The journey from Manchester up to L'Enclume in the small village of Cartmel only takes about an hour and a half, but that time feels like Christmas eve, the sheer anticipation of eating lunch at the best restaurant in Britain is just so delicious. We arrived at our local B&B and despite the cold welcome there (Calsfell View, not recommended), it didn't put us off our step, we were in the restaurant by midday. If you do want the long 22 course taster menu at lunch time you need to get there before 1. It's a 4 hour marathon and we were in for the long haul, no half measures for us. If you go somewhere like this, you might as well do it properly. Thankfully we've been 'in training' for this for quite some time, so it was no breakfast and empty stomachs ready to be filled to the brim with the some of the finest food in the country.
We bagged a seat in the conservatory this time, in the corner where we like it. It's a bright clean space, if you've not been before you may be surprised at how casual it is, no stuffy tablecloths and silver service here. The service as you might imagine in a two Michelin star restaurant is impeccable without being over fussy. I especially like how they give you a proper glass full of wine rather than a thimble full, annoys the hell out of me elsewhere. Special mention must go to our waitress Jana. Some people have just got it; that natural extra charm which really adds to your experience as a whole and she has it in spades - she's a total star. I have a feeling she may be moving on to the new London wing of the Rogan empire.
This time we had a little tour of the kitchen. I say tour, it's really quite small, so we stood embarrassingly in the kitchen not quite knowing what to say whilst chefs Simon Rogan and Mark Birchall stood there getting ready for service. It's a bit weird, feeling like a visiting dignitary, but without a clue on what you're actually meant to do - yep looks like a kitchen alright - and those are two of the most skilled chefs in the country - so why can my brain not think of anything intelligible to say? (This would be relived in my stupid head a few times at 3am in the morning).
We returned to our table, and ordered a bottle of Alvarinho, Soalheiro from Portugal (£45, a bit more than I wanted to pay but what the hell I thought), and let it all happen:Taster Menu Friday 1st November 2103.
Oyster Pebbles. We remember these from our last visit, a true L'Enclume classic.
Langoustine, parsnip, black pudding, hazelnut and cured yolk. Exquisite.
The French in the Spring just to make it my most perfect meal. I would have preferred pork belly too.
Burnt pear, fromage blanc, beetroot, anise hyssop.
Blackberries and malt, perilla and pearl barley.
Meadowsweet, granny smith, sorrel and walnuts. Superb!
Celeriac, sweet cheese, woodruff. Douglas fir and apple.
The food at L'Enclume is in a league of its own we think; the combination of modern cutting edge techniques and extremely high quality local produce however means little unless the food all comes together on the plate. But it always does. This is not actually so easy to pull off as we've found when going to other restaurants that have promised but not quite delivered. That magic flavour intensity is missing even though the food may look beautiful and they're charging an arm and a leg for it.
This is the real deal; unique, visionary, idiosyncratic cuisine, and I've not even got onto the farm where they grow their own to have ultimate control over the produce they use. You see this in other world class restaurants such as Azurmendi and Noma, which L'Enclume is comparable to.
Simon Rogan and the team he leads are clearly exceptionally talented but also work extremely hard at their craft too, the results of this speak for themselves. (I think of them like a vintage Man Utd team with Ferguson at the helm but a lot calmer!) Manchester is really lucky to have not just one but two of his restaurants which in my book are the best two in the city.
L'Enclume the flagship we agreed was a complete three star experience, and it's ridiculous that it wasn't awarded a well deserved third Michelin star this time we think. It completely exceeded expectations even from our previous visit almost two years ago, and remains for us a very special place we hope to always be able to return to.
If you love food, you just have to make a pilgrimage here, it's as simple as that.
Atmosphere: Simple, casual, modern.
Star dish: Valley venison, charcoal mustard and fennel.
To see the photos in hi resolution see here.
Soundtrack: A dream goes on forever - Todd Rundgren.