Two years ago, on holiday in the Lake District we visited my favourite restaurant so far, L’Enclume in Cartmel. Two Michelin stars and owned by one of the lesser known celebrity chef’s Simon Rogan. Since opening in 2003, the restaurant not only gained its stars, but a ‘perfect’, 10 out of 10 in the 2014 Good Food Guide and appeared on BBC comedy series ‘The Trip’ in 2010. One of the stand-out features of L’Enclume was a passion to deliver all food for the restaurant from Rogan’s local farm.
It took a while for Rogan to look outside Cartmel, and after a short pop-up ‘Roganic’ ran in London in 2011, he opened The French at the Midland Hotel in Manchester in 2013, followed closely by Fera at Claridge’s in 2014. Previously home to Gordon Ramsey at Claridge’s, which closed in 2013 after losing its Michelin star in 2010.
I visited Fera for my sister-in-laws birthday for a Tuesday lunch in November. Three of us ordered the cut-down tasting menu ‘Taste of Fera’, consisting of snacks and 5 main courses for £75. We booked online and received a complimentary glass of champagne to enjoy. I mentioned we were celebrating a birthday in the booking and was contacted by the reservations team and offered a complimentary birthday card, and asked if we would like to purchase a cake. The card was a really nice addition, personally signed by Simon Rogan (who just so happened to be in the kitchen on the day!), but we’d been offered cake elsewhere and not asked for extra payment, which doesn’t compare too well.
Located in a 5-star hotel such as Claridge’s, you won’t be surprised to hear that the setting is amazing. The dining room, with it’s stained glass ceiling, is tastefully decorated taking into account its history, but also modern enough to show off Rogan’s artistic take on food. A large, bare, white wood ‘tree’ sprouts majestically in the centre of the room, giving height in a room with ceilings that tower overhead. The dining room was around 70% full for lunch, mostly with ‘business lunch’ guests, but also many hotel guests plus a few tourists.
The menu started with three different snacks. The first wasn’t on the menu, but comprised a cracker with mousse and edible flowers. The second (and my favourite) was stewed rabbit, deep fried in a tapioca coating. It felt like eating a rabbit onion bahji and I could easily have eaten a few more! Served with a vivid green lovage mousse. It’s worth noting that in any of Simon Rogan’s restaurants the artistic nature of the serving plates is as important as the food. Food can often be served on rocks, stones, wood or any other natural material he can find. The third and final snack was a small dish of squash ‘soup’ served with goats curd and trout roe – a nice cleansing end to our snacks!
Following the snacks we were offered a bread basket of hand made rye bread. Amazingly crisp crust and soft centre served with a homemade soft butter. When asked if we wanted a second basket, we gratefully took it!
The starter course was roe deer served with beetroot, blackcurrant and crispy kale. The deep red colour created a brilliant work of art and nicely offset the pieces of roe deer. Each of the different ingredients nicely offset each other, but I’d have loved a little more of the deer to enjoy!
Next up was a fish course of halibut, cooked in a water bath and finished with a blow torch on top. I’ve recently got a sous vide machine at home and strive to get fish to taste like this – but so far have failed! The fish was served with a selection of onions and leeks. The strong flavour of the roast onions nicely complemented the silky soft fish. Along with the cooked fish was a small piece of raw fish, sealed on the outsides.
The main course was chicken, topped with a crumb of crispy mushrooms and served with sweet turnips and shaved truffle on truffle mousse. There were two different cuts of chicken, both cooked to perfection, moist and tasty. The crispy crumb gave a complementary texture to the soft chicken and the mouse and turnips finished off the dish nicely. Again, another work of art!
After reading the menu, the pre-dessert had intrigued me. Described as stout ice-cream, buckwheat and verjus I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect! Out came a small, perfectly formed quenelle of stout ice cream served with a crispy buckwheat. Half sweet, half savoury, it really was an interesting flavour combination (plus another work of art!). I’m not sure I would order this given the choice, but really enjoyed it. It’s not the kind of dish you could eat a large portion of, but perfectly sets you up for the full dessert!
Finally dessert came along – personally my favourite course! I was slightly disappointed by what appeared to be a small dessert, but actually it lived up to being great! The sorbet, vivid in both colour and taste, complemented the stewed cox’s apple – making me think of a homemade apple-pie. The best part of the dessert had to be the oak smoked meringue which dissolved in the mouth with an aftertaste of wood. I would happily polish off another 10!
After the meal we discussed which was the best dish. While every dish was great, we all loved the stewed rabbit snack, with two votes for the roe deer and dessert. After eating at L’Enclume, where we had a 20 course menu, the meal at Fera definitely wasn’t quite as memorable. I’d love to go back and eat the full tasting menu to see exactly how that compares!
Service throughout the meal was really friendly. For a high end location such as Claridge’s, it didn’t feel stuffy and our waiters made us feel at home throughout. The only slight wrinkle was a strange look from the sommelier when not ordering any wine – but I’ll put that down to my oversensitivity. We did wait quite a while between courses and it took over 2.5 hours to eat the full meal, but this gave time to enjoy the location and the food to settle. Do make sure you allow enough time if you have plans afterwards though!
We didn’t have coffee as we had plans for after the meal, but still received the snacks for afterwards. A vivid green ‘sponge’ and elderflower jelly. The elderflower jelly stood as as star of the show here!
Overall, we had a brilliant meal at Fera. Not quite as good as L’Enclume, but the 500 mile round trip makes that difficult to do! I know they are the same head chef, but it’s also an un-fair comparison. Simon Rogan wows again with not only the taste but artistic styling of the meal. If you’re worried about the cost they also offer a very reasonably priced lunch at £42 for 3 courses. Add it to the top of your list and visit soon!