Fresh, organic and utterly perfect

Timothy Barber
Follow Timothy
19 Blandford Street, W1U 3DH
Tel: 0207 4860380
FOOD *****

Cost per person without wine: £55 or £80

WHERE to start with Roganic? It could be with the bad pun of a name, or the temporary nature of the place, or the exalted Lake District restaurant which begat this tiny London outpost, or the remarkable food on offer via two fixed tasting menus.

But instead, let’s start with Jon, Sandia and Jack, the remarkably young, affable and knowledgeable front of house staff, plus sommelier Zsolt Kismodi. In a place where course after course of profoundly complex, imaginative, ambitious and rigorous food is brought before you, they deliver the human warmth. Where you might expect monkish reverence and severity, the smiling enthusiasm and professionalism of the team – and you really do sense a team that functions as smoothly as a Bugatti engine – is a welcome counterweight. They’ll explain each dish in the finest detail, slice cheese with the loving care of master craftspeople, guide you through unusual wines, and do it all with easy humour and calm attentiveness.

Sure, often in restaurants you want to be left alone to have your meal and your conversations in peace. This is a place where descriptions and enlightenment from the staff are needed to fully appreciate the cuisine, and it’s to the team’s credit that they’ve made this process part of the charm of the place.

On to that bad pun of a name. Roganic is the first London venture of Simon Rogan, a chef whose Lake District restaurant L’Enclume is internationally famous for its intricately-composed dishes centred around foraged and – pun landmine ahead! – organic ingredients.

Rogan has taken over the miniscule premises vacated by Michael Moore restaurant, just off Marylebone High Street. It seats just 25 people, and will only be open for two years (that’s how long Rogan has the lease for).

All of which adds up to a lot of buzz, and Ben Spalding, the man Rogan has installed in the kitchen (though the boss is currently making the London trip two or three times a week to oversee things) is meeting it head on. On offer for dinner are two tasting menus, one six courses long (£55) and one 10 courses (£80). At lunch there’s also a £29 three-course menu. That’s it – there’s no à la carte. It certainly makes ordering easy.

And so to the food. Oh, the food. A flurry of dishes in which the tiny amount of tucker in front of you seems in direct inverse proportion to the intricacy of the cooking, the artfulness of the construction and the mesmeric vibrancy of the flavours. Not to mention the size of the crockery it’s served on.

Strange foraged herbs like chenopodium, orache, hyssop and wood sorrel are not just used to compliment other ingredients but are themselves at the heart of each tiny construction. There are edible flowers and seaweeds, unsexy things like turnip and mackerel that are made sensual and exciting, tiny slithers of meat cooked sous-vide for hours, and every dish assembled with aching care. It’s whimsical for sure, beautifully so, with flavours full of nostalgia.

We went for the full 10 course marathon, which is actually 12 courses when you add in a scrummy extra opener of rosemary-infused crispbread blessed with wild herbs, petals and tiny dollops of creamed cheese, and an optional cheese board at the end. It’s decadent and fun and something of an odyssey, but it’s far from overwhelming. Balance is everything, and at Roganic everything is balanced.

I’ll not go through all 10 dishes, but a few highlights. Tiny, soft discs of salt-baked turnip, the size of pound coins, nudging against an egg yolk that had been cooked sous vide and smoked to glorious perfection; ox tongue shredded, softened and transformed into the sweetest meat imaginable, squeezed between shards of sourdough “paper” and surrounded by tiny spirals of pickled vegetable slithers; monkfish topped with the crumbly salt of reduced chicken stock, accompanied by surf clams and a mustard puree of wondrous depth. And the mackerel, caught in Kent that morning, served with its crisp, caramelised skin facing upwards, surrounded by shoots, broccoli florets and herby trickles of elderflower honey, was unforgettably marvellous. You’ve got two years. Now go.