L’Enclume and Simon Rogan first came onto my radar from being an avid fan of BBC’s Masterchef and The Great British Menu. Since then I’ve been intrigued by the foraging aspect of his food, mixed with a modern technical style of cooking, which play integral parts to L’Enclume’s food.
For those of you who are unaware of L’Enclume, this multi-award winning restaurant is found in Cartmel, a small historic village in the Lake District. Since it’s opening in 2002, it has has quietly evolved into one of the powerhouse dining experiences in the UK.
Simon Rogan, the mastermind chef seems to have won nearly every plaudit in 2013. Winner of the Best Restaurant 2014 by the Good Food Guide, being rated as a perfect 10, (the only other restaurant to have done that – The Fat Duck), and now they are ranked number 1 restaurant in the UK. It is the Observer Food Monthly Awards Reader’s Favourite of the Year and received a second Michelin Star. He’s taken over The French at The Midland in Manchester, and from spring of 2014, he’ll take over the helm at London’s Claridges. He was awarded Best Chef and Independent Restaurateur at the Food Industry’s Catey Awards, and finally ranked 4th in the National Restaurant Awards. All in all, not a bad year!!
I’d wanted to eat here for so long and experience it for myself, so I thought why not make a weekend of it for my birthday, my 37th. We’d planned to stay in Cartmel to make the most of our trip, so booked rooms in the nearby Cavendish Arms. Originally the plan was for myself and the other half to go, as I always like to celebrate it on the quiet. But I invited one of my best mates to come too, as we’d spoken many a time on how much we’d both like to eat here.
Even as we drove into Cartmel, my friend and I were getting excited, and even more so when we saw the restaurant itself!! We were like excited little school girls and celebrating because it felt like Christmas had come early.
On entry to L’Enclume I got the feeling of how relaxed and quiet the dining room was, there was a calm ambience to the place which I personally found very reassuring. It was a bit weird, but I think I got a little starstruck for the very first time, when from the main reception desk I saw Simon Rogan in the kitchen. A little squeal of little girl giggles came out, even the other half shook his head in disbelief, but I, unashamedly didn’t care one iota!! The table they gave us was perfect for looking directly into the kitchen and you could see Simon Rogan and his head chef plating up on the pass. We ordered Kir’s to start with as they always go down well, and soon settled down and relaxed into our new surroundings.
A few minutes later we were brought the wine list by the Head sommelier. I looked through what was as an extensive list, with plenty of wines from the New World and classic choices as well. Lots of variety to suit every taste and a range of pockets too. I couldn’t settle on a wine, so we thought we’d be better to try match the wine with the food and realised we would need some advice from our Sommelier. After a few minutes of discussion we ordered one of their Biodynamic wines from Chile, a Huasa de Trequilema. The main reason going for a Biodynamic wine was that the other half hadn’t drunk any red wine since it set off a gluten intolerance reaction, but at the same time a red wine was going to complement the food more. He obviously knew his stuff, and the other half was certainly very grateful as he reassured us that these wines had nothing artificial in them whatsoever, we’d soon know about it if it did!! It was lovely; really smokey and medium bodied, a good one if you like reds, but don’t want anything too robust.
We were happily absorbing the atmosphere, watching the staff do their thing, when Sam the Maitre’d introduced himself and said he wanted to talk to us about food. This was music to my ears and when he asked what we’d like to eat, I automatically said ‘EVERYTHING!’ Saying this, we all stuck to being well behaved and ordered the six course lunch. Moments later it REALLY did feel like Christmas had come early, because Sam then handed us two envelopes from his jacket with the menus on. One for the other half which was gluten friendly, and two for my friend and I. He should’ve been dressed like Father Christmas!!
He asked if there was anything we didn’t like, I said bananas and nuts, so Sam said they could tweek one of the dishes, and instead of the dreaded nuts I would have something I’d like on top of one of my desserts instead, I simply replied ‘oh that would be lovely!!!’ I was thinking to myself, ‘Is this the best place or what???!!!’
So for the six course lunch menu I was really interested about cooking techniques and ingredients, as Simon Rogan is renowned for his technical prowess and sourcing of native produce. All the ingredients they use are local to their environment, such as their homegrown herbs or meat from their connections with local farmers.
