Report: L’Enclume, Cumbria

Cartmel must be the ultimate foodie village, kind of a mini-Padstow or micro-Ludlow. Apart from the Michelin-starred L’Enclume there is also a superb cheese shop, a cute little bakery, a wine shop and the famous village shop – selling the full range of Cartmel brand desserts (available in Waitrose and worth seeking out). At the mothership you can buy not only their excellent sticky toffee pudding, but also banana pudding, summer pudding, ginger pudding, damson and apple crumble and top-up jars of sticky toffee sauce. They even sell a sticky toffee ice-cream which we sampled in rather too close proximity to a full English breakfast this morning. So for a lovely picnic you need do no more than buy some cheese (tips: St James, Doddington), some potted shrimps (from Flookburgh down the road) and some bread. And in fact we did that both days we were there and very fine it was.

To L’Enclume: chef-proprietor Simon Rogan is apparently working on expanding his empire which includes L’Enclume, 12 rooms in Cartmel, a research kitchen and the informal eaterie Rogan & Company to open “Roganics” in London. Sitting in Cartmelin the full sunshine a stone’s throw from the river resplendent with wild garlic, the Lake District to the North and Morecambe Bay to the South, it is difficult to imagine what allure such a move would hold.

We were capably looked after by Franck who I was excited to see was the same French maitre d’ who served Coogan and Brydon in Episode 2 of The Trip (which I thought was brilliant). I said to the waitress “you must get a lot of people coming in and doing Al Pacino impressions now”. She said “We don’t actually. You could be the first”.

No time, we cracked on with the 12 course tasting menu. This was beautifully judged – we had nearly sworn ourselves off long tasting menus after some slightly unpleasant experiences overseas. But recently we had come back on track after a great meal at Nathan Outlaw. (Read the latest Bourdain book for a better description of the terror of a too-long tasting menu than I can manage). At L’Enclume Simon Rogan never put a foot wrong.

A few highlights.

We started with a glass of Billecart-Salmon champagne on the terrace, overlooking a wily old pear tree in blossom and accompanied by an unhappy looking family group, plus our fellow guests at the L’Enclume rooms – a group of retired doctors. An amuse of salty tapioca crisps that melted in the mouth. Overhead thrushes and blackbirds darted, in the higher skies, swallows circled.

The first course of ‘carrot sacks’ was not – as Hannah thought – a fancy name for carrot tops, but a ham hock terrine in delicious crystal clear jelly, with a carrot mousse and tiny baby leaves, served in a miniature ceramic ‘sack’ (see picture). It looked like a tiny garden served to us on a ridged tile. One thing about the restaurant as a whole is the real thoughtfulness that has gone into the crockery; every plate a picture and perfectly pitched for each dish, bringing to mind Japanese Kaiseki-style dining. In fact I am developing a fetish for these plates and would like to start collecting them (Doki is a good place).

A “cod yolk” served with a vibrant, light garlicky mayonnaise and “salt and vinegar crispy rice”.

Vintage potatoes – in this case pink fur – were richly flavoured nuggets. Lovage, a flavour so pungent you would think impossible to cook with successfully worked in this case with the lemony taste of foraged wood sorrel.

A sweet+++ Dublin Bay prawn “wrapped in pigs’ skin”, which has to be the only thing you could do to a prawn to improve it. Someone should work on genetically engineering such a creature. The accompanying purslane and grilled wild leeks were perfect counterpoint. A dish where every forkful (progressively smaller and smaller, to eke out the experience) sung out.

I was surprised not to see wild garlic when I read the menu, it being abundant in Cartmel, but it was there under the moniker “chenopodiums”, served with a tender hunk of local shoulder of hogget.

Cracking then, and I would say excellent value at £89/head for the 12 course menu. There is also a £69/head shorter menu and a vegetarian menu (which looked great from the descriptions).

If I was going to fault anything, it would be our second night’s meal at Rogan & Company. The menu sounded very appealing but an appetiser of “crispy pigs ears” was nothing of the sort and one of the worst things I’ve had the misfortune of eating. And I like pigs’ ears. Hannah’s crab & apple mayonnaisse tasted only of lemon (and Jif, at that). The meal was patchy from then on, a fish pie being tasty but served nuclear hot – potentially a new source of energy – with the fish resultingly overcooked. I’d imagine the dish is still too hot to wash up 24 hours later. Pork belly was nice but inexplicably served with a chunk of foie gras (it was nice, but not requested nor required). Only a cracking cheese board from Cartmel cheeses made up for matters.

