Since making the reservation in January, I have been looking forward to this day a stupid amount. I’d originally meant to have been going to Rogan’s Week at Rogan & Co in January, but a hastily agreed to shift swap at work scuppered those plans so the only thing was to make a reservation for the real McCoy, L’enclume itself.
An unassuming former blacksmiths hides one of the UK’s finest restaurants, a Mecca for foodies.
The anvil logo reminds you of the building’s history. The cheerful maitre’d catches me off guard as I photograph the above sign at the entrance, coats are taken and we are shown to our seats in the airy and light (even on a dull Cumbrian afternoon!) conservatory. As a comedy fan, I am elated to confirm that we were in the exact same position as Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan had when they visited for The Trip.
We ordered drinks, apple and marigold syrup topped up with lemonade. A delicious, non-alcoholic drink which I would like the syrup recipe so I can make it at home, failing that, a bottle of the syrup. It’s a vibrant green I naturally associate with artificial apple but is nothing of the sort, and is just fresh, herbaceous and slightly acidic.
Attentions turn to the wax sealed envelope propped up between two smooth stones on the table, should we look at the menu or let them just delight us with whatever they have planned. Curiosity gets the best of us and we open the envelope.
I’m well aware that it’s natural to get a course on a tasting menu that isn’t to your taste, and prepared myself to have to endure cherries or blue cheese, but this menu was a winner! I couldn’t spot a single course I would have an issue with. They were even able to accommodate Sara’s request and for her menu replaced the raw aged veal with heritage tomatoes (more on that later!)
Snacks started with a savoury wallop, soft and unctuous truffle pudding, the centre like a just cooked omelette, topped with a satisfying purée of black garlic emulsion.
The second snack of pork and eel with ham fat, were croquette style nuggets, sat on a ham fat cream and was probably my favourite savoury part of the meal. Just an ode to meaty umami flavours, the crispy shallot coating adding a well needed texture.
Butter arrived next with a side of sourdough bread (or at least the way I tend to slather butter on, that seems to be the idea!) Two butters, one raw and fresh, the other pasteurised and more like proper butter we are all used to. The bread it came with was an excellent example of sourdough, plenty of flavour with a crispy chewy crust.
The first of our “proper courses” was turnips with English mushrooms. Turnips are one of my favourite vegetables and are criminally underused (something even I am guilty of.) They sit crushed, underneath a dumpling and amongst the mushroom. I forget what the veloute was, but I do remember scraping the bowl with the spoon.
Braised leek and hen’s yolk, potato and tunworth came next, a dollop of vibrant yellow yolk next to the gently cooked yolks. Tunworth cheese sauce surrounds the yolk making it look like a fried egg. The sauce is slightly astringent in a very pleasant way and coats everything. If I had one slight criticism, cutlery for this course, leek is slightly stringy by nature so a sharper knife to cut through it would help.
At this point our menus briefly go their separate ways, Sara gets a dish of heritage tomato in coal oil, shallot and wood sorrel as an alternative to my version of this dish.
Aged veal in coal oil, shallot and wood sorrel reminds me in a weird way of childhood barbecues, the disposable kind, sausages and chicken worryingly only just cooked on the inside, and even more worryingly black on the outside. I appreciate this description doesn’t sound like I’m singing the dishes praises, but this is a delicious bit of food, with that challenging coal oil flavour that evokes such a specific memory.
More bread arrives, this time a mushroom shaped rye bread topped with cracked wheat. Soft and fluffy inside, it almost looks like chocolate sponge, I save it to dip into the sauce of the main event.
L’enclume is all about terroir, and this dish really highlights that because this screams local food. Valley venison loin and croquette, beetroot and mustard. The croquettes and vegetables come in separate bowls to be shared amongst us.
I try my hand at some naturalistic Rogan style plating, draping the mustard greens and salad over the venison. I don’t quite have the same skill levels. The two best elements to this were the venison shoulder croquettes, which were rich, meaty and excellent when dredged through the sauce on the plate, and the velvety and deep purple beetroot purée, glossy and full of the earth flavour of beetroot, it pairs perfectly with the loin.
Having heard many great things about the L’enclume cheese trolly, it didn’t take too much twisting of my hand to add on a cheese course.
I shamefacedly admit my guilty food secret, that despite being a colossal food snob, my favourite cheese in the world is mild cheddar, and not even fancy mild cheddar, when I fancy a snack I have a few slices of Aldi’s cheapest mild cheddar. Thankfully I’m not forced to try any blue cheese, and we get a pleasant selection of soft cheeses, including a goat cheese rolled in ash and a proper mild cheddar amongst others.
Bread, crackers and a grape chutney accompany our cheeses. One of my favourite crackers was a buttery compressed wafer of puff pastry with fennel seeds.
The liquorice custard and sea buckthorn pre-dessert was Sara’s favourite. A slightly throat numbing gently set liquorice custard topped with a sea buckthorn granita. The ice cold, slightly bitter granita mixed with the custard makes for an excellent palate cleanser.
Dessert should always leave you on a high, and when the dessert is elderflower, rhubarb and yoghurt my expectations are raised, I love rhubarb and elderflower, two of the best things ever. Unsurprisingly my expectations were met and ever so exceeded, just cooked forced rhubarb, bright pink like candy, played so well with the mousse like aerated yoghurt, elderflower wafers and crumble added a textural element.
We finish with a Kenyan drip filter coffee and petit fours of little chocolate ganache acorns hanging from a tree. The natural fruitiness of the chocolate speaking for itself, a great finish to an excellent meal.
To save anybody from having to ask, I’ve included a photo of the receipt because I know if you’re anything like me, you’ll be curious as to how much this meal set me back, and I think it is a very reasonable price indeed! If you’re thinking about a visit to L’enclume, stop thinking and just go!
Oh, one final note. I even got to meet Simon Rogan himself as he was in the kitchen. I totally got star struck and babbled. Chefs are my rock stars!