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I made my journey to Cartmel by train. The view over the bay as you travel towards Grange Over Sands, the closest station to L’Enclume, is breathtaking as only nature can be. I’d forgotten we had scenery in England. From my seat the train track seemed to rise from the water, curving away from land on both sides with an almost supernatural aspect. Even if you have a car, leave it at home, because the journey, for me, was a huge part of my L’Enclume experience. Chef Simon Rogan later talked to me about how he’s glad that he didn’t originally open in Brighton as “this is food from nature” and that he would be “uncomfortable” cooking his food in an “urban environment”. The scenery around the restaurant, the green, the bay and the misty hills all adds to create a feeling that you’re leaving the man made world behind and stepping into a completely different realm.

The feeling of otherworldliness was a broken on my cab journey to Cartmel. All isn’t well as it could be in the village. Relations between L’Enclume and Rogan are tense with the villagers feeling that the restaurant isn’t good value for money and Rogan feeling that he’s not supported locally. It makes a strange dynamic for visitors; I received nothing but the warmest welcome from everyone I met, but I did get the feeling that most people thought I was completely insane to travel from London just to eat in a restaurant. What’s strange, to me at least, is that L’Enclume is exceptionally good value and the food, although innovative and sometimes sublime, is very accessible and cooked & served with such passion that even someone who’s happiest with steak and chips could be delighted.

Much has been made of who influences Rogan. But he was keen to set the record straight that when it comes to Chefs; Veyrat has his heart. I have a sense of a Saul of the road to Damascus type conversion for Rogan after eating here and certainly this evangelical zeal came through when we spoke. He’s a driven man, irked by the UK’s need to compartmentalise what he cooks, the lack of support from locals and being ignored by Michelin in 2004. But I didn’t eat a meal created in anger. I ate a meal that’s all about harmony and balance, a meal that is probably the most finely balanced degustation menu I’ve ever eaten. Rogan conjures with his ingredients and was able, over the 20 courses I ate, to take a multitude of preparations and flavours and tie them together into a cohesive whole. He pulls flavours that you would expect in desert forward into the meal by serving a perfect piece of John Dory alongside bergamot aromas and swirls of sticky caramel that had been taken to the very edge of caramelisation. Coming after a less successful dish of brill cooked in clay that smelled like my school’s artlab and before two perfect slices of loin of lamb with cumin bouillion and grains of paradise that offered up flavours of citrus, cardamom and pepper and wafted Moorish scents into the dining room, the John Dory was a sensory reminder of what was to come, as well as an outstanding dish in its own right.

There’s something primal about L’Enclume. This isn’t intellectual, show-off food that appeals to the head. It’s about nourishment and awakening; my meal sated my hunger, but also stimulated my eyes, nose and tongue. I tried flavours I had never or rarely eaten before; coltsfoot, myrhh, eucalyptus, perilla, but that shared a strange aspect to their flavour profile, all of them are haunting, resonant flavours. My favourite dish of the night was cubes from land and sea with eucalyptus hollandaise, a trinity of lobster, sweetbreads and girolles, napped with a verdantly green sauce. The three major ingredients all had a meaty textural similarity that heightened the incredible sweet/herbal flavour of the dish that remained long on the palate. It was unlike anything I’d eaten before, a texture dish that relied on all textures being similar to express flavour.

The innovation at L’Enclume comes from techniques and presentation. The unusual ingredients are generally from nature so it’s technically incorrect to describe them as innovations. They’re revivals. There were a few foams, most successful of which was a strawberry mousse foam that sat rigid in a perfect cube of the plate. A proper foam, if you like, not one of these wannabee foams that squirls all over the plate. This was an upright, stiff upper lip English military foam that literally stood to attention. “Virtual tomato” was a scoop of snow-like tomato, the texture of which just vanished when I closed my lips leaving behind the ghost of a tomato flavour. It didn’t absorb, it didn’t melt, there was no osmosis. It’s the Harry Houdini of the tomato world. Imagine the nitro and green tea mousse from the Fat Duck, but take away the texture. Dishes felt more three dimensional than at any other restaurant I’ve eaten at. A beautiful pyramid of foie gras, a cube of foie gras with black truffles, coated and deep fried, a perfect quenelle of foie gras ice cream go together to make up “Cubism in Foie Gras, two cold, one hot, cantaloupe, fragrant myrhh, almond cake” a dish that literally rises up out of plate, almost too beautifully composed to eat. Rogan can’t just cook food, he’s amazingly artistic, using contrasting colour and flavour to animate his food.

