[Aughton, Lancashire] Moor Hall


(John Hartley) #1

There’s been a building on this site since at least 1282 and the current manor house has its origins back to 1533. I mention the history only because, as you walk from the bar in the manor house to the restaurant there is such a contrast. The restaurant is in a new, modernist, extension to the house. High ceiling, lots of glass, modern Skandi type furniture, open kitchen. It works as a space – but try not to make comparisons with the two structures.

It’s fair to say that, these days, if a restaurant offers a traditional three course menu alongside a multi-course tasting menu, then nine times out of ten, we’re going to pick the traditional. That choice isn’t available at Moor Hall where everything is tasting menu. Choose between five courses or eight. So, that’ll be the eight courser please – we are never knowingly underfed (to paraphrase John Lewis). Although, when you add in the “snacks” served at the beginning and a couple of other dishes thrown in, you’ve hit fourteen courses before you know it. Now, of course, when you’re eating so many courses, there will be some you enjoy more than others but it’s fair to say that there was not a single one that was a duffer.

Things got off to a good start in the bar where you’re immediately offered a complimentary drink – the very lovely non-alcoholic spirit, Seedlip with ginger and apple, topped up with tonic. A single slice of coppa to nibble on.

Then, once in the restaurant itself, there’s a procession of the four snacks. A single bite crisp shell made from black pudding encased a gooseberry puree. You would think that something so thin would have lost its black pudding flavour, but it doesn’t. Then there’s smoked eel with garlic and edible flowers. Raw mackerel worked well with the crispness of very thinly sliced radish and purslane. The use of unusual herbs such as the purslane is a feature of Mark Birchall’s cooking – and there’s a little booklet on the table explaining what the ones used in the meal are. . And, finally, oyster with cured ham and buttermilk dressing.

First up, on the menu proper, is a dish of baked carrots. There’s sea buckthorn in there but the star ingredient is Doddington cheese. This is added to your bowl by Mark and he explains that they’ve turned the cheese into almost a powder and then frozen it. It’s weird – and a delicious addition.

Then turnip is paired with crab (both brown and white meat). Anise hyssop adds a slight, erm , aniseed flavour and there’s a texture contrast from sunflower seeds. It may have been my favourite dish. My partner isn’t keen on raw meat, so I got to happily eat two portions of the beef tartare which came next and was served with celeriac, shallot and a mustard dressing.

I have a “thing” about places that state a dish is “scallops” – then serve you only one (or half of one as was the case here). That said, it was delicious. Perfectly cooked scallop, served fashionably with cauliflower, both charred and puree, and pearl barley. The contrast comes with the lemony sourness of sorrel. Seafood formed the next course as well – monkfish, again accurately cooked, sat in a mussel and squash “stew”.

There was an unadvertised extra course of a duck ragout, using the leg meat. A couple of thin slices of duck breast formed the basis of the final savoury course. Needless to say, in this part of the world, it comes from Goosnargh. There’s tiny beetroot and a beetroot puree to give that sweet, earthy taste, kale and lightly cooked “hen of the woods” mushroom. Great dish to my mind.

The first dessert is one of those very modern dishes that marry a sweet and savoury item. We first had one of these in London at Claude Bosi’s now closed Hibiscus. This one married gingerbread and parsnip. Then it’s on to a blackberry dish, flavoured with verbena and a scattering of cubes of pear. And finally, Worcester Pearmain apple gets the treatment with sweet woodruff and a whey caramel.

Service was excellent throughout. Our journey to the restaurant was something of a nightmare and we were running some 30 minutes late. We rang and were assured it wasn’t a problem. In the restaurant, the service style is not stiff formality but still “proper”. The sommelier was excellent. It’s always a problem with a tasting menu – I don’t drink alcohol and my partner doesn’t want a pairing with every course so, say, three glasses will suffice. The sommelier picked some crackers.

So, there we are. An interesting and enjoyable meal that makes the place very worthy of its Michelin star. Speaking of which, we recognised one of the other diners as a high end, but unstarred, chef. He must have been envious.


(Chris) #2

All sounds lovely. I particularly like the sound of the snacks. It shows some thought and originality but without trying to be different just for the sake of it. The combinations are not run of the mill but intuitively you know they’re going to work. Black pudding and gooseberry sounds wonderful.


(EMLYN WILLIAMS) #3

How busy was it, Mr H ?
Was tipped off about it just before the Michelin ratings came out by a guy who used to work with Mr Birchall during his L’Enclume days…but now fear that the hordes of star chasers will descend… :frowning:


(John Hartley) #4

Well, I suppose we were star chasers. Depending on how good a place is reputed to be, we’ll drive up to an hour for dinner. This was at the edge of our limit - according to the satnav - but it took 90 minutes due to traffic on the M60. You wouldnt find us driving that distance for, say, a decent bistro type place.

Place was qute busy for a Wednesday night. Maybe ten tables occupied and five not. You could see the front of house staff were kept occupied but without being rushed . FWIW, pricing seemed very much on the money. When I first saw it was £95 for the eight courser, I though it was pricy but it’s around the same (maybe a bit dearer) than other Michelins in the area (Simon Radley, Fraiche, Northcote, Baslow Hall) . I suppose with all the extras chucked in it becomes quite good value (relatively speaking)