Simon Rogan’s outstanding Cumbrian restaurant is the OFM readers’ favourite of the year
• Read the full list of runners up from across the UK here
We are who we are because of where we are.” Simon Rogan leans on his farm gate, with his new tractor and 125 chickens behind him and austere Cumbrian hills looming in the background. The valley is packed with Rogan’s vegetable plots, currant and berry bushes of every colour. Seed beds of wild fennel, anise hyssop, apple marigold and mustard thrum in propagating tunnels supplying 200 covers a day to Cartmel and The French, his new restaurant in Manchester. (There are also mysterious, hushed mentions of “London”.) Soon, if Rogan has his way – which he will – there will be more fields, pigs, sheep and cows supplying him with meat, milk and cheese. “Everything we use,” he says, “we are looking to produce ourselves.”Nungwi Village
Already, he buys whole beasts from a local farmer, the legs to be roasted for the Pig & Whistle, his nearby pub, the loins and posher cuts for Rogan & Co, his second smart place in Cartmel. “The cheaper bits, we will take at L’Enclume,” he says, where they will be fashioned into brilliant plates of food befitting the Observer Food Monthly Awards Restaurant of the Year.
OFM readers’ impeccable taste is shared by others: in the past year, L’Enclume received a second Michelin star and was named the Good Food Guide’s No 1 restaurant, scoring a perfect 10. Rogan is humbled, he says, by the attention. “It makes me proud,” he says, “that people have made a commitment to come to this little restaurant, not just outside London but 266 miles away.”
The success, he says, comes from a total commitment to local ingredients. “That was our Eureka moment: we would try to grow or to find near here, everything we need, to connect with our surroundings.”
It was a risk that has paid off. He has built alliances with local farmers, producers, dairies. “We have learnt from the masters,” he says, “like Cartmel Cheese’s Peter and Martin Gott who have shared their knowledge, getting us into pigs and milk-fed lambs. Next comes more sheep, cattle, our own stockman.Nungwi Village
“We employ 60 people in Cartmel, from a population of 600, one in 10 of everyone here,” he says. “At L’Enclume, you are eating Cumbrian food cooked by Cumbrian chefs. You are sitting at a Cumbrian oak table made by local craftsmen, on a Cumbrian chair looking at Cumbrian slate.”
As to the food, the farm’s own baby potatoes in onion ash, the valley venison in smoky charcoal oil with fennel, the carrots with lamb fat and nasturtiums picked an hour before? It is the most beautifully balanced, carefully constructed, delicious menu in the country. But then, of course, you knew that when you voted.