However, it's all change at Roganic now. Head chef Ben Spalding recently made the surprising announcement that he was leaving less than a year into the restaurant's 2-year "pop-up" run. In addition to Spalding's departure, Roganic's front of house team lead by Jon Cannon and Sandia Chang is also changing, with Jon moving to the L'Enclume flagship up north and Sandia starting a new London venture involving hot dogs and champagne.
To have not one, but three high profile members of staff leave a restaurant would probably cause lesser places to falter but, with sous-chef Andrew Tomlinson stepping up to run the kitchen, it's a reflection of how well the Roganic staff work as a team that on the night I was there (mere days after Spalding announced his departure), the food was simply fantastic and service never missed a beat.
The restaurant itself is tiny and fairly cramped and of the cool, clean Scandinavian design that is all the rage these days. Unadorned dark wood tables matched the wooden flooring, while bare painted walls added to the minimalist vibe. It's not the most inviting dining room by any means, but its starkness serves to direct your attention to the food which, let's face it, is what we're really here for. And what food it is!
Although Spalding had left by the time we ate there, the majority of the menu was still his creation. So this was somewhat of a last hurrah for Spalding's food at Roganic. The menu here is simple: there's a 6-course or 10-course dinner menu priced at £55 and £80 respectively, as well as a 3-course lunch menu for £29. There's also the option of having vegetarian versions of each menu. Of course, being the glutton that I am, the lure of the 10-course menu was too much to resist, and it went something like this:
Amuse Bouche: Corned beef croquette with apple, pickled carrot and mustard mayonnaise was a full-flavoured opening punch. It was delicious, but too heavy for an amuse bouche I thought.
Course 1: Millet pudding with grains, burnt pear, Devon blue and rope greens was a really well-balanced dish. Millet grains were al dente with the sharp notes of creamy blue cheese tempered by the sweetness of the pear. The rope greens added a nice salty and bitter tang to the dish, while a splash of marjoram oil gave colourful fragrance.
Mrs. Nibbler is not a fan of blue cheese, and her substituted dish of spring king leek looked fantastic. Here, Darwin leeks had been baked in clay and served with rosemary, shallot and truffle sauce.
Course 2: Portland razor clams flavoured with fennel, squid toast and brown butter was a clever little dish. Tender razor clams were served in a rich smoky broth. Squid ink infused bread 'soldiers' were provided to dunk into the moreish soup. I loved this dish.
Course 3: Jerusalem artichokes had been cooked in soil overnight and were served with red watercress and Crown Prince juice, which despite the odd sounding name is, I think, some form of gourd.
Course 4: "Grown up yolk from the Golden Egg," bok choi, warm mayonnaise and barley milk is a classic L'Enclume dish. The "golden egg" is actually made from jellified vegetable stock, which surrounds a 'yolk' of chicken emulsion that oozes pleasingly when cut just like a real egg. The dish was served with deep fried chicken skin. Bok choi brought some welcome lightness to the dish, while grains of crisp rice brought a nice contrast in texture. This was a fun and delicious dish.
Course 5: Caramelised cauliflower, sour cream, roasted lettuce and spruce was a surprising highlight, and how many times can you say that about cauliflower? It really shows the quality of produce being used here. In addition to the roast cauliflower, a tiny floret of pickled cauliflower added a bit of zing to the dish.
Course 6: Poached and grilled King Oyster, endive, beetroot and lichen was just superb. The king oyster mushroom was almost meat-like in its richness, packing a powerful and utterly intoxicating umami hit. This was further intensified by the addition of mushroom purée and mushroom granules.
Course 7: Lemon sole cooked expertly in chicken fat was served with British Queen potatoes, celeriac, and shrimp butter. This was gorgeous.
Course 8: 52-hour braised Longhorn shortrib was every bit as tender and unctuous as its cooking description would lead you to believe. It was served with roast parsnip and scurvy grass (a coastal herb), while smoked rhubarb added some acidity to cut through the richness. This dish was one of the real stars of the meal, a complete triumph.
Course 9: Warm Bramley cake, liquorice curd, walnut and pink lady sorbet – a warm, gently spiced apple cake was lifted by the fizzy acidity of fresh apple.
Course 10: Whipped brown cheese, bran flakes, lemon balm and roasted carrot sorbet. This was a fascinating dish; it's the first time I've seen brown cheese (brunost) served in a restaurant outside of Norway and was an ingenious use of the country's national cheese. Brown cheese and sour cream were whipped and dolloped over some baked carrot sorbet. Lemon balm granita, lemon balm and bran flakes were sprinkled over the top. The dish had a cheesecake-like texture with a nice contrast in temperatures between the sorbet and cream. The taste was amazing – a gentle sweetness from the earthy carrots, sweet fudgy/salty cream and light perfume of lemon balm.
To finish, some petit fours of sponge cake "cooked in the microwave" and a refreshing shot of rhubarb with rhubarb crisp served with a teaspoon of savoury custard and ginger. And because we did this the English way we finished with a plate of cheese that included a rather remarkable Nuns of Caen, a washed rind soft cheese made by the same people that brought you the formidable Stinking Bishop, as well as Stichelton, one of my favourite English cheeses.
Dinner at Roganic was a real joy. The creativity of the dishes was extraordinary and the flavours just sublime and perfectly balanced. However, my meal here coincided with the end of an era, albeit a short one. With head chef Spalding leaving Roganic, Simon Rogan plans to spend more time down south and the menu has now been revamped to include only his dishes. The kitchen will continue to be run by Andrew Tomlinson, the previous sous-chef, with oversight from Rogan and Daniel Cox, who runs L'Enclume's development kitchen, Aulis.
And what of Roganic's former head chef? Well, Spalding is a young, obviously talented and no doubt ambitious chef, so it's completely understandable for him to want to forge a path on his own without the constraints of running someone else's kitchen. I can't wait to see what new venture he finally comes up with and wish him luck for the future. In the meantime, though, Spalding will be doing a series of three events called Roast Sunday which, as its name suggests, will focus on providing the traditional British Sunday roast lunch with, of course, the obligatory puddings. In addition, Spalding will help launch a development kitchen with Brett Graham, head chef at London's two Michelin-starred Ledbury.
As for what's in store for the restaurant going forward, well I think we can expect the 'new' Roganic to offer a menu that is more closely aligned to that at L'Enclume. The Cumbrian restaurant is upping production at their own farm and have employed a full time forager, which should ensure a steady supply of wonderful British produce for Roganic. The idea seems to be to create a mini L'Enclume in London – a Lake District-on-Thames – which sounds like a pretty enticing prospect.
If my meal at Roganic was anything to go by, it's full steam ahead for Rogan and his London outpost, and having seen the new "100% Simon Rogan" menu the signs are that we can expect more impressive cooking from this wonderful little gem of a London restaurant.
Food: 9 / 10
Service: 9 / 10
Ambiance: 7 / 10