When I heard of Roganic
opening I canceled my original dinner booking on Friday and booked a table there instead. I had heard and read very exciting things about Simon Rogan's food at L'Enclume
so when I learned he was opening a (temporary but relatively long-term of two years) restaurant in London I saw my chance to sample his food without having to trek to the Lake District and phoned to book a table and managed to get one of the last ones.
The restaurant on Blandford St. (about 150 yards up the road from L'Autre Pied so in excellent company) has an unassuming, green front, so much so that I walked right past it the first time. The restaurant itself is rather small (only 25 covers) with a front room and a small extension in the back with skylights. There are only placemats on the dark brown tables, which gives the place a nicely casual atmosphere. If there is one thing I can't stand in fine dining restaurants it's stiff white tablecloths with equally stiff waiting staff. At Roganic, the first are absent and the latter are anything but stiff. I received a very friendly welcome was shown to my table in the back overlooking the rest of the restaurant (which is great, some places put lone diners in a corner somewhere) and given the menu and wine list.
Now, here's the thing about Roganic: There is only one choice for dinner, the ten(!) course tasting menu (at least currently, I believe some other options are planned and lunch is either five or the full ten courses and there are vegetarian options for each). Helpfully, they left the menu on the table which was handy when trying to remember what exactly it was I was currently eating.
The equally friendly and helpful sommelier recommended a glass of nice white wine for me (which I can't remember now, must remember to take photos of bottle labels but the second glass was a Roter Veltliner
) and then the first treat appeared, a "chickpea and rosemary wafer":
This was a fun, light and crunchy bite that already hinted at what was to come.
Then, the bread and butter arrived, both made fresh and in-house, and the purpose of the large pebble on the table became clear: It's not for decoration but serves as plate for the scrumptious, fluffy unsalted butter. Genius, just like the bread: the pumpernickel is so unlike in texture to any other I've eaten. While the dark, malty flavour is typical, the textre is light and almost fluffy with a crisp crust. The other two (potato and sage?) are equally excellent. I think I could happily eat just bread and butter and call it a meal.
The first actual menu course was Broad bean and hyssop, fresh curds and beetroot
. Here was where the list of of the many things I'd never eaten before that evening started: hyssop (the thin stalks with yellow leaves). It's light and sllightly bitter, almost reminding me of chicory, and provided the crunch needed as contrast to the soft beetroot foam and curds. Light and fresh, this dish woke up your tastebuds.
The first stunner of the evening arrived next: Scarlet ball turnip baked in salt, smoked yolk, sea vegetables and wild mustard
. The star of this dish wasn't the crunchy turnip but the smoked yolk. This was cooked in the waterbath so set at the same consistency all the way through, soft but not runny, with a wonderful flavour. With the added crunch from the turnip, the green sea veg and slight kick from the mustard sauce, every bite filled your mouth with flavour that kept kicking in. Truly remarkable.
The first non-vegetarian dish was next: Seawater cured mackerel, orache, broccoli and warm elderflower honey
. What can I say? A perfectly cooked piece of fish with crackling skin, complimented by all things around it, not least the elderflower honey (collected in Regent's Park or so I was told). I'm not a big fan of honey and definitely not in savoury dishes but this was great, almost tart and provided the balance needed. Orache was another sea veg I hadn't eaten before, putting the count at four, as I'm sure there were at least two in the previous dish (more if you count the specific variety of turnip). Another stunner, definitely.
On to the meat: Shredded ox tongue, pickles and sourdough paper
. The warm, deeply meaty flavoured tongue was not really shredded but ground into a very fine paté, the crunchy "paper" was like exceedingly thin toast and the pickled veg were in light and crunchy contrast to the soft tongue. Genius.
Back to seafood with Flaky crab and mallow cream, young squid and cucumber
. With its freshness and subtle flavours, this was the perfect palate cleanser after the rich ox tongue. Wonderful. New things count: 5 (mallow, another sea veg).
Another vegetarian dish next and this one was a killer: Heritage potatoes in onion ashes, lovage and wood sorrel
. Despite sounding relatively simple, this was full of flavour, warm, strong potatoes, smoky oniony powder and crunchy herbs. So so good. Best potaotoes ever. No doubt.
