison was immense but it was the fresh burst from the candied fennel ‘sweets/lozenges’ (think lockets or soothers), filled with a liquid centre of home-made fennel gin, that really brought this dish to life. A mustard cream, shallots and a feint smokiness, presumably from the charcoal oil, completed this wonderful synergy of flavours.
Grilled prawns and carrots with broccoli tops and puffed barley –starring a plump, Scottish Dublin Bay Prawn / Langoustine, the next dish also featured a carrot purée and baby carrots from the L’Enclume farm. Interesting new flavours for me included the dried mallow flower and mallow oil. Puffed barley added texture and salt.
Jerusalem artichokes and lovage, English truffles and Ragstone – last time I ate at L’Enclume I loved the artichoke dish that also came with Ragstone cheese. What elevated this one even further undoubtedly the addition of truffle and the silky smooth sauce.
Heritage tomatoes in rosehip, Smoked marrow and borage – this for me was the dish of the day. The rosehip liquor with the tomatoes intensifying their natural flavours ten fold! Amazing stuff!
Sea bass with sea asters, mussels and onions – a simple dish by L’Enclume standards, this was no less delicious. The fish sauce with parsley was packed full of flavour but still allowed the mussels and bass to shine.
Suckling pig, salt baked turnip, sprout leaves and Girolles – looking divine on the hand rolled plate from local ceramicist Steve Valentine of Edge Ceramics, the pork dish was another winner; salty pork scratchings / puffs and a rich pork jus completed the porcine celebration.
Cheese course – I opted for some Strathdon Blue; Westcombe Somerset; Baltic (from the Doddington Dairy in the Cheviot Hills) made with a rind washed in Baltic Summer Ale from Liverpool; Bobbin (which comes wrapped in white wine soaked sweet chestnut leaves & tied with raffia) and, an old favourite, St James' cheese from the local Holker estate.
Even more local, the delicious chutney was made with ‘Strawberry Grapes’ grown in the village by ‘Bunny’. With the cheese I selected a Warre’s ‘Quinta da Cavadinha’ 1996 Vintage Port – a fine port with licorice and fruit notes.
Chestnut cream, apple woodruff – a delicious, fresh palate cleanser with woodruff oil and Granny Smith Granita.
Cumbrian slate, grape, sorrel and hazelnut – this is another dish I had been keen to try since seeing the pictures on Sped’s Cumbriafoodie blog. The slate is an absolute stroke of genius.
Blackberry with plum, malt and stout – another beautiful dessert. I was concerned when I saw stout on the menu as it’s not a flavour I generally enjoy but it was cleverly used here and did not overwhelm the dish.
Celery, pear, sweet brackens – the final dish of the evening came in two parts; a sweet bracken ‘milk shake’ and the fun cone.
What I always love following a meal at L’Enclume is stepping out into the darkness of the lane outside and enjoying the silence – a feeling of complete peace and satisfaction.
Michelin award stars for culinary excellence; in addition two stars are said to be worth ‘a detour’ and three worth ‘a special journey’ – what do I think? I think, I’d drive to the end of the rainbow for Simon Rogan’s and L’Enclume’s food.