Overall, get yourselves up (or down) here ASAP.

L'Enclume on Urbanspoon

Rogan & Company on Urbanspoon

Our friend Lap is a great cook. We were lucky enough to have him cook us up a feast for lunch yes

Indonesian-style pickled vegetables

Cantonese-style prawns and vegetables

Hainanese chicken

Red-braised pork

Ox cheek rendang

Carrot flowers

Our friend Lap is a great cook. We were lucky enough to have him cook us up a feast for lunch yesterday which was so pretty I had to share. Hainanese chicken rice was fantastic, the rice definitely being the star of the show. I already knew he boosts the flavour with chicken stock and a big plug of rendered fat from the chicken’s cavity. But a new trick to me were the little chunks of dried scallop, a luxurious addition. His red-braised pork belly was fantastic, despite running out of Shaoxing rice wine he subbed cleverly with cognac. Melting fat I could munch on all day. Also a lovely, subtly balanced ox cheek rendang, quite different from my version which tastes mainly of coconut and ginger. Finally, a classic cantonese prawn dish, replete with lovingly rendered carrot flowers. I’ll let you know if I can convince Lap to do a pop-up restaurant so you can try it too 🙂

Can a cream tea be objectively assessed?

An idea I’m working on. Is it possible to give a reasonably objective ranking to a cream tea? I believe so:

  1. Scone – probably the most important element. Should be freshly baked, large, crumbly with fat, light rather than stodgy. If there’s fruit it should be plump and flavourful. Extra points for a regional variation (c.f. Betty’s “Fat Rascals” or a Cornish “split”). Nothing can save a cream tea if the scone is crap.
  2. Cream – must be clotted, ideally served in lashings rather than in mean plastic pots. Double, single or whipped cream is an instant failure. The yellower the better.
  3. Jam – ideally homemade, but if not then a high quality make like Wilkin & Sons. Strawberry or raspberry is traditional but not essential. Minus points for being served in plastic wrapping. Also should be plentiful.
  4. Tea – a good pot, good cups, hot, milk in a jug, sugar in a bowl. A second pot of boiling water. If being fussy about it, tea should be loose and cups should be china. 
  5. Presentation – should not be served from a plate covered in cling film.
  6. Setting – probably the most subjective. Ideally a bucolic setting, but a quality attraction such as a transport museum, full of irascible eccentrics would also be good. Extra points for being served “on the move”, e.g. on a steam train. The serving of the cream tea should be taken seriously, smartly dressed waitresses a bonus.

To me it seems these minimum requirements for a cream tea are reasonably easy to satisfy. You could easily do it at home (especially if you live on a steam train). But the “perfect storm” of components is hardly seen. Any thoughts?


We (like almost everyone else) failed to get a reservation for the last season at El Bulli. But during our trip we have felt many connections to this giant of a restaurant. In Figueres, the birth- and resting-place of Dali we were both geographically and spiritually close. South in Girona, Wednesday’s dinner at El Celler De Can Roca had clear El Bulli influences – an amuse of anchovy skeletons apparently bonded to a quaver and a bonsai olive tree with tuggable caramelised olives both felt touched by Ferran. In fact this mad little corner of Catalonia seems to encourage mad and crazy ventures.

We got closer still to Ferran Adria by securing an early booking at “Tickets“. This is a terrible name for a restaurant, being virtually impenetrable by Google. It is located in the Paral-el, a residential district in Barcelona. The idea as I understood it was to combine “greatest hits” El Bulli dishes with a classic tapas bar.

The entrance is guarded by an Harpo Marx lookalike in what can only be described as “circus bellboy” outfit who, after mild persuasion, parted the velvet rope to let us in – since we were on the list and all. To the left of the entrance is a kind of ‘holding station’; empty when we arrived but as we were leaving, filled with classic Catalonians decked out in shades of brown and beige. The restaurant has several different areas, a clean white/green/pink region; a Bordello coloured bar, a dessert showcase, kitsch and pretty; there is more than a shade of the burlesque here.

