Just a week after being awarded a Michelin star, chef-patron Mark Birchall welcomed a host of industry professionals to Moor Hall, his newly opened restaurant with rooms, for our latest Chef Eats Out event, run in association with Udale Speciality Foods. Katherine Price reports
A n unexpectedly warm and sunny October day served as the perfect backdrop for a visit to Moor Hall, Mark Birchall's newly Michelin-starred restaurant with rooms in Aughton, Lancashire.
Birchall, the 2011 Roux Scholar, spent nine years with Simon Rogan, first as head chef of the Michelin-starred L'Enclume in Cartmel, Cumbria, then as group executive chef of his northern operations. He opened Moor Hall in March with business partners Andy and Tracey Bell following a multimillion-pound refurbishment of the Grade II-listed building, and received a Michelin star in October.
About 40 hospitality industry professionals descended on the property last month for The Caterer's latest Chef Eats Out event. They were there to try Birchall's food - not for the first time for many of them - to explore the two-acre walled garden and to take a peek at the informal barn restaurant ahead of its opening. All with a glass of cava in hand, of course.
Guests eventually settled in the main restaurant, a light, airy space overlooking a lake on one side and the garden on the other. The event brings back memories for chef and restaurateur Paul Heathcote, who hosted his own Chef Eats Out in 1997. "You're under an enormous amount of pressure," he said. He is full of admiration for the restaurant: "The place is set up brilliantly and there's beautiful taste in decor."
The meal kicked off with three snacks: parcels of black pudding and pickled gooseberry; potato nests of smoked eel with fermented garlic and edible flowers; and a bright dish of oyster with cured ham, dill and fennel.
"I was a massive fan of the little tasters," said Jez Shaw, owner of the Red Lion Inn in Bobbington, Staffordshire. "The standout one was the smoked eel - the crispiness of the little potato nest and the smokiness of the eel. My single best mouthful."
Tim Allen, until recently executive chef of the Michelin-starred Wild Rabbit in Kingham, Oxfordshire, described the fennel and dill flavours with the oyster as "very clean".
The snacks were followed by a starter of baked carrots three ways, with chrysanthemum and sea buckthorn, and dusted with a Doddington cheese snow, which Allen described as "outstanding", and added: "It's very hard to take a humble ingredient like carrot and make it really work. I don't normally eat herbaceous stuff like the buckthorn, but it worked really well and was very cleverly balanced."
It was paired with an unusual orange wine, a Benimaquia Tinajas, which Heathcote particularly appreciated. "I like to try different things, and I thought the unfiltered orange wine was interesting," he said.
The next course, a Holstein Friesian beef tartare with barbecued celeriac, mustard and shallot, went down well with Anthony Wright, head chef at the L20 restaurant in Liverpool."I'm a sucker for a beef tartare wherever I go," he said. "I really liked the turbot dish, too." The fish was the next dish on the menu - cooked on the bone with artichoke, sea vegetables and mussel cream. The main attraction - Goosnargh duck, supplied by Udale, with beetroot, elderberry and kale, and a small side of duck ragÁ¹ with crispy duck skin - was a clear favourite and won praise from all corners of the dining room. "I could have eaten a mixing bowl of that ragÁ¹, it was just stunning," said managing director of the Seafood Pub Company Joycelyn Neve. "It had such intense flavour, you could tell the duck had been aged really well. There was a really intense umami and meatiness to it," added Michael Price, owner of the Gourmet Kitchen. Heathcote was also impressed: "I thoroughly enjoyed it; it was a lovely combination of ingredients and fruit that is in season." A pre-dessert palate cleanser of gingerbread with brown sugar, roots and pine was "nice and refreshing" said Heathcote, with Shaw adding: "The coldness enhanced the flavour of the ginger, and it did what it should do - cleanse that palate, ready for the dessert." And the dessert, Worcester Pearmain apple with woodruff, almond and whey caramel, earned murmurs of approval. "Outstanding, beautiful," said Price. "So beautiful and very neat," added chef Steve Bennett. Birchall was pleased with how the meal went: "On the whole, the feedback seemed to be very good," he said modestly. The entire event, said Andrew Nutter, chef-proprietor of Nutters Restaurants, was not only an enjoyable experience but a useful one: "These kind of events inspire the industry. The fact that I'm able to bring one of my chefs here from Nutters, where he can have a bit of networking experience and have a fantastic meal with a great pairing of wines, is what the industry is all about." !moor-hall-ceo2 So what next for Birchall? "I want two stars, I want three stars - who doesn't?" he said. "We'll just keep moving, keep trying to progress, and better ourselves and improve what we do each day. Just try to enjoy it - and fill our restaurant." The menu •Black pudding, pickled gooseberry •Smoked eel, potato, fermented garlic, flowers •Oyster, cured ham, dill, fennel •Baked carrots, Doddington cheese snow, chrysanthemum, sea buckthorn •Holstein Friesian, barbecued celeriac,mustard, shallot •Turbot cooked on the bone, artichoke, sea vegetables, mussel cream •Goosnargh duck, beetroot, elderberry, kale •Gingerbread, brown sugar, roots, pine •Worcester Pearmain, woodruff, almond, whey caramel Wine notes The wines were chosen with the help of UK-based wine importer, distributor and retailer Les Caves de Pyrene. Sales and marketing director Douglas Wregg explains the pairings. Recaredo Brut Gran Reserva Terrers, Spain Wonderful chalky minerality with notes of nutmeg and ginger. It's great as an aperitif. 2015 Benimaquia Tinajas, Bernabe Navarro, Alicante, Spain The rich aromatics complement the sweetness of the baked carrots and add a spicy note. 2015 Ribeyrenc, Thierry Navarre, Languedoc, France A rare and historic Languedoc grape. Its simplicity pairs well with the subtle beef tartare. 2015 Opok white, Sepp Muster, Styria, Austria A white wine with an almost salty mineral quality that makes it the perfect foil for the turbot. 2015 Kelley Fox Mirabai Pinot Noir, USA Sanguine and herbal - a stunning match for the rich flavours of the duck. 2016 JuranÁ§on, Clos Lapeyre, France The natural acidity is an ideal palate cleanser before eating sweet dishes. A message from our sponsor !Udale It is amazing what has been achieved in such a short time at Moor Hall, a beautiful setting with food to match. The dishes that Mark Birchall and his team produce are not only beautiful to look at, but the delicate flavours in each dish are just sublime. It is not surprising that Moor Hall has become a destination for discerning diners and fellow chefs. We are delighted to join forces with *The Caterer* to sponsor Chef Eats Out, as it gives chefs a chance to taste and get an insight into the cooking of chefs of the calibre of Birchall. The duck that Mark cooked was aged in our Himalayan salt chamber. This results in a firmer product with a more intense taste. The sirloin had been aged over 100 days in the chamber, which produces a rich and nutty flavour. www.udale.com