Interesting blog of a 26 course meal in UK..

The Underground Menu at L'Enclume 

On Sunday night the GF and I ate at L'Enclume in Cartmel. We signed up for the "Underground Menu", advertised as " No holds barred, no deviations" and running to as many as 26 courses. The chef Simon Rogan is possibly the most innovative chef in the UK, pushing forward concepts and ideas in molecular gastronomy more than anyone except Ferran Adria. It's safe to say that I was more excited about this meal than anything I've eaten since the Fat Duck.
 
 
Wednesday, May 09, 2007

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Cartmel is extremely rural, teetering on the edge of the Lake District National Park. It's famous for two things: its priory, and sticky toffee pudding. It would be a strange place to put a bleeding edge restaurant, except that the Lakes attract lots of tourists and weekenders from northern towns. We hardly heard a London accent all weekend.
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The restaurant has five rooms and also a small garden. It's practically under the eaves of the priory, on the edge of a small river. Our original supper was booked for 8.30pm, but when we upgraded to the Underground Menu we were asked to come at 6pm, in order to have an aperitif in the garden, and warm up for a marathon meal. The maitre d' explained that they serve the extended menu to only 2 or 3 tables a week. He stressed that when eating almost continuously (albeit in tiny portions) for 5 hours it's best to drink very modestly, in order to stave off fatigue.
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We obviously didn't need pre-dinner nibbles, but it was cashew nuts dusted with masala spices.
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The real opener was "Rehydration Dehydration", consisting of a thin fine textured biscuit tasting of pina colada, and a shot of foamy juice tasting like fig newtons. The pina colada biscuit seemed to have been really made by baking actual pina colada on an exopat at a low temperature, until just the pineapple and coconut fibres were left as a solid piece.
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This second course was called "Coney's Cornets". The cornet on the left had a sweet red pepper ice cream, with hundreds and thousands made from dehydrated pepper flakes. The right hand cornet I think was tarragon ice cream, with a block of gel shaped to look like a flake.
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This is "Lollipop 'perigourdine' and pickled onion turkish". The lollipop was a hard caramel of foie gras and truffles, reminiscent of fleur de sel and foie gras creme brulee, which is almost a standard on the Ile de Re. The turkish delight was really excellent too, with the sharp vinegar of the pickled onion cutting through the cloying powdery nature of the turkish delight.
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This was "Whim 03", and I think was one of the dishes that came semi-unplanned, off the cuff, as our menu evolved. It was the first dish that absolutely knocked me into a cocked hat for technical brilliance. The white block was an impossibly light, and yet completely sturdy marscapone foam, topped with salmon roe, on a bed of parsley puree. The pink powder was grated frozen tuna, which reminded me of freeze dried astronaut food. The white puree was grapefruit foam, with passion fruit seeds. This was a riot of contrasting textures, with absolutely surprising complementary flavours.
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"BBQ pig, cola, rasins, oregano". Small chunks of aromatic roast pork belly, with a coca-cola gel, raisins steeped in something mysterious, a thick mustard espuma, and a sprig of seaweed. This was a deconstructed version of Nigella's Ham in Coca-cola. Reworked dishes can be a let-down, with the new presentation adding nothing, but this was the sweetest best tiny piece of pork ever.
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This is "Cold and colder foie gras, blood orange, pistachio, quinoa". Cold foie gras slices, with foie gras ice cream on a pistachio and nori wafer. To get a Michelin star you practically have to serve foie gras, but surely the inspectors don't expect it frozen. The fine powder was camomile, which suggests that this whole dish might be a hat-tip to Heston Blumenthal's roast foie gras with almond fluid gel, cherry, and camomile . Anyway this was better.
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This was "Charentais melon, horseradish, smoke". It's an elaborate inversion of the expected ingredients. The green ball is not melon, but actually a perfect sphere of horseradish cream, with a crisp coat, similar to a chocolate truffle with a liquid centre. It was floating in melon juice/foam, dressed with drops of red salmon oil.
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"Cornish crab, black radish, ricotta, and gingerbread." The GF claimed she's seen gingerbread as a accompaniment to seafood before, but I was amazed. The white sauce was a pine nut infusion, and came in a separate test tube. The foam was plain ricotta, and the white diced vegetables were slow cooked radishes, leaving them translucent.
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This "Egg drop hot and sour soup", is a steal from Wylie Dufresne. I've previously conquered the technique , but I was still pleased to see it done it a real restaurant. The cup contains very hot soup, and comes with a syringe of semi-cooked liquid egg, secretly laced with transglutaminase. Squirting the syringe into the hot soup causes the egg proteins to coalesce as noodles. Despite the theatrics, the soup was a great authentic Hot and Sour soup, with plump quinoa at the bottom of the cup.
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The pace and invention of the menu is unrelenting. These dishes kept coming almost as fast as we could eat them. This is "Razor Role Reversal", featured in this video. Razor clams and chestnuts as a sort of soup with "croutons" in the egg shell, and creamy chicken in the clam shell. Again this was beautiful, intriguing, unexpected, and above all delicious. Up to this point the GF perhaps felt that technique was triumphing over taste, but the combination of chestnuts and razor clams won her over completely.
