dines at Roganic...

With what has rapidly become the hottest London restaurant on Twitter, Roganic is something of a joyous enigma. Chef Patron Simon Rogan, Head Chef Ben Spalding and his team are able to turn out extraordinary food in what is essentially a tiny and cramped site. But the genius of the restaurant is that it recognises this restriction and has managed to turn it to its advantage.

Very few dishes are served hot, and as a result a number of the dishes are very pure, and incredibly scented. Where others use herbs as a garnish, here we were able to truly smell and taste the individual elements. This is also the first tasting menu I've ever managed to get through without feeling faintly ill - a number of the elements are raw, soused, or barely cooked - the resulting menu is fresh, full of texture and flavour. Some ingredients, such as the chenopodiums, hyssop, sweet cicely, lovage and wood sorrel are sourced by a forager, others from their own Howbarrow Farm, located close to their parent restaurant, L'Enclume. Remaining ingredients are sourced as closely as possible, and only from the British Isles. For example the kitchen uses rapeseed oil, instead of olive oil. Such fresh and local produce does have a fantastic impact on the menu. The kitchen also intends to change the menu every six weeks to make the most of seasonal ingredients.  Although there is a six course menu, I would urge you to go for the 10 course, if you have enough time. 

The restaurant itself is behind a discreet French grey facade, and is feels like a minimalistic seaside joint - the French grey is continued on one side, with a cream opposing wall and a moody oil abstract that I immediately wanted to steal! To go with the more organic feel, the butter is served on stones collected by Ben and his family, the place-mats are coloured like a stoney beach, and the water glasses are an intense sea green. It's a serene and relaxing room. The staff are attentive, and well informed. The more I questioned them, the happier they were to tell me where ingredients were sourced, the temperature of the water-bath, how long items were de-hydrated for, etc. 

We began our evening with a glass of apricot and vodka fizz, with a couple of shards of dehydrated apricot in the glass. The fizz is dispensed at the table in a creamer (and uses just one gas canister). It's a very lovely variation on a Bellini, and I think actually preferable - but I love a vodka martini, and this was also a very good and clean variation on that.

The bread is served warm, and we were offered pumpernickel, spelt, and buttermilk & potato. The butter is brought in from a farm and whipped with Maldon sea salt in the restaurant - this results in a light and voluminous concoction.

Chickpea wafer, ox-eye daisy puree, microleaves and flowers
As an amuse we were offered a chickpea wafer with ox-eye daisy, aioli, red amaranth, and edible flowers - a lovely combination of sweetly sour and floral scent. The closest comparison I can offer is that of cream cheese. But really lovely cream cheese with spiky herbs and very light garlic in the aioli - a difficult balance to strike, but effortless here.

Broad beans and hyssop, with fresh curds and beetroot
The first course was a tiny plate of broad beans and hyssop, with fresh curds and beetroot. The beetroot came diced at the bottom of a beetroot purée - a slightly salty sour velvet. The hyssop is a light and green puddle into which the broad beans sit, with the fresh curds. The dry flavour of the broad beans is offset by the slightly tart curds, and that rich beetroot. The resulting dish is light, very fresh.

One of the nicest parts of this menu is that the dishes begin delicately, and gradually build into an incredible crescendo of cheek-sucking umami-ness. As a result, very delicate flavours like the hyssop aren't lost in the menu - your taste buds adapt and the later intensities don't destroy that taste memory.

The next dish was a scarlett ball turnip baked in salt, smoked yolk, sea vegetables and wild mustard. The smoked yolk is achieved by cooking the egg in a water-bath for 40 minutes at 63ºC, then sitting the separated yolk in it's shell with some smoking oil for a few hours. This results in a yolk with the texture of lemon curd, and a smoked velvet intensity. The turnip is soft and tender, and delicately scented, and our samphire echoed that with its customary salty kick. The wild mustard serves as a green and intently fragrant smear under the dish. I do like to taste those additions on their own, and this is delicious - would be amazing with fish! 

We followed this with the now famous Seawater cured Kentish mackerel, shoots, broccoli and warm elderflower honey. I'm not a massive fan of mackerel, it's always rather an overpowering flavour for me, but here it was delicate. Once cured, a small amount of sweetness intensifies that saltiness. A shard of crispy skin sat on top of this moist fish, and under that was a layer of delicately soused onion rings - is this a nod to the Scandinavian counterpart? If so it was executed perfectly and served to highlight the fish, and not swamp it! The honey, sourced from Regent's Park in our case, not Hyde Park as in others' reviews, added a sweet contrast and was filled with tiny speckles of broccoli. The purée allows you to scoop up the fish and smear it with fragrant green.

Next on the table is the shredded ox tongue, pickles and sourdough paper. I think this is perhaps my favourite dish. On the plate are a few soused, raw and barely cooked elements - a halved grape, tiny cauliflower florets on cauliflower purée, barely raw strips of carrot wrapped around a purée, a radish intact with its leaf... In the centre are two shards of sourdough paper (made a little like Sardinian Carta da Musica) into which is pasted a mound of the intense ox tongue. I'll be honest - I could have eaten platefuls of the veg!

