There's a shared philosophy too with L'enclume, with only ingredients from the British Isles used, so no chocolate in desserts for example, and no obvious continental luxury like foie gras to do the heavy lifting. For us at least, it adds an extra layer of special that such consistently great food and, let's be clear, exciting food, is all domestic and where no shortcuts are ever taken. In fact, Rogan sources 'in house' where possible and for some time has run a farm in Cumbria (as well as the restaurants). The resulting affinity with his produce derived from that provides an even more closely personal experience for the diner. This approach finds its ultimate expression in the 'Early Autumn Offerings' dish where it is is quite possible that Dan Cox selected veg from the farm earlier that day, delivering unimpeachable freshness and provenance. At L'enclume it is generally the case that if you are eating dinner, the veg was still in the ground that morning.
The tasting menu, which is mostly what The French is about, starts off in the usual Rogan style, that is, canape type snacks brought to the table such that you've already had five or so nibbles before the main menu food arrives. These snacks however do a brilliant job in setting the stage: usually beautiful to look at, never predictable and always delivering fantastic flavours, putting the table to instant argument over which was best. From crispy chicken skin with horseradish and crab to the vibrancy of nature's artwork in the chickpea, garlic and ox-eye daisy, it makes clear the originality you should expect from the meal to come.
During the listed menu, dishes like the Westcombe dumplings with duck sweetbreads offers up something that takes you to the heart or Roganville. When we first had duck sweetbreads at L'enclume back in 2011, the barrage of Tweets we subsequently received all said the same thing - who knew ducks had sweatbreads? Combined here with the to die for cheese dumplings (L'enclume and Roganic) and sweetcorn, it does what Rogan does best: combines technique, puts lesser know ingredients centre stage and tastes fabulous.
Rogan's menus have generally been too varied for there to be one signature dish, but if there is one, it is perhaps becoming his use of coal oil with raw meat, today ox. With the addition of pumpkin seeds, kohlrabi and sunflower shoots, what is in any case top quality ox is lifted by smoky and roasted notes with textures spanning the range. It's this dish in particular that caused Allan Jenkins of The Observer to say on Twitter (18/9/13) 'proof of stone cold genius'.
The French succeeds not only because Rogan works every hour god sends and if his name is attached to it, he wants to make sure it is 100% right, but more so because he has grown a team of loyal colleagues who share his values and can therefore deliver on his vision. Accordingly, in the front of house, Kamila greets you on the front desk, as she did on our visit to L'enclume in 2012. Rebecca, who served us so well on that occasion it compelled us to mention her in the blog post of that meal also is now delivering that same wonderful and knowledgeable FOH manner to customers at The French. As for the kitchen, Simon's chefs know they could be asked to work in any restaurant at the drop of a hat but the result is a consistency of standards on the plate and a dispersion of knowledge within the group.
So why didn't The French get its M star this year? We assume Michelin's finally tuned publicity machine understands the value of letting the press proclaimed 'restaurant wars' between Simon and Aiden simmer for another year with all those column inches and back room chit chat. In our view, it's something of a disgrace and highlights a self serving inconsistency at Michelin, for The French and L'enclume enjoy so much crossover that we cannot fathom how one can be at two stars and the other at none. But don't be fooled, The French is the real deal.
Readers of our blog will know that we are huge fans of Simon's food and each year we ensure we make the trip to Cumbria to sample the delights of L'enclume, which in our books ranks in our top three all time dining experiences (together with El Bulli and Can Roca). At the recent Cateys awards (July 2013), Simon Rogan won not only the Best Chef award for L'enclume but Best Restaurateur also. Having eaten at The French twice now, it is easy to understand why: in opening The French, Simon has created a worthy sister restaurant to L'enclume that succeeds in delivering all that is so special about his unique style of food. That's quite an achievement to pull off once again.