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.