Friday, 23 September 2011

Roganic

Photography throughout courtesy of www.paulwf.co.uk
Although fully aware that in doing so I am laying myself open to accusations of being an oral examiner of equine gifts, I must admit that I initially declined a very kind friend's invitation to dinner at Roganic. For one thing, I hated the name, a vain, corny play on proprietor Simon Rogan's, to the same irrational extent to which I hate buskers and people who own folding bicycles. For another, I was put off by the cost - £55 for six courses or £80 for ten before even a drop of liquor passes the lips might not shock these days what with the cost of eating out in London soaring to record levels, but it still isn't exactly what I'd call affordable.

I was further turned off by the fact that Roganic is cringeingly styled as an 'extended pop-up' - Rogan having taken a two-year lease on a vacant site on Blandford Street in Marylebone - which irritated me even more than pop-ups do in general; part of the joy for me in eating out often is the sense that I will from time to time come across somewhere so good that I will want to go back again and again, and pop-ups are anathematic to this. Finally, I was afflicted by early-onset review fatigue; with everyone being served exactly the same dishes, within about a fortnight of Roganic opening I was so fed up of reading only subtly different takes on identical meals that the last thing I wanted to do was eat there myself.

Never one to take no for an answer however, my particularly persuasive pal Paul Winch-Furness crossed off all my objections (apart from to the name, which even I was able to see was not reason in itself to boycott somewhere): Cost? I'm paying, he said. Pop-up? That's as may be agreed Paul, but if you like it you can go back a few times in the space of two years, and if you really like it you can always visit its parent restaurant, L'Enclume in Cumbria. As for repetitious reviews, Paul pointed out that the week he had in mind to go would coincide with the first change to the menu since Roganic opened in early July. How could I say no?

To describe everything we ate - in addition to the courses served there are all manner of little extras, freebies and surprises as is to be expected in a restaurant playing at this level - would take almost as long as the four hours we were there, so I won't attempt to. One of Roganic's many strengths is the consistency of vision and creativity which runs through the whole menu, but this also means that some favourite techniques of preparation and presentation such as tuiles made of dried vegetable or fruit purees, or beds of crunchy crumbs used to contrast with smooth mousses or sorbets, were repeated during the meal and I don't wish to also repeat them here.

Better I think to concentrate on the meal's many highlights and to point out the few, but significant slip-ups that meant that what might otherwise have been a stellar meal was, on balance, only a notable one. The dishes that were good were remarkably good. Slow-cooked Clarence Court duck egg on a bed of barley flakes, drizzled with marjoram oil and paired with an unexpectedly complementary slice of crisp ripe apple was phenomenal, a fascinating - not to mention delicious - exercise in contrasting textures and depths of flavour. Pork and eel croquettes with sweetcorn 
crisps and a mustard-seed strewn sweetcorn puree were salty, smoky and intense, as well as being visually stunning (in common, it must be said, with just about everything, including head chef Ben Spalding).

A couple of courses which had the potential to dazzle were spoiled by kitchen carelessness. A giant Cornish prawn, brought to the table intact for our inspection before being split into three, stone-baked and served with lingonberries, crab meat, fresh horseradish and a brown crab puree, ought to have delighted but had not been deveined, which as well as being deeply unattractive for the diner struck me as being a terrible way to treat such beautiful produce. Roasted duck breast with gizzards, baby carrots and a redcurrant sauce was a joy to look at, elegantly simple, but mouth-puckeringly over-salted.


Everything else was very pretty, perfectly pleasant and not overly-fussy, but in many cases the dishes were memorable more for a particularly clever component than as the sum of their parts. Cured, smoked mullet - actually smoked on the plate, the lifting of a glass cloche releasing a powerful waft of woody smoke - was striking on the nose but a little bland on the palate. Vintage potatoes with lovage, dried potato skins and onion 'ash' was clearly intended to elevate two of our most staple, taken-for-granted veg to gourmet levels but only the crunchy skins  - essentially posh crisps - registered. A caramelised cauliflower purée which shared plate space with an otherwise slightly bland piece of roasted pouting was intensely, surprisingly nutty.

