Tuesday, 7 May 2013

All you need is Lovage - Roganic

19 Blandford Street, W1U 3DH

I have to admit the timing of this review is not the most convenient, but then how many times do you visit a restaurant knowing it's going to close in 6 weeks? Having occupied its space on Blandford Street for the past two years to great success and spawning a very promising career for Ben Spalding (check out our reviews for the now defunct Ben Spalding at John Salt and StrippedBack for more) in its wake, we decided to try the 3 course lunch menu (£30, £35 with wine pairings!) whilst I still had my chance. 

Roganic is the ''sister'' restaurant (or is that pop-up?) of L'Enclume, the highly regarded 2 Michelin star Lake District restaurant where ingredients are sourced from their own farm. Some of the ingredients at Roganic are similarly sourced but of course as logistics dictates, some of it comes from London's produce markets. Post-Ben Spalding, Andy Tomlinson (ex-L'Enclume, Pollen St Social) has been heading up the kitchen.

First up, we were brought over a couple of menu extras, including a whole extra course. The first dish up was really an archetypal Roganic dish, consisting of cheese crisps, with dots of wild garlic mousse and edible flowers. I haven't really found any strong flavour profiles from edible flowers, but they did make the dish look incredibly beautiful (that's the point I suppose). The cheese crisps were probably the most subdued flavour, especially compared to the wild garlic mousse, which was much more potent and right in season to boot.

The next amuse-bouche was much better in my opinion, a couple of pork and eel croquettes with a hay emulsion and sitting on a bed of smoking hay. I really liked the flavours here, the croquettes were really delicately battered, allowing the deliciously rich flavours of the filling to come through. The smoked hay was also a fantastic touch as it gave a nice aromatic edge to the dish as well as looking brilliant at the table too, billowing out of the mini cocotte that it was served in.

We were then given three different types of bread; wholewheat and ale, rye with pumpkin seed and onion and thyme. This really reminded me of the bread we had when we went to Ben Spalding at John Salt; the influence of his experience here was really striking at times. I can't say any of the breads were particularly remarkable but if I had to pick a favourite it was the rye and pumpkin seed one. Richly flavoured and freshly baked, it was a good rye bread.

The breads were served with live butter. I'm not sure what this was exactly but the lactic acidic taste made me think that it had some sort of live culture of bacteria. I don't think either of us particularly loved the taste, and would have preferred something a bit more orthodox with the freshly baked bread. It's not necessarily a bad idea, but I remember having an unpasteurized butter a few years back at Maze, which I have to say I enjoyed much more than this one.

The first course proper (and an extra addition to our 3 course selection) was the garden peas with their shoots, beef tongue, mint oil and sugar snaps. It reminded me of the '"Peas and Mint'' dish at Dabbous, except this one was perhaps even more beautifully presented, topped with a primrose flower. It almost pains you to take it apart. It was a really light dish, with each flavour being balanced excellently against each other from the salty beef tongue to the grassy pea shoots and refreshing mint oil.

The second course was the Sharpes Express potatoes (slow cooked) with onion ash and lovage. This was my favourite dish of all, and one that I didn't really expect to be so impressive. I couldn't imagine a dish involving potatoes to stand up on its own, but they were perfectly tender and paired with a roast potato puree, which was an amazing idea that I would love to try at home. The caramelised onions were surprisingly light, and sweet, whilst the onion ash added an interesting texture (if not really flavour) to the dish, similar to that of farofa on feijoada, the Brazilian stew. The lovage emulsion that came with it was surprisingly powerful, considering what a small amount was on the plate. Its celery and cardamom flavours were a great match with both the potato and onions.

The next course was slow braised ox cheek, roasted salsify, bone marrow, chargrilled tender stem broccoli and buttermilk foam (phew!). I wasn't as much of a fan of this course as the previous one as I did find it quite heavy. The ox cheek was tender, but surprisingly the fat didn't appear to completely melt, leaving some more solid texture to the slightly dryish meat. It really needed the buttermilk foam and bone marrow on the dish for that fatty moisture that you want from slow braised meat. The char grilled purple sprouting broccoli and especially the roasted salsify were much more enjoyable, but again these were side shows to the main part of the dish.

The first of the dessert courses was poached pears with pear puree, sweet cheese (similar to mascarpone), malted biscuits, gin and pine infused syrup and a carrot and seabuckthorn mousse. Even though the dish was quite simply presented, this was a very complex flavour profile. I must admit it was difficult to isolate all the flavours within this dish, but they did come together well.

The carrot and walnut cake, the final dish was good too, although I have to admit that I remembered it more for the wonderfully inventive honey and wine jelly on it than the carrot mousse and walnut cake. It was a nice end to the meal though, and by this chance we were really, really full. You certainly could not complain about not getting filled up for £30 here.

Overall the food was very, very good, even if I didn't find it as mindblowing as I thought I would. Of course, I'm sure that doing the full 6 or 10 course menu would have done Roganic far more justice, although I do worry that it would be a lot of food to get through, considering how full the 3 course menu left us. The dishes worked together extremely well as a tasting menu though and the wine tasting (consisting of flights of Spanish wine) was really well thought out and fantastic value at that.

Another thing worth noting about Roganic was the atmosphere we experienced. Due to the very small size of it, and it being a lunch time, it had a bit of a feeling of being a sort of ''temple of gastronomy,'' where foodies quietly munch away whilst either scribbling down notes or just admiring the dishes close up (they really are quite beautiful). For this reason, I don't think it's really a top choice for something like a raucous celebratory meal, but having said it probably does get the bonus romantic factor for that reason. Again, this was at lunch time though and I'm sure it is a bit more lively at dinner. Of course, the quality of food is always what comes first but again, it depends what you're going there for.

Based on all this, I would really love to visit L'Enclume one day as clearly Simon Rogan is deservedly a titan of British cooking at the moment. I think that in the end what is the greatest success of the Roganic venture, is that it is a great advertisement of what modern British cooking is at this moment of time. It is not really following any trends (L'Enclume has been open longer than similarly forage-friendly Noma) and, like Dabbous, has some very original flavour combinations using excellent seasonal British ingredients. Of course, predictably those flavour combinations are being copied left, right and centre in London but clearly the talent in the kitchen here is creative enough to keep pushing the envelope for years to come, wherever Simon Rogan chooses to pursue his talents in London.

Roganic on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Photos by Nathalie.


  1. Re. the quantities - having dined there before, I understand the restaurant tries to balance quantity and calorific content so that you have more (6 or 10) courses but each is slightly smaller than if you had only 3 courses so that you don't eat 10/3 times as much quantity if you have the full meal. Additionally, some of the volume comes from the "extra" course which are common to all meals.

  2. Ah right, thanks for clarifying that! Makes sense...great value in either case then!


Well, what you think?.......