It being 7pm we were one of the first seated, most Catalonians still digesting their lunch at this stage.

You are handed a piece of folded ochre coloured A3 paper – like a map – which contains several thematically divided menus, and were seated at one of the stationsmock cast iron chairs painted pink and white only added to the circus appearance; our table was a long white eccentrically shaped melamine bar showing influences of that other great local hero, Gaudi. Fortunately we were facing the seafood bar which gave us a very good view of proceedings, the chefs seriously engaged in the tiny delicacies they were creating. Every item weighed, sized, contemplated with intensity. An expeditor at the end of the bar kept a controlling eye on the madness that ensues when you have around 100 people ordering different tiny items at random intervals.

The whole menu is tapas and quite reasonably priced. A glass of cava is 6 euro and Lustau manzanilla (same stuff as the Waitrose own-brand dontchaknow) is 4 euro.

We ordered Cava and our first salvo of dishes …

Olives were presented in a Kilner jar and served on individual spoons. Hannah couldn’t understand why they wobbled so much until I pointed out they weren’t actually olives but the famous “spherical green olive” served at El Bulli. Olive puree is held together by sodium alignate. When popped in your mouth the briney liquid has all the flavour of an actual olive and bursts with a freshness and total olive flavour that you feel would be impossible to replicate.

Our Spanish is bad and our Catalan is worse but even so it was easy to order “Miniairbags”. A dish of pillowy ultra crisp shells were filled with olive oil and topped with the thinnest slices of cured iberico ham fat. The fat when held in the mouth simply vanished. Wowsers.

Four meaty cantabrian anchovies tasted of fish and were enhanced by the strange metal tweezers used to eat them. We had this with some completely traditional but delicious Catalonian pan con tomate which had been griddled. Not, of course, the thick baguette style bread usually used for this dish, but an incredibly light bubbly, crispy shell of thin dough dotted with vibrantly red tomato.

Relaxed now. Round two …

Tuna belly with sea urchin and “apple air bread”. The theatre here was provided by a polystyrene box containing the lightest meringues – the air bread. The box was to protect the meringues from the humidity. You load the meringue with tuna and sea urchin and let it all fall away in your mouth. Sweetness from the meringue and tuna, tartness from the apple and the massive “wave in the face” from sea urchin.

We both agreed that “peas from Meresne” would have to be some pretty bloody amazing peas at 16.50 Euro. Predictably these were some pretty bloody amazing peas. A nod to seasonality the waiter told us these are at their peak right now. This dish was served in a plastic bag bulging with steam. A snip to the top and pea aroma wafts everywhere. Every pea was sweeter than the sweetest pea you’ve ever tried. The preparation is simple; sofrito, stock, pork fat, peas and 2 minutes of boiling.

Getting into our stride now ..

Smoked artichokes “with cured ham’s powder” had to be tried. Arriving in a beautifully crafted artichoke shaped ceramicdish, a waft of smoke and the faintest hint of smoke in the artichokes offset the salty ham perfectly. The artichokes themselves were firm and meaty, no flab here.

Star dish of the evening was “Rabbit ribs with sparking garlic mayonnaise sauce”. In reality these were deep-fried rabbit rib portions in the most glorious greaseless batter, served with a whipped alioli. I couldn’t stop shoving these into my mouth. Tiny little rabbit bones remained.

Time for dessert?

An iced orange, filled with anisette-flavoured orange sorbet, mint and chunks of orange was a nice palette cleanser.

A tree of cotton candy, each bundle flavoured differently. Yes, a tree. Branches on which sat little clouds of candy floss, some decorated with mint leaves, others with sprinkles of orange or pink powder (flavoured although I can’t say with what). The most fun you can have with an old branch and some sugar.

Two scoops of helados; cinnamon (called here Canilla and resulting in a strange pantomine description by the waiter) for her and chocolate for me. These arrived in a traditional ice cream trolley complete with bell – rung by the waiter as he drives it through the restaurant. I don’t think our waiter was particularly impressed by having to do this.

A glass of Pedro Ximenez. For Hannah, the Angeles de Amaren, a fresh but powerful Rioja.

The damage; 150 euros. A bargain for several hours of surprise and delight, and just great tasting food.

Hannah told the waiter she wanted to work here, wheeling round the helados cart and ringing the bell. He said she was welcome to his job.