A FAR from pretty moorland pub lauded to the skies for its innovative cuisine by the Observer’s Jay Rayner and fellow food critic Marina O’Loughlin of the Sunday Times. It lured ToM to take the stopping Leeds train through Rochdale, alighting at Sowerby Bridge for a very uphill taxi ride to see what all the fuss was about.
Did The Moorcock at Norland live up to expectations? Way beyond – even on the back of the walk-in pub board menu rather than the £35 a head seven course tasting menu, which has become something of a hot ticket since all the national (and word of mouth social media) acclaim.
After a whirlwind few opening months co-owners Alisdair Brooke-Taylor and Aimee Tufford (above) told us they were planning a week’s break in August. San Sebastian, naturally. Keeping it simple with pintxos crawls rather than Michelin marathons. So check availability if you like what you read here and fancy booking.
First impressions are of a Pennine pub where you can bring your dog and neck a pint of Timothy Taylor’s, then you notice the daily changing blackboard with its ‘Sandhutton Fam asparagus, house made cheese, fried sea purslane’ (£8) or ‘Whitby lobster on toast, sunflower tarragon’ (£10) or Earl Grey and plum Ice cream with soaked damsons’ (£4).
Actually, we saw that second because we were smitten by a neighbouring board offering their own charcuterie, a selection of which we couldn’t resist.
The likes of home-cured hogweed salami, chamomile pork shoulder and treacle pancetta were exquisite, accompanied by the intense Belgian classic ale, Rodenbach. Alisdair and Aimee trained at the Michelin-starred In de Wulf on the Belgium French border. Alisdair was eventually No.2 to its legendary chef, Kobe Desramualts.
Just before the place’s closure in 2016 influential website Opinionated About Dining named it third best restaurant in Europe after L'Arpège in Paris and the Basque Country’s Azurmendi. Kobe has gone on to fresh challenges and so has Alisdair, bringing with him a a similar ‘forage and ferment, cure and preserve’ ethos.
The pub’s website proclaims: “The Moorcock Inn is at the foot of 250 acres of productive moorland, providing plenty of plants, berries, mushrooms and game. Our 2-acre plot is being developed to provide an organic kitchen garden, providing the foundations of our pub and restaurant menus with the best of Yorkshire produce supplying the rest. Both menus are written with the seasons and cooked over fire.”
Indeed smoke from the Moorcock’s massive outside barbecue, drifted kipperingly into the bar as we ate. We can forgive it a lot; on a previous visit it delivered a couple of remarkable 11 week dry aged pork chops from the Hungarian Mangalitza, a rare breed of pig that’s as wooly as a sheep. Accompanied by a gooseberry-infused mead jus, naturally.
The nearest equivalent around Manchester? Probably Where The Light Gets In, where they too grow their own, then ferment and forage, promote natural wines and have a hand in creating their own pottery (at the Moorcock the two As even made their own furniture).
This ethos even extends to the £6 cocktails, which also veer towards the natural. The rather lovely house Negroni is made from a ‘Campari’ crafted by Aimee from rosehip, hogweed and clementine, mixed with rose petal wine and Yorkshire gin.
After our superior bar snacks we took home made-on-the-premises cultured butter and wholemeal sourdough. Perfect end to a fascinating culinary adventure. Wish it were closer.
Moorcock Inn, Moor Bottom Lane, Norland, Sowerby Bridge, West Yorks, HX6 3RP. 01422 832103. Dog-friendly. You can buy both the sourdough and the cultured butter to take away. Recommended. Thanks to Joby Catto http://jobycatto.com for the barbecue picture.