So what’s wrong with L’Enclume? The service needs work and the wine pairings were pretty poor. I know almost nothing about wine so I like to leave the choices in the hands of the sommelier. There were no pairings available the night I ate there, but a new restaurant manager is joining soon so I would guess this would change. It will be hard for Rogan to get all the stars he wants if the wine service isn’t as inspiring as the food. As it was I drank a fairly mediocre glass of champagne (there was no choice on offer) a half bottle of Sancerre that killed the “Half soft and scrambled eggs, soy, wasabi, smoked cod froth” and was killed by at least two other dishes. A glass of Chilean Pinot Noir worked well with my lamb and carried me through nicely to the cheeseboard that’s nurtured and loved by Mary, one of the most experienced servers there and someone with such an obvious passion for L’Enclume and cheese it almost brought a tear to my eye. The rest of the service was technically adequate, no more so, but always sweet and charming. I’ll forgive a lot of things if they’re done with passion and care.

L’Enclume has been a sleeping giant of the English restaurant scene for too long and he’ll be recognised by Michelin this year. This is, at the very least, two star food. Most appealing to me though was that this is a really English restaurant, despite the fact they have an all French cheeseboard, with a spirit unlike anywhere else I’ve eaten in the UK. L’Enclume isn’t part of a movement. And I loved it all the more for that.

Additional Info:

If you’re planning a trip to L’Enclume you could do worse than stay at the Royal Oak Inn. Call them on (015395) 36259

If you’re travelling by train you’ll want to organise a car from the train station. Call C Cabs on (015395) 35733

Suzi Edwards aka "Tarka"

"the only thing larger than her bum is her ego"

Blogito ergo sum

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Thanks for the kind words. With everything that's been going on and the detox I just haven't wanted to write about food. Am over that now! Had a very delicious chicken kebab from Maroush on the Edgeware Road on Tuesday. Seems to have got the creative juices flowing.

Suzi Edwards aka "Tarka"

"the only thing larger than her bum is her ego"

Blogito ergo sum

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Relations between L’Enclume and Rogan are tense with the villagers feeling that the restaurant isn’t good value for money and Rogan feeling that he’s not supported locally.

the perns at the star face similar issues, locals moan that they have forced house prices up, but forget they have revitalised the pub, where you can still just drink, and given them a shop that although a top deli does sell milk, conflakes etc and papers- the daily essentials that save a trek to helmsley.

i am very interested in l'enclume (and i am organising a trip) the veyrat link is a bit of a concern, several people whose opinion i trust reckon veyrat is a waste of time - to put it politely. I was in the area in summer and didn't bother instead was recommended a 1 star, clos des sens in annecy, which was stunning.

cheers

gary

you don't win friends with salad

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Chef Simon Rogan later talked to me about how he’s glad that he didn’t originally open in Brighton as “this is food from nature” and that he would be “uncomfortable” cooking his food in an “urban environment”.

I live in Brighton and I'm a 10 minute walk from the South Downs Way and some of the most beautiful countryside in England. Also, when I'm in the city centre, I'm very careful not to walk too far South as I can't swim and I'm told that the sea is very cold this time of year.

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So what’s wrong with L’Enclume? The service needs work and the wine pairings were pretty poor.

Do you think he might have difficulty getting wait staff of sufficient experience given his location? Is this a problem generally for rural high-end restaurants?

Great review anyway.

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Winot- you hit the nail on the head. Cartmel is lovely, but there isn't a huge amount to do round there. The waitstaff were very young and I guess that Penny and Mary are mentoring them. If I were Simon I'd get someone from the US over. There's something about US high end service that I think is less formal and possibly more relevant to the good than french style service.

Suzi Edwards aka "Tarka"

"the only thing larger than her bum is her ego"

Blogito ergo sum

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So what’s wrong with L’Enclume? The service needs work and the wine pairings were pretty poor.

Do you think he might have difficulty getting wait staff of sufficient experience given his location? Is this a problem generally for rural high-end restaurants?

Great review anyway.

Blimey Suzi, that sounds like a wonderful experience-thanks for the write up and the information. I especially like the sound of his Foie dish and I can see why Simon Rogan gets so pissed off at people trying to rationalise and categorise what he cooks into say "molecular gastronomy". Just leave him alone to get on with it I say. Very much looking forward to this trip (if it happens- GARY :cool::wink: !)

