Simon Rogan’s London Restaurant, Aulis, Reimagined

Soho, as a London neighborhood, presents a fascinating dichotomy. It seamlessly combines glamour and grit, housing both the city’s swankiest bars and restaurants as well as its obscure, dimly lit alleys. This unique blend is what endears it to many, even though it might initially seem intimidating to tourists.

Among the upscale dining establishments tucked away in Soho, you’ll find Aulis, discreetly nestled on St. Anne’s Court, where it’s easy to miss if you blink. Initially known as the testing ground for Simon Rogan’s renowned L’Enclume, which boasts numerous Michelin stars and is situated in the Lake District in northern England, Aulis has undergone a transformation, emerging as a restaurant in its own right. No longer merely a precursor for those heading to the flagship, it now stands independently.

This restaurant reopened in early summer after a makeover that involved expanding into the neighboring space. The revamped Aulis now accommodates 12 guests at a single curved table, an increase from the previous capacity of just eight, and features an adjoining lounge. This setup fosters a quick rapport between guests and chefs, as their close proximity and innovative dishes encourage even the shyest diners to engage in conversation.

Simon Rogan’s culinary journey is a dream come true for many chefs. After working in kitchens across the UK and Paris, Rogan launched his first restaurant, L’Enclume, in 2002 in the quaint Lake District village of Cartmel. Despite Cartmel’s location in the heart of England’s lush countryside, Rogan was dissatisfied with the quality of local produce. His solution? To grow his own, of course.

Since then, Rogan has pioneered a new culinary landscape in the UK and beyond, serving as an early adopter of the now mainstream farm-to-table fine dining culture. Over its 21-year history, L’Enclume has steadily climbed the Michelin star rankings, earning its first star in 2002, a second in 2013, and a coveted third star just last year.

During this time, Rogan has thoughtfully expanded his restaurant empire. This expansion includes the original Aulis and Rogan & Co, both located in Cartmel; Aulis London in 2017; a third Aulis in Hong Kong that opened in 2019; ION Harbour in Malta; and Henrock. A fourth Aulis is in the works for Thailand later this year.

Although Rogan’s name may draw people to Aulis, it’s head chef Charlie Tayler who is responsible for crafting the dishes in the kitchen. Brighton-born Tayler works closely with Rogan and the group executive chef, Oli Marlow, to develop the menu, but he also enjoys creative freedom. The result is outstanding, yet for some reason, it has gone unnoticed by Michelin, despite the flurry of stars awarded to the rest of the Rogan empire. In truth, this might work in favor of those who have yet to dine at Aulis, as securing a reservation there is already quite challenging.

Despite the approximately 270 miles that separate Aulis from Rogan’s Lake District flagship, the London restaurant maintains a close connection to its rural counterparts. Fresh produce from Rogan’s farm makes its way down the motorway several times a week, arriving at Aulis’s doorstep and being transformed into an exquisite, thoughtful tasting menu.

Every seating, of which there are only two a day, begins in the new lounge. Appetizers set the tone for the upcoming meal. First, a miniature, perfectly crafted gooseberry tartlet holds raw seabream in coal oil, adorned with intricate flowers.

Following that is a savory bread and butter pudding that’s devilishly delightful. It’s made using homemade croissants soaked in truffle custard, then drenched in fermented black garlic and more truffle. I could have devoured ten of them.

The remaining appetizers arrive in a whirlwind, each one as inventive as the last. There are pork and eel donuts, enveloped in fat and topped with Rogan’s signature caviar. Newlyn crab is generously spread on a chicken skin cracker, and skewered chunks of lamb belly are laden with sticky miso.

At some point, guests are invited to the main table, where a captivating cooking show unfolds. Tayler and his small team appear to be tirelessly at work, yet relaxed, effortlessly sharing personal anecdotes while intricately describing each dish.

Courses arrive in quick succession. Among the “main dishes,” the King of the Sea stands out: a substantial piece of West Coast turbot swimming in a creamy lovage and smoked bone sauce. To accompany it, a toasted English muffin perfect for sopping up the delectable sauce. To lead us into the dessert course, there’s a deceptive cheese ice cream that, to the eyes, appears entirely vanilla but surprises the palate with the signature truffle notes of creamy Tunworth cheese.

Tasting menus, especially those with a substantial number of courses, can sometimes border on arduous. However, Aulis’s experience is far from taxing. Each dish is delivered at the perfect pace, and a 7 pm reservation will have you leaving the establishment before 10. While three hours might sound lengthy for dinner, I’ve had tasting menus that kept me in my seat until well past midnight.

Despite Aulis’s caliber and the exquisite fare it serves, it maintains a welcoming atmosphere. It feels more like an invitation to the chef’s, admittedly elegant, home rather than a traditional restaurant, with Tayler’s indie playlist providing the soundtrack to the evening. The recent renovation by Blacksheep studios not only added more seating but also softened the interior decor. The ambiance is dark and moody, with subtle earthy tones tempering what could have been a harsh aesthetic.