Tel. 015395 36362
Food type: Modern British/ Creative
Nearest tube: Sloane Square
L’Enclume was the main reason for the road trip in November. A five hour or so drive from my home in Surrey to Cartmel is no mean feat, especially for someone who suffers from travel sickness. I blame my weak inner ear fluid. My desire to visit L’Enclume was born from my visit to Fera at Claridges (which Simon Rogan has recently announced parting ties with) earlier in the year. By no means was the meal at Fera bad. It felt rather industrialised which is unsurprising giving the number of covers. The cooking was polite and correct, but lacked character. It lacked soul. But as Rogan’s food is so highly rated by both food writers and chefs alike, I decided to make the long trek up to Cartmel to experience his cooking first hand.
There is only a tasting menu for both lunch and dinner, prettily presented in a sealed envelope. They do check for allergies and dietary requirements beforehand so I am sure the menu is not completely set in stone. Priced at £130, this is on par with most 2* restaurants in London. It is actually more expensive than say the tasting menu at Marcus. There is also a shorter lunch menu priced at £55. We booked their ‘Cartmel Escape’ package which included the dinner menu for two, accommodation, half a bottle of Nyetimber sparkling wine and breakfast at Rogan and Co. the next day. Just as a side note, unlike many restaurants with rooms, the accommodation (and sister restaurant) is not located at the same site as the restaurant but is a short 2 minute walk around the corner. It was not a problem for us, but it is important to come prepared, knowing what the British whether is like.
The first couple of dishes (six in total) on the menu were in the form of canapés. I wasn’t fussed with the first few – a crispy crystallised beetroot leaf and a fermented rosehip and hibiscus drink were probably there to help prepare the digestive system for the long meal ahead. This was followed by smoked cod roe completely covered with parsley powder to resemble a stone covered with moss. On the side was a crispy parsley dusted cracker. The idea was that you would scoop up the cod roe (taramasalata) with the cracker. The addition of parsley was very interesting since it gave the rich cod roe a herbaceous, clean, grassy flavour. Next was an oyster pebble – essentially a macaroon shaped to look like a pebble with squid ink and filled with oyster mayonnaise and apple gel. The resemblance to a pebble was uncanny, the macaroon light and had subtle oyster flavour. A chicken offal dumpling was pure comfort food – the dumpling remarkably light and the offal flavour coming through nicely. The final bite, and my favourite of the lot, was the eel and pork fat. This was pure deep fried sinful goodness – the eel and pork filling is encased in a tapioca casing (similar to the stewed rabbit and lovage dish at Fera) which puffs up when deep fried. This gives it an extremely light and airy texture. Eel and pork have such natural affinity together, the oiliness of each playing off each other, which made it an extremely tasty bite.
The first official course was a winner – Tunworth with lambs tongue was a similar dish to the one we encountered at Fera. The cheese here melted down to resemble a fondue with its rich, unctuous texture matching up well to the meaty texture of the tongue. I am sure this is not the whole ‘Emperors New Cloths’ effect, but for me, the flavour of the Tunworth was a lot deeper here than what I remembered at Fera. Perhaps the batch of cheese here was aged better. Who knows?
Sometimes you come across a dish which makes you pause and think. Turnips and maran egg yolk would on paper sound like a simple, comforting dish with a runny egg yolk with turnips in various preparations. I took my first bite and… I hated it. Hate perhaps too kind a word. Despise. Loath. There was such huge initial hit of bitterness that came from the turnip broth. A second mouthful and I realised that the confit egg yolk was there to help temper the bitterness of the turnip. This was a dish not about the egg as so often is the case, but about the vegetable, the humble turnip which had amazing flavour. The more I ate it, the more I grew to like it. This was the culinary equivalent of a Picasso painting – one that requires you to take pause to fully appreciate its beauty.
We followed with scallops served raw as a tartare with runner beans and sauce made from the juice of runner beans and elderflower. The scallops were of good quality, with the acidity from fermented elderflower and runner bean juice highlighting the sweetness from the scallop. I did think the dish could have used a touch more salt, but in hindsight, this was probably done intentionally to showcase the scallops natural flavour.
