If you want to go away for a fabulous, foodie feasting few days, then you don’t need to look much further than the tiny village of Cartmel, nestled in the south lake district. A grand priory towers over this quintessentially English village and if you were passing through you would miss l’Enclume which is understadely tucked away down one of the smaller lanes, past many of its neighbouring pubs. Simon Rogan is the brains behind L’Enclume which still maintains two Michelin stars and has once again been named Britain’s best restaurant for a fourth year in a row. Not only does he have L’Enclume in the village, but he also has Rogan & Company which they describe as their ‘relaxed neighbourhood restaurant’.
The whole thing was exciting and mystical from the moment you sat down. There was no cutlery on the table and no menu, just a small envelope sealed with a bronzed, wax seal bearing the anvil emblem, slotted between two stones. We were later told we could choose whether to look at the list of 17 dishes we were going to eat or leave it as a surprise. We were meant to leave it until the end but cracked at about course 7 and wanted to know what was coming! However the ‘menu’ still continues the element of mystery and doesn’t really reveal anything as it’s basically a list of some of the key ingredients. The restaurant itself did not scream stuffy fine dining and the walls of the what was the village Blacksmith’s have been painted white, hung with metal crafted artwork and the tables are smooth wood.
With our gin and tonics to start we were served a selection of 6 starters which we ate with our fingers. Our favourite was the chicken offal dumpling. the dumpling was light and pillowy with a really savoury, deeply chickeny flavour.
One of things that impressed me most was the slick service. It was like watching a well oiled machine and everyone knew exactly what they were doing at every moment and knew the menu and Rogan’s story inside out. It almost made me think of being part of a bee colony. There was no pompousness or pretence and nothing felt stiff or forced. They had set the tone just right and the waiters made you feel relaxed and at home, which was a good thing as you were completely in their hands as you undertook the culinary journey. You didn’t have just one waiter either, they all took it in turns to describe each course and serve you, hold the tray with the food or sweep the crumbs from the table for example. This made it refreshing and you would get a snippet of different information from each person. They could all probably do it with blind folds on and the tray of food would still appear at precisely the right moment. I believe this is what truly makes the difference between stars and no stars, everything was timed and paced to perfection and every guest felt like they were the number one priority.
Half the time I had forgotten what I was eating, but I knew it tasted damn good. My favourite main dish was the aged veal as it was just so innovative and a triumph for the taste buds . It came with something that from the outside looked like boiled sweets but when you ate them they were so delicate and shattered in our mouth instantly and added a burst of sharpness to the tender veal. The shorthorn beef was also the best beef I have ever tasted, the flavour was so intense. Every single thing on the plate had been thoroughly thought through, to the few leaves that garnished it that had been chosen for their bitterness or the edible flower that tasted like an apple. The precision in which the food was presented was also an art form and so delicately done. I liked the use of chunky pieces of stone and slate the dishes came on, some of them look so pretty and with the broths and sauces that were poured on top, sometimes like the lapping sea or a mermaid lagoon.
Each course also concentrated on a different basic taste, so you would go from salty and intense to more sour and refreshing. My favourite of the desserts was a refreshing one and unlike anything I had ever had before and showed how you can take humble ingredients like puffed rice and make them amazing. Shocking pink in colour, the stewed plum part was actually turned into extremely fruity jelly squares with puffed rice, creamy ice cream and a zingy perilla and plum granita. To end we were presented with a mini tree on which hung dark chocolate and pine infused ‘pine cone’ truffles.
We left full, but not too full and our taste buds had never experienced so many favours in one sitting. They even gave us a gift bag at the end as a memento which included some Perilla seeds and a small bottle of stout vinegar.
With a handshake from one of the Italian waiters, we were shown out and walked into the icy night basking in the glow of the super moon. A super end to a superb evening.
Jay Rayner’s review: