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.