In Copenhagen recently, having dinner at Rasmus Kofoed’s excellent Geranium restaurant, I mused on the multitude of foraged flowers, berries and leaves on the menu – although the eponymous geranium (out of season, no doubt) was not among them.
I resolved to scour shore and woods for a new species of flora, ideally one with leaves resembling pine needles but tasting of caviar. This would, I thought, become all the rage, and make my fortune. I’d call it “buzzwort”.
Which brings me to Fera – the Latin word for “wild”, but also the name of Simon Rogan’s smart new venture in Claridge’s (pictured). I have eaten his food several times: at L’Enclume, his two‑Michelin-starred Cumbrian flagship; at Taste of London; at Roganic, his stopgap restaurant in the capital; and even at a pop-up eatery on the roof of the Royal Festival Hall. As gastro-stalking goes, it probably merits an injunction.
Anyway, to Claridge’s. The space that previously accommodated an outpost of Gordon Ramsay’s empire has been transformed, its centrepiece of a dead tree an ironic counterpoint to the plenitude of greenery in Rogan’s startlingly shiny and beautiful kitchen.
The urbane Richard Geoffroy, best described as Dom Pérignon’s representative on earth, knows a thing or two about plenitude. It is the word he has chosen to describe the times in a champagne’s life when it pokes its head above the parapet of the ageing cellar and shouts “Drink me!”
He and I had lunch at Fera with a bottle or two of Dom Pérignon 1998 and I was persuaded that not only is the wine drinking very nicely, but it works exceptionally well with the clean, vegetal, mineral-tinged style of cooking at which Rogan excels.
The menu rambled deftly through the hedgerows. A quirky but successful tartare of veal with smoked cauliflower and gooseberry was flavoured with sweet cicely, the creaminess and smoke in the dish broadening the wine beautifully; dittander lent its peppery savour to boisterously fresh lobster, “sea herbs” and pickled golden beetroot; while a dessert of sheep’s‑yoghurt mousse with black cherries (a kind of deconstructed Black Forest gâteau) was spiked with Douglas fir – a deliberate scent of the Schwarzwald, perhaps.
Rogan’s idiosyncratic cooking may not suit everyone – bold, insistent and sometimes discordantly prickly flavours are his style, not the smooth liaisons and complex sauces of classic haute cuisine. Traditionalists will wait in vain for a cheese trolley, let alone a duck press or a guéridon. But its art lies in coaxing the palate to embrace the unusual by shackling it to the familiar. When my first crop of buzzwort is ripe for picking, I will give him a call.