Thursday, October 12, 2023

Moor Hall (Aughton, United Kingdom)

Moor Hall Restaurant with Rooms
Moor Hall, Prescot Rd, Aughton, Ormskirk L39 6RT, United Kingdom
+44 1695 572511
Thu 10/12/2023, 07:30p-11:35p

Moor Hall Exterior

After spending my first two days in the UK in Bray, I rode the Avanti West Coast up to Liverpool for my next dinner. Helmed by Chef Patron Mark Birchall, Moor Hall is situated in the countryside on the outskirts of the city, set in a Grade II* listed building that purportedly dates back to at least the 1500s. The cuisine here is modern British, but greatly influenced by the local surroundings, with much of the produce sourced from the restaurant's own gardens. Moor Hall has been named the best restaurant in England for the past couple years, so I was eager to give the place a try.

About the Chef: Mark Birchall was born in Chorley, Lancashire, and thanks to the influence of the television chefs of his childhood, knew that he also wanted to pursue a culinary career by the age of 14. In his teens, he got his first hospitality job at a local pub, where he started out washing dishes, but was eventually allowed to perform some basic food preparation tasks. He studied cooking for two years at Runshaw College in Leyland, where he worked at Foxholes, the school's training restaurant. During this period, Birchall also apprenticed at the Pines Hotel in Chorley as a commis, and taking advice from his sous David Dugdale, transitioned to Franco Taruschio's The Walnut Tree in Llanddewi Skirrid, Wales in 1999 as a demi chef de partie. It was his first full-time position, and he spent 18 formative months there under Head Chef Roger Brook.

His next move was to Northcote Manor in Langho, Lancashire, where he stayed for four years, reaching the position of sous alongside Chef Patron Nigel Haworth and Head Chef Warwick Dodds. Birchall's first Head Chef gig arrived in July 2004 at Haighton Manor in Preston, Lancashire. That lasted for about a year, and in October 2005, he returned to Northcote Manor for a bit before becoming a sous at Simon Rogan's L'Enclume the following May, during the restaurant's "molecular" phase. In 2008, he was made Head Chef there, and in April 2011, he actually won the Roux Scholarship, after attempting four times prior (his stage was at El Celler de Can Roca). Starting in 2014, Birchall served as the Executive Chef of Northern operations for Rogan's Umbel Restaurant Group, but decamped in July 2015 to open his own place.

To do so, he teamed up with Andrew James "Andy" Bell (co-founder of financial services firm AJ Bell) and his wife Tracey Bell, who'd purchased the Moor Hall property that same year. The couple committed millions of pounds to the renovation of the estate, and the restaurant (along with its seven guest rooms) eventually opened in March 2017. Moor Hall received its first Michelin star in October that same year, and just weeks later, a more casual eatery called The Barn opened on the grounds (which landed its own Michelin star last February). Moor Hall's second star arrived in October 2018, and in 2019, it was crowned the best restaurant in the UK at the Estrella Damm National Restaurant Awards, a feat repeated in 2021 (there was no 2020 ceremony due to the pandemic). Michelin awarded a green star for sustainability in February 2022, while in June last year, Moor Hall was demoted to "only" the best restaurant in England, having been supplanted in the top spot by Ynyshir in Wales (this was repeated this past June as well).

Moor Hall Bar/Lounge
Upon checking in with the hostess, I was brought into Moor Hall's rather cozy bar and lounge area.

1: CHARCUTERIE | a selection of our house cured meats
A trio of housemade charcuterie quickly appear before me. In front was a salty, sticky, very obviously beefy bresaola, with a zesty, herbal bent. Up next came what I believe was coppa, which ate piney, slightly astringent, and oh-so porcine. Lastly, we had surprisingly fruity, yet still zingy garlic-fennel salami.

Moor Hall Snacks Menu
Along with the meats above came a menu of the snacks I'd be having, which was a welcomed touch. Click for a larger version.

2: BLACK PUDDING | pickled gooseberry
A fun riff on black pudding showcased the sausage's rich, earthy flavors, accented by a lovely underlying sweetness.

3: CROWN PRINCE | chorizo and egg yolk
The blood sausage above arrived with a Crown Prince squash tartlet that I found deeply satisfying thanks to its delicious marriage of egg (and cheese I think?) with sweetly-spiced chorizo. One of my favorite bites of the night.

Moor Hall Introduction Moor Hall Menu
I was then given a preview of the night's Provenance tasting menu, which was priced at a pre-paid £225 ($282.15) per person, plus 12.5% service. Wine pairings were available at £135 ($166.52) and £280 ($345.38), while a non-alcoholic tea/infusion pairing sourced by Jameel Lalani was £85 ($104.85). Corkage is £60 ($74.01) for still wines and £75 ($92.51) for sparkling wines. Click for larger versions.

4: RAW MACKEREL | redcurrant, radish, nasturtium
Lightly-cured Cornish mackerel possessed a refined brine that was well-juxtaposed against the almost bracing flavors of nasturtium and radish, all while red currant offered up a fruitiness. What I found most intriguing was that I somehow tasted ròusōng on the finish!

