Cartmel in south lakeland has been a place of pilgrimage from the establishment of the Prory in the twelth century. Since my first visit to Cartmel some ten years ago, attending the excellent July Thursday race meeting, the picturesque Lakeland village has enjoyed a rapid rise in the foodie world stimulated by the restaurant L’Enclume and it’s chef/patron Simon Rogan. Once the home of four sleepy pubs and a Deli famous for Sticky Toffee pudding, the village now has three restaurants owned by Rogan, a high end bakery , an artisan cheese shop and a craft brewery. It is the Cumbrian answer to Padstein , sorry Padstow in Cornwall.
A meal at L’Enclume, now graced with two Michelin Stars, was an ambition fulfilled by a thoughtful and generous Christmas present from our sons who presented us with a voucher allowing to enjoy the full tasting menu at a future date. We chose to visit on St George’s day and take a very long lunch as the the full menu needs three to four hours. We booked into the Cavendish Arms overnight rather than drive back after such a, hopefully, memorable meal.
Cowheel but not as we once knew it
I could not resist reading about the food beforehand and it contained many things that would have terrified me, a faddy ten year old child, fifty years ago: cow heel, eel, duck gizzards, raw shellfish, ox tongue, sweetbreads, raw deer. Furthermore there were two cheeses in the middle of the meal, four desserts without a hint of chocolate or sugar, an ice cream made from a root vegetable, a drink from a conifer. Written down it sounds like a meal from wartime Britain , the products of Dig for Victory or a poachers bag and yet, and yet….
..each small dish was a triumph, outstanding favours and a delight to the eye. Each course, often no more than a canapé or tapa was presented on different stoneware crockery or bespoke pottery and was perfectly timed. Simon Rogan’s food is described and photographed now in great detail on the internet. I will not describe each dish or attempt to fill this post with food photos. If you want to see what we ate and what it looked like then click on this link to Uber Food Blogger Hungry Hoss’s description here to see an exact replica of the meal. The highlights were many and various but the Venison with mustard mayonnaise and the Langoustine dish will live long in my memory.
The restaurant is housed in the old village blacksmiths, the interior is understated with whitewashed walls and simple wooden tables decorated with pebbles. The front of house staff were thoughtful, affable and very professional and added to the experience, explaining in detail all the 20 courses (more if you count the three different types of bread and butter and pork dripping). No one called us “Guys”.
Rather than take the full wine package, we gave the sommelier our budget and asked him to provide wines suitable to the food. After glasses of Henner’s English champagne , we shared a bottle of Piemonte white, Favorita from Umberto Fracasi, I took two glasses of Gamay, a red wine from Savoie and we shared a glass of the more famous Nyetimber semi sweet English Champagne with our dessert courses/
After three and a half hours we were replete but not overstuffed. Was it worth it? Absolutely yes. The cost was, well, a lot! There has been an event this week where people have been living on a £1 a day or less to show solidarity with some of the world’s poor. You would be living for several months or more on the cost of this lunch.
If asked to describe the best meal I ever ate, I used to reply that it was a bowl of tinned tomato soup in a cafe in Llanberis after a cold November hike up and down Snowdon. I am going to have to revise that now.
Could I do this type of food all the time? Probably not . But three or four times a year would be often enough to enjoy without losing the magic.