Ever since I watched that very first episode of The Trip where Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon dined on exquisite food in beautiful surroundings, I vowed to pay a visit to L‘Enclume – a venue that has become a foodie pilgrimage. But there has always been a pretty big problem. It’s in the Lake District.
I once went to the Lake District for one of those dreadful outward bound leadership development courses when I worked for Harrods. I remember it being a bloody long way and although beautiful, the memory was somewhat marred by my being miserable on account of having to scramble up mountains in the rain. Back then the only scrambling I wanted to do was with eggs. Ironic given that I now love nothing more than hiking through the glorious English countryside. I was a different person then, turning down most activities that didn’t involve a lot of sitting down.
So when my beloved foodie stepdad suggested L‘Enclume as his birthday destination of choice, I wholeheartedly embraced the suggestion hopeful in the notion that I could burn off the undoubted over-indulgence with bracing and restorative country walks. These days I welcome a bit of a staycation, finding air travel too much of a faff. The train up was, of course, a bit of a faff but not too bad owing to the brilliant Virgin Train service (‘It’s because we love our jobs’ said a platform guard – Southern take note please).
Ah Cartmel – so pretty, and long known as home to the original and best sticky toffee pudding… and now L‘Enclume. Like Padstow (as in Rick Steinville), they may as well rename Cartmel to Roganville such is his dominance over the place.
Within minutes of my arrival, I passed a L’Enclume shop (really? It’s just a bloody restaurant), Rogan and Co, the gastropub and all the L‘Enclume owned buildings comprising the ‘hotel’ aspect of the L‘Enclume offering.
Staying in one of these pretty stone buildings, I was quite impressed with the cosy country plushness. Thick carpets, fluffy robes and a nice bathroom. A homemade biscuit awaited my arrival but I didn’t want to ruin my appetite for the 19 courses that were to come. This is one of the most famous tasting menus in the country, if not the world.
Documentaries have been made about chef proprietor Simon Rogan and this eponymous restaurant. It is famed for using only what can be grown or foraged from the immediate surroundings. Quite a feat when you think about it – this means no lemons for instance. So they have to find creative ways to deliver the desired flavours. But don’t think for a moment that this is a gimmick or a style over substance type of place. Flavour really is centre stage. And while there is the dreaded ‘molecular gastronomy’, it’s how it should be here, as a means by which to intensify and deliver extraordinary flavour (rather than just ‘show off’ as is so often the case).
Service was absolutely charming, warm and friendly, adding to the entire experience. They didn’t bat an eyelid when my dear mother asked for a dessert sherry as an aperitif (bless her), and they happily moved the angle of a spotlight that was shining right into my eyes. They seamlessly served and contributed to table conversation, often making us laugh.
And so to the food.
I don’t have the word count to describe each dish, so I’ll stick to the standouts.
We were off to an impressive start with the first canapé of ‘leaves’ made of paper thin caramalised pumpkin and pumpkin gel. The second canapé, ‘first tomatoes with black garlic’ were tiny semi dried tomatoes with an exquisite intense flavour. So simple. Letting the quality of the ingredient speak for itself.
‘Broad bean tops, goats curd, apple and nasturtium’ a light, tangy, creamy dish evoking spring on a plate. ‘Asparagus, pine, hen of the woods and quail egg’ was a gorgeous foamy asparagus soup, with crispy ‘hen of the woods’ which turned out to be mushrooms that tasted of bacon! How have I not known about these before?? They were delicious and had me immediately texting my head chef who reassuringly knew exactly what they were and replied nonchalantly, “Oh yes, they’re one of my favourite things.”
The next plate was outstanding. Aged veal in coal oil, shallot and sorrel. A tiny rectangle of veal tartare with the other elements weaved throughout, and not only that, but amazing little ‘candies’ of gin and sorrel which burst open in the mouth adding an intense sweet freshness to the veal. So unusual and delicious. A unique mouthful of food. We then moved through a series of delicate and faultless fish and meat courses and progressed to an impressive cheese board. Then finally, desserts.
I didn’t expect to like the liquorice custard and sea buckthorn as I absolutely hate liquorice, but this was a subtle and moreish dessert with the sea buckthorn made into a pleasing crumble. The colours were fabulous, a grey custard with tan crumble - adding to the novelty factor.
The final two desserts were disappointing; strawberries with a bit of jelly and ice-cream, and then a dessert where their logo had been made out of some confection which I couldn’t discern (I’d had a lot of wine by then), but which tasted a bit synthetic.
Amazingly, after all 19 courses none of us were stuffed. The menu is refreshingly light and delicate and well spaced, allowing for an evening of pure food delight, surprise and well, theatre. We enjoyed many different wines by the glass, chosen from the comprehensive list. The Sommelier was great at assisting where we needed it.
This dinner was included in a bed and breakfast deal of about £300 per person, which included breakfast and dinner the following night at their sister property, Rogan and Co. I would say this is great value for a pretty unique food experience.