Just forty minutes drive from Manchester, The Moorcock Inn is a favorite among foodies on both sides of the Pennines.
Recently awarded a top spot in the prestigious Top 50 Estrella Damn Gastropubs 2022, we knew we had to pay it a visit.
The pub recently merged its two menus into one, combining the bar menu with the restaurant’s tasting offerings in what amounts to a long and glorious list of dishes designed to be shared – each sounding more indulgent than the last.
An unsuspecting candidate, this old-school Pennine boozer in Norland above Sowerby Bridge looks very ordinary from the outside. Indeed, as we park in the parking lot behind, a little stressed by the torrential rain, we all wonder if we are in the right place.
We are. A chef in a cap, completely unprotected from the blizzard in his t-shirt and apron, is out there soaking himself. Talk about passion. With much of the menu here cooked over the fire, we expect he’ll be used to it. Wet weather is part of the charm of the moor.
Standing in front of a roaring outdoor barbecue, he intermittently throws the mitt to grab what appear to be clumps of hay, burying his head in a covered box and emerging with armfuls of stuff to help smoke and light the huge charcoal grill.
The billowing clouds are blown to pieces by the merciless wind and rain. We pass the barbecue, landing safely at the end of the bar – all wooden beams, exposed stone walls and blackboards like night – before being led to our table in the cozy.
It’s cozy enough to quickly forget about the downpour outside and unwind while leaning on the extensive drinks menu. Yes it’s a pub so you’d expect the drink list to be relatively decent – but it offers so much more.
Experienced sommelier Aimee Tufford has put a lot of love and care into its composition, with plenty of low-alcohol and non-alcoholic (literally) non-alcoholic beers side-by-side with quality craft, cask and bottled options. . There are stouts, hazy IPAs, lagers, saisons – the 0.5% sits happily alongside the twelve.
The wines are mostly organic and low intervention, many served by the glass or carafe, more by the bottle. Elsewhere there is a good selection of gin, kombucha, sake, cider and more. It continues.
Aimee runs the house with her British-Australian partner, Alisdair Brooke-Taylor, the chef. Before opening The Moorcock, the couple spent years together at Michelin-starred restaurant In de Wulf on the Belgian-French border.
Before its closure in 2016, Alisdair was the right arm of Kobe Desramualts. At that time it was considered in some influential circles as the third best restaurant in Europe. Let’s just say the people here are blessed.
Crispy potatoes, long smoked over that fire outside, then crisp and cracked in the deep fryer, take a pub classic to the next level – served in a heap with a small dish of yeast mayonnaise.
A large piece of sourdough – loaded with scallops, spider crabs, shredded turnips, chives and sunflower seeds – is transformed into an egg bread sponge, oozing with a sweet and salty pastry cream that drips over the sides and swims at its base.
Charcoal whole plaice, roasted and smeared with butter made from dried mullet roe, is soft and buttery, leaning a salty umami flavor from bottarga.
Sautéed greens dressed with garlic and anchovies bring more of that savory Southern Italian depth to the table, while a plate of curly grated celeriac with ricotta salata, capers and mustard gives the meal a smoky, marinated and earthy freshness.
Crispy pigtails with applesauce and artichoke, stuffed with sausage meat and blackened to the point of crumbling, are a literal reminder of the Moorcock’s nose-to-tail culinary philosophy. Nothing is wasted, as their presence so boldly attests.
Here, the meat is dry-aged and slaughtered on site, using mature whole animals sourced from select local smallholdings who work primarily with the Rare Breed Survival Trust preferably.
This regenerative ethos also extends to the rest of the menu. Sustainable fish and seafood are harvested from native waters only in day boats, and vegetables are organic, sometimes grown on site in their 2-acre vegetable garden, sometimes fished.
Highly at the school of forage, fermentation, curing and preservation, the ever-changing seasonal menu champions a host of traditional farm techniques, right down to the hand-crafted tableware on which everything is served.
We end with the two puddings (there are only two on the list). A local nod, one is a puff pastry pie with rhubarb and frangipane dipped in thick batter. tangy lemon cream with pumpkin seed praline. The other, a giant plate of choux pastry daringly redefining any interpretation that we had until then of the profiteroles.
Filled with a squash cheesecake mousse and milk ice cream, it gives off the slightly cheesy flavor of fermentation. Everything is balanced by a huge drizzle of salty-sweet caramel sauce. It’s the pudding that keeps on giving, the three of us attack with vigor – only turning back to the rhubarb puff pastry when it’s done.
This is a glorious pub, serving glorious food. This new offering feels wonderfully casual, combining the best of restaurant and bar menus. We completely see what it is.
Feature Image – The Moorcock Inn