Aulis is new this year with the test kitchen only recently modified to seat up to six people along the bar where you can watch your meal prepared in front of you. But don't mistake this for the chef tables you get in London restaurants for it is a significantly more personal experience. For a start, Aulis is a physically separate building to the main L'enclume restaurant/kitchen and your chef and host for the event, Dan Cox, is cooking exclusively for you. The menu too is exclusively for you with bespoke dishes that are not featured on the L'enclume menu either.
But what really distinguishes the experience from all others is the level of interaction you have with the chefs. Dan is assisted by Kevin Tickle, long standing sous chef at L'enclume and that's it; there are no waiters here to serve food or wine, it's just you and two chefs. Talk of course mostly centres on the food (at least it did with us) and Dan's open about all aspects of what they do. In our view, Dan is absolutely perfect in the role: relaxed, engaging and really willing to share, nothing is held back from you, nothing is 'top secret'.
And then there's the food. Those familiar with L'enclume will know what style of food to expect though we were still caught a little by surprise. Having been told that we were booked in for 'a light lunch', we forgot that in L'enclume-speak, that would mean a lot of food and the menu today consisted of four 'snacks' to start and six main menu courses!
While the mise en place has been done before you arrive at Aulis, the cooking and plate assembly is performed in front of you after which Dan simply passes the finished dish across the counter for you to tuck in. So that you can see what actually takes place, we've included video footage in this blog post of three of the items served during the meal.
With Dan and Kevin exposed to the watchful eye of the dining guests at Aulis, there's little room for mistakes here, but it doesn't matter for there are none and all the food presented is perfect. Crispy chicken skin the way it is supposed to be, tripe with beef strands that is intense, and a duck liver parfait and duck fat that shames the best foie gras. And as always with a meal from the Rogan stable, there's surprise ingredients aplenty with the main talking point today cod tongue - Twitter confirming that most are unaware that cod even have tongues. They are in fact like mini cod fillets: one tongue contains two of them, separated by cartilage with skin around them, served with this removed of course.
It is from start to finish a stunning display of understanding (of ingredients), genius (of composition) and excellence (in cooking).
Dan Cox prepares chicken skin, yoghurt and pickled beet
Dan Cox prepares tripe, marrow and beef strands
Dan and Kevin prepare salt baked hake
We mention it here in the Aulis post because Dan Cox, as if he weren't already talented enough with his cooking, is also in charge of developing the farm. The idea of farmer/chef provides in their philosophy an even greater connection to the food chain. It means that no restaurant in the country will have more control (and we think understanding) of the ingredients as the same chef will have seeded, planted, harvested and cooked most of the things on your plate.
This wasn't just a memorable meal, it was a deeply memorable and unique experience, and on that basis trumps almost everything else we've written up on this blog for the enjoyment we took from it. In fact, we believe Aulis is the most exciting thing in the UK's restaurant scene right now.
Details on how to book are available on the L'enclume website with prices starting at £150 per person including wine.
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