Rather ignorantly I had never heard of L’Enclume when a friend requested we go there for her 40th birthday celebrations. However, once she had sent me over the link I then saw the place everywhere, from Masterchef to the Great British Menu, where chef Simon Rogan won the dessert course and had all of his other courses in the top three. Fellow supperclubbers had also been and reported back positive experiences so I was quite excited about my trip there.
L’Enclume is situated in the beautifully quaint Cumbrian village of Cartmel (made famous by its sticky toffee pudding!) and is home to many of Rogan’s other hospitality ventures – he’s the Rick Stein of the Lakes! We, a group of 10 excited foodies, arrived with much childlike delight and energy. L’Enclume does not advertise a menu so we had absolutely no idea what to expect other than innovative dishes made with locally foraged and unusual ingredients. We made a classy and modest entrance when the person at the front of our group fell dramatically off her heels and on to the polished concrete floor of the restaurant lobby. She was rather embarrassed!
I’ve heard complaints in the past that the restaurant can feel cold and clinical. This is certainly not how we felt when we were there. It’s housed in some very old cottages that have been sympathetically modernised from within. We were sat in an old part so our surroundings were light and airy, but still with evidence of their past – such as lovely old exposed wooden beams, juxtaposed with modern sculptures that mirror the natural world Rogan is so passionate about.
Our waiting staff explained that the chef had chosen the menu for us as well as some wine pairings for the evening so we had little more to do than sit back, relax and enjoy! We later learned that the menu was brand new for that night and Simon Rogan himself was cooking it for us! We had opted for the 12 course menu, but this was started off with some appetisers that were added extras. The first of these was an edible pebble flavoured with oyster and apple. Visually, this was exciting but the fishy sweetness was not my favourite thing to eat and was a bit of a shock to the system to start with! However, this was more than made up for by a croquette of smoked eel and cheese, which tasted like something you’d find at a chic seventies cocktail party – it was warming and comforting.
The thought and attention that is put into all of the courses is astounding, from the way that they are presented, to the unique delicate flavours that are used, to the one off crockery that they are served in – which apparently are made for the restaurant by the University of Lancaster. It’s also apparent that the waiting staff get great pleasure from serving such unusual food and seeing the looks of amazement and excitement on guests’ faces.
It would probably be an extremely boring (and even longer) blog if I go into too much detail about all of the courses we ate – it took about 4 hours just to eat them and then a whole weekend of dissecting them with everyone else! I’ll let Richard’s photos do the talking and pick out some of our favourite and least favourite ones to discuss.
A favourite for the table was the ceramic bags of asparagus with a mousse and crispy bay shrimp at the bottom. This was full of delectable different textures and one diner described the shrimp as tasting like the best Chinese she’d ever had. The ceramic bags made it a fun, interactive way of eating and they came propped up in some fun volcanic style stone ridges.
I think everyone’s favourite (apart from our vegetarian diner!) was the valley venison with charcoal oil and fennel. The venison came as tartare and was so soft it melted in the mouth. The bizarre charcoal oil made it taste like it had been barbecued. It was such a good experience we are all now obsessed with creating our own charcoal oil! The fennel came as little caramelised spheres. I burst mine all over the venison and it added to the illusion that the meat was cooked. This was the course we were still talking about by Monday!
Our least favourite was the frozen lobster, which came as a granita. It wasn’t obvious that the flavour was lobster and for me it was a little gritty. It came with lots of different types of cucumber, which I tried despite my cumber aversion. An element we did approve of was the rat tails, which are edible pod radishes. They were extremely refreshing with a subtle spiciness. Overall the dish was a bit wet and bizarre for us – however we could still see it as innovative and it got us talking. Not everyone is going to be pleased with every course when there is more than 12 of them on offer! At least I can now say that I’ve tried lobster granita.
For dessert we had not one, not two but three treats on offer. The palate cleanser was an exciting chamomile sorbet with celery. It was light and cooling after so many strong flavours. Next up was cherries with meadowsweet and a fennel and apple granita. This worked well as it was a well-balanced concotion of sweet, sour, crumbly, soft and some iciness. The meadowsweet came mixed with yoghurt and had marshmallow qualities – it was yummy! Our final dessert offering was small pieces of spicy gingerbread with iced watermint. Again, an unusual combination but one which worked very well. It came in little pots that had wobbly bottoms! I could have easily eaten 10, had I not just eaten 12 other courses!
Thinking back on the meal it is amazing that each course came out with such huge attention to detail and with its own identity. As a diner it is easy to take all the food for granted, especially when so many courses are coming out. The menu is extremely good value for money as the obvious skill and passion that goes into the food is priceless. It is also very well pitched in terms of different flavours and ingredients. Plus I didn’t leave having stuffed myself too far, nor did I feel hungry. Perhaps this is the future of dining – being able to appreciate individual flavours and ingredients in small but many portions?
If I had one criticism it was for our wine. We had pre-arranged a wine package to match our food. This was about 5 or 6 different wines served over the course of the evening. Our sommelier was obviously very busy and barely had time to pour our wine let alone explain what it was or why it had been selected. That aside, the wine was plentiful and all very enjoyable so it’s just a small gripe. Another small issue was that we, as naive townies, had not ordered a taxi back to our holiday home early enough and so were faced with a 2 hour wait in Cartmel (til 1am!) before being driven back the 5 miles. I don’t think there is even anything to do in Cartmel til 1am! Luckily a local friend came and got us and diverted the crisis. If you’re planning a trip to L’Enclume then do book your taxi asap or stay in one of their on site bedrooms.
So is it all worth the hype? In a word, yes! I’m already planning my next trip back, or even a trip to Rogans where you can sample the full Great British Menu meal! L’Enclume is truly exciting, innovative, British and great value for money, hooray!