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Review: We Head to Cumbria to Try The World's Best Restaurant

February 2024
Reading time 5 Minutes

Simon Rogan's L'Enclume is not only the first restaurant in the North ever to be awarded three Michelin stars, it's also taken the top spot in La Liste's global ranking of the top 1,000 restaurants in the world for 2024

This is the first time a UK chef has ever achieved this accolade. We headed over to the tiny Cumbrian village of Cartmel to check it out.

L’Enclume opened in 2002 in a former 13th-century blacksmith’s workshop. With a farm-to-table philosophy at its core and a focus on the ingredients grown at Simon Rogan’s farm in the Cartmel Valley, the produce-driven menu showcases locality above all.

For a restaurant with so many accolades, the entrance to L’Enclume is unassuming to the extreme. A low stone doorway with a discrete sign is all that alerts passersby to the presence of this celebrated spot.

There can be few people that come to Cartmel without knowing about Simon Rogan though. As well as L’Enclume the village is home to Rogan & Co, Aulis, and a Rogan shop, and throughout the village various buildings are given over to rooms and development kitchens, while Rogan’s farm (‘Our Farm’, as it’s known) is just outside the village too. So there’s really no need to shout about L’Enclume – it sits at the heart of Cartmel, and barely needs an introduction.

Once inside, the stone building opens out through various spaces to a garden at the back – French doors allow a view over the lawn and the river beyond, which meanders through a channel and beneath a pretty stone bridge. Apple trees, laden with fruit, hang heavy over the water.

Read More: Meet the Man in Charge of the Kitchen at L’Enclume

Michelin star food at L'Enclume

Examining the menu, we can see that we’re expecting a lunch of a mere 15 courses (several of which have more than one element), so the short version of this review is as follows: It is the experience of a lifetime and if you ever get the opportunity to dine here, you should take it.

The longer version starts with a crisp glass of zesty Exton Park blancs de blancs from 2014, which sets the tone nicely for our first few courses, which are served canapé-style. An aquadulce bean wafer with horseradish vinegar and herbal oil is a stupendous start, and it’s followed by a rich, smokey and crisp fritter of Duroc pig with a hint of smoked eel, lovage and sweetcorn. Hot on the heels of this crunchy morsel is a soft and sticky mini Berkswell pudding with caramelised birch sap, topped with a generous amount of aged Berkswell.

Our first ‘starter’ (not that such terms make much sense in this context) is a small work of art: delicious raw Orkney scallops with whey sauce and blackcurrant leaf are hidden beneath delicately-arranged, leaf-shaped pieces of passandra cucumber.

This super-fresh plate makes way for a rich dish of Pink Fir potatoes cooked in chicken fat, with pickled walnut and Park House cheddar. The balance of flavours here is really something else – it’s little wonder that among a stellar line up, this is the dish Executive Chef Paul Burgalières picks out as his favourite. It’s served with warm rye bread, with an unctuous caramelised onion butter, and small pops of crispy chicken skin add texture and bursts of buttery flavour to the potato dish, which my partner says is like ‘the best leek and potato soup you could imagine’. He’s sort of right, but that doesn’t really do justice to the depth and flavour in the dish.

It being 1pm on a Friday we’ve decided not to go for the whole wine pairing. Instead, I ask the sommelier to select a couple of glasses of his choice for me to sample as we go along – my theory being that in a place like this everyone from the kitchen porter upwards knows more about wine than I do, and therefore the sommelier can certainly be trusted to pick something not only delicious, but which complements the food perfectly too. He has just one question before he brings me his first choice – would I like something traditional, or something more ‘off-piste’?

‘There can be few people that come to Cartmel without
knowing about Simon Rogan though. As well as L’Enclume
the village is home to Rogan & Co, Aulis, and a Rogan shop’

Obviously, I go for the off-piste option, and his first choice is Jura L’Etoile blend of sauvignon and chardonnay, apparently an unusual wine which not many people make (and in this case it’s actually been made by our sommelier’s uncle). Nepotism be damned – it’s a fabulous choice.