Back to fish, described as "the first main": Roasted brill, chicken salt, surf clams and rainbow chard
. The stunner here was the emulsion which wrapped the fish in a meaty film while leaving the flavour of the fish and clams intact. I have no idea how this works but it does and it was another favourite.
Meat again for the last main: Cumbrian hogget, artichokes and chenopodiums
, putting the new things count to 7 (hogget - from a sheep older than lamb but younger than mutton - and chenopodiums. The meat is slow braised for over 20 hours and comes apart touched. Lovely, strong flavour, with the accompaniments providing balance in texture and lightness. Very yummy.
When the plate was cleared away I was offered an extra cheese course which I accepted but asked to be served at the very end as early cheese isn't my thing and my request was happily accepted.
So, the desserts, starting with Sweet cicely with strawberry, buttermilk and verbena
which was sweet indeed but also tart and "green" so wonderfully balanced. Lovely. New things count at 9 (cicely and verbena).
The last dish on the menu
was Warmed spiced bread, salted almonds, buckthorn curd, smoked clotted cream
. Crunchy, crumbly and warm bread, fruity buckthorn and soft cream. In a word, scrumptious. New things count: 10 (buckthorn, at least something I'd heard about when Nathan Outlaw cooked with it on Great British Menu a couple of years ago).
It wasn't over yet, though because something else came along: Cherry Soda and Marshmallow
. Very tart blitzed up cherries and a soft, sweet marshmallow. On their own they would have been too strong but combining a bite of marshmallow and a sip of the soda was perfect. This put another huge smile on my face and I asked for a spoon as I didn't want to leave anything behind, just as I often used a bit of bread to mop up the juices on the plate.
Finally, the cheese. There was a great choice on offer, all British and most types represented, including the mighty Stinking Bishop. A generous helping, too, it's rare you get that much to choose. Another star here was the gooseberry chutney which was just awesome. I suggested they should put it in jars and sell it, I would certainly buy one.
So, this was it, almost three and a half hours after taking my seat I had had 13 courses and a truly remarkable experience, both in terms of food and service. All the people serving me were friendly, gracious, very knowledgable about the food they were serving and happy to answer any questions. They were also clearly delighted seeing me enjoying myself so much. I wasn't the only one to enjoy it, either. There was a rather lively table of four in my room who chatted away between courses but when the food arrived they were just as stunned as I was and ate in complete silence after a few excited initial remarks like "This is the best broad bean I've ever eaten!" which underlines exactly what the food at Roganic is about. The dishes aren't just one main, expensive ingredient with a few accompaniments but all the elements shine equally.
None of my descriptions can do it justice and you have to try it for yourself. It's not just me who thinks that, all the reviews I've read so far contain similar remarks. Steve Groves, Masterchef Professional winner last year and sous chef at Roux Parliament Square said on twitter "Food this good hurts my head
.", Daniel Clifford, two-star chef at Midsummer House said "what a real gem in London
" (he was there when I left, with Kenny Atkinson who were in London because they appeard on Saturday Kitchen the morning after). High praise from high class chefs indeed and they are probably the most difficult people to please.
If you want to visit, be quick because this is going to be a very busy place indeed. Even more so than now that not that many people know about it. Also, I was lucky to get a table during the "soft opening" with a nice discount deducted from the final bill. When it is running at full pace, the 10 course menu will set you back for £80 and the five course lunch menu for £40. With two glasses of wine, the extra cheese course and 12.5% service, my bill ran to £90 which I was very happy to pay.
On my way back from the gents' (two glasses of wine and a bottle of water had taken their toll) I walked past the open kitchen door and had a brief chat with Simon Rogan, thanking him for the wonderful food.
I left with a huge smile on my face and a spring in my step, despite being rather full. The individual portions are small but 13 courses do add up and the bread is just too yummy not to constantly nibble on (and will be replenished throughout the evening). I didn't even need breakfast the next day.
So, Roganic offers food that is out of this world (while being locally sourced) and impeccable service, too. I felt very welcome from the moment I walked in until I was shown out afterwards, without being overwhelmed. It is really hard to believe they had only been open for a week when I was there.
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