Moor Hall Restaurant with Rooms is now open! The Staff Canteen spoke to chef patron, Mark Birchall.

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 4th May 2017

Moor Hall Restaurant with Rooms is the first venture for Mark Birchall, former head chef of L’Enclume which holds two stars in the Michelin Guide UK.

Last time I paid Mark Birchall a visit at Moor Hall in Aughton, West Lancashire, he handed me a high vis jacket and a hard hat – he told me to use my imagination!

moor hall restaurant with rooms
Moor Hall - June 2016

A grade II* listed gentry house of mid-sixteenth century origin, Moor Hall is one of the most important listed buildings in the UK.  Mark, along with his business partners Andy and Tracey Bell, has renovated the property into a modern restaurant for fifty guests, a private dining room, bar and lounge with seven luxury bedrooms. The converted barn will follow later and will house a more casual dining experience. 

“It’s been pretty horrible if I’m honest!” Laughed Mark, as he explained what the process of building your own restaurant from scratch has been like. “The waiting and the delays... I’d say the final month before we opened was the hardest month of my life.

“It was quite emotional when we opened, knowing we had done this first phase.”

>>> Read: 10 Minutes With: Mark Birchall, Moor Hall, Lancashire

The site has been transformed but pleasingly it has retained its original character and charm. For those of you who don’t know, Mark, a former Roux Scholarship winner, embarked on his own venture after nine years of working under Simon Rogan. He admits a little of his style from his time at L’Enclume has come with him but it’s clear this project has his own stamp on it.

He said: “I’m happy. The dining room is a clean open space, it’s nice and bright for lunch but retains a nice atmosphere for dinner. The team in the kitchen, some I already worked with but the rest are brand new – we got battered for the first couple of weeks!”

Moor Hall
The restaurant at Moor Hall

He added: “We’re getting there. I think we had a good start but we are still in first gear and there is a lot to work on.

“I’ve learnt a lot about myself and it’s definitely been character building. The work has been astronomical but it’s been an amazing and challenging experience…with a few tears along the way!”

Moor Hall was awarded 5 Gold Stars by The AA in April 2017 and they’ve already had a visit from the Michelin Guide UK. So is he looking for a star?

“Of course….at least!” He said. “I’d be lying if I didn’t say I want maximum exposure and the highest ratings possible. We’ll always try to keep bettering ourselves and improving.

“I’m just happy we are getting a bit of attention,” continued Mark. “The business depends on accolades because it shows the quality and the level you are at – guests like to see that. But you need a good business as well, there’s that balance I suppose, of making the business work so everything else can fall into place.”

There is a choice of menus when you come to eat at Moor Hall and they offer dishes such as Westmorland chicken with kales in ham fat, hen of the woods and whey cream; aged beef in charcoal with celeriac, mustard and shallot, and honey beer with aged Bramley apple, aged caramel and Marigold. There's also an interesting snack, Mark said: “I wanted to do a black pudding snack because we are in Lancashire, which is maybe not an obvious thing to start with but it’s really good!”

Prices range from £35 for three courses to £95 for eight and Mark says value for money is really important to him.

“Paying 95 quid to eat a meal is a lot of money and I want people to feel the value of that,” he explained. “Whether it’s in the quality of the ingredients, the extra touches, making people feel special – plus there’s nothing more important than feeling relaxed. All of these things add to the experience."

Steak Tartare

aged beef in charcoal with

celeriac, mustard and shallot

Many will have eaten Mark’s food when he was at L’Enclume and he says you’ll see similarities but it’s definitely different.

“You can’t spend nine years somewhere and not be influenced, but I have influences from wherever I’ve worked. L’Enclume is going in a different direction now too.”

>>> Related: Mark Birchall, executive chef, L’Enclume, Cartmel

Part of the development of the site included a kitchen garden, at the moment they are self-sufficient in micro herbs and flowers but the chefs have also been able to use leeks, kale, radishes and spinach too. Mark also wanted a cheese room within the restaurant and the barn conversion which is still in development will house a dairy.

“The room means the cheese is kept in the best way, it’s at the right temperature and we have as many wheels as possible. It’s a great guest experience as not everyone has seen a whole wheel of Haford or Kirkham.

“We’ve already made our own cheese which is currently at a local dairy, we have 14 wheels and it’s an alpine style cheese. We made the first batch in October and it needs more maturing but it’s a real cheese – we are not just playing at it.”

There is still a lot to do before Moor Hall will be exactly as Mark envisaged when he started the project but so far the results speak for themselves.

By Cara Houchen
@canteencara

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>>> Related: The Roux Scholarship winners: where are they now? (part 3)

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 4th May 2017

Moor Hall Restaurant with Rooms is now open! The Staff Canteen spoke to chef patron, Mark Birchall.