Roganic is the new London outpost of Simon Rogan’s flagship restaurant L’Enclume in Cartmel, playfully fusing his own name with “organic” (see what he did there?). It broadly follows the current fashion for putting foraged ingredients and vegetation centre-stage (cf Bryn Williams at Somerset House) – in some ways a creative constraint which, like poetry or a tweet, can ironically be more liberating. So the theory goes.
On my visit the restaurant was only at half capacity – it seems even a high-profile opening in a posh part of town isn’t sheltered from the current cold winds blighting the industry. It’s next door to Blandford Comptoir (which made Palate swoon last year) and opposite Daylesford (the Cotswoldsian bastions of organic produce) so there’s a fair bit of competition.
Once the five course mystery meal concept was explained to me, the waitress settled me in with a reassuring “let’s get you started”, like I was about to be strapped in for a bungee jump – and in many ways a meal at Roganic is a leap into the unknown. A printed menu is not forthcoming so unless you politely ask what the dishes will be, or pre-register an allergy or intolerance, you won’t know. One issue I have with this is it makes it mightily difficult to do your own wine pairing. This almost forces you to go with their own wine flight option – an option I often feel short-changed by in restaurants, and did so at Roganic (the glass with my main course had a lot of sediment in it and couldn’t be finished, even if using your teeth as a makeshift sieve). The wine list is OK, with an incline towards Austrian (perhaps they have buddied up with Newcomer Wines in Dalston?), but there’s a limited selection by the glass. Beer drinkers can at least rejoice that Anvil – Rogan’s very own pale ale from HQ in Cartmel – is available.
I was beginning to wonder if Rogan had found a way of tapping into my phone. Whilst I applaud him for his similar (and immaculate) taste in music, I’m just not sure this is the right setting to subject everyone to it
Proceedings began with a glass of Davenport, an English sparkling wine from Kent which won the Bronze Medal in 2017’s UK wine awards. I took in my surroundings whilst munching on two sublime amuse bouches (a beetroot tartlet and pickled kohlrabi respectively, the latter served on a pebble). The restaurant’s colour scheme reminded me of La Dame de Pic with its white against brown, grey and terracotta, and I noted the same retro wicker office-style chairs as Nuala. However, the unnecessarily bright lighting makes it feel like a furniture store in the 1980s and an Instagrammer on the next table hadn’t learnt to turn the flash off their phone.
The music is consistent with the 80s vibe. In the background, almost too audibly, an odd mix of INXS, Blondie, Depeche Mode and New Order played throughout. I was beginning to wonder if Rogan had found a way of tapping into my phone (more specifically, my playlists “Songs To Iron To” and “Dance Like Nobody’s Watching”). Whilst I applaud Rogan for his similar (and immaculate) taste in music, I’m just not sure this is the right setting to subject everyone to it. There’s a time and a place for everything.
As for the food, there is certainly an abundance of technical skill, but at times it feels a little too quirky or fussy for its own good. My abiding memory of the whole meal was the saltiness of it all: the butter with the bread (which the young waiter was too keen to take away), the salt-baked celeriac (well-cooked but not outstanding) and the pork belly were over-seasoned. As for the latter, this was at least counter-balanced by the sweetness of carrot puree, but the dish overall was far too dry. The same young waiter only poured over a dribble of jus and took away the jug all too readily, like he did with the bread. I would prefer to be able to administer my own jus, thank you very much.
And yes, the ice cream did taste of tree
Then came dessert: an intricately-made caramel apple tart with Douglas Fir ice cream. And yes, the ice cream did taste of tree. I asked the same waiter how it was made and he had no idea – he just gave me a tutorial in ice-cream making which didn’t really get to the heart of my enquiry. In the end the waitress explained how a piece of the bark is literally submerged in the milk to let the flavours infuse. Perhaps an idea that’s more sappy than savvy, I just couldn’t get the thought of toilet cleaner out of my mind. Alpine Fresh for dessert anyone?
A singular petit four of juniper fudge was a real highlight, as were the aforementioned amuse bouches, but it’s a little deflating when you realise you’ve forked out around £70 and the most memorable things you ate were the little freebies. The real sour note was discovering a shot of espresso is charged at £5 – espresso from a machine (I saw it when I popped to the loo). This is wrong. Just wrong.
So, all in all, a bit of a mixed bag. Despite good intentions, several elements are just not quite right, like a calculation that goes awry because you forgot to carry the two. Things can be rectified of course but I was a bit underwhelmed, expecting more from a chef and restaurateur of Rogan’s calibre.
5-7 Blandford Street
by J A Smith