Thursday, 14 July 2011
Roganic - London
Shocking as it may seem to my regular readers but when it comes to food, at heart, I’m a bit of a peasant. I know outwardly I’m obviously a classy guy. Seriously suave and if you’ve never met me, you could be forgiven for thinking I probably talk like Roger Moore (I do). But my real food love is very rustic, simple food made with excellent fresh ingredients. Although saying that, variety is the spice of life. I’m not opposed to a bit of posh ‘Up West’ as they often like to say in Eastenders.
So, when I read that Simon Rogan of Michelin starred L’Enclume had just opened Roganic, an outpost in London, and by happy coincidence I was due to be headed through London, back to the ‘Motherland’ (Essex). I booked a table for lunch straightaway.
I'd heard of L’Enclume of course. I always plan to visit someday, but its Lake District location is a bit of a schlep. If I’m ever in the area, inexplicably, I imagine this visit will include me arriving at the wheel of a small boat, perhaps wearing a captain’s hat at a jaunty angle and smoking a pipe. I’ll be laughing in a decidedly captainish way and surrounded by an entirely new, more wholesome circle of friends who will also be laughing heartily and sporting a selection of lightweight summer knits.
Until this eventually comes about (and it will), I’ll settle for Roganic.
This small London incarnation of L’Enclume is interesting for a couple of reasons. It only has a short-term 2-year lease, so is something of a temporary foray into the capital’s dining scene for Simon Rogan and somewhat unusually, like it’s bigger Lake District parent, only tasting menus are available, 6 courses, or a whopping 10. Although on my visit, I was told this may be tweaked and a more conventional 3-course menu also made available.
I met friend and fellow food blogger Niamh for lunch at Roganic on Friday. The restaurant itself is surprisingly light and airy for such a small space. Decorated in the fairly standard ‘fine dining contemporary bland style’, which is pleasant enough but is always slightly soulless and boring to look at. But then the food is the main event I guess and the sterile surroundings aren’t about to detract from that. I wonder if this inoffensive blandness in fine dining restaurant interiors is designed with this in mind?
It seems we’d struck lucky, it was still the soft opening, therefore a rather welcome 25% off the bill (Result), and Simon Rogan himself was cooking (Also a result). After a brief conflab, we decided to go for the rather interesting looking 6 course tasting menu, priced at £55.
But first, some wine. Niamh, knowing a hell of a lot more about quality plonkage than me, declared confidently that Slovenian wine is currently the absolute daddy with regards to quality and price. We went for a bottle of Quercus pinot bianco, and bloody nice it was too. You heard it here; (no doubt last), Slovenian wine is the way to go.
An amuse of chickpea wafer, ox eye daisy spread, aioli and flowers was a really nice and light introduction to the cooking to come.
Right away I’m going to be honest here; the menu is absolutely packed with interesting and sometimes slightly baffling ingredients. With the benefit of hindsight (and Google) I now know exactly what I was eating, but at the time, with my food rapidly going cold on the plate in front of me, ingredients such as orache, ox eye daisy spread and chenopodiums had me scratching my head.
Nevertheless, that’s exactly what you pay for at this level of cooking, to be delighted, surprised and baffled at the artistry with unusual ingredients.
Speaking of bafflement. There was a solitary smooth stone on our table, and it puzzled me. What could it be for? Perhaps something to stick the bill under?
Our waiter arrived to answer the mystery by spreading a thick scrape of whipped butter, with Maldon sea salt onto it. Obvious really. Not.
Then the perfect looking bread rolls arrived. A whole tray, potato, spelt and pumpernickel. They were all superb but especially the soft malty pumpernickel. A big thumbs up for the complete lack of parsimony with regards to the fantastic bread. The waiter cheerfully offered us more, and then when we’d greedily polished that off, even more.
A rather dainty course of millet pudding, grains, burnt pear and Stichelton followed. It was good. Basically a risotto in all but name. Pear and Stilton is a classic combo, and Stichelton is an absolutely cracking cheese. A great start.
The next course arrived and my jaw dropped. It was beautiful and elaborate, absolutely the most gorgeous presentation. Seawater cured Kentish mackerel, orache (Which I now know is a foraged plant, similar to spinach in taste), broccoli and warm elderflower honey. Somewhat unsurprisingly perhaps, it tasted fantastic. The sweetness of the elderflower honey offsetting the tang of the onions, all balanced with the crispness of the mackerel and the vegetal notes of the broccoli and orache. Stunning.
The next dish, almost impossibly, was better looking than the last. Heritage potatoes in onion ashes, lovage and wood sorrel. Beautiful to look at and who’d have thought a dish based around potatoes could be so bloody amazing? Easily one of the best courses I ate, mostly in part to the incredible sharp savoury taste of the onion ashes. (Onions, dehydrated and reduced to dust using some kind of cheffy wizardry). Amazing.
Roasted brill, chicken salt, surf clams and rainbow chard was next. Something of an unusual combination to my mind, chicken and fish, but surprisingly it worked brilliantly. The sharp bite of the chicken salt, cutting through the softness of the perfectly cooked brill. Lovely.
Another bit of artistry arrived in the form of Cumbrian hogget loin, artichokes and chenopodiums (Which Google tells me is another foraged spinach like plant). The lamb loin, so rare and soft, presumably cooked using sous-vide, was superb. The addition of a lamb sweetbread gave a nice offal flavour to balance the sweetness of the hogget. Once again, fantastic.
Onto dessert, and sweet cicely with strawberry, buttermilk and verbena was, (to match the previous courses), appropriately beautiful in an almost architectural fashion. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted verbena before, and its flavour was a revelation. Unusual, flowery, and citrusy. The combination of tastes were interesting, light and fresh. A nice end to the meal.
A final course, in the form of a cherry shot with a cherry marshmallow, and for me this was the one thing that didn’t quite work. The marshmallow was pleasant enough, but my shot seemed to be a bit on the insubstantial side, it didn’t fill my mouth with flavour as I’d expected. Somehow, all of the foam remained in the glass, and I looked around in vain for a spoon to finish it off. Not to be thwarted and reverting to childlike behaviour, I stuck my finger in it. (You can’t take me anywhere). This action broke the offending vacuum, and the remainder slid into my mouth. It was ok, but didn’t wow me like everything else had.
Nevertheless, I absolutely loved Roganic. The food is just plain gorgeous. Easily the best looking dishes I’ve eaten all year, possibly ever. The menu is full of quality interesting British ingredients, some conventional, some (if you’re anything like me), you’ve probably never heard of. The staff were extremely relaxed, cheerful and friendly. In fact, it’s all so slick that it’s hard to believe Roganic has only been open for a couple of weeks.
Overall, I had one of the best lunches I’ve eaten for a very long time. Go.
19, Blandford St,
Telephone: 0207 4860380