With a trip to Manchester, while no bad thing itself even if somewhat inconvenient, the minimum then required for us Londoners to eat Simon's food, like the retirement of Concorde from trans-Atlantic travel, progress seemed to be moving in reverse. Hark the herald then when it was announced that Simon Rogan would be taking over the dining room at Claridge's, and now even that wait is over, it's open.
The room itself is transformed, lighter, airier and gone are the table cloths. But this is not a gimmick to fashion as it is elsewhere (no names), since the dining room for those familiar with L'enclume and The French is intrinsically Rogan, with just a little extra sparkle in the mix, this is after-all Claridge's.
The food too is unmistakably Simon Rogan, though the addition of an a la carte option is a nod to the requirements of this particular market, but the signature menu is alive and well also and comes in both shorter and longer format. And what a treat that menu is: it starts with snacks, more than half a dozen, where the quality already outshines what most restaurants could reasonably aspire to: stewed rabbit here, pea wafer there, and Winslade, potato and duck heart to be scooped up and savoured knowing all the time that the 'real' menu hasn't even yet started. It feels indulgently naughty.
But when the menu kicks off in earnest, the food is both new yet familiar. It starts with raw beef, but if you were expecting that with coal oil (L'enclume/The French), you're wrong footed as here it comes with smoked broccoli cream, scallop roe and acidic apple juice. The self imposed L'enclume restraint of only Cumbrian ingredients is shed also (though noting that many ingredients are still sourced from Rogan's farm in the Lake District on a justifiable belief that his home grown stuff is simply better) but it does mean that a dish can now highlight Scottish prawns (from Gairloch) that is as good as any we can recall. It's hardly a brain teaser after all: if L'enclume can rate #1 restaurant in the UK using only Cumbrian ingredients, what can be achieved if that restraint is dropped? The answer is something quite stunning, but something that never loses its way in the new found ample opportunity: it's Rogan for sure.
The 'main' course will make Roganites sit and swoon: Herdwick hogget; simply fantastic and a signature if ever there was one. It's just so typically Rogan. Oh yeah, that comes with pickled tongue. Just so typically Rogan; did we mention that? Deserts are equally typical with baked yoghurt, beetroot and buttermilk, and rhubarb in the offering, not a chocolate fondant in sight.
For those familiar with Rogan's outfits, there's many a familiar face to be seen buzzing around both the dining room and kitchen. Rogan benefits now from the group's breadth and what is termed across industries (borrowed from sporting lingo) a 'deep bench'. The outcome of course is the quality that runs throughout the experience, from the greeting on the door to the food on each and every plate and the farewell as you depart. Only a week old, it's hard not to be impressed. What's more, Simon Rogan, of course, there for the early days, could be seen personally delivering food to every table and melting customers accordingly. The dining room in Claridge's now feels a thousand times less austere than its previous incarnation yet the quality throughout the offering is of course second to none.
Claridge's signed Simon Rogan presumably because they considered him the best of British, and in delivering a contemporary, stylish menu that relies on quality of ingredients, uniquely understanding flavour combinations and cooking it all brilliantly, it's hard to argue with that view. In numerous blog posts over a period of years, we have reiterated time and again that Simon Rogan is in our opinion the UK's best chef; each time we eat his food, it simply reinforces that opinion. So nothing's changed then, except we no longer have to travel a couple of hours to Manchester (or a few more on top of that to Cartmel) to eat his food; this then, is a most welcome return.
Need it in three words? We loved it. Need it in two words? Just go. Need it in one word: Rogan.