A gastro-laboratory in the middle of nowhere that redefines the notion of food? Is this yet another paean to Ferran Adrià's El Bulli in northeastern Spain? Actually, no. This is a paean to Simon Rogan's L'Enclume in the village of Cartmel at the southern end of England's Lake District. When El Bulli closes for two years in 2012, L'Enclume will be the world's best restaurant. At least in my view.
Meals at L'Enclume come as a set menu of eight or 13 courses. Having traveled all that way, you aren't going to settle for eight, so it's got to be the latter (which actually comes to 15 courses, if you count amuse-bouche and cheese). You'll need about $115 (before wine) and at least four hours. Palate teasers like duck-fat lollipops and Cumberland creamed duck livers merely hint at the brilliance resoundingly confirmed in a starter like "Grown up yolk from the golden egg." What seems like a perfect yolk turns out to be an orb of concentrated chicken stock, dipped in jellified vegetable broth and golden leaves: a golden, delicious, tiny planet. There then follows a blizzard of more witty deception. Two examples: Chick O'Hake is a fish fillet topped with a crispy chicken-skin "batter" set on mashed brussels sprouts made to resemble the traditional English mushy peas. "Stiffy tacky pudding" is a variation on a Cartmel speciality, in which the ingredients come as five separate little balls. As astounding as the skill is the knowledge that everything comes from Rogan's own nearby farm and that he often changes dishes on the night. See www.lenclume.co.uk for more.