When fine-dining-guide visited Lâ€™Enclume, Simon Roganâ€™s Lake District restaurant in the spring of this year, he was in the process of trying to acquire a site in the capital for his second restaurant. Happily, since July, Londoners no longer need to make the two hundred mile journey to sample his ground breaking cuisine. Indeed, the opening of Roganic in fashionable Marylebone Village has rightly been hailed as one of the most exciting restaurant events of the year.
This pop up restaurant, on a two year lease, occupies a site in Blandford Street which previously housed Restaurant Michael Moore. The long, narrow room, with space for only twenty five diners, has been simply painted in white and brown and decorated by large abstract tableaux. Bare dark wood tables match the bare wooden floor, whilst lamps hanging at head height make movement from some seats slightly precarious.
With little to distract the diner, the focus is very much on the food. Indeed, concentration is needed to digest, both figuratively and literally, the array of dishes available on the six or ten course tasting menus. (There is also a three course set lunch.) The knowledgeable front-of-house team, led by Sandia Chang, are keen to advise, inform and elicit opinions about the dishes. Their genuine interest, friendly approach and efficient, unobtrusive service make eating at Roganic a relaxed and enjoyable affair.
True to Simon Roganâ€™s philosophy, Head Chef Ben Spalding is producing highly creative dishes â€“ some with a Scandinavian influence – using impeccably sourced organic produce: for instance, Braddock duck eggs, River Tweed Trout, Watts Farm peppers and Cumbrian rose veal are proudly announced on the ten course menu. A wide variety of vegetables, fruit, nuts, herbs and edible flowers, including many foraged ingredients of the forest, hedgerow and coastline are all employed with dazzling effect. Of these, meadowsweet, sea purslane, buckthorne, cobnuts and puff ball mushroom were amongst the less familiar elements. Whilst extracting maximum flavour through precise cooking is vital, the careful balance of contrasting tastes and textures is equally important to the success of multi component dishes on a tasting menu. Doing this with familiar ingredients is a skill not easily mastered in many kitchens of large fine dining restaurants; to achieve it with an eclectic range of produce in frequently changing menus, and with a team of only five in Roganicâ€™s small cramped kitchen is truly remarkable.
fine-dining-guide visited Roganic on a Friday lunchtime and had the pleasure of sampling the ten course tasting menu
A choice of three well made rolls was offered: pumpernickel, potato and buttermilk, both based on sour dough, and Irish soda bread. Each had crisp crusts and firm crumb, the soda bread being particularly accomplished. Also on offer was a delicate chestnut crisp bread. Whipped unsalted butter from Gloucestershire, scooped onto a flat Cumbrian pebble, was rich but light.
The amuse bouche featuring crisp wafer, vegetable puree, pine nuts and edible flowers, epitomised the clear flavours and attractive presentation of Roganic cuisine.
A layered first course featured sweet heirloom tomato, a mousse-like dill custard and a lamb jelly spiked with poached lambâ€™s tongue. This dish was well flavoured, light, rich and colourful.
The next course saw a duck egg which had been fried, an unusual cooking method in the Roganic repertoire. It arguably produces the best result, especially compared with the ubiquitous slow cooked versions which have too gelatinous a texture. The creamy yolk acted as a sauce for the earthy puff ball mushrooms and barley flake garnishes. By way of contrast, fragrant marjoram oil was added at the table. This essentially simple dish was a triumph of taste and texture.
The first dish using fish showcased another inspired combination. Gently cured and smoked trout was moist and fully flavoured. A topping of beautifully sweet diced peppers was offset by the acidity of crab apple puree and the peppery zing of watercress. The dish was given a textural and flavour contrast by the addition of crisply fried onion and a crowning with delicate pea shoots. (Wine with the above: Roter Veltliner, Leth, Wagram, Austria 2010)
Belly pork and smoked eel worked well together in croquettes that were succulent cubes of richness. The sweetness of corn puree was balanced by spicy crunch of mustard seed and the gentle saltiness of sea purslane. Tuiles of corn gave a spectacular look to this finished â€śsurf and turfâ€ť dish.
Another bold and successful dish was grilled langoustine with pickled elderberries and loganberry oil. The danger of this becoming imbalanced, with the berries and sauce overwhelming the sweet crustacean was avoided, whilst the bitterness of radish also helped to balance the sweetness. Purple sprouting broccoli adding texture and colour to this innovative dish.
Few chefs have the confidence to make potato the main ingredient of a dish, yet Lâ€™Enclumeâ€™s baked pink fir potatoes in onion ash has become a much talked about signature dish. At Roganic, royal kidney potato cooked in chicken fat came with a flavoursome sauce of goatâ€™s curd and clam juice. Crisp pieces of chicken skin added a lively crunch to balance the softer elements and snow peas gave freshness to the whole dish. (Wine with the above: Chenin Blanc, Mullineux, Swartland, South Africa, 2010)
Skate belly, (two fillets moulded together), and scallop where both well timed to produce a golden crust and melting flesh. The star of the dish, however, was the intense caramelised cauliflower puree, a brilliant extension of what has become a hackneyed preparation.
In the final savoury course, Cumbrian rose veal cooked in buttermilk had a mild, delicate flavour and soft texture. Pairing it with cobnuts and blanched garlic gave a pleasant textural and herbal contrast. The well balanced soy and mead sauce gave just enough sweetness to lift the whole dish. (Wine with the above: Sudtiroler Lagrein, Weingut Niklas, Alto, Adige, Italy 2009)
Ginger beer ice, with its spicy zing and fine texture served its purpose well as a palate cleanser.
Three desserts followed, the last as an extra course. The first featured diverse elements of bilberries, dried caramel, natural yogurt, iced lemon thyme, all of which were compatible with their sweet and sour, soft and cold, fruity and herby elements.
The second saw a perfectly smooth white chocolate sorbet partnered with crumbed rapeseed and polenta cake, Herman plum and meadow sweet. Here, the richness of the sorbet and cake was offset by the sharpness of the plum and fragrant qualities of the herb.
Finally, warm spiced brioche was partnered with salted toasted almonds and a silky buckthorn curd. This delicious, vibrantly colourful mixture was finished with a quennel of smoked clotted cream with gave an unusual but not dislikeable edge to the dessert.
Bay leaf milk shake preceded coffee and petit fours of Victoria sponge and raspberry, the finale to memorable meal, faultlessly executed. The clarity of tastes, the sheer range of invention, the variety of cooking techniques and the conscious artistry of presentation involved were all utterly impressive. Overall, there can be little doubt that Roganic has made its mark on a demanding London audience and, whether in Blandford Street or another location, is assured of a successful future in the capital.