London’s been bereft of a Simon Rogan restaurant since Roganic, his microscopic Marylebone space, shut its doors in June 2013 – instead, he’s concentrated on opening two restaurants at The Midland Hotel in Manchester, as well as indulging in some goodnatured sparring with fellow chef Aiden Byrne for a BBC television show profiling both as they open competing (in theory) Mancunian dining spots.
Through everything runs a seam of what you might call “English flavours”: lovage, alium, cicely, oxeye daisy petals
Now Rogan is back in London – and at the heart of Mayfair – with a new endeavour, Fera at Claridge’s. The hotel’s last collaboration with a name chef drew as many criticisms as plaudits: you always had the sense that in serving a plateful of ants to London’s most haute clientele, Noma’s René Redzepi was actively trying to subvert the collaboration. Having done “the Rogan tour” last spring – visiting the original outpost in Cumbria, L’Enclume, its more casual-dining spinoff Rogan & Company, and onwards to Manchester to The French – I was intrigued to see whether the hotel might, post-Redzepi, have persuaded Rogan to do something more mainstream and less distinctive here. There’s little suggestion of compromise, however, in the Fera menu, which features dishes and ingredients that are becoming synonymous with Simon Rogan’s cooking: a grilled salad, the cooking time of each leaf individually calibrated for maximum taste and crunch; and hogget, the “teenaged” lamb which, you feel, only came into existence when l’Enclume put it on the menu. (At Fera, half the week’s menus feature hogget, the other half a ruby-red sliver of Goosnargh duck breast, served with beetroots and a blackberry jus.) Through everything runs a seam of what you might call “English flavours”: lovage, alium, cicely, oxeye daisy petals: Fera’s name is derived from the Latin for “wild”, even if the ingredients are found on the Rogan empire’s farm in Cartmel.
As at his other restaurants, the servings are not at all mean, yet one can eat a full dinner here and leave without feeling so overburdened that you want to summon a sedan chair to comport you home. And – here you imagine a sort of reverse tug of war between Rogan and a hotel representative, each trying to thrust starched white linen on the other – there are no tablecloths. The clientele seems to have responded to this light modernisation: the 90-seat room is lively and buzzy, but not deafening; neither is everyone sitting there in intimidated silence. Given that when I visited, a table had hastily been made available for a member of Metallica on the eve of their headline gig at Glastonbury, it could have been a good deal noisier. Oddly, the one detail that perhaps goes against this studiedly informal air is the staff’s attire: with the men in navy suits and ties, the women in nondescript black dresses, they seem dressed for a more murmurous, markedly less fun room. Unfailingly, uniformly charming and cheerful, they are, I feel, being done a slight disservice by having to dress so stuffily.
There are some other concessions to the trad Claridge’s crowd, too. A three-course à la carte menu is offered, as well as tasting menus on various scales (the ultimate of which has the pleasingly ambiguous unofficial name “the long menu”), to suit lunchers popping in and out in an hour as well as those of us who quite like embarking on a dinner with no clear idea of when it will come to an end. The dining room refit, by Guy Oliver, accords appropriate prominence to the art deco fixtures: lamps, chandeliers and the beautiful ceiling skylights still stand out against lightly scalloped, marine-dark walls handpainted with a mural that resembles the contours of a weather pattern hovering, frozen, over the far wall (high pressure, maybe?).
Roganic’s team somehow managed to work their magic in a kitchen about the size of the one you’d find in a “studio apartment”; at Fera, they move about in a hangar-sized, Space Odyssey-ishly gleaming space whose double doors are open on to the dining room throughout service and from which executive chef Dan Cox regularly emerges to serve dishes, and crouch down beside guests to chat for a few moments. Stacked on the miles of shelves are the restaurant’s distinctive tableware, including round bowls fashioned from single sections of a tree bole, and arrow-shaped ceramic dishes filled with pebbles on which petits-fours are served.
[it] distilled, for me, the precise memory of late summer 1987: something of sunshine-ripened fruit, of tall grass going to seed, of childhood moments of unthinking happiness
I’ve a small confession to make: I love Simon Rogan’s appetisers and amuses-bouches so much that even the afore-mentioned duck breast, or a terrific dish of hake wrapped in cabbage and topped with chicken-skin crumb, seem almost anticlimactic. A bite-sized piece of wondrously savoury smoked eel on a puffed barley crisp, a meltingly tender rabbit “croquette” with a bright green dod of lovage, and a little pot of unctuous potato and Winslade cheese mousse with tiny cubes of duck heart at the centre – in some dream life, dinner would consist of an endless conveyor-belt supply of these sparklingly distinct morsels. Oh, and maybe some desserts: the standout of three I tried, a dish of strawberries, white chocolate, sweet woodruff and linseed crumble – which arrives as a little blush-coloured dome studded with minute flowers – somehow distilled, for me, the precise memory of late summer 1987: something of sunshine-ripened fruit, of tall grass going to seed, of childhood moments of unthinking happiness. For those still wondering what on earth the name Fera could possibly mean, here’s my interpretation: this is a place I’m wild about. C
Fera at Claridge’s, 49 Brook Street, London W1
020-7107 8888; feraatclaridges.co.uk