Does an average diner reach the same conclusions about restaurants as a food pro, who may get special treatment if recognised? Laura Rowe and olive reader Claire Reid compare notes on Moor Hall, Aughton
Check out our review of Moor Hall Hotel and Spa restaurant, and see if an expert restaurant critic comes to the same conclusion as an olive reader…
Set within five acres of manicured gardens, and a 25-minute drive from Liverpool, Moor Hall restaurant with rooms is a Grade-II*, 16th-century former gentry house with beautiful lakeside views. It underwent a multi-million-pound renovation in 2015, transforming it into the restaurant now run by Mark Birchall, most recently executive chef at L’Enclume in Cumbria.
The menu (choose from five or eight courses) is modern British, with a focus on ingredients grown in the kitchen garden round the back. Expect introductory bites of raw mackerel with radish and nasturtium flowers, homemade black pudding with pickled apple, or smoked curd with fermented garlic; and larger dishes of poached brill with mussel cream, aged beef in charcoal with barbecued celeriac, grilled scallop with cauliflower, and rhubarb with milk and fennel.
Our editor Laura Rowe has reviewed restaurants across the UK for the past decade. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @lauraroweeats. Laura was recognised.
Claire Reid lives in Liverpool and is a writer. She eats out twice a week and has a weakness for macaroni cheese. Her most memorable meal was tapas at Neon Jamon in Liverpool.
Moor Hall restaurant review
Our pro says…
Moor Hall’s 18-month renovation, and a 15-year schooling in fine dining at the likes of The Walnut Tree to L’Enclume, have clearly given chef Mark Birchall time to consider the details that matter for his debut restaurant. From the first taste– an aperitif of apple, apple marigold (a favourite herb of the chef’s former boss, Simon Rogan), Seedlip (the pioneering non-alcoholic spirit) and elderflower – you can see he cares about everything.
The two menus are teasingly succinct, but the staff are supremely well versed in the kitchen’s adventures in molecular cookery and charming with it. Traditional fine-dining formalities are broken down – it feels immersive, from watching coffee be theatrically hand-pressed at the table to seeing the chefs in action at the wide, open pass.
Surprise black pudding parcels are made on site and are as soft and delicately spiced as boudin noir – a succession of numerous more bites appear before a starter of ‘baked carrots’. It’s a clever display of textures – from purée to crisp– and the spectrum of flavours achievable from this humble root, lifted higher yet by a ‘snow’ of Doddington cheese.
Delicately sweet crab came with a smoked turnip broth seriously punching above its weight, with asparagus and a gentle aniseed note from anise hyssop with its lavender-like flowers.
Only one course flopped – brill, too undercooked, its green sauce too bitter – everything else soared. Westmorland chicken – so intensely savoury – with kale cooked in ham fat and hen-of-the-woods mushrooms won my sidekick over, while it was a northern star, Herdwick lamb loin, ruddy, grassy, with a caramelised sweetbread, jerusalem artichoke crisps and purée, roasted purple sprouting broccoli, and a stout vinegar jus that did it for me.
There’s far more that comes to the table than the menu lets on – including three puddings, the highlight, a crisp nest filled with a frozen rubble of honey beer and aged caramel with sharp Bramley apple and marigold.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Moor Hall smacks of experience and care – it’s supremely slick and luxurious and worth every penny of its price tag.
Total for two, excluding service: £300 (eight courses + wine pairing)
Our punter says…
Not once did the level of service falter during our dinner at Moor Hall. Impeccably dressed staff presented each dish with a detailed description (they really knew their stuff), and the sommelier introduced himself straight away.
We ordered cocktails in the lounge – two tom collins, which were refreshing and sharp – and were brought thinly sliced prosciutto as an accompaniment. The five-course menu also included four extra ‘snacks’, the first of which set the tone for the rest of the meal: a small, crisp parcel filled with salty, tender black pudding and tart pickled apple was amazing.
Baked carrots with chrysanthemum flowers and sea buckthorn were the next treat, followed by smoked curd with fermented, punchy garlic. Delicate crab and asparagus soup was a beautiful, steaming bowl of fragrant broth, flavoured with anise hyssop to give it a liquorice twang. Raw mackerel with radish followed, and then a superb poached brill, so soft it fell apart, served with sea vegetables.
The main course was Westmorland chicken with kale, hen of the woods and whey cream. The chicken was moist and tender, the mushrooms earthy and full of flavour, and small pieces of crispy kale added texture to the plate.
For me, the standout dish was the ‘gingerbread’. A perfect pairing of warming, spicy ginger and rich, cooling ice cream. Digging a little deeper into the bowl I hit sweet candied parsnips, with just a touch of bitterness. Our meal was rounded off with ‘honey beer’ – Bramley apple with a caramel drizzle, served in a crispy, golden pastry basket and ‘apple mead rocks’ (a bittersweet ice cream).
THE BOTTOM LINE
Although the bill was way above what I would usually spend on a meal out, I was blown away. Moor Hall is simply stunning, with a cosy drinks lounge, log fires and beautiful views. Aside from the obvious – outstanding food, beautifully presented, and fantastic service – the little extras, such as a tour of the kitchen, meeting the head chef and being sent away with homemade fudge, made this an unforgettable experience.
Total for two, excluding service: £160 (five courses)