Thursday 7 November 2013

L'Enclume, Cartmel.

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.
Artichoke with truffle.
Squid, chicken, ricotta. A new dish only introduced to the menu on that day I believe. It was totally stunning. Loved the crispy chicken skin!
Smoked eel with ham fat. Mrs Bacon moved one of these before the photo was taken and almost scoffed it, I had to tell her; put it back! She did so without the precision of the kitchen!
Ragstone, malt, tarragon. They just kept coming!
Raw scallop, sea fennel, caviar, rocket. Wow!
Pigeon with offal ragout. Mrs B isn't normally keen on pigeon, but we both enjoyed this one.
Butternut, shrimp, mace. Mrs Bacon really liked this one, I couldn't quite 'get it'.
Cod 'yolk' with watercress, salt and vinegar. Another winner.
Gorgeous bread, butter and pork fat. The bread is hot, not just warm, but hot from the oven. It is just so morish, needless to say extra needed to be ordered.
Beetroot broth, westcombe dumpling, and nasturtium. Despite my general antipathy to beetroot, which is now waning, I loved this too.
Valley venison, charcoal oil, mustard and fennel. Our star dish and one of the best things I've ever eaten. Mind-blowing! This is what it's all about for me.
Langoustine, parsnip, black pudding, hazelnut and cured yolk. Exquisite.
Potatoes in onion ashes, lovage and wood sorrel. I liked it, it's very Rogan-esque but it wasn't quite love, but you're never going to favour each course equally when there are so many.
Butter poached brill with razor clams, radishes, elderberry capers.
Aged Dexter, cabbage, mushrooms salsify, dittander. This was rather surprisingly the only course we weren't blown away by. We liked it of course, but after some of the other dishes it didn't quite wow us in comparison. I know it's the wrong time of year but I was really missing that amazing lamb I had at The French in the Spring just to make it my most perfect meal. I would have preferred pork belly too.
Extra Cheese Course. Including the most intensely flavoured goats cheese; Bobbin from Wigton, Cumbria. Mrs B said it was too strong for her, so I teased her that she was a lightweight as she was 'wimping out at the final (extreme) hurdle'. She wasn't having that of course and promptly tried some more and 'got into it'. Not for the mild cheddar lovers this one! 
Dessert Wine and tea being prepared.
Iced coltfoot cream with butternut, mint lactose.
Burnt pear, fromage blanc, beetroot, anise hyssop.
Buttermilk custard with caramelised quince, rosehip, muscovado, honey oats. Superb.

Blackberries and malt, perilla and pearl barley.

Meadowsweet, granny smith, sorrel and walnuts. Superb!

Celeriac, sweet cheese, woodruff. Douglas fir and apple.
So there we have it. Over four and a half hours later, slightly inebriated and £120 each (plus various wines) lighter, we paid and left for a little village pub crawl (this was enjoyable at the time but would prove to be a painful mistake resulting in a terrible hangover the following day.)
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.
Price: £120 per head for the taster menu. Well worth it.
Service: 3 Michelin star level - impeccable. Especially Jana.

Atmosphere: Simple, casual, modern.
Food: Excellent.
Star dish:
Valley venison, charcoal mustard and fennel.
Score: 9.5/10.

To see the photos in hi resolution see here.

Soundtrack: A dream goes on forever - Todd Rundgren.

L'Enclume on Urbanspoon


  1. Beautiful beautiful beautiful....Love the place.
    Funny how all the foody geeky bloggers go for the Beetroot pour shot ha ha...myself included.
    Top marks BOTB , lovely post.

    1. Thank you sir, means a lot. Sadly we didn't make it to your recommendation the Drunken Duck for reasons above (too hungover).

  2. Good to see the beautiful St James on the cheese trolley, we bought a massive chunk from the cheese shop around the corner :D