Next, a smooth seaweed custard with beef broth and bone marrow is topped with a blend of caviar and Malden oysters, and goes straight to the top of my partner’s chart. Thankfully this is followed by a dish which is packed with crunch and freshness, the restaurant’s ‘Aynsome offering’, sourced from Rogan’s farm down the road. We’re told there are 25 elements to this dish, from courgettes and tomatoes of various hues, to tiny sweet roasted vegetables, herbs, flowers and a soft yolk at the centre, and I love each and every one. Even something that appears, at first glance, to be ‘a fancy salad’ turns out to be much more than the sum of its parts.

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After this fresh interlude we’re presented with savory-brined Greyhound cabbage and grilled hen of the woods, with fermented vegetable juices and elderflower, finished with a more-than-generous grating of Welsh truffle. Our next, more delicate course is served in a heavy, stone-like dish perfect for picking up in one hand while you spoon out the contents – Cornish crab with half-dried gardener’s sweetheart tomatoes, sunflower seeds and nasturtium. Alongside the crab is the second of my ‘off-piste’ wines, which actually comes from a winery in Kendal. Northern Wine’s ‘Yeasty Boy’ is alarmingly orange (I’ve had bad experiences with orange wine) but I shouldn’t have worried – our sommelier assures me he only agreed to serve wine from Kendal on the proviso that it was good enough, not just because of its proximity to Cartmel.

Michelin star food at L'Enclume

Our dishes of grilled Cornish monkfish are served with bay shrimp butter, sticky tomato molasses, crisp kale leaves and fermented shrimp. A verbena tea is then poured over the dish at the table, melting the butter into the more-ish sauce. As a final flourish for the savoury courses, we’re served dry-aged middle white pork from Huntsham Farm, with rainbow chard, grilled alliums, and pork and mead sauce. As if that weren’t enough, this comes with neat little pork fat crumpets for mopping up the sauce.

Our first dessert actually veers more towards savoury than sweet – frozen Tunworth cheese is hidden beneath a malt crumb, with preserved blackberries and lemon thyme. Next, presented in delicate, billowy porcelain made into the shape of miniature sacks, a sweet Cicely cake is layered with yoghurt cake and tiny strawberries, topped with sweet herbs and flowers.

Finally (or so we think), comes the one dish on L’Enclume’s menu that does not change. It’s chocolate, topped with L’Enclume’s iconic anvil emblem, concealing set caramel mousse, apples, and apple juice with brandy. It’s a tribute to the building’s former life as a blacksmith’s workshop, and to the apple trees which overhang the river in front of us.

It’s not over yet though. Even after 14 courses (and counting) I’m unable to resist the offer of cheese, which is wheeled over to our table on a gorgeous, specially-made wooden trolley with all sorts of clever compartments and shelves. Alongside oatcakes and snappingly-thin fruit crackers we sample various cheeses, including an Irish Cashel blue and a Baron Bigod which has had the L’Enclume treatment, and been stuffed with mushrooms before being left to age into a ripe, rich, meltingly soft delight.

Read More: Discover the North East and Yorkshire's Michelin-Star Restaurants for 2024

Finally (really this time), four delicate petit fours, including ‘mint stones’ which taste like the best Kendal mint cake you’ve ever eaten, and look very genuinely like small pebbles. After 15 courses my partner is in need of coffee, and here we find a perfect example of what sets L’Enclume apart. The coffee is brewed in front of us, each step explained and demonstrated in detail (right down to the exact temperature of the water for the best results). All this fuss for a cup of coffee to keep him awake on the drive home? Well yes, but it’s worth it for ‘the best cup of coffee’ he’s ever had in his life.

This kind of restaurant (and this kind of menu) can seem daunting if you’ve never been anywhere like it before. But honestly: there is nowhere like L’Enclume, and if you go, you will be made welcome, put at ease and have a culinary experience you’ll never forget. To have the best restaurant in the world within a couple of hour’s drive, and not to visit, would be to miss out on the experience of a lifetime.

Cartmel, Cumbria

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