Wow, a “two star” restaurant. I tend to avoid such things, I’m a perpetual shorts-and-t-shirt wearing scruffy type, sneakers & jeans are a “dressing up” alternative to shorts and sandals. Michelin stars tend to come with stuffiness and arrogance, at least that’s my general perception… but perhaps I am being unfair. L’enclume in Cartmel is anything but stuffy and arrogant; it is very tidy, neat, and well mannered though. If the restaurant were a person it would be your older perfectly dressed and polite to all comers gentleman who is also intriguingly progressive and modern-minded. I’m conjuring up an image of spritely grey haired university academics here for some reason.
On our most recent trip to Cumbria we visited L’enclume on a recommendation and a whim. I was fishing on Twitter for dinner suggestions and the name popped up, as we were staying at the Derby Arms and this was a reasonable taxi-ride away from the restaurant I figured: “why the hell not?” We only visit Michelin star types of restaurant about once every two years, if that, but maybe we should add them to our schedule more often. This is how L’enclume has left me feeling anyway, like I’m really missing out.
Put simply: the food was excellent and fun. Each dish came with a little introduction and the staff were happy to put up with me asking random questions about things on the plate. There was a focus on using “wild” ingredients for highlights and garnishes, which must be difficult in winter — I never did get to ask whether any were greenhouse cultivated. Mostly the wild was represented by herbaceous greens, some a brilliant flavour addition, others more a visual garnish than of any real value to taste. The diversity and nature of the whole experience was exciting to a food geek like myself. I think you need to be a bit of a geek to get the best out of this sort of experience. While I don’t think every dish was perfect I think the overall experience was of the highest order, but then again tastes and preferences play a role here (just as it is with beer).
So, beer… this is supposed to be a beer blog. I’m glad to say that decent beer is an option for a change. Far too often very good restaurants will have an amazing wine list, even incredibly posh water, but the beer offering will be piddle like Becks or Stella. L’enclume stock some very local bottled ales from Cartmel’s Unsworth’s Yard Brewery, all good renditions of your typical British golden-to-amber bitter/best-bitter styles. The poor sommelier was subjected to a brief discussion about beer and perhaps a shotgun lecture on how the broad range of beer styles available provide an exciting world of contrasts and cohesions when matched with food. The local beers available, as good as they were, were not the best selection for drinking with such a degustation. With a range of excellent and very local breweries available that they could promote and support, why not focus a little more on the wider possibilities of beer? Well, I’m glad to say it sounds like there is already some interest and the sommelier said they actually had a selection of local beers in their store to taste and test… I’ll be keen to hear if there is any success for local beers on this front! We did take one of the sommelier’s wine selections with our dessert, as a best bitter simply wasn’t going to be right… and it was spot-on.
I shall leave it at that… below find a selection of photos showing each course, each photo has a quick explanation of what you see taken from the menu and you can find a note or two of my own if you click to view larger versions of the photos. (If you start at the first photo you can simply navigate through the set using the “Next” links.)
This metaphor was originally going down a different route which would have terminated at something like “dapper chap” or “hipster”. Probably inspired by the young, enthusiastic, and bearded maître d’. However it is hard to conjure up a hipster image without also conjuring up some sense of arrogance or pretence, so I feel the spritely grey-haired academic wins the day. [BACK]
 To reach beyond your standard bitters this selection includes: Coniston (who happen to make No.9 Barleywine, the 2012 champion beer of Britain), Cumbrian Legendary Ales, Hardknott, Hawkshead, Stringers and others I’m unfairly forgetting. All have permanent bottled beers spanning barleywines, IPAs, stouts, Belgian-style ales, and various “imperials” – and all are probably within a 30 minute drive of the restaurant. Wine by comparison? Very little is produced in the UK and while much of a typical wine list is European at least, there is also usually a significant proportion from the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa… that’s a long way for a bottle of wine to travel. I love wine, I grew up in a restaurant in a wine region (Margaret River, West Aus). I’m well acquainted with the stuff! I live in the UK now… beer is the local drink, the British terroir is well represented by British malts and hops. Albeit many great hops are imported from the USA, NZ, and Australia… but even then, at least the end product is “assembled” here, just down the road per se.</rant> [BACK]