Richard Miller has a bit of a barney over the bread in this bucolic boozer
With its open fires and low, beamed ceilings, the whitewashed Shibden Mill Inn is one of those picture-perfect spots you’d usually expect to find nestled in a Yorkshire Dales nook, rather than a connecting road between Halifax and Bradford. But here we are.
We push through from tasty, well-executed pub fodder into the business of proper restaurant cooking.
I’m a sucker for these bucolic boozer-come-restaurants, with their promise of generous platefuls of grub gussied-up with a few tricks and flourishes from up an ambitious kitchen’s sleeve. The Shibden Mill Inn duly delivers - there’ll be no going hungry here - though not before we have a bit of a barney.
You see, I’m an ardent bread-head, I lust the crust, but even I wince at the eight quid price-tag slapped on the mini loaves that get us going. Granted, they’re nicely baked and arrive accompanied by pots of whisked pork rind (greasily good) and a ‘Lancashire custard cheese’ (think oozy brie meets the squeezy tube stuff), but for that price I expect the famous fromage to be hand-delivered by Mrs Kirkham herself. Compare that, for a sec, to the superlative sourdough served up at the nearby(-ish) Moorcock Inn that goes for a measly £2.50.
Tiff over, we find better value elsewhere on the menu. There’s a fishcake – of course there is – that does the word ‘offcuts’ proud (£8). The thick disk of liberally-vinegared salmon comes paddling in a soup-sauce hybrid with the spiky fresh hit of dill. It’s crowned with a poached egg that, when skewered, does its gushing yolk thing with aplomb.
Charmed into ordering the disconcertingly entitled ‘duck leg croquette with peanut butter soup’ (£10), I picture a 1990s-era Gary Rhodes and brace myself. I needn’t have worried. What lands is a broad-shouldered, bread-crumbed cylinder loaded with rich leg meat and accompanied by a jug of the “soup” or, to you and me, a light satay sauce. A mound of mashed squash adds an earthy sweetness, and wisps of surprisingly fiery spring onion perk it all up. It works.
But it’s when the £22 hogget arrives - that meaty middle-ground between mild-mannered lamb and funky old mutton - that we push through from tasty, well-executed pub fodder into the business of proper restaurant cooking.
Two lumps of the stuff have been expertly cajoled until pink of flesh and crisp of skin. A smattering of shaved almonds adds a delicate salty crunch, and the ras-el-hanout jus, with its mildly aniseed edge, makes for a welcome diversion from the same-old-same-old lubricant in which we usually douse our meats. I’d like a touch more golden crust on the pommes Anna, but that serves me right for not ordering chips. You should always order chips at these places.
A chunky piece of cod (£18), pearly white and flaking in all the right places, is almost upstaged by the smoked leek and clam pie accompanying it. A forkful of that buttery spud and creamy, molten filling (and a swig of old-school Chardonnay, available by the carafe - £21.65) is committed to memory as a Happy Place.
Having already treated my arteries to the dual delights of hogget fat puree and whisked pork rind I opt to give them a time-out at dessert. As such, the sticky toffee pudding is swerved and, instead, a blood orange iced parfait is shared (£7). It’s refreshing and zesty, but its finest component is, of course, the chunk of treacle tart adorning it. Sorry, heart.
It’ll cost you about six quid in a taxi from the station to get to this handsome, wonky-floored pub in the tranquil Shibden Valley. If it’s sunny give the belting beer garden a go or, if not, hunker down in the cosy interior. There are bedrooms, too, should a little lie down be in order.
Shibden Mill Inn, Shibden Mill Fold, Halifax, HX3 7UL. Tel: 01422 365840
Follow Richard on Twitter @eatingthenorth
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Bread 7, fishcake 7, duck 8, hogget 9, cod 8, parfait 7
It’s a busy place and the service is affably slick
Roaring fires + a top-notch wine list = convivial buzz