Friday, 9 February 2018

Roganic, Marylebone

After another ho-hum meal recently at somewhere that receives nothing but unqualified praise from almost everyone else that eats there (no, I won't name it, at least not today), it got me thinking about how there's a certain element of subjectivity implicit in almost every restarant recommendation, no matter how enthusiastically offered.

We are all of us different, and have different priorities when it comes to spending our money on dinner, and as much as anywhere can be stress-tested and fine-tuned to be as close to the ultimate dining experience as possible, the fact is no one place can please everyone. I'm thinking of a friend I confidently packed off to Quality Chop House only to have them moan about the uncomfortable seating and "weird chips" (I mean, honestly), or even my own experience as seemingly the only sentient being in town not to fall completely in love with Black Axe Mangal. Such is life's rich tapestry.

So this post comes with a disclaimer. I make no secret of the fact that this kind of food happens to chime exactly with what I'm looking for from a meal, and Simon Rogan's style of cooking is everything I find exciting and rewarding about eating out. I was always going to like the latest incarnation of Roganic, and trying to pretend it's any kind of surprise that I'm now gushing about one of the best meals I've ever eaten in London would be disengenuous at best.

But I'm equally convinced there are countless others out that will find Roganic every bit as thrilling as I did. Trying to describe it in too terrestrial a way threatens to spoil some of the magic; "local and seasonal" is too glib - everyone from your local pub to the contestants on Masterchef are cooking local, seasonal food these days. Rogan's cooking is like eating the seasons themselves, like going on a country walk and plucking fruit and berries from the trees, albeit fruit and berries in the form of exquisitely crafted preserved raspberry mini-tartlets dusted with beetroot powder (above).

It's the kind of food that no matter how dazzling the technique or unusual the ingredient (there's nobody more likely to introduce you to an obscure unpronouncable herb or foraged berry than Rogan), the results always make absolute sense, and flatter your expectations of what good food is even if you don't entirely understand how. Obviously flavour comes first - he wouldn't be much of a chef if it didn't - but it's more than that, it's a complete mastery of what people will expect from a meal like this, but then with something else, a touch of extra fairy dust. Like with these little parcels of beef wrapped in pickled kohlrabi, beautiful and bite-sized, which deliver a kind of Asian-influenced tartare effect before an astonishing woodsmoke flavour appears and lifts the whole thing to another level entirely.

A bowl of fermented cabbage kombucha managed to walk that clever line between sweetness, bitterness and vegetal flavour. It not only performed its advertised role as a palate cleanser admirably, but managed also to beguile with a further set of mysterious aromatics, tantalisingly just out of reach of identification, but delightful nontheless.

Next a dish wholly unsatisfactorily described as a "mushroom broth". I mean, technically it was a mushroom broth, insofar as it contained a broth made out of mushrooms, but of course this being Roganic it was a bewilderingly complex liquid, dark with countless enigmatic herbs and essences, with a smoked quail's yolk underneath round it out with an irresistable layer of silky dairy.

If ever a vegetable has the power to carry a main course without having you pining wistfully for protein it's salt-baked celeriac, which even in lesser hands is a dense, richly flavoured root - a highlight of dining in the winter months. Needless to say, Roganic's version is exemplary, matched with a light sauce made I think from whey, and with crunchy grains and crisp-fried enoki mushrooms for texture.

You'll have probably got the gist of the story by now. Everything Roganic do is technically impressive, immaculately presented and - most importantly - profoundly rewarding, not just enjoyable but offering an extra quantity of intellectual stimulation. Fresh crab meat, fluffy and sweet, came on a bed of smoky grilled cabbage and topped with translucent slivers of crisp chicken skin, all of which combined like God's own surf and turf. This, though, was then dressed with a light sauce made out of ramsons (preserved wild garlic) - that all-important sprinking of fairy dust.

Hay-aged duck is, just as in the mothership l'Enclume, the centerpiece of the meal at Roganic. Boasting a stunning intense flavour highlighted by a judicious selection of preserved roots and berries, I was willing to overlook the slight disappointment of a rather flabby skin and make the most of the fireworks elsewhere, not least an impossibly smooth celeriac purée.

In most restaurants, a pre-dessert would be welcome but forgettable, something for you to push about while the kitchen plated the puddings. This, a sorbet made from yellow beetroot and buttermilk, was a talking point in itself, packed full of mysterious citrus notes (no idea) and dressed with something called oxalis. That cute little wooden bowl was left absolutely clean.

This abstract arrangement of what they called "burned milk" (presumably a kind of custard spread out and baked into crisps but good lord, don't ask me) came perched upon the most insanely rich ice cream/frozen yoghurt and surrounded by at least blackcurrant but also another syrup of luminescent green who-knows-what. One of the hallmarks of a Rogan dish is how they'll often look as dazzlingly beautiful after you've finished eating them, the dabs and swirls of irridescent colour, than before you take your first bite.

There was no sense that the petit fours had been given any less thought and care. Jasmine may sound like a strange flavour to add to fudge, until you try it and realise that it's exactly what fudge has been missing all these years. And don't ask me to relay precisely what was inside these little chocolate swirls - possibly some kind of nut mousse, maybe nougat - but, of course, they were also brilliant.

When all is said and done, posts like these are hardly going to change anyone's minds. Those who fell in love with Roganic as I did when it exploded onto the scene back in 2011 will have already put a mark in their diary to visit the new incarnation, and will no doubt have visited l'Enclume as many times as their bank balance would allow in the meantime. Similarly, those friends (I use the term loosely) who dismissed Roganic as pretentious overpriced nonsense back then still won't be convinced by any of my adoration and will be quite happy continuing to ignore it. More fool them.

But for those lucky enough to be tuned-in on the Rogan wavelength, wow - wow you're in for a treat. Because this, essentially, is why we choose to spend our money eating out; to be dazzled, to be entertained, to be utterly charmed by a team of people who give the impression their entire purpose on this planet is to make you happy. From top to bottom, across every inch of this charming Marylebone location, it is as close to perfect as I can imagine a restaurant can be. Welcome back, Roganic.



Alicia Foodycat said...

Huh. And there I thought oxalis was poisonous.

It Is Me Again said...

Oxalis, Use in Moderation, that's what I have just read. First of the flat leaf garlic is up in South Devon:)
Looks like a very nice and interesting menu visually also. As a forager, this also interests me.
My next London trip, sees me with little money, I off to get some Korean food in New Malden , Korean winter Olympics are on, it may be busy? Also watching Superorganism (the band).
Any NMldn Korean recommendations always welcome.

Pasta Bites said...

I loved Roganic back then... and I am sure I will love it again!

Anonymous said...

I was there the week before you and absolutely loved it, so pleased to have it back. Out of interest - on the night you went could you smell frying from the kitchen? I was so disappointed that all my clothes stank afterwards - even my coat, which had been away in the cupboard. It's put me off going back :(

Chris Pople said...

IIMA: Jin Jo Gae is my fav from New Malden
Anon: I didn't notice that no, but it is a small place so not surprised. I've had similar problems in Gauthier before.