Review: Roganic, Marylebone

By now Roganic has been pretty much reviewed by everyone. If it wasn’t enough that whispers of Simon Rogan’s inventive cooking in his far-flung Cumbrian kitchen have been leaking down to the smoke for a few years, he then appeared on Great British Menu and uniquely got all four of his courses into the final. I was almost surprised to get a lunch table with less than a week’s notice.

I was lucky enough to enjoy Simon’s food at L’Enclume in Cumbria four years back. Yes, I discovered him before he was famous. Pity I only thought to start food blogging a year ago! That meal was instantly my favourite ever, so I was trying to hold my expectations in check for Roganic.

The first thing you notice on arrival is that this is definitely a pop-up restaurant. We were casting around for the front door, because the only obvious way in would be pretty much straight onto a table of diners. But so it is, just a low Scandinavian sideboard denoting the reception area. The dining room is very simply furnished, and if I was to aim any kind of criticism at Roganic it would be that someone booking here expecting an £80 menu to guarantee a magical and romantic evening might be disappointed at their surroundings and table. But hey, it says pop-up on the website so caveat emptor. The food is marvellous.

We did plump for the 10 course menu, so I’m going to focus on highlights. Every plate was beautiful, like a little culinary jewel, and every plate included something you might have never tasted before or at least very seldom. Calamint? Coal oil? Pennyroyal? Sea purslane?

The absolute star was mid-way through what was a remarkably light meal. Slivers of raw mackerel on a vivid green swirl of lovage cream, with some lightly pickled red onion and dressed with coal oil. The spanking bright celery flavour of the lovage worked beautifully with the slippery and chewsome bits of fish, while the completely original tang of coal oil elevated what was already lovely into the realm of bug-eyed awe. Remember the scent of coal tar soap? This was the taste. Without the soap. Obviously.

Of the desserts, my favourite was surprisingly not the Great British Menu-winning poached pears with sweet cheese ice cream – which was a delicious and aetherial ending – but the first dessert, a piece of cherry cake. The cake was moist and rich, paired with a dollop of tangy goat’s milk cream, some perfect plump cherries and a few little sprigs of pennyroyal. This wild mint sings as bright and clear on the tongue as a blackbird on a winter morning in the Lake District, and it lifted every mouthful of the more-ish cake.

Simon’s use of herbs is perhaps the single most outstanding element of his cooking. These days you aren’t a top-drawer chef unless you can throw some foraged ingredients on your menu. Yet very often I find myself nodding appropriately at the inclusion of hedgerow greenery on a dish despite either failing to detect any interesting flavour at all or finding myself tasting it and thinking “okay, worthy, but I can see why it isn’t cultivated any more”. But the unusual herbs on show today were often the single pure notes that made the whole dish sing: my hat off to pennyroyal, celery-cress, calamint and anise hyssop.

If you’re a city slicker and unlikely to venture as far as Cumbria, you should get to Roganic before it ends its two year run. There’s even a £29 lunch menu with starters and dessert from the tasting menus, which I’d suggest is brilliant value. The tasting menus are bang on the money for some memorable cooking from the stable of one best chefs currently working in the UK. If I’m making comparisons, there’s less theatre but more inventive components than Heston’s Fat Duck, and there’s less presentational flair but more frankly delicious dishes than Rene’s Noma. Yes, Simon Rogan is definitely in that league.

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