Wednesday, 7 August 2019

The Moorcock Inn, Yorkshire

One of the best things about building an entire weekend away around a meal in a nice restaurant is that to a large extent it insulates you from many of the issues that would spoil other kinds of weekends. The main thing being, of course, as this is the UK, the weather. It absolutely battered down in Sowerby Bridge for almost the whole time we were there, but we happily traipsed through a sodden Piece Market in Halifax, and sheltered from the driving rain in Riddlesden Hall because we knew however wet our feet got, at the end of the day we could change into nice dry socks and sit down to a Modern British tasting menu.

Of course, if said Modern British tasting menu turned out to be a load of rubbish, that really would have meant a wasted weekend but fortunately I'd done my research and the Moorcock Inn, perched on the bleak moors above the Calder Valley and looking for all the world like the "local shop for local people" from League of Gentlemen, was as close to a sure thing as made no odds. With a short, seasonal, insanely reasonably-priced menu (£39 for nine courses!), and a very trendy-looking drinks pairing including beer and umeshu, it was clear, from the moment we were cheerily ushered in from the squall outside, we were in for a good time.

"Snacks", an unusual arrangement of vegetable cuttings and charcuterie, looked at first like it was going to be rustic to the point of careless, except every single item on this plate sung. The sausage had a lovely deep flavour, not too lean or too fatty, the peas had been treated to some kind of gentle pickling but retained a great fresh crunch, and the green shoots (some kind of weed that grows in the fields around the Moorcock that I'm afraid I've completely forgotten the name of) were buttery and salty. But best of all were the sweetcorn which had been glazed with a special kind of seaweed that made them taste of "truffled lobster" - their words, and they weren't wrong.

Next up was chilled courgette soup, a clean, colourful dish gazpacho-style thing dotted with various bits and pieces from the garden including nasturtium flowers and micro herbs. Cold, vegetable-led soups live or die on the quality of their raw ingredients, and in fact sail pretty close to disaster much of the time even with good ingredients, but this was lovely - summery, comforting, and perfectly seasoned.

It's a brave soul indeed that serves whole sardine in a fine dining restaurant - I don't mind personally spending 10 minutes picking out pin bones, but I can understand why others wouldn't. But some poor soul at the Moorcock had gone through these little beasties with tweezers and a magnifying glass, and even after that somehow meticulously cross-hatched the skin (presumably to make it easier to eat as well as to soak up more of the marinade), and what you end up with is all of the meaty, salty, oily flavour of these most underrated of fish, and no scratched tonsils. It's brilliant.

"Onion and rhubarb tarte tatin" would be a minor stroke of genius presented undressed - soft, sweet onions made a perfect filling for a savoury tart, and this was a genuinely innovative idea. Indeed, on the pescatarian menu it came just like this. But lucky meat eaters found theirs draped in a silky-smooth sauce made of chicken livers, which lifted the whole thing onto another level entirely. You'll have probably noticed that the ingredients at the Moorcock, tasteful, high quality and seasonal though they are, are not super premium - there's no grassy Mediterranean olive oils used, no fish roe or expensive crustacea. Instead, by making the most of cheaper meats, by literally picking "salad" from the field next door, and presenting it all with intelligence and cheffy flair, the Moorcock are able to offer what is surely one of the country's most exciting tasting menus for less than a glass of wine costs in some places.

Mutton, for example, is not an expensive cut of meat, more often found in pies than modern British tasting menus. But this beautiful cut - rump I think - scattered with sea salt and dressed in lavabread and lemonbalm, made me wonder why you don't see it far more often. It was so tender, so full of grassy, gamey flavour (13-year old animals apparently, that had quite clearly lived a good life) that I can't imagine even the finest lamb - or any other protein for that matter - beating it in comparison.

The pescatarian main was plaice, perfectly cooked to retain a dense, meaty texture, glazed with brown butter and topped with samphire and various other coastal succulents they presumably came across when foraging for lavabread. It was, as well, beautiful.

Pineapple weed ice cream (aha - perhaps that was the green plant from the snacks) had an interesting sweet/vegetal flavour - not pineapple but not savoury either, somewhere in between. Topped with a little compote of gooseberries and verbena, it was, like much of what had come before, appealingly rustic in presentation and intelligently balanced in taste, and quite unlike anything you're likely to be served anywhere else.

Finally, parkin - something you admittedly are quite likely to be served somewhere else, especially round this part of the world - but very nicely baked, and spread with an obscene (this is a good thing) amount of house cultured butter and fermented honey. Inexpensive ingredients, chosen well, presented honestly and with style - perhaps the formula isn't groundbreaking, and yet why does the way the Moorcock Inn go about things feel so fresh and new?

Perhaps the service - friendly, capable, knowledgable - helps, and the cozy rooms of this ancient building in which the rustic, hyper-local produce feels right at home. Perhaps it's all the little touches, from the crusty house sourdough to the open-hearted idea of giving you more cutlery than you'll ever need in a pouch at the start of the meal, to save faffing. Perhaps it's the atmosphere in the no-reservations bar next door where much of the tasting menu is listed on a blackboard and can be ordered for similarly pootling amounts of money (crispy smoked potatoes, £3.50), and where happy tables of families and their dogs sit and sip on superb Cloudwater beers and natural wines. Perhaps it's just that every single element of what makes a great food pub has been considered and lovingly implemented, a holistic, wholesome adventure in hospitality and seasonal dining that's impossible not to fall in love with. Perhaps, just perhaps, the Moorcock Inn is a perfect restaurant. Yeah, I'm going to go with that.



CGibbs said...

I'm sitting in an airport in the US, waiting to go home from a rough week, and your joyful review of this place that I will unlikely ever visit made me smile. Thank you.

Hollow Legs said...


Priyam Gandhi said...

Agreed to this one! Moorcock is one of the best places to eat in yorkshire