Hinchliffe Arms, Cragg Vale: After a string of different owners, this pub looks to have at last found its mojo

The location is sublime. It’s a steep drop into a lush wooded valley at the bottom of which the ‘Hinch’ hunkers. Built around 1850 it’s named after a fabulously rich textile mill owning family from Cragg Hall; a sepia photograph in the pub hints at their prosperity – taken in front of the hall it features serried ranks of servants with the family looking on, smugly. Back in the day workers from the mill would come here to drink, and I’m also pleased to read that it was a meeting place for the Luddites. I like to picture them in a cluster at the bar, plotting.
The Hinchliffe Arms, Church Bank Cragg ValeThe Hinchliffe Arms, Church Bank Cragg Vale
The Hinchliffe Arms, Church Bank Cragg Vale

But oh what a chequered history this sorry pub has had. It’s the kind of place that should have won a string of gongs and appeared on every ‘best country pub’ list in every Sunday supplement. The building is beautiful – tucked away, granted, but then many of the best places are. But down the years it’s suffered a misanthropic landlord (think Basil Fawlty) then the Laprell family took it over and for a while made it the place to be of a Sunday lunchtime. After they moved on, Mancunian chef and panellist on Radio 4’s Kitchen Cabinet, Rob Owen Brown had a go, with his signature crispy squirrel and Vimto trifle. For some reason it didn’t work out for him.

It seemed likely that the Hinch might go the way of so many other pubs - then Manchester Brewery J W Lees took it on and it breathed again. Soon there was even better news: a forward-thinking young woman was taking the reins and bringing some of the magic from her Salford pub with her. ‘The Electric Landlady’, Esther Maylor has grown a hugely successful music venue at the Eagle Inn (also, good beer and ‘festival-style food’) and her plans for the Hinch are – well – rather exciting. Her first and inspired move was to recruit a remarkable chef who is already cooking up a storm.

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Currently the menu is short and sweet: a choice of nine savoury plates and a couple of puds chalked up on a board, featuring the likes of grilled flatbread & burnt onion butter, and smoked cod’s roe & potato scallops, with just the right amount of smoke on the creamy roe and scallops with feather-light tempura – unpretentious and effective. Then appears a plate of beautifully marbled, paper thin cured beef dotted with sharply pickled cherries …

Roast Tamworth Loin, almond grilled.Roast Tamworth Loin, almond grilled.
Roast Tamworth Loin, almond grilled.

Yorkshire Pecorino, tomato and white peach sounds intriguing but I can’t turn down a lamb scrumpet, and this one is text book: melting meat in a crisp crumbed coat with a tangle of superfine minty cucumber and onion, packed with flavour and great value at a tenner. Dish of the day is a bowl of clams, leeks and bacon – a classic, simple dish with good ingredients that haven’t been messed around with.

Up next, monkfish – a tricky one to get right, in the wrong hands it can end up tough – but here it’s a lovely thing with just courgette and a punchy alioli to accompany. Roast Tamworth loin misses half a beat, needing another five minutes in the oven, though the sweet, soft onion, grilled apricots and almond puree work well.

Chef Ruairidh Summers grew up in West Yorkshire and has worked in Italy and London in the last ten years, most significantly as sous chef at St John, Fergus Henderson’s celebration of nose to tail eating. Twenty five years ago St John pioneered ‘Modern British’ cooking, rehabilitating old recipes using bone marrow, tripe and chitterlings, and I can’t wait to see Summers bringing his Smithfield experience to Cragg Vale. It will be interesting to see how long it is before he bangs deep fried pig’s trotters on the board.

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The best dessert I’ve eaten this year is the twice baked chocolate cake. Bake Off is never going to bother me so I’m a stranger to the magic involved in producing this. But I’m glad Summers does. It’s that squidgy inside and crunchy outside I love so much – proper eye-rolling back in their sockets stuff. Liquorice ice cream completes it. There’s a bowl of vanilla set cream with Victoria plums too, with great texture, somewhere between posset and panna cotta, not too sweet with the softly charred plums.

Smoked Cods Roe and Potato Scallops.Smoked Cods Roe and Potato Scallops.
Smoked Cods Roe and Potato Scallops.

Summers has hit the ground running with gutsy, confident food with a strong focus on seasonality and complexity of flavour matched with simplicity of presentation that will mark this place out. Remember how we all gravitated to the Moorcock at Norland, now sadly in its last months, for the same reason?

Esther has plans for live music events and mini-festivals to make the most of the outside space, and there’ll be a slightly more formal arm to Summer’s cooking in the dining room alongside his bar menu. But for me, sitting by the fire with the dog, listening to Nick Drake, The Kinks and Led Zep on the stereo with a bowl of clams, fried chicken & pickle and a pint is the business. It looks like it might have the makings of a great place to eat and drink on my doorstep now the Hinch has finally found its mojo.

The Hinchliffe Arms, Church Bank Lane, Cragg Vale, Halifax HX7 5TA t: 01422 887439 www.hinchliffearms.com; Wed-Thu 4pm-10pm, Fri-Sun 12pm-10pm.

Welcome 5/5

Food 5/5

Drinks choice 5/5

Prices 5/5

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