There are few food pilgrimages worth making more than Cartmel in the Lake District. Walk through this picture-postcard village and you’ll notice that its beating heart is not a church, a village hall or a pub, but a restaurant that’s small in its square footage but colossal in its influence.
Simon Rogan's L'Enclume is regularly talked up as the best restaurant in the UK, and with good reason. For the last 17 years, the Hampshire-born chef, along with a front- and back-of-house team comprising some of the most talented people in the industry, have been refining a philosophy that combines sensitive and creative cooking with extraordinary ingredients – most of which are grown on Rogan's adjoining 'Our Farm' – impeccable, personable service and a mind-bending tasting menu format.
But Rogan's footprint extends beyond Cartmel – where he also operates the more accessible sister restaurant Rogan & Co (which has one Michelin star to L'Enclume's two) and the experimental development kitchen and chef's table Aulis. A return to London in 2017 saw him open Roganic – a bricks-and-mortar version of a longstanding pop-up, also awarded a Michelin star shortly after opening – and another Aulis in a quiet Soho side street, after a stint running the kitchen at Fera at Claridge's.
Most recently, Rogan and his team have opened Roganic in a Hong Kong skyscraper. "We've not blended into the restaurant scene with a Hong Kong-influenced menu," he comments, "we've gone 'slam' in there with a menu that you can find at Roganic or L'Enclume." It has been met with acclaim as well as a few inevitable raised eyebrows. Far from being perturbed, though, Rogan revels in the quality of produce available in the farmland close to the Chinese border, and the traffic that his Hong Kong and London sites drive to the epicentre of it all: a restaurant in a tiny village in northern England, serviced by an organic farm that’s a bastion of modern sustainability. It adds up to a journey that’s still as essential as ever for those who are serious about truly great food and farming.
This was the first dish I ever learned how to cook in a professional kitchen, at a hotel
I worked at in the New Forest called Rhinefield House. As an apprentice you’re always wanting to get on the sauce section, and the one there was run by a chef that worked at The Savoy for 12 years, so it was all very, very classical and gave me a good grounding in classical technique. This dish was basically in one pan, so you had to display impeccable cooking technique and timing. You stuff the chicken breast, cook it in a pan with a little bit of oil and butter with a lid on to just cook the chicken through. Just as it cooks through, you take it out to rest, tip out the fat from the cooking juices, deglaze with some white wine vinegar or cider vinegar, a little bit of shallot, a little bit of chicken jus and cream, reduce it down and pass it on. It’s really traditional – a lovely old-school vinegar sauce nappéd over the chicken, served with some dauphinoise potatoes and broad beans. Tasty.
Grilled salad, Westcombe, truffle
This was devised for The Great British Menu, and I think it really showcases our ethos. It's basically a grilled salad of brassicas. There's some cauliflower, broccoli, purple sprouting, kales, all sorts of things, whatever's available from the farm. We grill them over charcoal, some are smoky, some are crispy, some are soft, so there’s all different layers of texture and flavour in there. We dress it in an elderflower vinaigrette for a bit of acidity, sit it on a truffle custard, nappé over some cheese sauce, a few herbs and flowers, and loads of truffle. You’ve got everything in there: acidity, umami – it's an amazing dish.
Short rib, bone marrow, turnip
Rogan & Co
This is one of the most popular and long-running dishes on the menu at Rogan & Co. We take Belted Galloway short ribs from a farm right next to L'Enclume. We brine them for two hours and then cook for 24, so they're really tender. We serve with a lovely buttery mashed potato, some bone marrow crumb – really rich, with a nice texture – some poached bone marrow, turnips, a bone marrow sauce and then lots of herbs and flowers. It's a really intense, rich dish that our customers love.
Potatoes in onion ashes
Potato is one of my favourite vegetables. We grow a very slow potato called a Pentland Javelin – it's grown for its flavour first and foremost. We poach the potatoes in a bath in some pork fat, to add a really rich meat flavour to them, then we serve a potato purée, with some cheese in it as well, a little bit of nasturtium puree and shallot purée all on top of each other, some crispy potato skins, and then we finish it with onion ashes. I think the story was that we burnt some onions one day and thought 'what can we do with them?' We burn the whole of the onion, and when you crush them the outside is black and the inside is still sweet, so you blitz them and it’s not too bitter. Then we add an onion oil mixed with maltodextrin to give that ashy look to it. It gives it a really intense onion flavour, and then we finish it with nasturtium leaves.
Cabbage, crab, horseradish, chicken skin
If I remember rightly, this was on the menu at the first incarnation of Roganic in 2011. It's Cornish crab generally, or from Morecambe Bay when we can get it. We just poach the crabs, take the white crab meat off and then make a brown crab sauce, mix it through to give a bit more depth for flavour, wrap it in roasted cabbage, top it with really lovely salty roasted chicken skin, finish it with a horseradish sauce, wild garlic oil and a few wild garlic flowers and chopped wild garlic on top. It’s still on the menu here, and it was on the menu at Roganic in Hong Kong not too long ago. We try to move them around, so if someone’s in Hong Kong one day and they go to the London Roganic next, hopefully it will be a different menu.