It looks like a traditional stone-built pub, but inside the Moorcock Inn Amanda Wragg finds something truly extraordinary – and just a little bit bonkers – is happening. Pictures by Tony Johnson.
On a bleak moorland road high above Sowerby Bridge sits the Moorcock Inn. It’s a long, low, stone-built old boozer, and it’s not pretty, although I’ve yet to go when it’s not snowing or raining stair rods. I’m guessing there’s a half-decent view to be had, but on two visits it has been blanketed in fog so I can’t wax lyrical. But I would walk barefoot over burning coals to get there.
Two preternaturally young people, Aimee Turford and Alisdair Brooke-Taylor, hunting for a place to call their own somehow found it and saw some potential. In the space of two weeks, they stripped it back and gussied it up a bit, keeping the stone flags and beams, and installed a five- ton smoke house in the car park gifted by a chef friend, and started trading.
Alongside foodies who have had the same tip-off as me are a couple looking nervously at the blackboard in the bar, fidgeting. I get the feeling they were hoping for pie and chips; to say they’ve got a surprise coming is something of an understatement. But if it’s mussels baked in heather, trotters on toast with wild mushrooms or horseradish fritters with rose pickles you’re after, BINGO!
Brooke-Taylor’s pedigree is impressive. Born in Sheffield, he’s well-travelled; after a two-year residency at Nuno Mendes Viajante he honed his foraging habit as sous chef in the Michelin-starred In De Wulf restaurant in Belgium. After In De Wulf folded he’s been cooking off the beaten track – in his own words, firmly based in the middle of nowhere.
What follows is an extraordinary trip through fields, trees, hedgerows and the sea, which is, simply, mind-altering. The first of 10plates arrives. It signals Brooke-Taylor’s intent and stops me in my tracks. The description reads “fried herring bones, cod skins, pickles” but nothing can prepare me for its strangeness.
Two spindly fish skeletons (with heads) are dotted with a sharp emulsion and the crisp cod skins are like fishy Quavers. I mean that in a good way. Paper thin slices of beetroot are sweetly pickled, cutting through the richness of the herring. It’s an extraordinary thing; I take one, gingerly nibble then wolf it down, bones, head, eyes, the lot. It’s baffling, and one of the most original, rewarding dishes I’ve had for a long time.
Next, grilled kale soup with spinach and prune oil. It’s the closest to black green ever gets and it’s in a dark bowl, so the mound of fresh white cheese in the middle guides you in. I’m pretty sure that when she brought it to table Aimee said there was hogweed in there. You know, that poisonous hedgerow plant. We shrug, reckoning they’re not going to kill us on our first visit. Turns out there are two types, and this is the one that doesn’t. Alisdair makes the cheese himself, a by-product from his hand-churned butter.
We’re at a table looking out over the back of the pub, where Brooke-Taylor is slapping meat, vegetables and who knows what else onto the glowing coals of the huge grill, in relentless rain. It’s vaguely comical and we’re wondering what the hell’s coming next. Actually it’s a Lindisfarne oyster, which might not have seen the fire, but by now, anything’s possible. It’s a beautiful thing, sitting on sprigs of heather with flecks of nettle and the brilliant addition of a puddle of warm pork fat. Who knew?
I’m not going to list all 10, I don’t have the space, but a couple more do need your attention. Dry-aged Hebridian mutton, which comes from Crowkeld Rare Breed Smallholding in Kildwick, is suave and smoky, and with Judas-ear relish, a scatter of ground elder, preserved rowanberries and paper-thin slivers of pickled lamb heart is sensational. Judas-ear? Those black, jelly-like mushrooms that cling to dead trees like shelves that I’ve never had the nerve to touch despite my idiot’s guide to edible fungi telling me it’s safe. A bowl of leaves, beets and pickled walnuts arrives; so far, so five-a-day – but in the bottom lurks an interloper, a sausage of blood pudding, so rich, so moist, so damn moreish that I forget I don’t like it.
The wine offer is worth mentioning. Certified sommelier Aimee has worked in London, Australia and most recently Belgium; wines listed are natural and mostly organic to ensure minimal sulphur content. She suggests a bottle of Aphros Loureiro Vinho Verde, a biodynamic Portuguese wine, and she’s spot on. If Belgian beer’s your thing there’s an impressive choice, many of them rare and vintage, “collected in our cellar in Flanders and aged for two years”. As you do.
In time there’ll be raised beds and an orchard on the two-acre site; their first winter garden has produced the likes of mizunas, mibuna, mustards and kales to name but a few. As if he doesn’t have enough to do, Brooke-Taylor makes all the crockery, finishing the plates and bowls with a glaze made with ashes from the grill.
A couple of killer desserts head our way, the last of which is a square of fudgy parkin spread with cultured butter and a cluster of honeycomb, found in a fallen tree and put to good use. By now our eyes are standing out on stalks and we know we’ve eaten one of the most amazing meals of our lives.
The cooking here is masterful and spirited, with the utmost respect given to ingredients. Brooke-Taylor understands the marriage of flavours, creating tastes and textures that dance round your mouth and confound expectations. He gives new meaning to the local/seasonal trope and, whilst the approach is exuberant, there’s a sure-footedness that belies his age. You’ll be challenged, eating here, unless you’ve had the pleasure of dining at Noma or Joro. But I urge you to find the Moorcock; they’ve kicked the ball out of the park.
The Moorcock Inn, Moorbottom Lane, Sowerby Bridge, HX6 3RP. 01422 832103, themoorcock.co.uk. Restaurant open: Wednesday to Saturday, 6-8.30pm; Sunday: 12.30-3pm. Pub hours: Tuesday to Friday, 3-11pm; Saturday: 12-11pm; Sunday: 12-10pm (bar snacks from the board served during these hours). Tasting menu £35, wine flight £30. Bar snacks between £3 and £7.