An optional extra course of British cheeses was as excellent as one would expect when supplied in prime condition from near-neighbour La Fromagerie. Deceptively simple desserts - two of them, each - impressed; the first, consisting of a bilberry tuile, fresh blueberries, bracingly tart yoghurt sorbet and a lemon and thyme granita was a perfect palate cleanser. The second, plum cake crumble topped with a white chocolate sorbet, 
interestingly and cleverly took things full circle by its inclusion of a granita of meadowsweet, the honey-scented flower which had flavoured the complimentary vodka-and-cordial cocktail we'd been given at the very start of the meal.

As well as the aforementioned cocktail, extras included a visually beautiful but forgettable canapé 
of squid ink crouton topped with a herby mousse and amarynth petals at the beginning of the evening and a bay leaf-scented shot of milkshake with a home-made jammie dodger after our desserts, before a final flourish of miniature raspberry Victoria sponges studded with popping candy. All were good fun.

The bread offering was superb, consisting of three different home-baked rolls  - among them a wonderful pumpernickel and honey - as well as a chestnut and thyme flatbread. The manner of service of 
Gloucestershire butter - hand-softened table-side with a wooden spatula before being smeared over a pebble scavenged from the beach at Folkestone - is either charming or intensely silly depending on one's point of view. I tend towards the latter.

If the food didn't particularly overwhelm me when all was said and done, two elements of the Roganic experience did stand out as being especially worthy of note and praise. First was the intriguing, imaginative wine list, ordered alphabetically to encourage considered browsing over instinctive hurrying to the bottom or top of the price range. From it we enjoyed a stunning Cantine Lonardo Taurasi from Southern Campania, every deep red fruit and leather-flavoured sip so volcanically smoky that it felt pleasurably like drawing on a cigarette. We also saw off a bottle of 2008 Voudomato, a Greek sweet red of such syrupy jamminess that it was more like a dessert than a dessert wine.

The other unimpeachable element was the service, from about the most professional, passionate and engaged staff as I can remember having experienced anywhere. The team has obviously been involved in the project from the outset, such that they know and care about how every ingredient came to be on the plate; it transpires that the many unusual flowers, herbs and fungi on the menu are foraged by the brigade's own hands on their days 'off''. If it was a little unsettling to observe the staff gradually leaving via the front (and only) door before our meal was finished, they'd been so attentive that it was impossible to begrudge their being stood down early once the latter, pre-prepared courses of the night had been served.


And so we come to the very important questions of what this all cost, and whether I would recommend it. As to the first, and as previously mentioned, the cost to me was nothing, Paul and his other guest - the delightful but sadly married Florian Siepert - having very generously treated me. But with our ten courses, three bottles of wine, additional cheese course and service, the bill must have come to near on £500. Even with Paul having bartered some of this against his remarkable photography, which with his kind permission accompanies this post, this was a very expensive meal. It's perfectly possible to eat at Roganic for much less, especially since they bowed to early pressure and introduced a three course lunch menu for £29, but the full-on experience is going to cost you and only you can decide whether this is a price you're willing to pay.

As for whether I'd recommend it, I'm afraid I honestly don't think I can say; blessed with Paul and Florian's company and being spoiled rotten, I personally couldn't have had a better evening had I arrived home to find a naked Tom Hardy in my bed. But given that more of the meal had been good rather than amazing, and had it been on my own dollar, I don't think I would have been sufficiently wowed to say that it was value for money and to encourage you to go yourself.

It wouldn't be unfair to suggest that having not wanted to go to Roganic in the first place, I was never going to be blown away, but I honestly went with a completely open mind, ready to be proved wrong. Whether I'm now wrong not to be insisting that you re-mortgage your house and book your place there without delay can only be proven by your going. So do - but only if you want to.

Roganic, 19, Blandford St, London, W1U 3DH Tel: 020 7486 0380 http://www.roganic.co.uk/

Roganic on Urbanspoon

3 comments:

  1. Hugh, now that I will be a London resident from Tuesday we have to resume our dinners out... Perhaps not this place - although I can hardly resist the delicious idea of butter smeared across a pebble - butt you need to make a list of places to try for me! (Have you been to Murano?)

    xxx
    Duck

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hilarious! You've still got it, HR. Fab review. GD

    ReplyDelete
  3. Duck - I can't *wait* for our dinners to resume in earnest but no, let's not go here. I will get working on that list! x

    GD - Thanks darl. Glad to make you chuckle! x

    ReplyDelete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...