Neil Sowerby adores this astonishing arrival on the Northern culinary scene
NORTH Sea herring season is upon us. All those Dutch and Flemish trenchermen salivating at the prospect of fatty raw fish soused in vinegar or brine. A Yorkshireman’s penchant for pickles stops at onions; herring bone to him is tweed or twill.
I can’t imagine the fish’s real bones, deep-fried, have ever been served before in the Moorcock, an old school Pennine pub at Norland above Sowerby Bridge. Ditto eleven week dry-aged pork chops from the Hungarian Mangalitza, a rare breed of pig that’s as wooly as a sheep (there are plenty of those on the moors outside).
Back to those bones in front of me, second course in a £35 tasting menu that starts weird and becomes ever more wonderful. They resemble a seahorse or a fossil shape in ammonite. Having days before nearly choked on a pin bone from a Port of Lancaster kipper, it’s not the easiest of encounters. Still that road kill lookalike at Stockport’s Where The Light Gets In proved utterly delicious and a similar ‘forage and ferment, cure and preserve’ ethos rules here. So tuck in.
Our meal has kicked off with made-on-the-premises cultured butter and wholemeal sourdough plus the best soda bread I’ve eaten outside Ireland. “It’s our first attempt,” Aimee Tufford tells us. She is front of house with her British-Australian partner, Alisdair Brooke-Taylor, the chef. She leaves us to our bones, his take on a popular Japanese snack.
I tackle the accompaniments first. Cod skin ‘scratchings’ from another Northern European staple are fragile fishy wafers. Thin discs of pickle are equally delicate from a brief association with rose vinegar. The curled-up, previously dried herring skeletons found a couple of refuseniks among our party. I loved the challenge, though, apart from one beady skull that was hard to crack.
What follows mark the Moorcock as an astonishing arrival on the Northern culinary scene. Paradisal black pudding, salvaged wild honey with parkin, deconstructed dock pudding, a cascade of herbs and leaves that go way beyond plate dressing.
The wellspring of this creativity? A culinary ley line from Heuvelland to Norland. That region on the Belgian-French border was home to Michelin-starred In de Wulf, where Alisdair was right hand man to the legendary Kobe Desramualts. Just before the place’s closure in 2016, influential website Opinionated About Dining named it the 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 in not the most obvious of spots. He and soulmate Aimee would disagree. Their website proclaims: “The Moorcock Inn is at the foot of 250 acres of productive moorland, providing plenty of plants, berries, mushrooms and game. Our two-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.”
The fire comes from an expansive barbecue outside with a panorama of that moorland. More fire – the glazed ware we are served off is hand-made by the couple.
An experienced sommelier, Aimee hand-picks the small producer and natural wines that dominate their list, mostly from Settle specialist Buon Vino. With our tasting menu we choose the optional £30 drinks flight of six matching wines and one beer (the vintage Rodenbach red ale from a beer list naturally strong on Belgium).
Then it’s a bottle of biodynamic Beaujolais to accompany an extra £8 cheese course of three year-aged Ould Remeker Cheese, made from organic, unpasteurised Jersey milk. A Dutch answer to aged Parmesan.
Cocktails amazingly hover around the £6 mark and also veer towards the ‘natural’. Take the housemade Negroni, where a ‘Campari’ crafted by Aimee from rosehip, hogweed and clementine is mixed with rose petal wine and Yorkshire gin.
All this is supplemented in the pubby ‘no booking’ end by craft beers from Magic Rock and Northern Monk plus traditional cask from fellow local champion Timothy Taylor’s.
Bar snacks are vividly eclectic to match. During our visit there were smoked whiting brandade (£4.50), pork and smoked bone marrow rillette, pickled cherries (£5.50), horseradish fritters, rose pickles (£4.50), and freshly shucked Lindisfarne oysters (£2 each).
Well you wouldn’t expect Pringles and pickled eggs here? The restaurant has stellar promise, but it is wonderful to see the pub side is not disregarded. The Moorcock is the stuff of dreams.
So what else did we eat on the Moorcock Tasting Menu apart from fried bones?
Soup of grilled kale and spinach - Intensely green, this shot of chlorophyll is laced with Alisdair and Aimee’s own fresh curd cheese and a prune oil. It tastes as beautiful as it looks.
North Sea Mackerel - A tangle of greens, including the wild garlic that flourishes in these hills, gives a slight bitterness that cuts through the oily, barely seared fish.
Beetroot, pickled walnut, black pudding - A trio of flavours that oughtn’t to work but does – triumphantly. The home-made fresh blood black pudding is the soft, moist and fragrant star. A kind of super Stornoway.
Dock pudding, spring shoots, oyster cream - This local delicacy uses bistort, a cousin of the sting-curing dock leaf, that exists mostly in Calderdale. Mytholmroyd hosts the annual World Dock Pudding Championship. All the competitors stick to the tried and trusted recipe – leaves fried laverbread-like in bacon fat with oatmeal, nettles, onion and seasoning. The Moorcock version is thankfully nothing like this. It’s a ravishing arrangement of freshly picked raw leaves sitting on an oyster emulsion. A dish Simon Rogan would die for.
Mangalitza pork saddle - It just gets better. Long ageing of meat was a trademark of In de Wulf. This rare breed cut was seeing the light after eleven weeks’ maturation; the fat on the chops was succulently sweet, while a jus infused with tart gooseberry mead was a masterstroke.
Digestive tea of mint and nettles - Nature’s own palate cleanser, continuing the green and clean undertow to the whole feast.
Raw milk parfait - Perfectly textured parfait and the contrast of lemony baby sorrel with a wild strawberry and rose conserve was sheer genius.
Parkin, salted butter, wild honey - Proof indeed of the foraging, improvisatory heart of the Moorcock enterprise (it reminds me forcibly of old favourite, The Ethicurean in the Mendips) – staff collected 3kg of burr combs from a tree felled a fortnight before to provide the wild honey to accompany the parkin. Salted butter? Once again a third element on a plate providing harmony.
Moorcock Inn, Moor Bottom Lane, Norland, Sowerby Bridge HX6 3RP. Tel: 01422 832103. Dog-friendly. You can buy both the sourdough and the cultured butter to take away (recommended).
Huge thanks to Joby Catto for providing many of the images.
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.
Sourdough and butter 9, fried herring bones 9, kale/spinach soup 10, mackerel 9, black pudding 10, pork saddle 10, digestive tea 9, milk parfait 10, parkin 10, cheese 10.
How to make a no frills country inn feel sophisticated.
Huge knowledge from sommelier Aimee and all the staff.