Roganic, London

No, someone hasn’t misspelt ‘Organic’. The problem is that everyone’s eaten there. Everyone’s talked about it. Everyone’s dreamt about it and whatever else everyone has done after it, I’m not that keen on knowing. The fact of the matter is that there’s always two sides to every story. Mine starts with a phone call. A phone call from a contact made years ago. A phone call, late one night in November…

An unknown number. I hate unknown callers. Nevertheless, if it was a bogus marketing call, I thought I might as well have some fun with them this time before blocking the number forever from my phone (oh yes! that too, my dear readers, is possible thanks to Kaspersky Anti Virus software for my Android phone – with the super ability to block phone calls and messages!). It was a voice I didn’t recognize, but one that obviously knew me. Turns out it’s an old workmate from my time at Galvin Bistrot DeLuxe. Jon Cannon – now manager of Roganic, the restaurant that’s been on everyone’s lips, in everyone’s bellies, and as it seems, out there! Jon had a trump card – he knew I’m on a sabbatical and they’d had a day where two of their staff had been ill. Now, I was quite pleased that he thought of me and immediately said yes to working a shift as I’d missed being in a kitchen and, well, seeing both sides of the pass is the best way to experience a restaurant!

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In the words of the mighty Leonard Cohen, “…and it goes like this, the fourth, the fifth…” and also the 1st, 9th and 10th!..My experience of Roganic over two evenings – one in the kitchen, one at the table.

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It’s 5.00 pm in Roganic. I’ve been helping Alex, the French pastry chef, in the pastry, making the soda and oatmeal bread for evening service. Andy, the sous chef, calls for dinner and I  grab a plate of sausages, vegetable stew and bread and troop upstairs to sit with Jon, Jack, Emily and the rest of the kitchen staff for a bit of family time, with conversation focussing mainly on restaurants we’ve all eaten at and restaurants we’re going to in the future, before promptly heading back into the pastry section and weighing up and preparing the bread mixtures for the next day.

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6pm, and Andy, the sous chef has beckoned me into the kitchen. I’m working with Aaron, the young Scottish chef on the main courses – him cooking the proteins (meat and fish), me doing the vegetables to go with them.

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The week after  my shift in the kitchen, I came for dinner with 3 friends of mine. What follows here is a blend of my evening in the kitchen and at the table.

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“4 ten course menu. One person no shellfish!”

Aaron explains all the dishes I’m meant to be cooking and garnish. I have a quick glance at the canapes that go out whilst I’m preparing the first course to land at my table.

Canapes
Bread
Porridge

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I had Chickpea cracker, cucumber mousse, a refreshing and light little melange of crisp, creamy flirtation that was quick to the finish, just before the bread arrived: Potato bread, soda and oatmeal, pumpernickel. Served warm with whipped Gloucestershire butter and sea salt. I won’t reveal the long list of ingredients behind each bread, but beware, it’s easy to get carried away and fill up on bread – don’t do it! Get some to take away for your brekkie!

Back in the kitchen, I’m scooping a few tablespoons of millet porridge for the Millet Pudding, mixing them with vegetable stock and whipped cream, Devon blue and seasoning. Burnt pair gets warmed up as does a bit of bone marrow. The pear, I find, to be not entirely representative of its name, contributing only a charred crunch, but kept in stern check with the fabulous grain porridge of millets and oats. Bone marrow, as it is well known, is a delight in any shape or form, whether it’s Noma’s caramels or Heston’s salad. Porridge goes on the pass as does the rest of the garnish. All plated, garnished, Jack & Emily bring the plates up to the restaurant and place them before our table.

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Smoked egg
Egg n ham
Mushrooms

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The egg course. Despite my disdain for egg dishes, this was by far the most palatable and exciting egg dish, bar NOMA, I have tasted this year. The Braddock White is a dugg egg, slow cooked for about an hour. The whites are then discarded, whilst the pristine, creamy yellow is carefully put away. A few curls of home-cured and smoked salt beef, pickled root vegetables and a good bit of foraged ox-eye daisy leaf before the dome is placed on the top and Ian, the senior chef de-partie fills up what can only be described as a ‘posh bong’ with wood chips. The pipe goes into the glass chamber and the plate arrives on your table where the waiters, in unison, lift the lid off and give your olfactory senses a whiff of applewood n pine smokiness.

