Terry Marsh makes a long-awaited visit to Simon Rogan’s 2-star restaurant in Cumbria and comes out smiling.
Tucked neatly into the limestone folds of Furness, a land once part of Lancashire, the village of Cartmel has a great deal going for it. The unmissable, massive, stylistically awkward priory is rooted in the 12th century and its graveyard host to several unfortunates who ended their lives on the treacherous sands of Morecambe Bay. Quite unexpected is the racecourse, one of the smallest in the country hosting steeplechase meetings at the spring and summer bank holidays.
The rest of the village, the source of a sticky toffee pudding confection that ought by now to have its own Appellation d’Origine Protégée, is a mishmash of vernacular buildings that really shouldn’t blend together but somehow do. Leading off from the village square with its market cross, water pump and fish slabs the priory gatehouse gives on to a lane leading to one of two Michelin-starred restaurants here.
The flagship L’Enclume is the brainchild of Southampton born Simon Rogan, housed in an innocuous corner building and the recipient of two Michelin stars along with five AA Rosettes, which inclines visitors to the expectation of culinary magic and something spectacularly mystifying. The underlying farm-to-fork ethos finds expression in a menu that reflects the very best of seasonal and for the most part local produce. Vegetables, herbs, fruits and flowers grown on the restaurant’s own nearby farm, known as ‘Our Farm’, take centre stage, along with the finest produce from the surrounding Cumbrian countryside. For good measure, the restaurant’s efforts towards sustainability were recognised in 2021 with the newly introduced Michelin Green Star.
Our first mistake was in believing the person who told us to expect a 7-course tasting menu. What we discovered was a menu double that in size, 15 courses if you count the sourdough bread. And because it was going to be unlikely that I could find one wine that would suit all those courses, I gave in and opted for the wine pairing selection – and that itself came in eight glasses.
Several adjoining rooms make up the restaurant, with a separate room available to those booking the chef’s table. Covid precautions were being fully observed in what turned out to be a whirlwind experience as waiters whizzed around the tables in what was clearly well-rehearsed competence. Atmospherically, the experience was alas far from intimate, a hubbub of conversation rising at times to the point where anyone partially deaf, such as me, had no chance of understanding anything said to them. Clear visors would at least have given me a chance to lip read.
With innocuous charm they begin by beguiling you, tempting you in with a dainty looking lobster and gooseberry tart topped with shredded radish. Just a mouthful ‘Pop it in, otherwise, it makes a mess’. Duly popped, we should have realised what was to come. They then hit you with a fritter of Duroc pig and smoked eel, lovage and fermented sweetcorn – pork and eel? Really? Delicious. By the Berkswell pudding caramelised in birch sap, stout vinegar and topped by aged Berkswell, we were doomed. Jacket off, sleeves rolled up, belt loosened.
The first wine, a deliciously light East Sussex Bacchus Blend, 2019, came with the fifth course – sugar pod peas, scallop from Orkney, black garlic and blackcurrant leaf. The menu actually says ‘scallops’ plural, though there was only the one – I wish they wouldn’t do that. I love Orkney scallops, so don’t lull me into thinking I’m going to get more than one, delicious though it was.
Inevitably, with such a comprehensive menu there are going to be some dishes not to everyone’s taste. The seaweed custard and beef broth with oysters and the Duncan cabbage with shredded Welsh truffles all left room for maybe a little more experimentation, though the Hungarian Tokaji, 2017, and the Hampshire Pinot Noir did much to revive our palates. Less so the Junmai Daiginjo, a clear white wine with hints of liquorice that reminded us of diluted pastis and was probably the least appealing of the wines.
The West Coast turbot with bay shrimps and broad beans, spinach and verbena probably could have done without the latter, which almost overpowered the turbot. And while the Chilean Syrah did much to help it along, the Texel-cross lamb had unpalatable, unrendered fat.
Star of the show undoubtedly was the frozen Tamworth cheese with malt, blackcurrant and lemon thyme, and that certainly revitalised a flagging stomach as did the following Andalusian dessert wine which came with the sheep’s yoghurt strawberries, sorrel and sweet cicely.
Own-brand ‘Anvil’ caramel mousse with miso, apple and spruce was an agreeable surprise and one that carried us valiantly to the mint stones, honey pastilles, teacake and marigold cornets. The most agreeable full stop imaginable that made the lobster and gooseberry tart seem so long ago.
Minor quibbles aside – and everyone must have some if truth be known – L’Enclume lived up to its spectacle reputation. Nice touches were the complimentary flowers for my wife’s belated birthday and a Roganesque ‘doggy bag’ for anything transportable that could not be eaten at breakfast.
Tell me more about L’Enclume in Cartmel, Cumbria
L’Enclume, Cavendish Street, Cartmel, Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria LA11 6QA
T: 015395 36362 E: firstname.lastname@example.org
The tasting menu is priced at £175 per person. There are three wine pairing menus: £80, £120 and £250.
For anyone not wanting to risk the drive home, there are several rooms dotted around the village all part of the same package and all offering inclusive breakfast in the one-starred Rogan & Co. restaurant. Car parking is available on the racecourse at £10 for a 24-hour period.