I first tried Mark Birchall’s food at l’enclume back in 2012. It may well have been Simon Rogan’s restaurant in that little village of Cartmel in Cumbria, but it was head chef Mark’s food that was really spectacular.
Great news then to hear he’s opened a restaurant with rooms on his home turf in Lancashire. Aughton, West Lancashire, to be precise.
We arrive after a whopping 4.5 hour drive from London with heavy traffic. The grounds aren’t quite finished yet so the odd digger is visible but it’s stunning never the less. There’s a sweeping driveway, a lake, 4 acres of land and a garden out the back where herbs and vegetables are growing for the kitchen.
The house itself, a grade II listed building which has been around since the 16th century, is full of original wood work inside. The craftsmanship, if that’s your thing, is quite astonishing. Of the seven bedrooms, I’m staying in the Mulberry Suite, which is huge. It’s a white and purple colour palate with a large white leather sofa at the end of the bed. It’s quite Footballer’s Wives in a nice way. There are views onto the lake from most windows which is just lovely.
The 7ft Emperor bed is so big you could lose yourself in it and anybody sharing it with you. The pillows are plentiful and the duvet is the type I only wish I could afford. The bathroom has a free standing roll top bath in its own room and then a separate shower and two sinks. It’s luxurious to the max.
The real excitement however comes from the dining room. It’s an extension to the original building so it feels super modern. Floor to ceiling windows look out onto the grass but equally pleasant to look at are the chefs who quietly plate up dishes at the open pass.
Food wise, we opt for the 8 course tasting menu (£95 per person), which starts with a whole host of gorgeous (looking and tasting) snacks which come out in quick succession.
The food reminds me of L’enclume. From baked carrots with sea buckthorn and chrysanthemum to a simple bowl of turnip and crab, dishes are exciting to eat.
A highlight is the aged beef in charcoal with barbecued celeriac – the meat has been coarsely chopped giving it bite and the mustard gives an added kick. Grilled langoustine is another winner as it comes with bone marrow for extra indulgence.
The small chunk of Herdwick lamb would only be bettered by some fat to go with it – I’m yet to meet some lamb fat I’ve disagreed with. It comes drenched in the meatiest of sauces.
Cheese has its own glass fronted room visible from our table. We’re taken there to choose what we want. They’re all British and feature hits like Beenleigh Blue and Mrs Kirkham’s.
Puddings are on the ‘not too sweet’ scale. Unripe strawberries are exactly that – but somehow they don’t taste gross. Before that comes a bowl of ice cream which has the texture of clotted cream. It’s topped with what tastes like brandy snap basket shards. I’m in heaven. We finish with honey beer which has been nitro frozen making it chewy and totally moreish. It sits in a Bramley apple cup.
If all that food wasn’t enough, breakfast is equally epic. There is no menu, just a barrage of the most beautiful things. We start with bread and croissants with butters, jams, preserves. Then cured pig and smoked salmon.
The fry up comes in a large dish to share. The sausage is incredible but the bacon lacks fat – and once again, I’m an animal fat kinda guy. Hen of the Wood mushrooms have crisped up good and proper. All fry ups should use these. I even like the homemade ketchup.
The whole Moor Hall caboodle is undeniably impressive. If like me, you plan any trips away based solely around food then Lancashire should work its way higher up your list. With Northcote, Hipping Hall, The Cartford Inn and now this, it’s worth the journey.
Would we go back? Yes.
We stayed and dined as guests of Moor Hall on a complimentary basis.