L’Enclume is a two Michelin star restaurant which resides in a little medieval village called Cartmel in the Lake District. Owner Simon Rogan (who also owns Roganic in London) is known to many as the chef who cooked his dessert at the final banquet on BBC’s Great British Menu.
The restaurant has plenty of character and blends modern dining furniture with old fashioned exposed beams – it’s a lovely space. We were seated in the restaurant’s conservatory which had views to the garden – perfect for watching the rain pour down and it poured down for our entire visit!
We decided to make the most of the long journey up there and ordered the 17 course tasting menu (wow!) priced at £95 (yikes!) so sit down and make yourself comfy as this ain’t gonna be a quick one!
We were informed the first four courses were little amuse bouches to get us used to the style of cooking. Some “oyster pebbles” which were in fact oyster macaroons served in a box of pebbles started proceedings. They were light and filled with an oyster cream with a hint of apple which was delicious.
A little seaweed cracker atop of which sat a cockle with sliced radish was divine, the soft cockle with a hint of horseradish contrasted the crunchy cracker perfectly. A smoked eel with ham fat croquette quickly followed and was served warm. It was a moreish, salty, fatty delight.
The chicken mousse on a thin slice of crispy squid ink toast was possibly the prettiest thing I have ever seen. The crunchy chicken skin added texture to the smooth chicken mousse and the flowers added a bitterness which worked brilliantly. Faultless in appearance and flavour.
Little ceramic pouches contained a delicious beetroot and rosehip concoction which was topped with a goat’s cheese snow – crunchy beetroot with ice cold goat’s cheese was an unusual texture and flavour sensation which worked admirably.
Next up was a cod mousse which had been set to look like an egg yolk and it burst just like one too. It was surrounded by dried puffed rice and covered in a sage cream. As was the case with many of the dishes at L’Enclume it had the perfect balance of flavours and textures.
Three different types of freshly baked bread rolls were then served; onion and thyme, pumpernickel and Cumbrian ale alongside some really salty butter. At this point I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
The swede dumplings with bitter raw turnip were perfectly made and cooked – a pleasure to eat. The next dish of venison tartare with charcoal oil and mustard was one of a long list of highlights for me. The quality of the venison was sublime and the mustard mayonnaise complimented it beautifully. The two little balls of candied fennel which, once cracked open, oozed a sweet fennel liquor which was like nectar – simply amazing.
Grilled carrots, lamb sweetbreads (the animal’s glands) with juniper and mulled cider was next. The mulled cider glaze was sweet and sticky, which alongside the sweetbreads, was a marriage made in heaven. The carrots had been grilled on a barbecue (situated outside the kitchen) giving them a charred outside with a soft sweet inside.
Next was mussels in their own juice with triangular garlic, which is a leafy wild garlic with a very sweet subtle garlicky flavour. The mussels were huge and melted in my mouth. The following dish of vintage onions with liquorice, truffles and bittercress was pure perfection on a plate. How anyone could make onions taste that good is beyond me – no wonder this place holds 2 Michelin stars. There was a subtle hint of aniseed from the liquorice and a strong wallop of earthy truffle which combined with the soft three month old onions was like a flavour explosion.
Next up was turbot with manx queenies (mini scallops) and bucksthorn plantain which is a slightly sweet tasting salad leaf. The meaty turbot was moist, the scallops were soft and the mini artichokes, which looked like witchetty grubs, added a crunchy texture. Then came another highlight, Reg’s guinea hen, offal ragout, purple potato puree and scurvy grass. The hen was the height of perfection with a crispy skin and succulent flesh. The rich irony ragout didn’t overpower the broccoli or the potato one bit; it was all balanced masterfully.
Our first dessert was a tangy refreshing delight. There was sharp sea buckthorn puree which contrasted the creamy buttermilk panna cotta blissfully. Our second dessert was ice cream which had been set to look like Cumbrian slate with apple, wild sorrel and crunchy light honeycomb. It was the tastiest “slate” I’ve ever eaten.
The honeycomb with quince, chestnut and perilla was the most unusual dessert I’ve ever tasted. The honeycomb had been dipped in liquid nitrogen so arrived at the table freezing cold. It dissolved in my mouth in seconds and was absolutely heavenly.
Our final dessert was mini individual cones filled with pear, sweet cheese and parsnip mousse. My favourite was the parsnip which was peculiar but delightful – the use of savoury flavours in the desserts at L’Enclume was triumphant. A final little treat to accompany our coffee was a Kendal Mint Cake ice cream on top of aerated chocolate. It was like a freezing cold mini mint Aero – what could be better?
Service was totally relaxed and it was like being served by friends who would chat to you in between courses. Every member of staff had an amiable quality which added to the whole experience.
After devouring our 17 courses we were invited into the kitchen to meet head chef Mark Birchall. He was a lovely bloke and it was fascinating seeing his team beavering away at their stations preparing for that evening’s service. Simon was even in his office and popped his head out to say hello which was lovely.
Our lunch at L’Enclume was like a greatest hits album – each course was a classic. Out of 17 dishes we couldn’t find a weak link which can’t be an easy thing to accomplish. Every last detail from the crockery used, to the ingredients, the techniques used to cook them and the friendly service was perfect. Without doubt it was my meal of the year.