10 Minutes With: Mark birchall, Moor Hall, Lancashire

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 9th August 2016

It has been announced that Mark Birchall’s first solo venture will officially open in Aughton, West Lancashire on March 1. A few months ago he invited us to take a look around Moor Hall…and use our imagination to envisage the finished restaurant with rooms which is currently still a building site! 

The Staff Canteen braved the rain and the mud to find out what Mark has planned for both the restaurant and the menu, life after L’Enclume and why he has decided to make his own cheese, charcuterie and beer.

After 10 months looking for the perfect site, Mark admits he was open to anything from rural to city centre, he finally found an ‘amazing’ property which had everything he was looking for. It took a second visit for him to be convinced ‘it could really work’ but he hasn’t looked back since.

“In terms of layout it does involve removing a few walls but we don’t want to hide the character of the property, we just want to renovate it,” explained Mark. “It’s been hard, I’m not used to dealing with contractors – it’s not what I do, I’m a chef!

“We are getting on to the nice stuff though, I have a team now and we are building up the wine list and looking at getting crockery made by a ceramic artist who is based ten minutes from here.”

Walking around the site Mark took me into what will be the kitchen, it’s set to be open plan but still with enough privacy for the chefs inside if they need it. The restaurant will have a cheese room and wine cellar in view where guests can go and pick what they would like to try.

He said: “We want to stimulate people, it can get very boring just sat at the table eating – some people may not have seen cheese as a wheel, they’ll have seen it cut in wedges on a cheese trolley, which we will still do but this way it means we can talk to them about what they like and what they want.”

The 50 cover restaurant is a blank canvas for Mark something he is very excited about, he said: “There will be 12 chefs
including myself, although I’m still missing a pastry chef! Within reason I can have what I want, design it how I want- It’s a 50:50 business split with Andy and Tracey Bell who have been extremely successful.  I’m not a businessman and my partners aren’t chefs so we complement each other well!

“The kitchen is going to be phenomenal, there’s an amazing pastry section and I literally can’t ask for more.  We have a dairy, charcuterie, a meat aging facility and a small brewery with space for a bakery in the future  – all of this is to enhance the guest’s experience."

He added: “I wanted to set this business up so it’s not just an amazing kitchen where you can serve great food – I want the whole setting to be at the same top level, so we have the longevity to achieve anything we want.”

Looking through the plans for the rooms it’s clear Mark is aiming for luxurious, five star standard, there will be seven bedrooms available and he’s as keen to make breakfast for guests as exciting and memorable as the rest of their stay.

“I think it can be forgotten about,” explained Mark. “King at dinner and then breakfast can be a bit wishy-washy, I want us to take pride in it because it’s the last thing people eat before they leave. If you have a bad breakfast it can tarnish your whole stay."

The gardens which accompany the property are set to be equally as beautiful as the main house, and they will be providing produce for the dishes on Mark’s menu.

He said: “We are restoring the walled garden with glass houses and open field planting but there will be formal gardens too. Guests will be able to take a walk through the grounds and around the lake – once they are here they could be anywhere.”

As well as the main hall, there is a barn conversion which will be finished at the same time and will house a less formal restaurant along with the charcuterie, dairy and brewery which is set to open mid 2017.  It will have its own kitchen so there will be another team cooking there but Mark will be designing both menus. 

“The barn will be casual,” said Mark. “I hate the term fine dining and I hate the words bistro and brasserie – so the barn will just be high quality, simple food. I’ll be looking for a head chef for the barn who wants to take ownership of it and run it as their own restaurant.”

Mark is known for his time at two Michelin-starred L’Enclume but he doesn’t want to recreate that restaurant here at Moor Hall. He intends to showcase his dishes and create his own niche away from his previous kitchen.

“L’Enclume was as much a part of me as I was of L’Enclume,” explained Mark. “But I left there 12 months ago and since then I’ve eaten out a lot, I‘ve staged at some unbelievable restaurants including the Ledbury, Azurmendi and De Librije. Apart from the stages, I’ve tried to take myself away from the industry and I want to open Moor Hall with a blank page.

He added: “I had an amazing time at L’Enclume and I achieved a lot with the team and support of Simon over the nine years.”

There will be two menus for both lunch and dinner - six courses at £65, or eight courses at £95, while two shorter menus will also be offered at lunch - three courses at £30, or four courses £45. The 300-bin wine list will encompass both English and international New and Old World selections, and start at £30 (bottle), with 20
available by the glass (from £6).

Typical dishes will include Crab with almond, turnip broth, celeriac and anise; Grilled scallop with cauliflower, grains and sorrel; Roast venison with preserved elderberry and blood pudding, rosemary russet and beetroot; Herdwick lamb with Jerusalem artichoke, hazelnut and ale; Ewes milk with fennel and rhubarb; Sea buckthorn with quince and cultured cream; and Gingerbread ice cream, caramel and pear.

Mark clearly has big plans although he admits there have been and there will continue to be, ‘a few sleepless nights’ before it is finished. Having seen Moor Hall stripped bare, we can’t wait to see Mark’s plans become a reality.

Bookings for the initial period up to May 31, 2017 are now being taken. For overnight accommodation, the room rates will range from £195-£350, including VAT and breakfast.

By Cara Pilkington


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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 9th August 2016

10 Minutes With: Mark birchall, Moor Hall, Lancashire