Sunday 24 March 2013

The French by Simon Rogan at the Midland Hotel, Manchester

The French by Simon Rogan at the Midland Hotel, Manchester
We first became aware of Simon Rogan's cooking about five years ago, not long after we started our quest for Michelin starred food. We were four folk in our mid-twenties who regularly brought the average age of the dining room down by at least twenty years. The Lake District bug had started with Sharrow Bay in December 2007, and quickly progressed to L'Enclume a few months later.

The French by Simon Rogan at the Midland Hotel, ManchesterWe were wowed by dishes like razor role reversal  and also forged what would be a long term friendship with an elderly ginger cat named Ben. We fell in love with L'Enclume and all agreed that Simon was clearly some sort of culinary witch. We have returned several times, and lost count how many people we have recommended it to since.

Then came the rumour. Was Simon Rogan really taking over The French at the Midland Hotel in Manchester? When it was announced, I probably had more questions than answers. Would it be a carbon copy of our beloved L'Enclume? Would it be a watered down version? Would it work when Simon was no longer there? We had to go. We waited until my birthday weekend (like we needed an excuse!) to give it a whirl. We all tried not to read too may reviews before going, but I have to admit I may have stolen a glance at a few pictures...

On arrival we saw some familiar faces from L'Enclume, which is always nice. It's even nicer when they recognise you too! We had a lovely chat with Karmila and Rebecca who have both been at L'Enclume for some time. Rebecca told us that the staff at The French are now a mix of originals, some from Cartmel and new recruits.

There was a choice between a six or ten course tasting menu, which obviously left us with only one. It's the only way to give a fair review... After glancing at the menu, it was clear that there are some very definite nods towards home, albeit slightly different. As always, there are 'extra' courses thrown in, which always end up being some of my favourites. Perhaps it's the element of surprise!

We started with a nice glass of pink bubbles, which was quickly followed by several appetisers. There were seaweed 'sticks' served in caramelised onion and fennel powder, black pudding mousse, mussels, dock leaf pudding with mayonaise and salt and vinegar crumbs, and a parsnip crisp with smoked eel and bacon with onion seeds. These were phenomenal! That parsnip crisp was an absolute taste sensation. This is being promptly added to my 'what could you just eat?' list.
The French by Simon Rogan at the Midland Hotel, Manchester
The tasting menu started with razor clams, egg yolk, celeriac and sea herbs. This is a nod to the razor role reversal we first had in 2008 at L'Enclume. I had seen on the previous night that Simon had created a similar dish using the original 'shell' idea. Similar, but not the same. Saying that, I'd love to have that dish again... Just once.

Next was the artichoke broth with truffle dumplings, bacon, radish and hazelnut. This was a meaty liquid served with a range of textures as well as flavours. The nuts were sweet and crunchy whilst the dumplings were delicately flavoured and soft. I hate it when the taste of truffle is overpowering. This was in perfect balance.
The French by Simon Rogan at the Midland Hotel, Manchester
The next course was one of my favourites of the evening; ox in coal oil, pumpkin seed, kohlrabi and sunflower seeds. Similar to a venison dish we ate at L'Enclume, this is possibly a masterpiece.
The French by Simon Rogan at the Midland Hotel, Manchester
By now we were ready for carbs. You can always judge a nice restaurant by its bread. If it's rubbish, it shows little attention to detail. This was wonderful. We were given a selection of wholemeal with ale, chestnut and french baguette. They came served with whipped butter with a sprinkling of sea salt. We snaffled the lot.
The French by Simon Rogan at the Midland Hotel, Manchester
The fresh crab with caramelised cabbage, horseradish, chicken skin with crow garlic was a huge hit around the table. This was promptly followed by an 'early spring offering' of vegetables, herbs and flowers with lovage salt. This was a little bit special. It reminded me of a scaled down satio tempestas (Frantzen/Lindeberg), which we ate exactly a year ago.

The fish course was a sole fillet with onions, smoked scallops, parsley and leeks. I'm not the hugest fan of fish, but this was sweet and subtle.
The French by Simon Rogan at the Midland Hotel, Manchester
The meat courses started with hogget, sweetbreads, wild garlic and sheep's milk. We were dying by this point, but I still managed the vast majority! The hogget was just fantastic. I cursed myself for feeling quite so full! By the point that the veal came I was suffering from a minor dose of actual death. I then gave a second curse, this time to the veal for being so damn good.
The French by Simon Rogan at the Midland Hotel, Manchester
It's funny how I always manage to get my second wind when dessert arrives... I think there is clearly a scientific reason for this. When I have eaten so much savoury food, I need that burst of sugar to perk me back up. Plus, like a cow I am sure I have more than one stomach. It's the only way I can explain how I am able to eat a huge pudding after a massive meal. I have been known to insist that I am never eating ever again, only to scoff a dessert moments later. Either that, or I'm just a greedy pig.

Anyway, onto the desserts. The first was a perfectly pink sweet cheese with rhubarb, toasted oats and mulled cider. I loved this! It almost made me forget that it was about minus ten outside. Think Spring... The final couse was one of my favourite desserts of 2013. I know we are only in March, but believe me, I've already consumed quite a few. This was pear, meadowsweet and rye, buttermilk and linseeds. I was also given a rich chocolate crisp because it was my birthday!
The French by Simon Rogan at the Midland Hotel, Manchester
Just when we thought it was all over, a bottle of dark liquid appeared. Sarsaparilla! This came with a soft wafer filled with ice cream. It was all kinds of special! We all loved this. Sugar levels sorted, we felt much better!
The French by Simon Rogan at the Midland Hotel, Manchester
I hadn't really known what to expect from The French, but it blew my socks off. I thought it might have been a bit 'fine dining for the masses' and worried that some of that special flair of Simon's may have been lost in favour of something safe. No no no. Nor is it a carbon copy of L'Enclume. They are sisters, not twins. We all agreed that it would be nice to see some signature Manchester dishes on the menu in the coming months.

L'Enclume is situated in the middle of some of the most beautiful countryside in the world, and with that comes food that can be foraged or locally produced; notably dishes like the LA11 venison. We wondered where the ingredients will come from in the heart of a city? Saying that, Vicki tells me that she has heard rumours of a roof top herb garden!

I hope that The French is as strong when Simon goes back to Cartmel, and continues to evolve without his guidance in the kitchen. We'll have to make a return visit to judge that one. In the mean time, you should really go, because they are producing some stunning food. Simon may be there at the moment, but his team created a fantastic meal last night.

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  1. Great review we are going next week, looks amazing. x

  2. Roganic....The French...Lenclume. Now there`s a wee road trip worth doing. Nice meal you had there. I like the nibbles that started your journey off , couple of new ones ive not sampled yet....Must get my skates on.

    1. If you like L'Enclume, you'll love it...


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