What do you get from the Moor Hall chef, how much is it and how easy to prepare?
One of the most popular features on Confidentials has always been our honest, unannounced and impartial restaurant reviews. Our readers come to us for the lowdown, confident that we know our stuff and will tell it straight. With restaurant dining sadly not an option right now, we've not been able to write restaurant reviews. But it’s what we do.
Instead, we’re giving you the scoop on some of the many delivery options that have sprung up. We’ll buy it, eat it - cook it if we have to - and let you know how it was. We’re not going to be scoring these ‘reviews’ - it doesn’t seem right at the moment - but we’ll let you know what you can expect and where's worth spending your money.
What - At Home by Mark Birchall
LET’S turn the clock back to what I call ‘Sunlit Uplands One’ in August when the easing of the first lockdown allowed us to dine out again. I splashed our hermit hoard on a visit to Moor Hall, Mark Birchall’s 2 Michelin star restaurant near Ormskirk, where £500 didn’t touch the sides for tasting menus for two with matching wine flights. The best such UK experience in years, so I didn’t feel feverish about the expense. A lasting memory is of the Maitre d’ granting our request to explore the gorgeous walled kitchen garden between courses six and seven before the summer sun went down.
Just the dish to set you yearning for course seven at the Michelin mothership
The next time we tasted Mark’s food was at home one Saturday when a similar pit-stop in our own barren veg patch would have yielded a gale tormenting a clump of snowdrops. The meal was understandably different too, carrying the modest caveats: “With a nod towards popular dishes from across his restaurants, Moor Hall and The Barn at Moor Hall” and, “Crafted to be enjoyed at home with minimum fuss”. Don’t expect full-blown Michelin magic was the message. With my presentation skills, that was never going to happen.
What do you get and how much does it cost?
It came in at £100 for two, plus £10 delivery. Slightly cheaper than the Northcote Gourmet Box reviewed by my colleague Kelly Bishop and a snip compared with the £175 a head offering from Core by Clare Smyth, London’s newly anointed 3 star. Delivery costs and supplementary caviar can – gasp – double that price. Moor Hall’s debut ‘takeaway’ is thankfully less extravagant: Four courses plus an amuse of their home-cured coppa and a quartet of fluffy, slightly sweet Parker House rolls with cultured butter. And, of course, all the packaging is sustainably compostable.
What do you have to do and how difficult is it?
‘Minimum fuss’, it said on the packet. Not if you are averse to arranging and opening a total of 28 tiny tubs or sachets and juggling a few pans to warm up various components. Major brickbat was having to call up the Moor Hall website for a preparation guide – it echoed the frustrations of homeschooling. A botanical greeting card did display the menu, yet strangely no printed instructions were included in the box. I only realised at the last minute I should have frozen the blood orange granita for the dessert and kept the pots of floral meringues and almond biscuits out of the fridge.
In my dither, I eventually denied the meringues the chance to join rhubarb compote, woodruff mousse and the now over-frozen granita in the final composition. Check out below what it should have looked like, petals and all, and my sloppy version. There had been a certain tension too in following the DO NOT BOIL warning for the smoked bone marrow enhancing the Belted Galloway Beef. A close thing. I also mislaid the shallot dressing for that main. The search continues.
Is it any cop?
As a first stab at joining the throng of high-end cook-at-home box dabblers, I felt it played too safe and could have done with a little more luxury and sense of fun (like Northcote’s mini-box of chocs). As a home cook who has blossomed in lockdown, I would have welcomed more hands-on cooking but perhaps I’m the exception. The Belted Galloway was two chunks of ox cheek in a bag, presumably braised sous vide, which makes sense unless the use of a modest cut offends your sense of Michelin value. Bolstered by the bone marrow jus, it was splendid, though confit crosnes, those odd maggot-like Chinese artichokes, and a muddy looking puree of standard artichoke weren’t a soothing fit, tastewise or visually. Roast parsnip soup, lifted by a dollop of apple and horseradish cream, was fabulous – and a doddle to make photogenic via a green slash of lovage oil and a chiffonade (what else?) of chives.
The course that felt most akin to what is served in the elegant dining room at Moor Hall was the most underpowered. Dabs of celeriac puree and prune puree, a tangle of garden shoots dressed with hazelnut and truffle surrounded a delicate terrine of pressed Goosnargh chicken with celeriac, leek and truffle. Just the dish to set you yearning for course seven at the Michelin mothership but maybe not robust enough for its journey out into our new culinary normal.
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