Roughly a year ago I had a mind-blowing meal in a tiny Cumbrian village that opened my eyes to what modern British cooking could be like. So I was beside myself when I received news that Simon Rogan of l’Enclume was opening a restaurant just off Marylebone High Street, here in London. Heading up the two-year temporary restaurant Roganic is young Ben Spalding who, aside from l’Enclume, has worked at L’Autre Pied and Rhodes W1.
While Rogan isn’t able to transport us to the idylls of the Lake District, he brings a little of it to London, with much of the produce coming from the sister restaurant’s garden in Cartmel. He was there the day we visited, plating up alongside Ben in the cramped downstairs kitchen, to ensure the fledgling restaurant took flight without a hitch. The dining space had minimal embellishment but didn’t feel too stark, although the addition of some soft furnishings or floor covering would be useful as noise really carried in the small space. As clear as the conversations were around us were, they faded to a mere murmur with the arrival of snacks to whet the appetite – pretty flower-adorned chickpea fritters smeared with an intriguing, slightly acidic carnelian hued ox-eye daisy purée.
We had chosen to go with the full 10-course tasting – there is also a 6-course option, and a 3-course (recently added to please the punters) at lunch – yet I couldn’t resist the perfect warm rolls. I quickly wolfed down a pumpernickel (smothered with plenty of whipped salted butter) and half a potato and buttermilk before the first dish off the menu arrived.
A jewel-toned assembly of Broad Beans, Hyssop, Fresh Curds and Beetroot was fresh and light; the sweet vegetables marrying well with the herbaceous hyssop and creamy curds.
Next was a bright yellow Smoked Yolk served with discs of Scarlett Ball Turnip, Sea Vegetables and Wild Mustard. Restrained on the plate, but not on the palate – the sparingly-garnished sous-vide egg yolk was luxuriously satiny in texture and subtly smoky in flavour.
Seawater cured Kentish mackerel with Hogweed, Broccoli and warm Elderflower Honey was also a triumph. The moist golden-skinned fish fillet was perfectly cooked and the drizzle of intensely floral honey (sourced from Regent’s Park) worked surprisingly well.
As a lover of offal, I was initially disappointed that the tongue didn’t feature as prominently as I had hoped in the following course, but the Shredded Ox Tongue, Pickles and Sourdough Paper was very tasty and a nice take on traditional rillettes on toast.
Flaky Crab and mallow cream, young squid and cucumber was another breath-taking plate, and I especially enjoyed the tender pieces of sweet squid in the cucumber jus and the contrasting crunchy squid ink croutons. In fact, I could have done without the crab which I felt took away from the beauty of the subtler components.
Although many of the offerings so far had a whisper of l’Enclume about them, the Vintage potatoes in onion ashes, lovage and wood sorrel is an almost exact replica of the dish we loved at the Cumbrian restaurant. Not as harmonious and more heavily spiced than I remembered of the original, but still exceedingly good.
Just past the halfway mark and I was beginning to flag, but the Roasted Brill with Surf Clams and Ruby Chard perked me back up with the bold umami hit of the chicken salt crust. The sweet clams and slightly bitter wilted chard balanced out the concentrated flavours perfectly.
A bite of the Cumbrian Hogget with Artichokes and Chenopodiums, and I surrendered, ushering the remains of plate onto B’s. Despite also being rather full, he welcomed the extra helping of juicy pink chunks of meat.
It was a real joy that every savoury dish so far had featured at least one unusual foraged ingredient, and desserts were no different. Sweet Ciceley, Strawberry, Buttermilk and Verbena was a well-composed mix of textures and flavours, enhanced by the fragrant, subtly anise notes of the aforementioned herb.
Warm Spiced Bread with Salted Almonds, Buckthorn Curd and Smoked Clotted Cream was presented to us as a marmite dish, and after scraping the plate clean I can confirm I am clearly in the ‘love it’ camp. The doughnut-like cube, salty nuts, tangy curd and smoky cream came together wonderfully to create a sophisticated version of french toast. Very clever indeed.
I breathed a sigh of relief as the last delicious course was cleared from the table, but with our pots of fresh mint tea came more goodies – intense cherry shots with lip-curlingly sharp marshmallow and sweet little raspberry victoria sponges. It was a lot of food even for my seasoned stomach, and I think the portion sizes could do with a bit of tweaking so one can comfortably partake of the full tasting without feeling like a beached whale.
As a rule I never write up any restaurants during their soft launch, but I’ve made the exception here as our 3 hour lunch was one of the most exciting meals I’ve had in the capital in a while – the degree of quality in both food and service was such that I would have happily paid full price (there was a 25% discount on offer). If Roganic can operate at such a level within its opening fortnight, I can only imagine the delights to spring forth from Ben’s kitchen in the coming months. I eagerly look forward to finding out.
19 Blandford St
London W1U 3DH
t. 0207 4860380