[Cartmel, Cumbria] Rogan & Co.
Our first stop on a camping trip to Scotland, so my memory of it is least solid.
(We decided against L'Enclume because we didn't think we'd be able to roll ourselves back to our tent after the tasting menu.)
Great location right next to the river in pretty Cartmel. We arrived after spending the day walking, in our rain jackets and walking gear and no one batted an eye.
Starter: a fragrant wild garlic and nettle soup with Mrs Kirkhams cheese. We'd passed huge drifts of wild garlic on our walk, so this was definitely in season and easy to get locally! This was good- the cheese seemed like it would have a "squeaky" quality, were it not in soup. I liked it.
Main: I asked for veal, but they brought the wrong dish. Promptly fixed, with Himself's plate taken away and a fresh one brought out with my veal. I expected the veal to be tenderer and softer, but I can't really complain- this was cooked perfectly.
Dessert: Strawberry soup. This *smelled* like the best strawberries you've ever tasted. But it tasted like "strawberry flavour", rather than strawberries. Weird, and didn't work for me.
(Himself has totally forgotten what he had. I remember he had the cheese course, which seemed like a huge amount of cheese.)
Had a chat with one of the waiters at the end of the meal. He asked whether we were going to eat at L'Enclume as well. Apparently, a huge number of people do both, taking advantage of their offer of rooms + meals at a set price.
Visit number two to Rogan's mid level restaurant. I'd say this time it was 7 for food (9 last) and 8 for service (5 last!) The latter being solved by the replacement of the pink, stressy Maitre d' with the charming and unruffled female FOH, and the fact we'd waited 40 minutes before ordering, whereas this time we had nibbles within 15...But food was surprisingly hit and miss.
Amuses included fish crackers with a pea and lovage mousse (yum) and radishes with an apple marigold emulsion and barley puffs (decorated with what looked very much like micro cannabis leaves!) Two choices of warm bread rolls.
Starters proper were mackerel in coal oil with watercress, kholrabi and an oyster emulsion. Pretty and delicate, the mackerel just wasn't very mackerel-y, and it was over salted. And then venison carpaccio with beetroot (gel and crisps), walnut and wood sorrel. This was over peppered.
My main was wonderful. Middlewhite pork belly with cockles, celeriac and coastal greens, all in a lick-the-plate thick jus. Himself had crab baked hake with chard - a bit dry, and one note.
Pre-dessert was an apple, chestnut and burr nut ice cream (nice enough) and then I had roast pineapple with shiso and gingerbread (lovely) and himself a nicely stored selection of cheese (Kidderton Ash goat/Wigmore/Tunworth/Wensleydale/blue).
Happy we went, but it wasn't the OMG this is AMAZING value experience we'd had before (though I did enjoy sitting by the pass - they're so serene!) I missed the smoked haddock scotch egg amuse, and maybe also Rogan's guiding eye?
We went to Cartmel for a weekend a couple of weeks ago and ate at Rogan and Co. on the Friday night. It was different from the only other time we've been (more than two years ago), in that it now does food which has moved slightly towards the L'Enclume style, whereas before it was more of a 'normal' modern English bistro style place. Prices were quite a bit higher too.
Overall, it was great, but with one or two misses. The amuses were fab - ham hock croquettes were lovely, with an English mustard emulsion and prawn crackers with something lovely on (can't remember what it was). Both were divine.
Starters were mixed. I ordered a dish with crab, charred cabbage leaves and chicken scratchings. I thought it sounded great, but it was a bit underwhelming, and a real disappointment after the amazing amuses. The crab was a bit bland - not very crabby - and the chicken scratchings tasted stale! It was very odd - there was that unmistakeable flavour of something that has been in a jar a bit too long - so if they do them in advance (maybe once or twice a week?) they should make them more often. The other starter was good - cured pollock with pickled vegetables. Beautiful delicately cold-smoked fish - my only complaint was that the pickles were very sweet - I like a bit more of a lemony zing. Actually, sweet pickles became a bit of a theme over a weekend of Simon Rogan (see my Pig and Whistle review on that thread).
The mains were top notch - a really good lamb dish and an equally good guinea hen one. Each came with winter veg - one with parsnip, the other with celeriac. All perfectly cooked and with very good sauces/gravy.
The pudding I had was ok - I can't remember the details, but it was rhubarb and ice cream, and I think, from what the menu said, I was expecting brioche with brown butter. - which sounded like a brilliant combination of flavours - but it came with a brown butter biscuit, which was a bit disappointing. the cheese selection which my husband ordered was great - all in perfect condition.
So - a very good meal and a decent wine list which doesn't have to break the bank. The staff were lovely too. I'd go again - but there were one or two bum notes.
Ah, well, the chapter that was Rogan & Co can now be closed. For me at least. From a business perspective I think Rogan has done the right thing: it is now very much 'just' a decent brasserie. There's no way with his Roman-tentacled empire he could have maintained the previous early standards. But I just feel a little sad, and wish we'd been told!
It was all 'fine', and some of it was actually jolly good - especially a starter of fried oysters on a kimchee puree - but it just doesn't contain any surprises any more, and has lost the treat/special occasion factor. Tellingly, the amuses bouches which had amused my bouche so well previously have now been replaced by a bowl of spiced popcorn. Which says it all really.
NB on conversation we also found out he'd sold the Pig and Whistle in Cartmel, so unlike Blummenthal's Bray, L'Enclume really is the only standard-bearer here. I am not one for uttering Cassandra-like prophecies of doom about abandoning his Lake District roots - the rural pantry and austere style which gives him gravitas and credibility - but...
re: helen b
I'm going to put your "but..." on hold. At least until Fera gets a second star.
I have a sense (and it is no more than that) that he has sort of abandoned Manchester, at least by way of him actually cooking there. It is not what it was. That said, there's to be a brief closure in August to allow for some modifications whihc will allow four more tables. Hopefully, that will be in readiness for the Michelin * arriving this year but I wouldnt be holding my breath - like many from this area, I remain a conspiracy theorist that Michelin has a down on the city and will never give us a starred place, however good it might be.
re: helen b
I'm pleased they've done this. The first time I went, it was under the "very decent brasserie" category - a really good meal and nice informal atmosphere. The second time we went, which was early last year, it was still excellent, but it had changed its style to "L'Enclume-lite" - in terms of menu, presentation and service. Prices were also much higher than before.
I thought this was a shame, as I think the village needed exactly what they were doing before - for locals, but also for people coming up for a Rogan weekend who may prefer something simpler on the night they're not in L'Enclume. So the question is - have the prices been reduced to reflect the changes?
It's sad that they've given up on the Pig and Whistle - last year they served one of the best roast dinners I've had.
Prices still seemed the same (but ok). I think, given the 'dumbing down', they could even go a bit further. Think the amazing pies and triple cooked chips etc at the Hind's Head/Crown & Anchor. There was a couple next to us who were on some sort of L'Enclume deal so had just done the lunch marathon there, and were then picking at their similarly flower-strewn tea. I bet they would have lapped up a bowl of chips and a scotch egg!