I first wanted to eat at Hipping Hall back in the late Noughties. I used to contribute to egullet and other folk from the northwest were always going on about the food and the then chef. But he left before I got there, and later reports were that the place had “gone off”. So it faded from memory. Fast forward to a few weeks back and I was flicking through the new edition of the Good Food Guide and thought “I’m sure the chef there was on Professional Masterchef”. Which is how we came to be eating Oli Martin’s food.
Now, given the choice, these days we would always prefer a traditional three course meal to a long tasting menu but there’s no choice here so tasting menu it is. Bring it on – if you can cook it, we can eat it. You start with a couple of snacks. First up, a take on a traditional Lancashire butter pie (actually the second time in a week a restaurant has fed us this). Here’s it’s a single bite affair – like a puffed up cream cracker enclosing a cheese and onion puree. Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire cheese, of course. Then, perhaps one of the oddest things we’ve put in our mouth in recent times – a single Brussels sprout, served cold on a spoon, hollowed out and filled with a lovage cream and a little caviar. At least we got our least enjoyed dish out of the way early on.
There’s then a seaweed and shitake broth, quite salty, in which sits a confit egg yolk. They bring bread about now. It’s deliciously malty with a really crisp crust. Next, a very lovely bit of presentation. Thin strips of cooked beetroot were formed into the petals of a rose. The first of two fish courses next. There were two small pieces of mackerel – one poached and the other just blow-torched, for a slightly different flavour. There’s crunch and sharpness from thin slices of cucumber and green rhubarb.
There’s then what I think may have been our favourite dish of the evening. An exceptionally thin and crisp pastry tartlet. filled with creamed St James cheese and Hen of the Wood mushroom (it’s a superb sheeps milk cheese from nearby Grange and, seemingly, very popular with chefs – this is the third time we’ve seen it in recent weeks). And, if that wasn’t our favourite dish, then the cod that came next was. It had been perfectly roasted to the “just flaking” stage, still a tad translucent, and sat on a puree of Jerusalem artichoke. On top, there was more artichoke, grated and crispy here, mixed with truffle. Just lovely. The final savoury course was shorthorn beef, in various forms, or as the menu described it, “bits n bobs”. There’s a little rare fillet, with a black garlic puree and marrowbone, a skewer each of a couple of cubes of ox tongue kebab. Served separately, to share, a bowl of long cooked ox cheek and crispy kale. It’s all really good.
In the modern style, desserts include some very non-dessert like ingredients. The chef who brought the first one explained they toast the bark from an oak tree to infuse ice cream. Yes, you can taste the smokiness and it contrasts well with the damson puree that the ice cream sits on. And it’s decorated with a number of tuile biscuits shaped like oak leaves. The second combines apple, honey and Douglas fir, although the latter didn’t seem noticeable as a flavour. There’s a sweet parfait and a thick foam, little balls of apple, a scattering of small chunks of honeycomb. And what they describe as “apple crackling”. I’m not sure exactly what magic has been weaved here but they’ve taken apple skin and caramelised it to a crisp. Yep, sweet and crunchy. The final dessert came along with the only real slip in service of the evening. It’s supposed to come as a petit four with the coffee but didn’t arrive until after we’d drunk the coffee. It’s a small piece of carrot cake glazed using magnolia flowers from the garden that they’ve dried before turning it into a sweet, sticky coating. As I say, this was the only service issue – staff are on the ball about keeping the water topped up and making sure you have enough cutlery on the table (you get a stack to help yourself from). Dishes may be brought to you by one of the servers or, indeed, by one of the chefs and food flows through the evening quite effortlessly.