[Aughton, Lancashire] The Barn at Moor Hall

Mark Birchall describes the Barn, as his “neighbourhood restaurant”. If restaurants were people, then you’d certainly think of it as Moor Hall’s laid back kid sister. We’ve been to the Michelin 2 star Moor Hall several times, but this was our first visit to the 1 star Barn. It’s a sympathetic conversion of the building, with the restaurant on the first floor, which has retained its original architectural features, whilst creating a modern space, with open kitchen at one end. My only gripe is that some tables are unnecessarily very close together – ours only separated from the next by a glass screen. Service was friendly and very much on the ball.

Unlike many one star places, the Barn has retained a traditional three course a la carte menu and is all the better for it. I do appreciate going to places which have a long intricate fixed tasting menu but, much of the time, I really just want to decide for myself what I want to eat from a menu.

There’s a couple of snacks to start. A lovely single bite crisp tart, filled with smoked eel. And a couple of slices of house produced coppa. They are big on their charcuterie – on your way in, you pass a room with lots of sausages hung up to cure. An amuse bouche of an oyster mousse, served in its shell, was delicious.

There’s another tart for one starter. It’s filled with beetroot from their own kitchen garden, cherry and a little salad leaf. There was supposed to be duck ham in there as well, but I couldn’t see or taste it. Beetroot will usually have an earthy sweetness but I think they must have enhanced the sweetness, possibly with the cherry and was just over the “too sweet” line for my taste. A single, enormous, scallop was perfectly cooked and came with strips of kohlrabi, which gave a contrasting bitterness. Lemon preserve and sea buckthorn sauce both introduced sharpness, again perhaps a tad too much.

We both went with fish main courses. Monkfish for one of us – quickly roasted so lightly cooked, just as it should be. It came with hen of the wood mushroom and crispy cauliflower, both of which worked well. There was also a spoonful of “grains”, almost porridge like and a light and flavoursome mussel sauce. Turbot, again perfectly cooked, comes with turnip, spinach and a crab sauce, all of which work well with the fish. We also took a couple of sides – cavolo nero with an anchovy and lemon dressing and a crispy potato terrine, topped with hollandaise. The latter, large cubes of thinly sliced potato, cooked and then crisped on all sides, may have been the best thing I ate all evening.

To finish, cheese brought a selection of four. There was Hafod ( a Welsh cheddar), a perfectly ripe and runny Wigmore, Stichelton and a goats cheese. They come with house made crackers, a mini bara brith and chutney. This is the height of British summer, so strawberries seemed absolutely right on the other side of the table. These come from Tarleton, just 15 miles down the road, and were perfectly ripe. Also on the other plate, a set buttermilk custard and a shard of meringue.

Coffee was top notch and came with an excellent chocolate truffle and a blood orange pate de fruit (that’s a posh jelly to the likes of me).

Nice evening, with good food, even if not one with any big WOW to the food.