Simon Rogan and the future of L’Enclume: “We want to take our guests on a journey”
The UK isn’t exactly the first country that springs to mind when it comes to gourmet conversations across Europe. Save for London, of course, one of world’s greatest cities for food. The tiny village of Bray, which is barely 25 miles away from Piccadilly Circus, has been the only exception to this dichotomy, boasting two internationally revered establishments a stone’s throw apart… until this year.
Last February the Michelin guide finally decided to turn the spotlight on the North of England, awarding the coveted three stars to Simon Rogan’s L’Enclume, a champion of seasonality and farm-to-table cuisine. A few days ago, the chef represented Britain at the Gastronomika food congress in San Sebastián, one of the cradles of gastronomy. We sat down with Rogan after he addressed the Kursaal’s audience to understand more about the impact of Spanish cuisine on his work and what the future holds for L’Enclume.
How do you like being here at Gastronomika?
They’ve given us the privilege to be here and be the theme. It’s an amazing conference. And how can you not be impressed by a place like San Sebastian, where so many three-Michelin-starred restaurants have popped up? It’s been instrumental to molecular gastronomy, though I’m older and wiser now – I can’t split atoms anymore.
Was the Spanish scene an influence for you?
The amazing avant-garde restaurants inspired me, especially between 2007 and 2010. It was going crazy here at the time of ElBulli. I’ve been heavily influenced by the techniques, the products, the molecular side of cookery. I got a little bit sidetracked with that, but we still use those techniques today.
Sometimes I wonder why these avant-garde chefs never made it to London.
It’s a good question, but why would you want to try something like that in London when you can easily come here an eat the real thing? Besides, some cuisines still haven’t really hit there. I worked my first job in a Greek restaurant and there still isn’t progressive Greek cuisine in London.
I want to know more about L’Enclume. How has it been post-pandemic?
It’s going really well. Every time we reopened after a lockdown waiting lists would fill up instantly, and even more after we got the third star in February. We’ve been through Brexit, pandemic, invasion, inflation, recession… how much more can we take? Thankfully Cartmel is a very happy place; it’s like a little bubble blocking the troubles out.
I can imagine the impact of the third star on your business, but what about the region – having that kind of culinary recognition up North?
Even when we had two, the Lakes started to be up-and-coming. Obviously, there were already good restaurants up there when I got there, but mainly in country house hotels. Everyone benefitted from our success; they would come to us and then eat at other restaurants. Visitors see the quality of life, they see the ingredients, the people, the beautiful scenery. They want a piece of that pie. Now we’ve got the most Michelin-starred restaurants outside of London. The scene is great, new restaurants are really knocking on the door and it’s only going to get better.
Can chefs dream of opening in the Lake District now, rather than just in London?
Absolutely, and it’s not even just the Lake District. London will always get the cream of the crop. There’s so much to do in London that people don’t venture out much, but that’s changing a bit. Roganic was our shop window in London to show what we’ve got and push people North. At the moment we have no appetite to do that, although in future I’d like to bring Roganic back. Besides, why would we want to open in the middle of a concrete jungle? Every now and again I go to Aulis, and by lunchtime I think: I need to get out, I need to go home. The traffic, the queues… The only thing I have to worry about in Cumbria is whether a load of cows is crossing the road in my village. It’s happened four times in the past two weeks – they go really slow! But you don’t mind that, do you?
Can you talk us through the creative process in your kitchen?
More often than not it starts from the farm, from what we are growing, maybe a new variety…
So you go to the farm, you see something you like and take it back to the restaurant?
It starts even before that – from the decision about what we are going to grow, at the beginning of the year. We are taking the creativity right back to the seed. We look at what we grew last year: was it good? Was it rubbish compared to other things we grew before? Did it fail? We are organic; without pesticides or treating the land to accommodate a specific vegetable, some things might just not work. It’s go to be natural. That’s where our creativity starts: we plan ideas around the ingredient and when it’s finally ready we take it to Aulis, where five or six of us sit down and work on ideas. Some are tossed in the bin straight away, a couple get explored for a week, the dishes are presented. Then, further tweaks or bin. It’s as simple as that. All the inspiration comes from the farm.
I’d like to hear your vision for the future of L’Enclume.
We want to create a whole new guest experience, a new flow and more space between the tables. Our plans are to make the restaurant bigger, giving it a new entrance, a new bar, a bigger kitchen: the same number of covers but more comfort. The building will go right out to the river, overlooking the river. There’s this trend of starting in one room with snacks: you sit there and move to the dining room. We want to take our guests on a journey.
Do you like that kind of format?
Yeah, otherwise you are going to sit at the table for three and a half hours. Some people don’t like that. I don’t want to keep them moving around either, but we want to give that option. Food-wise, we are very content with what we do. I wouldn’t want to change it, every chef should serve the food they like to eat. L’Enclume is famous for its “less is more” approach, concentrating on the ingredients, keeping the integrity of the flavours intact. We won’t bastardise a beetroot into something else, a really good beetroot will taste of really good beetroot.
Do you ever doubt yourself?
All the time! I doubted myself when I walked out to give the talk out there.
But what about your regular work?
Business-wise there are too many things I shouldn’t have done [laughs]. In the kitchen we are very confident, the team around me is in tune with what I want, we share the same beliefs, ethos. People say: “You got three stars now, how are you going to cope with the pressure to keep them?”. There is no pressure. We achieved them by what we did – that’s not going to change, it can only get better. The stars gave us the confidence not to deviate.
Was it always your ambition?
Yes. When I first opened L’Enclume I had two people in the kitchen. We used to go the pub and do the ordering for the next day from there, holding a pint. And we would say: “What if we got a Michelin star? Oh yeah!” And then: “But what if we got two?” It was so stupid. It was always our dream to have 10/10 on the Food Guide, five AA rosettes – and the three Michelin stars. That was my absolute ambition. I never thought we would get there, I have to say. But we have.
Filippo L’Astorina, the Editor
To book a table at L’Enclume, Cavendish Street Cartmel LA11 6QA, call 015 3953 6362 or visit their website here.