5: COD ROE | chicken, chervil, caviar
Served alongside the mackerel above was some exquisitely briny whipped and smoked cod roe crowned with Kaluga hybrid caviar, accompanied by a very savory, very familiar, and almost "hammy" chicken jelly, along with crisp garden crackers. Another snack highlight.

Moor Hall Cocktail List
I then perused Moor Hall's selection of cocktails, which was presented digitally. Click for a larger version.

TOKAJI OLD FASHIONED [£18.00 ($22.20)] | Nikka Coffey Grain whiskey, Dobogó Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos 2017
I ended up choosing an old fashioned variation that incorporated Tokay. The cocktail smelled of bright citrus commingled with darker-toned fruits--quite nice. Tasting it, I got medicinal, whiskey-driven notes up front, but those quickly transitioned to a bevy of rich, sweet, golden fruits that really conveyed the essence of the dessert wine.

6: SMOKED EEL | potato, fermented garlic, flowers
At this point, I was brought into the kitchen, where I was introduced to Chef Birchall and presented with my final snack. The eel was wonderfully smoky, a flawless match with that comfortingly salty, savory potato, while the flowers and garlic offered up the perfect accent. I could've easily popped a few more of these guys.

Moor Hall Table Setting
I then moved into the dining room. Here we see my place setting, replete with a somewhat curious-looking charger plate.

7: LOUËT-FEISSER OYSTER | white beetroot, dill, buttermilk
Upon being seated, I was soon presented with a "surprise" course not listed on the preview menu above. An oyster from Ireland's Carlingford bay was delicately poached in buttermilk, which provided a lactic counterpoint to its crisp, potent brine. At the same time, dill and beet suggested further contrast, and I loved the nutty crunch imparted by the puffed quinoa.

Moor Hall Dining Room
Here we see my view of Moor Hall's dining room, which represents the newly-constructed portion of the building. Capacity is roughly 35, and there's also a PDR that seats up to 14.

Bread & Butter
Made with toasted seeds, the bread was fantastic, showing off a delectable smoke and a faultless crust. The loaf was presented with two housemade accompaniments, the first of which was an unabashedly herbaceous garden butter with parsley, lovage, and chive. We also had a lightly salted sour cultured butter made with Jersey cream, which, when taken with the bread, resulted in a buttered popcorn sort of sensation that I reveled in.

8: PARIS MARKET CARROTS | doddington, chrysanthemum and sea buckthorn
What struck me the most in the night's first "proper" course was this delightfully piquant, familiar funk that meshed seamlessly with the sweetness of carrot, while that Doddington cheese "snow" proved to be a bracingly cold, clever counter.

Gusbourne 'Fifty One Degrees North', England, Kent, 2014
I had reviewed Moor Hall's healthily-sized, Old World-leaning wine list online prior to my visit, and had pre-selected the Gusbourne 'Fifty One Degrees North', England, Kent, 2014 [£225 ($277.54)], since I wanted to drink something English with my meal. Initially, the sparkler's nose was rich and concentrated, filled with brioche and stone fruit preserves, while its palate was eminently balanced, with bright apple notes at the fore. With time, the aromas became even more overtly orchard fruit-influenced, while taste-wise, those fruits were paired with more of an earthy tone, with more apparent toastiness to boot. I was quite happy with this, and I have to say that English sparkling wine really made a good showing for itself this trip.

9: SWEETBELL TURNIP AND CRAB | anise hyssop and sunflower seeds
The inherent sweetness of Cornish crab was well conveyed, and also smartly paired with bitter turnips, while the broth here really completed the equation with its tangy, savory qualities. I eagerly mopped up the remaining liquid with my bread.

10: GAYTHORN HALL ABERDEEN ANGUS | barbecued pablo beetroot, mustard and shallot
Presented in tartare form was Aberdeen Angus, which had been dry-aged for 60 days on the bone and 20 days off the bone. The beef ate dense and intense, with a real depth to it. The earthy sweetness of the beets served as a superb counterbalance to the meat, and I appreciated how smoky and bitter notes pervaded the dish, all while a mustard-y cream lightened things up.

Fruits of the Forage: Cover Fruits of the Forage: Woodruff Fruits of the Forage: Monk's Beard Fruits of the Forage: Anise Hyssop Fruits of the Forage: Viola Fruits of the Forage: Sea Buckthorn Fruits of the Forage: Sea Purslane
Fruits of the Forage: Sweet Cicely Fruits of the Forage: Wild Garlic Fruits of the Forage: Sea Aster Fruits of the Forage: Sorrel Fruits of the Forage: Oyster Leaf Fruits of the Forage: Sea Beet Fruits of the Forage: Apple Marigold Fruits of the Forage: Chrysanthemum
During the meal, I was provided a booklet detailing some of the foraged herbs and such used at Moor Hall. Click for larger versions.

11: ISLE OF MULL SCALLOP | fermented grains and cauliflower, green tomato and truffle
A lone scallop had a substantial weight to it, and was also uncommonly sweet. The crux here was the funky, fermented kick of that kohlrabi-chive-truffle combination, which imparted an oomph to the dish without overwhelming the delicate nature of the scallop. At the same time, the cauliflower also made a lot of sense, and I wouldn't have minded more of it.