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"Greek meatball and textureless tzatziki" was utterly brilliant. In Decoding Ferran Adria , the great man talks about wanting food that tastes like itself. This was a perfect example of that. A fabulous juicy kofte meatball, with tzatziki foam. The added irony being that Cartmel is such a rural idyll, that it doesn't even have a kebab van.
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Although it looks as though I was too drunk to focus, I was actually suffering equipment failure. It's harder than you might think to surreptitiously photograph each dish is such a smart restaurant. This was "Diver scallops, joselito, peas agastache". They got bonus marks from me for serving something I thought I'd never heard of, but agastache is another name for hyssop. It was used to make the gel cylinders. The star of the plate was the "peas", which were actually pea puree, formed into actual pea shapes, using Adria's famous caviar technique . It uses sodium alginate to form a skin on individual drops of puree as they plunge into a calcium chloride water bath. I've played about with alginate endlessly, and it's next to impossible even under low pressure home cooking conditions. When I find the cash for El Bulli 2003-2004 , I may actually discover how to do it with any reliability.
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"Scottish langoustines, passion, sage, eggplant, yuzu". These two langoustines were topped with a sweet passion fruit foam. The yuzu was formed into gel blobs around the plate. I am little hazy on what else was going on, but there was a sage powder made using tapioca maltodextrin. This was off-the-wall inventiveness in terms of flavours, although the gels and foams, were seeming familiar, particularly having eaten at The Vineyard only 48 hours earlier.
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Another technical marvel in the form of "Butternut, sweet cicely and tonka". The butternut had been crafted into layers to make a ravioli. Whether this was done using a steady hand, or wizardry I don't know. The beans were actually kidney beans, with the rich tonka bean flavour being infused into the foam.
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"Sole, saffron, asparagus, mastic, carrots". Every ingredient made into either a gel or a foam to dress the sole, except for the glassy sheets, which were actually a rosemary caramel. Although the gel/foam combo had popped up again, this was rich and wonderful, and really successful. It was followed by "Five flavoured monkfish, pimento, lentils, hazelnut". My photo of this is somehow trapped in my broken phone. It was an incredible succulent monkfish fillet dressed with hazelnut foam.
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Between the fish and meat courses we got this palate cleansing "Ginger beer, galangal, cardamom". The ginger beer was whipped into an air, probably using lecithin, and ladled onto the galangal jelly.
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The single meat course (except for the foie gras and the ham, duh), was this "Beef rib, watermelon, liquorice, and perilla." It was a giant clash of techniques that had been showcased earlier. One little fillet was resting on diced watermelon, while the other was resting on a powder that was made from a mix of a rich beef stock reduction and liquorice. As a final show-off move, it was topped with a bone marrow gel. This was swiftly followed by the largest "cheese chariot" that I've ever seen, complete with an actual french "cheese sommelier".
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"Parmesan cake, white chocolate, celery, black olive", was the first pudding. It reminded me of a pudding being served at Bacchus, the "Black olive financier, roasted pear ice-cream, fig puree, pine nuts". Olives in a pudding is high-risk, as Sat Bains found out on Great British Menu, when Oliver Peyton called his "Raspberry sponge with black olive and honey puree, fresh raspberries and goats' milk ice cream", the "worst pudding he had ever tasted". At L'Enclume it worked well, with the strong olive and parmesan flavours tempered by the chocolate.
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The first and only punning dish was this "Expearamenthol Frappe". Espresso powder, on a eucalyptus foam, on a pear jelly. Once again a stunning combination.
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The penultimate pudding was definitely the technical summit of the meal. It was called "Stiffy Tacky Pudding". Each blob had to be eaten in sequence from left to right, chewing as we went, and not swallowing until they were all in. They were each a different component from sticky toffee pudding, some solid, some liquid, encased in a transparent gel, so they could be picked up by hand. This was flabbergastingly futuristic, like something from 2001 (the movie, not the year).
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This was "Blancmange in strawberry, verjus, basil, and sheep's milk". The blancmange was an artful strawberry and basil construction, topped with sheep's milk ice cream, and verjus foam. I was almost too fatigued to appreciate its intricacies, but there was also a lemongrass gel capsule, with a liquid centre, and what might have been a dehydrated "fruits of the forest" powder.
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Coffee came with these delectable petit fours.
I don't think there's a more exciting meal than this anywhere in the whole world, even in Roses. This was 24 flawless brilliant courses by a chef who is not just "at the top of his game", but somewhere out in front of his rivals. For me he's edging ahead of Heston and Ferran, because in addition to technical fireworks, and novel flavour combinations, he's also using predominantly local seasonal ingredients. What is even more astonishing is that the entire menu is changed four times a year. I can't wait to go back. Book now before L'Enclume gets overwhelmed with foodie pilgrims.

 

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