One really wants to love this place. The front of house team (Jonathon, Sandia and the others) are absolutely charming and enthusiastic. They genuinely believe in the project and they genuinely want you to be happy at Roganic, Simon Rogan’s (of l’Enclume fame) very recent London opening with Ben Spalding at the helm.
The very fact that it’s hard to describe all the dishes one by one demonstrates the complexity and uniqueness of the culinary experience: many ingredients, many unusual ingredients, many original ideas. Many dishes in tiny portions that articulate an itinerary to the special Rogan world. It’s partly a forced itinerary though, as you can only choose between a 6 and a 10 course menu (we’ll return to this issue at the end).
Some of these ideas strike us as less successful than others. A pear in a spelt dish is described by the waiter as ‘caramelised’, whereas the menu says ‘burnt’. Unfortunately the menu is correct, and we wonder why anybody who hasn’t some sort of ideological culinary point to prove would want to spoil a perfectly good, crunchy, delicate, spelt and grains ‘risotto’ with a hideous bitter burnt taste – perfect, though, if you love free radicals 🙂
Other dishes were more impressive, like the famous heritage potatoes with onion ashes, lovage and wood sorrel where the harmony of flavours and textures reigns supreme.
An amuse of rosemary and chickpea wafer with aioli, chervil and flowers was also extremely well conceived and executed, and the combination of the salty notes of a Kentish mackerel with elderflower honey, and beautiful green vegetables, was delicious and a joy to behold.
But other times the execution was perplexing, like the monkfish with chicken salt and chard, in which the cooking of the fish was not up to what one expects from a kitchen of this level (the fish was unanimously judged dry at the table), and which contained a really excessive amount of salt. Lovely chicken and cockle reduction though (small friendly advice for the waiter: if you don’t remember what is in a dish, just say so, don’t invent – we had to check again with the boss Jonathon to confirm the composition of the sauce).
We liked our slow cooked hogget, with an accompanying sweetbread adding interest, though a friend at the table found his not as pleasurable as one expects from slow cooked meat.
We again touched highs with a dessert of excellent Sweet ciceley, strawberry, buttermilk and intense verbena and after that a beautiful and very aromatic “fir tree” foam.
The breads are made inhouse, and are good (pumpernickel, spelt, and potato and buttermilk). But the coffees must, must be improved! And the petit four too (rather dry muffin like Victoria sponge).
So ups and downs overall. But this is not so much the point, as some snags within one month of opening are not the end of the world. For us, the main problem was that while we were always interested, intrigued, amused and even educated, and we really rooted for them, we found it hard to fall in love with the whole concept. Perhaps it is the fact that when you have in the dish only a morsel of the main ingredient (and of the accompanying ones) it is difficult to develop a relationship with it. There was a slight sense of evanescence and lack of substance in pretty compositions which, we repeat, provoked in us interest, and pleasure too, but not the wows of the great powerful dishes that stay with you.
This is is obviously a subjective judgement, it’s our taste and we know that many food-lovers disagree. Roganic definitely brings novelty to the London food scene, and we are happy to have tried the experience. What a boring world would it be if there weren’t people like Rogan around.
But we also wonder if the formula that works at l’Enclume is such a great idea in London. The space here is not one for special occasions, the room small and reverberating noise, with the chairs not too comfy (Woman finding hers positively uncomfortable). How many people want to repeatedly spend three hours for a 10 course meal with no choice? Many people would just like to go to a restaurant after work and be able to choose a few dishes.
We think they are beginning to see the problem here. They started with just the 10 course at dinner, and now they have added a 6 course option (£80 and £55 respectively). They go out of their way to inform you that if you want some changes they’ll try to accommodate them (a return with friends at another table was served, we were informed, mostly different dishes from those on the menu). If you become a regular you might even go for a Saturday lunch and have only a couple of dishes. They emphasise that the menu is always different (yet many of our dishes look almost identical to ones we had seen on other reports). They are adamant that they don’t want to change who they are and what they stand for; yet they are already changing and we think they will have to change even more. We wish them good luck because, let us say it once again, they are really a great team that deserves success. We won’t contribute much to it soon, but we’d like to be back in a year or so, it is a unique place after all.