Poached & grilled blue foot, pine, beetroot and rope green is not a family member of the abominable snowman! Blue foot is a dense and juicy mushroom that comes with a bit of caramelised mushroom puree and ‘mud’ – which is dried mushroom  powder mixed with a few other bits and pieces.

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Cauliflower
Potatoes in ash
Dab

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What I didn’t like about working in the kitchen was that I had to keep watching my head – it’s almost like a hobbit house down there! I get told that the cauliflower is away, so I grab a piece of the golden flower and the grilled lettuce that I’d cooked earlier and flash them under the salamander, whilst the chef prepares the plates with raisin puree and pickled cauliflower and crispy yarrow. I’m a huge fan of this vegetable in all its colours and the golden one is a winner!

I was talking to Aaron about how some restaurants use a lot of ash without it actually having any effect on the dishes when he told me they used it at Roganic too, but that the onion ash they used was actually delicious – the onions being baked to a cinder then ground and mixed with icing sugar and if I’m not mistaken, maltodextrin. He then promised me that when I came to eat, he’d send up this dish for me to try as I’m allergic to shellfish. Heritage Potatoes in onion ashes – so the ash had the flavour of onions with a little hint of sweetness. Impressive. Although, for my liking, it could have done with being a little less sweet and more smokey-oniony. Nonetheless, the crispy potato skins too were a personal favourite.

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A course or two before the Dab, Aaron covers the fish in a fennel salt mix and bakes it in the oven very briefly, until the skin can be teased off the fish. Then he fillets the fish and when it’s away, finishes cooking it. I on the other hand, am busy warming up the parsley root in duck fat, frying off the sprout leaves and cooking the baby leek. The garnish gets taken to the pass and plated before the fish arrives with the sauce. I personally didn’t think the fennel would come through the fish, but it did, and the Dab, a very underused piece of fish, is quite the champion!

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Pheasant
Chocolate and Pear
With the chocolate

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The main course gets called away and Aaron’s busy trimming the pheasant and caramelising it, along with frying off the pheasant leg squares. I’ve got the pickled onion petals to char, warm up the pumpkin which is shockingly orange. Aaron finished caramelising the pheasant, add the blackberries to the sauce and we take it all up to the pass where it’s finished and sent upstairs.

After our main course, Jon brings the first of our desserts – Warm Salted Chocolate, William Pear, Cobnuts and Atsina, surprisingly light and refreshing nibble – and how can anyone not love cobnuts?

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Billberries
Milkshake
Victoria sponge

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Back in the kitchen, I’d put together a recipe of lemon-thyme granita, forgetting to ask which dish it went on, but it was soon evident when it arrived on my table along with the yoghurt sorbet and bilberries and dried caramel – a thankful and refreshing end to a meal.

The petit fours were Pine Milkshake & cookie, Victoria Sponge with Rosehip Jam. Ben’s love for pine became all too evident here, having featured across the menu in various guises. For me the milkshake was too light on the pine front – I’d have preferred a stronger punchier forest effect coming through, while the sponges – the lightest you’d ever eat, are quite playful. Having made some with Alex the week before, I knew the effort that went into making sure they were perfect, to only appreciate them all that much more!

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Dinner service over, time for a clean down. Sponge, scourer, soapy water and elbow grease – scrub scrub the stoves till it’s looking polished, change containers, cling film everything, and we’re all good to go! Upstairs, we finished off our wine and moved on to mugwort tea and lemongrass tea whilst chatting away with Jon and Sandia, feeling satiated yet in control of our senses. For a kitchen that sends no less than 250 plates of food a night with 5 chefs, Roganic isn’t just experimenting. The front of house are charming, gregarious and more than happy to have a good chat without obstructing the mood on the table, and the food does speak for itself. Whilst I will be back soon, I’m also going to keep an eye out for Mr. Spalding over the next few years.

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Overall Experience: 9
Food: 8
Recommend you go: 9

Website
Roganic on Urbanspoon

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Square Meal

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