The following photos show every course we had, nine in total including three appetisers:
The first of our appetisers were Oyster pebbles, little squid ink meringues filled with an oyster mousse and cubed Granny Smith, topped with an oyster leaf. With eyes shut you would be able to tell what the intended flavours were supposed to be. It was melt in the mouth and delicious, the oyster leaf really took me by surprise as it had such an incredible flavour of oyster. I suppose oyster by name, oyster by nature.
A stunner of a dish, the creamy scallop against the slight saltiness of the caviar was beautiful!
Oooh, these were very good!! Lovely little golden nuggets of joy, filled with a yummy combination of textures and tastes.
As you would expect from a restaurant of this quality and standing, their bread is made in-house. Served warm, I really enjoyed them. I tried the white roll with onion jam and thyme and the malt and cracked rye with molasses and cocoa. Both were lovely, soft and tasty. To accompany them some Cumbrian butter and ham fat dripping, both were delicately rich and delicious. They also catered for the other half’s gluten intolerance and made some bread with chickpea flour.
The cod mousse was a sphere wrapped up in a saffron gel, well balanced as too much saffron can be bitter, which this certainly wasn’t. I loved the difference in tastes and textures with the smooth mousse and the seasoned puffed rice.
The beetroot broth was light, and the Westcombe cheddar curd dumplings were smooth, light and not too cheesy.
The venison loin tartar was served on a caper jam and topped with drops of mustard mayonnaise and onion. The venison was silky and melted in the mouth, while the fennel candy spheres were filled with fennel gin and were incredibly intense and worked brilliantly with the rest of the dish. A great mix of flavours and beautiful to look at.
The mutton was absolutely delicious, perfectly cooked and tender. I assume it had been cooked in a water bath to get it cooked this accurately, especially with mutton having the tendency to be tough, as it’s from an older animal. It was fantastic!! The additions of the perfectly cooked sweetbreads, the charred cabbage and celeriac puree, which was uber smooth were fantastic.
By this point in the meal, we were well into our lunch but were in need of more wine to accompany our food, so wanted to try some more of the Biodynamic wines. Our Sommelier was once again on hand to advise us and we selected another from the same producer, this time a more fuller bodied Carmenere. It was a lovely wine, but I personally preferred the smokey Huasa de Trequilema as I felt this was more unusual in taste and aroma.
Time for desserts:
This was a lovely dessert to begin the end of our meal with, a frozen meadowsweet mousse, with a hint of vanilla, dots of Granny Smith sauce and baby sorrel leaves. I was very grateful for the alternative crumb on top, instead of walnut was a lovely ginger biscuit crumb. Yummy!!
Apologies for the rubbish photo, certainly not one of my best!! The taste was good though, it was quickly polished off in a few spoonfuls, I loved it, the whole thing.
After we’d finished eating Sam asked us if we’d be interested in coming into the kitchen area, where we could have a sneaky peak and watch the chefs while service was on. I leapt up like a bunny rabbit, trying to hide my eagerness to see where the culinary magic happens. Once again, there was a measured approach to everything, the chefs quietly working away, finely tuning each plate to get it just so. Even though their dishes obviously take a tremendous amount of work, from their conception to the final dish that’s served to the diner, it was fantastic to be so close, to see their food being assembled on the plate by the man who creates the dishes.
If that wasn’t enough, we were then once again approached by Sam and this time he asked us if we had time for a little surprise, we of course said ‘yes!’ He then duly showed us outside to Aulis, their research and development kitchen. They have recently extended the size of the space with improved facilities and now have a bigger team to develop new dishes.
One of the things they are currently trying to do is to find out what they can do to minimise waste to the nth degree, for example with leftover cheese and even liquid left from cooking split peas!! It was really interesting to get the smallest insight to what they do here, and hear people speak with such passion about their jobs. I was very jealous! I was really excited to hear that another thing in the pipeline is the production of their own wine too!!
I personally was on such a high when we came back into the dining room, a couple of minutes later Sam brought a trolley with our petit fours, coffees and whiskies, our L’Enclume experience wasn’t quite over yet.
I hadn’t eaten Kendall mint cake before, so L’Enclume’s take was always going to be completely new to me. I popped it in my mouth and got an immediate hit of intense mint and I really liked the aerated base. It went great with my espresso and was a wonderful end to what had been a experience to remember.
Hopefully it won’t be my last at L’Enclume.