Rogan & Company, Devonshire Square, Cartmel, Cartmel, LA11 6QD – Visit Now
The Lake District is becoming the nerve centre for every discerning Northern food-lover, and it’s closer than you think; just a couple of hours drive from Manchester brings us to the heartland of Britain’s finest homegrown produce and some of the best restaurants in the United Kingdom.
Having recently had our palates pushed to the brink by the Michelin-starred L’Enclume, we decide to test out its sister venue Rogan & Company, which is also situated in Cartmel: a sleepy village straight out of an Enid Blyton book. While it’s housed in a traditional building, once inside the venue is much like the menu, modern and understated. The furnishings are crisp and clean and a soundtrack of Nina Simone set the tone – classy but not stuffy, relaxed rather than flamboyant.
To start we sampled the modestly-titled ‘snacks’. Pigs trotter and pork belly sounded heavy so it was a pleasant surprise to be met with a plate of graceful cubes: Rogan’s bold take on the Chinese siu mai dumpling. They came speckled with brittle chard (which to my untrained eye is indistinguishable from crispy seaweed), resting on a blob of pastoral green garlic emulsion. Visually, it evoked both the British countryside and contemporary global cuisine. The taste was all about texture: crisp on the outside, dreamily soft and salty inside. The only problem was that they were so delicious that four wasn’t enough.
The Tunworth Croquettes came with a fluffy dusting of mysterious white powder . We were advised to eat them all in one go, but as an incorrigible rule-breaker I ignored this advice. Cue an impressive stream of creamy Tunworth cheese down my shirt, leading to hurried napkin rubbing and a roll of the eyes from my partner. Despite this hiccup, they proved to be the perfect complement to their pork-heavy sidekick. It feels like a disservice to call these stunning dishes ‘snacks’. If Cumbrian dim sum ever becomes a reality, I’ll be first in the queue.
Tastebuds still fizzing , we dived into the starters. The scallops came sprinkled with impossibly delicate shallots, crunchy hazelnuts and a vinegar-meets-cream sauce that shouldn’t work but assuredly does. The raw beef was a collection of tiny pink pearls, tangled up with chunks of deep-fried batter that had an almost chocolatey taste. The paw paw (a South American fruit) brought out the sweetness of the beef, making every mouthful veer from sweet to sour. The portions were small but perfect: substantial without being overwhelming.
Onto the main act: the steak dish was essentially an ode to beef. Beautifully soft hunks of Cumbrian rib steak, coated in an umami-rich sauce, lay fat and plump on a thin bed of celeriac mash. The real star of the show was the singular ravioli, full-to-bursting with shredded brisket. This alone could have been the standout item of the evening but I only sampled a morsel, choosing to focus on my lamb rump. While cooked perfectly well this didn’t have the breathtaking wallop of the steak. And the lentils were, well, just lentils: simple mushy pellets, lightly spiced with an earthy taste, they simply weren’t as arresting as the components of the other courses and ended up being left unfinished.
Feeling intrigued by how a classic stodgy British dessert could be reinvented, I chose the rice pudding to finish, and I wasn’t disappointed. Luxurious rich creamed rice was spiced up by a crunchy almond crumble and topped off with an orb of gleaming vanilla ice cream. The purple chunks of pear were a tad too hard, and felt unnecessary next to the crumble – but this was a minor complaint. However, my companion’s tonka bean ice cream dessert proved to be something else entirely. Easily the most visually striking dish of the evening – large shards of caramelised butterscotch jutted out of exquisite ice cream, contrasting sharply with segments of sour blood orange, and for a bizarre final flourish, dotted throughout with gummy sweets. For diners with a sweet tooth, this is the promised land.
As you’d expect from one of the most exciting chefs in Britain, this was an exceptional meal. It takes a special touch to take familiar ingredients and turn them into awe-inspiring dishes without resorting to gastro-molecular gimmicks. While not everything worked, one thing’s for sure: you’ll never be bored here.