Flaky crab and mallow cream, young squid and cucumber. The squid is raw and diced to the same size as the cucumber, then mixed in with the crab. It reminded me of a much better textured ceviche or tartare, the effect is the same, lightly spiked and clean. The texture is offset by the inclusion of the squid ink croutons, and the smooth mallow cream. My own dish didn't have a courgette flower (clearly the season has passed, and this photo is from a few weeks ago). I did have stonecrop in my dish though, which added that dryness in the mouth, offsetting those other silky flavours. There were also tiny mallow flowers decorating the dish, and adding further fragrance.

Next is one of the signature dishes of l'Enclume - Heritage potatoes in onion ashes with wood sorrel, and lovage. In our dish the heritage potatoes were Sharpe's Express, a variety first introduced in 1900. The onion ash is produced by cooking down the onions and then dehydrating them. The result is then whizzed until an oil can be produced from it, and this is then mixed with maltodextrine. The dish is assembled with a shallot purée, a lovage purée, the cooked Sharpe's with a mound of the ash, shards of dried and crispy potato skin and adorned with a scattering of wood sorrel. I hadn't eaten wood sorrel on it's own before, and it's a complete revelation - an intense citrus flavour which cuts through the richness of the shallots, and that intensely onion ash. I absolutely loved this dish, but I can imagine others would not. We laughed with the staff about the 'marmitiness' tag that seems to have been linked with a number of the dishes - for my part, I though this was actually quite addictive. I could imagine putting that ash onto popcorn, or any number of other foods - but I do like savoury flavours!

Cornish monkfish, chicken salt, surf clams, rainbow chard and mushroom purée. Now we really are (literally) getting to the meat of the matter. Following that intense ash, the menu steps up and gives you a good whack of umami. The intense mushroom purée really packs in that savoury punch, which the chicken salt steps up again! The Hubby wanted much, much more of this, and we literally sat at the end sucking our cheeks - it's an incredibly intense set of flavours. The menu has in the past carried brill, ours was monkfish, but to be absolutely frank, the fish is merely a foil for all the other flavours. This isn't a criticism - I'd choose those flavours over the fish any day!

Now we're on a roll and the end is in sight. As I said earlier, the joy of this menu is that it gradually builds to a crescendo, so your taste buds don't feel overwhelmed - the freshness of the earlier dishes ensure that you reach these few hot dishes with your appetite intact and raring to go. So, as they brought out the Cumbrian hogget, with artichokes and chenepodiums, we were getting excited. Hogget is lamb which has reached maturity, generally at the one year mark. The lamb is intense, with a lamb jus, and artichoke purée with tiny crispy sweetbreads. As a combination you do get sweet, sour, salt and savoury - and the bitter is included through the addition of the chenopodium leaves. Extraordinary things - you pop the leaf in your mouth and it takes rather nice, but after about 10 seconds it interacts with your saliva and adds and incredibly bitter note - a fabulous contrast!

How do you follow this? With Sweet cicely and strawberry, buttermilk and verbena of course! The dish is constructed with macerated strawberries, sweet cicely ice cream, very creamy buttermilk custard and verbena syrup. After the last two meaty dishes, this acts as a very food palate cleanser! It's served with shards of dehydrated strawberry scented with cicely - this adds a very moreish anise flavour to the shards, echoed in the main dish. Again there is very real emphasis on the herbal and fresh nature of the ingredients - and I think this is what keeps your appetite up during the 10 courses - there's so much to spike your interest.

Warm spiced bread, salted almonds, buckthorn curd and smoked clotted cream. The crunchy cube of brioche is toasted with cinnamon and cardamon. The cardamon offers and incredible scent, and one of those - there's something else in there, I know that taste, what is that? - moments. It sits on the buckthorn curd. The clotted cream sits to the side with the salted almonds. I can understand why people might have trouble with some elements of the dish: the buckthorn curd gives you that sense of dryness in the mouth, and the smoked cream is so unusual, but if you combine them together again you get that sense of umami-ness - which is incredible in a dessert. 

Two final things - cherry soda with a shard of Douglas fir flapjack and a very lovely fresh raspberry mini victoria sponge. Both restore your mouth to it's normal and more mundane existence... What could be more normal and familiar than a little cupcake?

I think if you've actually made it to this point in this insanely long review, you're more than likely to be a future diner at Roganic. I have a question - why haven't you picked up the phone yet? For £80 a head for the 10 course menu, I can't imagine being able to get such an interesting and varied tasting menu at that price anywhere else in London. Get on with you - the information you need is:

19, Blandford St
London W1U 3DH

These photographs are by Paul Winch-Furniss

Roganic on Urbanspoon