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Cavendish Street, Cartmel
“An amazing end-to-end experience” chimes a fan of Simon Rogan’s cleverly reconfigured Lakeland smithy – and we’re not about to disagree. L’Enclume looks and feels gorgeous, although there are precious few distractions – apart from views of the garden from the conservatory-style dining room. Rogan’s cooking is all about distilling the essence of flavour, allowing nature, landscape and the seasons to gel harmoniously on the plate. Everything revolves around produce from the chef’s organic farm, combined with foraging trips and an unswerving commitment to Lakeland ingredients. The result is a multi-course tasting menu, devised on the day and delivered in style by “fine-tuned” staff who are at the top of their game. Proceedings begin with a swift procession of tiny mouthfuls: a glistening carmine beetroot leaf; fermented cabbage and Ragstone cheese; flaky crab and carrots, etc. After that, it’s hugely pleasurable avalanche of revelatory flavours, taking in everything from native lobster with broad beans and elderflower to Goosnargh duck with cherries and smoked beetroot. Elsewhere, an “exquisite” bowl of turnip broth with lightly pickled turnips, wild mushrooms and cheese dumpling wowed one visitor, as did the clutch of sweet/savoury conceits – notably a sorrel granita with forest berries and buttermilk. Alternatively, Rogan's chef’s table and development kitchen (Aulis) provides a more intimate culinary journey, while an “exceptional” wine list adds the final gloss. “It’s unlike anything you’ve ever tried”, concludes a determined fan who took two trains and walked for 40 minutes to eat at this two-Michelin-starred holy grail of modern gastronomy.
SquareMeal’s Best Restaurants in the UK 2018 is compiled using votes from our annual survey, last conducted in spring 2018. Thousands of readers took part and the results were moderated by SquareMeal’s editor and his nationwide team of professional reviewers. The UK survey does not include any restaurants in London. Click here for the full list of SquareMeal’s Best Restaurants in the UK.
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Cavendish Street, Cartmel
Cartmel Station 2km
Grange-over-Sands Station 3km
Cartmel Priory 364m
Cartmel Racecourse 419m
Tues-Sun 12N-1.30pm Mon-Sun 6.30-9pm
Food & Drink:
Rate & Review
Food + drink: 5
The gregarious maître d' was generous with warmth and his time, right from the moment he bounced outside to greet our cab. Most staff are local, in keeping with L’Enclume's ingredients; the landscape produces a ludicrous natural bounty, and Simon Rogan clearly revels in all things Cartmel. But prepare for surprises. There’s no menu - exciting! Intriguing! Essential to ring ahead with dietary requirements! - and scant opportunity to gauge prices (unnerving, particularly when a wine flight's on the cards). Luckily, the lunch deal’s a doozie offering six courses for 60 quid. That’s half the damage of the 17-course evening extravaganza, but still leads to a perfectly paced gourmet experience.
There were glimmers of theatre throughout, from the moment a discreet envelope appeared at the table to reveal the courses to come. Ingredients are as likely to change from table to table as they are from day to day, and the unexpected highlights for us saw fruit and veg headlining. Never has the humble carrot brought such pleasure as when salt-baked and served with a silken dumpling; then imagine poached plums turned up to 11 and served with apricot kernels ground into a fabulous, frangipani mousse. This reverential treatment of plants proved a refreshing contrast to the pastry and pudding-fest we'd encountered elsewhere in the Lakes (albeit happily), and the only time it came into question was during our final course. (A painterly plate of foraged berries, sorrel and cream was scrumptious, but lacked the technical sophistication you might expect from such a lauded kitchen).
Our sommelier made fine recommendations for a food-matching flight. At risk of nitpicking, I found him a little too sure of his craft on a couple of occasions. While eager to please, he had a tendency to inform us that pairings were ‘flawless’ rather than attentively listening to our thoughts; our good-natured debate over a controversial pinotage was very-nearly dismissed in favour of his expert last word. But all was well when the magnificent cheese trolley rattled to the table - be still, my beating heart! - and even the goat sceptics in the room were wowed by the ten varieties we sampled. Having plumped for this extra course, we felt satisfied rather than stuffed, and were relieved to learn the bill was little over £100 per head (for all seven courses, an aperitif and matching wines). Along with sublime food and enthusiastic service, the sympathetic conversion of a locksmith’s workshop into L’Enclume's beauteous dining space culminates in pure joy. Undoubtedly worth a splurge.