Winot- Good point re it being a rural location. I remember dining at Hambleton Hall on Honeymoon - which really is in the middle of nowhere, and talking to two of the staff. They said it was a great experience but that there absolutely nothing for them to do, even on there days off as they were miles away from anywhere, without any transport links.

Edited by Bapi (log)
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Winot- you hit the nail on the head. Cartmel is lovely, but there isn't a huge amount to do round there. The waitstaff were very young and I guess that Penny and Mary are mentoring them. If I were Simon I'd get someone from the US over. There's something about US high end service that I think is less formal and possibly more relevant to the good than french style service.

winteringham fields is very remote so tends to take the approach of groom your own staff, start them young and train them up.

the star at harome is also remote but the fact it's quite buzzy and there's a lot of young 20 soemthings floating around means they have no problem getting staff.

they have a staff house for the girls and one for the boys!

cheers

gary

you don't win friends with salad

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I have to say that I'm not surprised by the local reaction - the majority of locals would be aghast at paying £30 for a meal, let alone upwards of £50 (I'm from Cumbria, so I'm writing from experience). When I ask friends and family whether a particular restaurant is any good the commonest quality of a good review is "big portions", so quantity tends to be the watchword rather than quality.

I've got feeling that that's gradually changing as more decent restaurants open up, however. The produce of the county is superb and the popularity of the Lakes with tourists should help restaurants that would struggle if just depending on the locals.

It probably is tricky to get the staff as well, but it is a beautiful part of the world and maybe staff salaries will go that little bit further than in the big city? And if L'Enclume's reputation keeps growing, who knows?

Philip

Edited by PS (log)

PS

Edinburgh

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Great report Tarka!

The situation with the wine service (and service in general I suppose) sounds like a bit of Catch-22. The cream of the crop aren't going to start beating a path to the restaurants door to work in the middle of nowhere for (I imagine) not much money until it gets a bit more of a rep, but it might not get more of a rep until the wine program and service improves. What to do eh?

Like PS I'm I have to say that I'm not remotely surprised by the local reaction, and am somewhat shocked that a place as uncompromising as L'Enclume can survive in the location. Still, I hope that it continues to thrive this year as it sounds very good, very fun and also very interesting (which is a nice combination) - hopefully I might make it there myself sometime this year. We shall see...

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if anyone is interested in accom nearby the following were mentioned to me

(other than tarka's royal oak- which was full when i'm going)

www.thecavendisharms.co.uk sounded very pleasant on the phone and is within staggering distance which sounds about right for me paid £45 each for two single rooms en suite B&B 015395 36240

market cross

newlands (as mentioned by andy)

cheers

gary

ps i'm sure you can guess the menu we'll be having :wink:

hmmm could maybe squeeze in lunch too, i'll be very hungry by 7pm :laugh:

you don't win friends with salad

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if anyone is interested in accom nearby the following were mentioned to me

(other than tarka's royal oak- which was full when i'm going)

www.thecavendisharms.co.uk sounded very pleasant on the phone and is within staggering distance which sounds about right for me paid £45 each for two single rooms en suite B&B 015395 36240

market cross

newlands (as mentioned by andy)

cheers

gary

ps i'm sure you can guess the menu we'll be having  :wink:

hmmm could maybe squeeze in lunch too, i'll be very hungry by 7pm  :laugh:

Git :sad::sad::sad::sad::sad:

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well, still havent really recovered from a night at l'enclume. from the moment we arrived we knew it was going to be special. the service was just right, not too formal but attentive and all the staff seemed to have senses of humour which is something you dont see often enough. the food defies description by my meagre talents, but if i get time i will do some kind of write up. in short, if you're thinking of going, then go, if you're not thinking of going, then still go. the best meal i've ever eaten, no question. and it is worth staying there instead of a pub in the village, the eggs benedict i had for breakfast were sublime.

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wow! Mouth now watering even more at the prospect. Long weekend coming up for Mrs W.'s birthday. Late lunch at Anthony's on the Saturday, then off to The Samling for a couple of nights, eating there on Sunday (Nobody's reviewed t'samling have they--another one to get a star), a day of recovery on Monday and then a lunch at L'Enclume on the Tuesday. Asking about the multi-course they said 'you'll have to get here before 1 to have that really...'

Hmm, I think we can manage that...

It no longer exists, but it was lovely.

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I'm there in a couple of weekends' time. Looking forward to it even more.

Which menu option did you go for Fisherman? And what is on offer for breakfast? (I'm not sure I'll be able to see past eggs benedict, however)...

PS

Edinburgh

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