Restaurant reviews

Roganic - silly name, stunning food

To tell the truth I wasn’t sure what I was going to make of Roganic. I’m not mad about molecular gastronomy or multi-course tasting menus these days and it sounded as if owner Simon Rogan and his chef Ben Spalding were ardent exponents of both. It had polarised critics and bloggers who loved it or were irritated by it in equal measure. Certainly the name is a bit naff.

It’s been set up as a long term pop-up (if that’s not a contradiction in terms) by Rogan whose main base L’Enclume in Cartmel has long had a reputation as one of the most experimental restaurants in the country. The main room, is small, modestly furnished, wood panelled in a sober slate grey - more modern bistro than fine dining. Well that was a relief for a start.

Rogan also seems to have left his foams and drizzles behind him in Cumbria - or maybe he’s moved on there too. The food is fashionably Noma-esque in its reliance on foraged ingredients but drawing heavily on the tastes and traditions of the English countryside.

There were, alas, 10 courses* but once the meal kicked off they were so many intriguing combinations of tastes and textures, so many ludic touches (including a gin and tonic sorbet served on a flattened Gordon’s bottle - right) it was impossible to get bored.

And my goodness some of them were good - even familiar combinations like goats curd and beetroot where the latter was reduced to a supersoft velvety pure (above) just firm enough to hold the shape of the flower-shape it had (presumably) been extruded into.

Rogan is particularly good at working in the bitter tastes that many chefs steer clear of - present in many of the wild plants he uses, his use of pickled vegetables but also in more challenging dishes such as scarlet ball turnip, smoked yolk, sea vegetables and wild mustard (a good deal nicer than it sounds). That made the German riesling we ordered to drink through the meal - a 2009 Donnhoff Riesling Kabinett from the Nahe which I'm pleased to see you can buy in Majestic - an inspired choice.

There’s also a probably unhealthy amount of salt in the menu, particularly in the heritage potatoes in onion ashes, lovage and wood sorrel (potato heaven) and a umami-rich dish of monkfish with ‘chicken salt’ and mussels (right) but hey, who cares about blood pressure when food tastes that stunning?

Invariably with that degree of experimentation not everything is going to be to your taste but there was only one dish I didn’t like - a cube of warm spiced bread with buckthorn curd and smoked clotted cream which tasted weirdly like bacon - too savoury and too rich after nine courses. It would have been better to finish on the preceding dessert: a stunningly pretty, aromatic dish of sweet ciceley with strawberry, buttermilk and verbena (below) that evoked fresher sunnier days than the muggy grey weather that passes for our English summer.

Two other great courses: a mound of delicate flaky crab and mallow cream with squid and cucumber that somehow managed to incorporate a delightful crunch and a plate of full-flavoured Cumbrian hogget (one year old lamb) with artichokes, sweetbreads and fat hen, a rather more customer-friendly description than the chenopodium which was originally on the menu. Signs that Rogan is adjusting quickly to the more critical diners he has to deal with in London.

Service is also apparently more relaxed since my colleague Matthew Fort commented on its formality though I could still do without the reverential announcement of ingredients as each dish is presented - impossible to follow, leaving you with a vague sense of guilt that you’re not paying sufficient attention to what you’re eating.

But I liked it. A lot. The second great meal in a week (the other being at The Ledbury) and further proof, if proof were needed, that London is a hot gastronomic destination.

Roganic is at 19 Blandford Street, London W1U 3DH. Tel: 020 7486 0380

I ate at Roganic as a guest of the restaurant. If you don’t fancy the 10 course menu at £80 - as you may well not at lunchtime - there’s a six course menu for £55 and a simpler 3 course one for £29. With bigger portions I’m assured.

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