A second tartare followed, this time in the form of veal. Having eaten at Sat Bains the night before, and experiencing their incredible aged beef tartare, it was interesting to see a different interpretation of the dish. The veal, unsurprisingly, had a much more delicate flavour and the seasoning with coal oil is what makes this dish so special. On the plate, all the elements you would want from a classic tartare such as gherkins and shallots are on the plate as are dots of mayonnaise and crystallised candy of fennel. This was a complete pleasure to eat with the addition of coal oil giving it a barbecue/ roast beef flavour.
This was followed by a grilled prawn (in reality, more a langoustine), wrapped in red (kalibos) cabbage with a cabbage gel and an unusual pairing with parsnip. The cabbage had been marinated in stout vinegar I believe, and provided much needed acidity to balance the sweetness from the prawn and the parsnip. On the side, a shellfish bisque which provided a richness to round up all the flavours on the plate.
I honestly cannot remember the details of the next dish of Jerusalem artichokes with truffle and Ragstone other than it was fine. The artichoke was prepared a few ways and finished on the table with a Ragstone foam. Unlike many of my fellow bloggers, I don’t keep notes during the meal relying on my memory (which is generally very good). However, I guess when I leave it 6 months before writing up my meal at L’Enclume, some facts become hazy. I guess I’ve gotten a bit jaded eaten all dishes featuring variations of artichokes.
We were now midway through our menu and next was turbot served with mussels and a caramelised cauliflower puree. The turbot was perfectly cooked and at a guess I would say it was cooked in a water bath before being finished on the plancha. It certainly had excellent texture and I do wonder if it had also been salted beforehand to firm it up. The turbot was garnished with grilled porcini on the top such that it looked like an octopus tentacle. The interplay of the earthiness of the porcini, the iodine, salty sea flavours from the mussels and bitterness from the cauliflower puree was what made this dish very interesting and elevated it from being a run-of-the-mill classical dish.
For main course, the shorthorn beef was a crowd pleaser. The short rib tender and had plenty of flavour, boosted by the meaty jus enriched with bone marrow. Thankfully there was plenty of relief to all the richness on the plate with a braised leek (or more correctly, sous vide leek) and various salad leaves. I honestly could have eaten another three plates of this dish.
It was now time for a brief cheese interlude. The board here consists only of English cheeses which are supplied by Cartmel Cheeses, the local village cheese shop. The cheeses were all in excellent condition and our waiter demonstrated excellent product knowledge including all the finer details of each cheese. As an added bonus, the sommelier did a couple of glasses of wines (by Coravin) to pair with the cheeses we had selected.
We now began our dessert sequence. First was a small quince and gingerbread tart which was seasonal and had excellent pastry. A second Japanese inspired dessert of stewed plum with an interesting iced rice and perilla (shiso leaf) was refreshing made special by the Amami Umeshu (plum liquor) paired with it.
The dessert of the night (and second best dish of the meal) was the poached pear with brown butter ice cream. The combination of the juicy pear with the rich, malty, nutty ice cream was a winner. In fact, the ice cream itself was worth a special journey to Cartmel for.
The final dessert was aptly named ‘Anvil’ – a caramel mousse contained within tempered chocolate, sprayed with gold and embossed with the restaurant’s symbol, finished with apple juice. Perhaps this is a play on caramel apples. It was a light way to end a long tasting menu.
It has been a long time since I have had a meal which has given me so much food for thought. The cooking at L’Enclume is unique in many ways. Although not a vegetarian menu, vegetables and herbs play a major roll in each dish, taking as much importance as the protein. The fact that they have their own farm helps them drive the menu forward, allowing the restaurant to forward plan their menu ideas and grow the vegetables accordingly rather than being dictated by their supplier. The use of unfamiliar flavours and prominence of bitter flavours in some dishes may be an acquired taste and not be to everyones liking. This is not comfort food that you would tuck into sat on your couch in your pyjamas, but rather evocative food that makes you stop, think and take notice. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that this is the best restaurant in the UK – there are others like Hedone and Ledbury in the same hat – but it is certainly in the top 5.