Food + drink: 3
On our previous visit, with Simon Rogan himself in the kitchen, we had raved about the experience and understood at once why so much noise was being made in the media, both general and specialist, about the approach and the execution at this stand-out restaurant. Indeed, we were at a loss as to why the big two ratings were anything less than the maximum. But that was then. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that we had booked in on a Monday and the fact that Mark Birchall was not in the kitchen and Sam Ward was having a night off from his front of house duties, but this time our general impression was less positive. We seemed more aware of the uninspiring dining room and this was accentuated by the, to us, strangely unnatural system of having staff bringing out dishes from the kitchen and standing stiffly against one wall with the trays in their hands until someone designated to wait on table was finally in a position to do so. Perhaps it was also to do with the acting wine waiter both refusing to allow my wife to take only some of the choices on the wine flight because of "weights and measures" making it impossible, something we have never heard of nor encountered anywhere else, and showing a clear disinclination to engage in a two-way discussion of the wines. In fairness, we were offered a menu reprinted with the wine flight included, which we gladly accepted, most of the staff were on top of their game, and the service tempo for the dishes, six amuses, six starters and mains and five palate cleansers and desserts, was just right. No wine was served with the initial dishes, so we made do with a perfectly respectable English rosé fizz from Hugh Johnson's favourite Ridge View. We had had some of the introductory courses before in slightly different guises, and while they were all interesting this time we were not struck as much as before by the sweetish oyster pebbles and oyster leaf, nor the squid ink crisp with crunchy chicken skin, the richness cut through by redcurrant gel, nor the smoked eel coated in ham fat and wrapped in crispy onion strings which was not really up to the scotch egg lookalike we remembered. We did enjoy the steamed oxtail dumplings bursting with flavour and contrasted with a chicken liver parfait and crunchy breadcrumbs, the raw scallop with caviar, a deliciously complementary strawberry vinegar and caramelised cauliflower cream, and the melted Tunworth topped with blackened mushroom crunch and surrounded by lamb's tongue chunks. Moving on to the next set of dishes, we commenced with fashionable and remarkably delicate salt-baked turnip wallowing in turnip soup with a set Maran egg yolk, cured pork strip and nasturtium flowers. Then came one of the highlights of the evening, just as it had been two years before, melt-in-the-mouth Cartmel valley venison tartare with a gorgeous boule of fennel both apparently infused in charcoal oil and with a local mustard cream. Things were looking promising again, and sure enough the grilled Scottish langoustine with a parsnip crisp and purée pointing up the perfect shellfish taste with the aid of some slightly salty scurvy grass was sublime. Simon Rogan seems to have a thing about artichokes, and a juicy, flavourful pack of three, Japanese, Jerusalem and globe was enclosed in a wonderful Jerusalem crisp with excellent local goat's cheese and perched on a stout vinegar smear. The following dish was less convincing: the sea bass had been poached in butter and then grilled, which had somehow modified its texture, and it was accompanied by too much smoke - smoked broccoli purée which tasted almost fishy itself, smoked bone marrow which would have great on its own, and slightly smoky mussels which unfortunately dominated the fish as far as we were concerned. The final main dish was Holker milk-fed lamb with onions cooked off in whey, ramson leaves and flowers and potato; the lamb loin and belly was tender enough, but quite honestly if tasted blind it would have been have been difficult to identify as lamb. The desserts were uniformly surprisingly light, just as well after the 12 preceding dishes. Apple tart with gingerbread ice cream was really special, birch sap (akin to maple syrup we were informed) with an oat granola and muscovado caramel tuile had a touch of American diner about it, beetroot in apple jelly with minty tasting apple marigold leaf and home-baked cobnut cake came on a thick, heavy chunk of slate almost too heavy to set down easily on the table, and finally a spectacular sheep's milk ice cream quenelle with granité and chunks of lovely Yorkshire rhubarb, sweet wafers and delightful sorrel leaf and smear. The signature cornets, apple, pear and cream cheese, rounded the evening off, and as we reflected on why our impressions were what they were, we posited the theory that perhaps there are now more restaurants that have caught up with L'enclume, thus making it seem less special.
On a thoroughly wet & miserable day in Cumbria, I was fortunate enough to have a lunch booking at L’enclume, a 2 michelin starred restaurant, also rated the week before my visit (September 2013), as the best restaurant in the country by The Good Food Guide. (given 10/10, the only other to get this is The Fat Duck of Heston Blumenthal!) Having looked up various sites on the internet to try to get a menu, (even their own site doesn’t list one) my best guess would have been a selection from the pictures I viewed on Tripadvisor.
Anyway, we could choose between the 6 course lunch menu at £45 per head, or the 21 course tasting menu at £120 per head.
The lunch menu was nearer to my budget! (although I had been saving for a good while for it too!) Drinks were ordered (water for me as the car driver )
1; Cod “yolk” with watercress, runner bean, salt & vinegar. – the “yolk” was a gel filled with something like a brandade, on a bed of salted crisped rice. Initially this seemed a little salty, but if you combine a bit of each element then it works well.
2; Atlas carrots, hen of the woods, truffle, nasturtium. Well I couldn’t detect truffle, but again the balance of the whole thing was excellent, the whole carrot just done so had texture, the hot soup over saw a little “melting” of the cream quenelle, and the pepper of the leaves adding against the sweetness and cream. The bread rolls arrived with this course, a stout and grain one, an onion and wholemeal, and a plain. Served with whipped butter that had a slight cheesey hint. These were excellent.
3; Valley venison, charcoal oil, mustard, fennel. Served raw, not a carpaccio but not a tartare either. Tender small dice of venison, made zingy with mustard, the aniseed of the fennel and the sharp onion rings. Delicious.
4; Suckling British lop, turnip, leek, blackberry. Porcine perfection! The crackling on the pork as thin, crispy and delicate as a tuile biscuit, the meat moist but not fatty, the charred leek giving contrast of chew, crunch from the baby turnip, sweetness from the blackberry and a “jus” of deeply intense porky flavour I just had to use my finger to dip up every spot of it (It wouldn’t have done to lick the plate!)
5; Plum with malt and brown sugar. Soft sweet plum dice under a caramel icecream, surrounded by crispy malt with a caramel shard. Another dish of taste and texture contrasts.
6; Meadowseeet, blueberry, bucklers sorrel, walnut. Here the meadowsweet was incorporated into the mousse, a sweet light tang but a bigger tang from the blueberry and puree it sat on. Another different tang from the sorrel, and a nice crunch and sweetness from the walnut crumble.
Finished with coffee but didn’t ask for petit fours. You might think you would be hungry looking at the size of the portions, but i was well fed, perhaps because i had an extra bread roll? Who knows?
Final bill with 2 drinks and 2 coffees included was £153 for 3 people. (No charge for tap water)
I would go again as a treat, save up even longer for the full 21 course taster, as although the menu “changes” often, you may see from the tripadvisor pictures many of the elements are repeated so only seems minor changes.
It is an experience to do at least once though.
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