When I landed back in the UK I discovered we had a table book at L'enclume in the Lake District village of Cartmel. Not an easy restaurant to find out about as there aren't any menus on their website and seem to be very few reviews online. All I did know was that the Good Food Guide 2010 had recently awarded L'enclume fourth best restaurant in the UK and analogies with Heston Blumenthal were being made. Sounds good.
The restaurant is situated in an old stone building in the heart of the picturesque village. The inside is simply decorated with the stone walls painted white and dark wooden furniture. I don't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't as big nor had the wow factor that I was anticipating.
The restaurant has three different tasting menus, plus there was a lunchtime special. There were two twelve course menus, each priced at £80. An eight course menu at £60 and a three course lunchtime special at £25. The menus had a local focus, with one being exclusively Cumbrian. There was also some crossover of dishes between the menus, with three or four dishes making regular appearances. We opted for the eight course menu and I'm pleased that we did as I don't think my stomach could have coped with any more food!
1. Canapes of popcorn, prawn crackers and pistachio brittle.
While we were deciding upon the menu we were brought an appetiser of popcorn, prawn crackers and a pistachio brittle. With the Heston Blumenthal analogy fresh in my mind I was expecting to taste liquorice popcorn, apple crackers and coffee brittles, but they were just literally popcorn, prawn crackers and caramel. All very nice, but it did seem a little out of touch with the local Cumbrian menus and what was to come.
Once at the table we are served a amuse-bouche of croquettes with caper dipping sauce. Subtly flavoured they were crisp on the outside, light in the middle. A bit over salted for my taste.
1. Cumberland creamed chicken livers, purple shoots and rye toast.
2. Vegetable broth, azur star, vegetable dumplings, hogweed and fennel.
3. Muncaster crab with tiger tomatoes, mallow and pickled lemon crystal
Next we were into the menu proper with the Cumberland creamed chicken livers with purple shoots and rye toast. The paté was innovatively served in little pouches that were nestled into a piece of carved natural stone. It was one of several dishes that came served on interesting crockery and not just the usual big white plates (although there were several of those too). The paté was smooth and well complimented by the Cumberland sauce.
The second course was a vegetable broth with beetroot dumplings. The beetroot dumplings looked beautiful and the whole broth had a very light feel to it. This was the second and thankfully final dish that was too salty for my tastes.
The Muncaster crab with tiger tomatoes, mallow and pickled lemon crystal was next. I had to look up that mallow was an edible plant, where the flower and leaves can both be eaten. It was the first time several lesser known plants appeared on the menu. I particularly enjoyed the flavoursome tiger tomato that was sitting underneath the crab.
1. Loch Tay Arctic Char, finale fennel, buckwheat and bay cockles.
2. Randolph lop suckling pig, sweet white onion, mugwort and parsley
3. Partenon courgettes, 'gold rush', poached little eggs and marjoram butter
Partenon corgettes with quails eggs followed the crab. Soft poached quails eggs sat underneath thin slices of yellow and green courgette, all topped with a deep fried courgette flower and marjoram butter. This wasn't one of my favourite dishes as I found the marjoram butter a bit rich and the slithers of courgette a little bland.
All of the courses were quite similar in size, but I'd characterise the next two courses as the 'main' dishes of the day. Loch Tay Char with fennel, buckwheat and cockles was the first 'main' course. I don't think I've had char or cockles before. It was a nicely balanced dish with all of the elements working well to compliment each other.
The final savoury dish of the day was suckling pig, with sweet onion, mugwort and parsley. I had a couple of cubes of suckling pig that were a real hit, very tender, succulent and flavoursome; the other two didn't quite have the same star quality.
Gooseberry cream, blackcurrants, yoghurt, pineapple weed
The first dessert was the gooseberry cream and blackcurrant that was unanimously voted the dish of the day. A nightmare to take a photo of, but heaven to eat! It was served in gorgeous little pots with the gooseberry cream hiding underneath a layer of set blackcurrants. The gooseberry cream was rich and smooth and went perfectly with the blackcurrants.
1. Buttermilk with strawberry, apricot and sweet cicely
2. Douglas fir milkshake and apple cakes
3. Petit four including Kendal mint ice cream
The last official dish from the menu was the buttermilk with stawberry, apricot and sweet cicely. The appricot purée was the real star of this dish for me, a wonderful intense apricot flavour. I wasn't quite as sure about the flavour of the cicely (another plant I had to look up).
Once the desserts were cleared we served douglas fir milkshakes and apple cakes. The douglas fir milkshakes tasted just as the tree smells. A really interesting touch.
Coffee was accompanied by petit four, as I hadn't ordered coffee I had to sneak a taste of my dad's chocolates.
1. Hierloom tomato salad.
2. Breakfast raddish
3. Tarragon dumplings
My sister is a vegetarian so she had a number of different courses to us, which all came from the other two tasting menus. I didn't taste any of these dishes, but they all looked as stunning as the rest of the food.
Overall a very enjoyable lunch. My mum declared that she preferred L'enclume to Le Manoir, which we visited several years ago and came third in this year's Good Food Guide. A more relaxed and welcoming atmosphere where her key differentiators. I really enjoyed the food and service. It was great to see a showcase of Cumbrian produce and also some less well known plants being used.