Neil Sowerby feels like he's died and gone to Hebden in this craft beer taqueria
The Calder Valley is easily reached from Leeds, hence a strong commuter demographic, but the traffic is two way, not just for those keen to keep curlews company across the Pennine crags but also because of the increasingly confident food and drink offering. Two of its restaurants made our Top Five for 2017 – Gimbals in Sowerby Bridge and the Hinchliffe Arms in Cragg Vale.
Hebden Bridge, where Sixties hippies once rubbed shoulders with fustian weavers, Rechabites and men with Bernard Ingham eyebrows (and prejudices), these days caters for weekenders with its plethora of casual cafes. Vegans, cakeheads and dog lovers (try the Lamppost Cafe) need not feel excluded, but there’s been no serious cooking going on.
So expectations of a taqueria inside a craft beer bar are not immediately high, even one as immaculately researched and presented as Vocation & Co. It’s in the old Moyles Hotel and Restaurant building, which was shut for three years after the devastating 2012 floods. One section has been restored as a townhouse B&B and this brewery tap occupies another – a stark white (money spent on it) minimalist statement of a bar.
Hen parties, lads on the lash, Wetherspoons aficionados immediately realise it’s not for them even before they are met with the guest choice of barrel-aged tonka bean porters, sour lemon goses and the like with prices that celebrate the ingenuity of today’s cutting edge brewers.
So far so Pilcrow, but Vocation’s own session cask pale ale Bread & Butter is only £3.20 a pint and many of their keg brews (sharing the ampersand and the hoppiness), Pride & Joy or Life & Death are reasonably priced, the latter in its Vermont incarnation is a reasonable £3.30… but then you realise that’s for a two thirds because it’s trendy New England style murky.
Vocation brewery’s owner and his chef have spent time in Mexico and among London’s street food Taquerati
We order one of these, a half of Wild Beer Sleeping Lemons and a third of 7.5% To Øl Sur Amarillo Danish sour mash IPA just for the sheer hell of it to go with our order from the in-house Taqueria. No, they haven’t imported a tortilla press direct from Mexico City – selling point of one NQ outfit – but Vocation brewery’s owner and his chef have spent time in Mexico and among London’s street food Taquerati, and it shows in food that is as gorgeous in the mouth as it is on the plate.
We resisted a special of Gorditas, Spanish for ‘little fat girls’; these stuffed masa flour pastries might even have felt like eating the publisher, so we stuck to two taco starters.
The first ‘Pulpo & Prawn’ (£5.50) offered deep fried prawns in ensenada batter alongside braised octopus with a sharp, fresh pico de gallo salsa. Fine, but the chestnut mushroom taco (£5), our concession to Veganuary was different league, the pungency of roast peppers, jalapenos and densely caramelised shallots calmed by the scattered curds of home made queso fresca.
One Vocation & Co. board is ample for two as a beer snack, but we couldn’t resist two to accommodate an intriguing sounding Ruby Snapper Fillet special. Secretly we wish they’d used the Hawaiian name for this deep sea denizen – ‘Ula‘ula koa‘e, which roughly translate as “the red fish with the tail of the Koa‘e bird” – but then Hebden’s still coming to terms with murky beer styles.
For our £16.50 we got a dense monkfish-like chunk of snapper, ably supported by battered cod cheeks and prawns and a mango salsa. Ah, if only Northern Monk’s Mango Lassi was on the beer board. The Carne Asada (£13.50) was marinated and flash-grilled rump steak with coriander, lime zest and a pile more seasonings with a real, unsubtle (in a good way) street food feel.
For the £8.50 pudding sharing board mango joined passion fruit in a creme anglaise to dip our pudding churros in. There was also a pot of rich chocolate sauce that wasn’t really. Such a sugar hit belongs at breakfast really, but it did go well with that tonka bean porter.
PS Vocation does have a small but excellent wine list for those who hate the hop.
Vocation & Co, 10 New Road, Hebden Bridge, HX7 8AD. 01422 844838. Dog friendly.
Pulpo & prawn taco 7 chestnut mushroom taco 9, Tajin coated sweet potatoes 7, ruby snapper fillet board 8, carne asada board 8, churros sharing board 7, beer range 9
Minimalist but not cold
Beer geeky yet far from snooty