Second Helping of Bread
The bread was so good that I couldn't help but request a second serving. I was especially fond of those crunchy, pointy end pieces.

12: GRILLED CORNISH MONKFISH | one ball courgette, shrimp and sea greens
Monkfish arrived with a rare cook and meaty consistency. Its finespun flavor took well to a red mullet-shellfish sauce, which showed off a bisque-like richness and concentration, while shrimp and a dashi gel imparted loads of umami. On the other hand, the greens and zucchini offered up a brightness that really perked up the dish.

The first portion of a three-part lamb dish brought out a deep, dark lamb ragout set against plenty of lactic tang and a zippy salsa verde.

13: CHAROLLAIS LAMB | celeriac, hen of the woods and anchovy, ragout, curds and ramson, liver and honey
Charollais lamb demonstrated a grassy pungency that spoke to its dry-aging, and was augmented by an elderflower-boosted lamb sauce, pickled shallots, and mushrooms. I loved the "popcorn" sweetbreads, while working to temper all the strong flavors at play was a relatively restrained celery root cream.

Onion Roll & Liver
A super flaky onion roll so forcefully conveyed the essence of the Allium, but even better was that lamb liver parfait, glazed with truffle honey, which served as the perfect accoutrement to the bread.

Gingerbread Information
In preparation for dessert, I was provided a brief description of the history of gingerbread in Ormskirk, a nearby town. Click for a larger version.

14: ORMSKIRK GINGERBREAD | roots and pine
The Chef's playful take on gingerbread certainly wasn't shy about the ginger, but the spice worked wonders when paired with supporting elements of rosemary and honey. I found this aggressively palate cleaning, but in just the right way.

15: SCARISBRICK BLACKBERRIES | lemon verbena, begonia and ragstone
Foraged blackberries were accompanied by a crème anglaise(?)-goat cheese parfait and blackberry sorbet, then topped with a begonia flower "snow." Everything just came together beautifully here; I was especially keen on the citrusiness of the lemon verbena, and how that worked with both the chèvre and tartness of the fruit.

16: GARDEN APPLES & GOOSEBERRY | woodruff, birch sap and marigold
The melding of gooseberry ice cream with a rich, crisp, homey apple pie-like base was a fun, tasty amalgamation to be sure. I was also a big fan of the floral, fruity components, as well as the sugariness of that muscovado chip. There was even a lovely hint of smoke present.

17: HONEY AND BLACKCURRANT | mulberry, sour cream and mead
Following the completion of the last dish, I retired into Moor Hall's bar/lounge area once again. For my final "official" course, I was served sour-ish mulberries from the restaurant's garden, joined by bits of nutty caramelized buckwheat and some sublimely sticky, sugary local honey.

Moor Hall Tea List
I found myself in the mood for tea, and thus requested to see the restaurant's selection, which was also presented electronically. Click for a larger version.

Silver Buds 2022, Kapkoros Estate, Kenya
My pick was a white tea, the Silver Buds 2022, Kapkoros Estate, Kenya [£10 ($12.33)]. I found it softly grassy at first blush, but with flavors of tropical fruit just building and building. Very nice.

This was Moor Hall's version of parkin, a type of cake originally from Yorkshire but also popular here in Lancashire. Think warm, nutty, sugary, and appropriately autumnal.

Finally, a selection of petits fours. Clock-wise from the top:
  • White Chocolate with Rhubarb Infused with Gin – Unexpectedly floral, but tempered a touch by the chocolate.
  • Pumpkin Seed and White Chocolate Brittle – This one had a very familiar nuttiness that made a whole lotta sense with the chocolate.
  • Strawberry-Verbena Pâte de Fruit – Quite tangy, but with a creamy sort of contrast.
  • Hazelnut Chocolate Truffle with Rosemary Caramel – Rich and sticky, though with a marked herbiness that kept things in check.
  • Peach Macaron – Like peaches and cream, but also with a bit of a passion fruit character.
  • Whey Fudge – Overtly caramel-y, and I swear I tasted pumpkin spice in there!
  • Chocolate and Caramel Shortbread – My waiter's favorite; he described it as "really moreish," and he wasn't wrong thanks to the bite's great mix of crunchy, nutty, and chocolate-y elements.
Moor Hall Take Home Menu
At the end of the meal, I was given a signed copy of the menu to take home, which was of course much appreciated. Click for a larger version.

The team at Moor Hall delivered a pretty bang-on experience tonight, both in terms of food and service. It was great to taste Birchall's version of contemporary British cooking, and the progression of the meal through different physical spaces was something I really enjoyed as well. It was all a bit transportive. In fact, there was something so unapologetically English about the whole experience that quite spoke to me. This seems like a place that's well on its way to three Michelin stars.

Moor Hall


Blogger H.Peter said...

Paris next?

Thursday, November 23, 2023 2:25:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Ah I really don't know what's next, but my initial thought was actually Latin America.

Monday, November 27, 2023 2:29:00 AM  

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