When I last met Simon Rogan, it was the summer of 2013. We were at a charity lunch and Simon, along with many other chefs was doing a dish, his signature Beef tartare with charcoal oil. I asked him if he had any plans of coming to London and in his cheeky boyish smile, he said there was something in the pipeline. That was all I needed to know. Before Claridge’s announced Simon would take over the ex-Ramsay space, I was ecstatic that L’enclume was coming to London and that it would be the years’ hottest opening.
The worst thing about L’enclume is that it’s in the Lake District. Then again, the best thing about L’enclume is that it’s in the Lake District. Fortunately, Claridge’s decided it was time to dazzle the world once again with a British chef who has quietly taken the culinary world by storm and given us food we would easily give our right arm to eat again and again. L’enclume was one of my favourite meals of all time and my wife’s all time favourite, but what happened to us on the opening night at Fera at Claridge’s was something beyond words.
I cannot begin to tell you the poetry with which Rogan dazzled, impressed and seduced us with his new menu. There were moments of pure silence where none of us could speak, struggled to speak and only managed vague sputters and dribbles. We felt like children, thrown into the magical, mystical world of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Tom Robbins. The new dining room, too, played its role perfectly with its understated yet sophisticated art deco design. It was a strange, sitting in the same dining room and peering into the same kitchen space I had worked in a decade earlier, even though there were no remnants of Ramsay.
Of course, being the very first night the restaurant was open to the public made everything that much more special and seeing the staff proud of their new professional home excited us. Seeing the kitchen high-five each other at the end of service, having sent out nearly 1700 plates of food was quite special, but that intoxicating, exhilarating state that the food left us in, that was nothing short of pure, unadulterated pleasure.
We started with Pea Wafer, fennel & flowers which was a summer version of a canape served at L’enclume. Light, beautiful, and incredibly moreish. Next came Mackerel, Caviar, Seawater Cream, followed by a divine Stewed Rabbit with Lovage fritter – the kind you want a whole bowl of to munch on whilst watching the next episode of Game of Thrones. Puffed barley, smoked eel, watercress elevated these ingredients to heights previously unknown and Chicken skin, thyme, roasted garlic too should have come in a big bag. Winslade, potato, duck heart was cheese & meat goodness on another level – one could have had a big bowl of it for breakfast. The last of the nibbles, Broad beans, lettuce & seaweed was my least favourite as it had no seasoning and was quite bland.
Bread too was elevated to previously unknown heights in the form of Malted bread, whipped bone marrow, crisp onion, mushroom broth.
Moving on to the main menu, the Raw beef, smoked broccoli cream, acidic apple juice we started with had the balance of flavours that just makes you shake your head and lift your hands to the sky, blessing the chef with all forms of grace and well-being. It had the perfect balance of acidity, earthiness, umami and lightness.
Asparagus, savoury, onion, St. George’s, chrysanthemum was a celebration of British summer and I even ended up licking every last bit of sauce off the plate.
Jersey Royals, prime pork fat, borage & chicory is the kind of food want to give the chef a standing ovation for. A vegetarian plate of pure genius. Simple flavours that, when given the Rogan treatment, become intense and explode in your mouth with such brilliance you want to laugh with sheer joy.
Sadly the course that came next was the table’s unanimous least favourite. Grilled Salad, grilled over embers, Isle of Mull, truffle custard, sunflower seeds. The grilled salad was too dry, the custard nice, but there was way too much truffle heaviness permeating through the entire dish that made it hard to taste anything else.
Luckily, everything came roaring back on track with Plaice braised in nettle butter, radishes, horseradish, salsify. My favourite bit about this dish was that it gave an earthy personality to a fish that is always paired with sharp, acidic, fresh flavours. Here it was musky, grassy, lightly pungent and masculine.
The final savoury dish of Dry-aged Herdwick hogget, sweetbread, hen of the woods, turnips followed in the same masculine, earthy footsteps of the menu, whilst remaining light and delicate at the same time. A feat very few chefs are capable of. Luckily, Mrs. Hungry Chef was a bit full and couldn’t finish this, so I was able to feed my greed with a few more morsels of hogget.
The pre-dessert of Baked Yoghurt, pear poached in perry, mint & muscovado was nothing short of magnificence. Muscovado-yoghurt custard that had all the heady goodness of jaggery could be eaten all day every day. It came close to, if not exceeded, the jaggery creme brulee that Mrs. Hungry Chef & I fell in love over in Sri Lanka. I certainly could have this for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Tom Robbins once said, “the beetroot is the most intense of all vegetables…The beet is the murderer returned to the scene of the crime. The beet is what happens when the cherry finishes with the carrot. The beet is the ancient ancestor of the autumn moon, bearded, buried, all but fossilized; the dark green sails of the grounded moon-boat stitched with veins of primordial plasma; the kite string that once connected the moon to the Earth now a muddy whisker drilling desperately for rubies.!” Simon Rogan has translated this through his culinary genius into Beetroot & buttermilk, licorice, apple marigold. Sadly, I have not the poetic form of Tom Robbins to wax lyrical about this dish, but all I will say is that for someone to make a beetroot dessert that tastes, feels and sings of beetroot, no accolade should be left un-awarded.
True to Rogan’s style, there is no heaviness or excessive sweetness in the desserts and Outdoor rhubarb, melilot, linseed and sweet cicely was light and joyful as a field of butterflies in spring. The final dessert of Chamomile milkshake, chocolate malt too was nothing short of beauty where the delicate flavour of chamomile was suspended with a chemists precision in a lightly milky froth, complemented, ironically, with the bitterness of crisp chocolate malt; true testament to a master spending time in his laboratory endlessly until the result is nothing but perfect.
We thought this was the end, but then came the petit fours. First there was honey cake, then sugar biscuit and finally the erotic, sensual, lusty and orgasmic smoked sea buckthorn meringue that left us all in a post-coital stupor of feverish breathlessness.
London may finally have another 3 star restaurant – this is nothing short of it, or any other accolade in the culinary world.
Thank you Simon.