“Marriage is a great institution……….but who wants to live in an institution.”
This is one of my dad’s many one liners and a go-to quote for any Best Man speech. Anyway, the reason I mention this is that Red and I today celebrated our 21st Wedding Anniversary. This is a remarkable achievement in many ways, not least, as I am “a total knobhead” as my beloved might say, and for her to have made it through 21 years deserves more than a card! As a result of this, we found ourselves heading through the leafy lanes of Aughton to The Barn at Moor Hall, though this proved trickier than expected as we were caught up on a narrow country lane behind what can only be described as a fat fighter’s bicycle outing of around 30 cyclists.
For 3/4 mile we were sat solidly starring at a hectare of lycra, stretched to a level that its inventor, Joseph Shivers, in his DuPont factory could never have hoped for. Though to be fair it did, at times have an hypnotic effect with the wobbling derrières resembling brightly coloured lava lamps.
At last we arrived at Moor Hall, being the Michelin starred home of chef Mark Birchall. Sadly for us when we booked, the main restaurant was on annual leave but The Barn, offering bar and casual dining, was still open. The location is beautiful and Moor Hall, The Barn and the grounds are extremely well appointed and immaculately maintained. We entered The Barn and went up the stairs to a large and airy dining space, classic converted barn look: brick walls, oak beams and joists combined with modern fixtures and fittings, whoever designed this, I would happily have them do our kitchen! It was 1pm and about half full with a more mature clientele ‘doing lunch’ but there was a positive feel to the room and the staff were, as I noted in my review of Manchester House , beautiful people (or BPs), you know the sort you see at Hollister (or try to with their 2 watt bulbs). To be fair, after a slightly long wait for our food order to be taken, their execution of the service, throughout, was extremely professional.
We were quickly greeted, sat and given menus. For drinks, I went for a salted caramel old fashioned whilst red had a pink lady. Both were extremely good, the OF being a delight and made with the very smooth Bulleit Bourbon. We perused the menus – a choice of a la carte or fixed lunch of 2 or 3 courses. Though the fixed menu was limited to 3 choices per course, there was enough variety and creativity to interest us: Red opted for garden pea and ham soup, plaice, tomato, chorizo and confit potato and the ‘daily tart’ which today was lemon. I chose the mackerel, cucumber, dill and elderflower followed by a bavette of beef, tromboncino, radish and watercress and then, after Red pointed out I am now reaching 17st and shouldn’t eat any more cheese, I decided against the artisan cheeses and went for raspberry meringue with champagne sorbet. Though I think even our friends we followed doing the Tour de Chubster would have struggled explain how that was any less calorific.
Our starters were exceptionally good. Red’s soup had a sweet freshness, poured over delightfully salty flakes of ham hock and accompanied by warm granary bread and a salted round of butter. My mackerel was even better. The sweet and sour of the pickled cucumber served as tanzaku (strips) and matingon worked well with the crispy skinned mackerel which was perfectly cooked. These were on what I think was a dill and elderflower emulsion. A classic combination of flavours executed wonderfully.
Our mains were also extremely good. Red’s plaice was presented without bones or skin, much to her squeamish relief. She said it melted in her mouth and was both well cooked and seasoned. As for my bavette, this was a tricky cut of meat that was done beautifully, the middle of which retained its ‘rare’ qualities and taste. The tromboncino (a small squash presumably named as they look like trombones – though mine looked more like a testicalcino), like the courgette, was not overcooked and retained its solidity and texture – delightful, fresh and sweet to eat. The radish was pickled and moreish and the puree of what I suspect was watercress and pea, was as fresh as the second they were picked. We had also opted for a side of chips, which were delicious but, my one complaint, is that they should really be part of the dish or some other side – to need to order on top, especially as the shorter menu doesn’t specify or list sides is the one area for improvement I can think of.
Desserts were very good but sadly, in fear that the Tour de Cellulite might arrive and whip them, we had eaten them before taking pictures. The lemon tart was clean, sharp and flavoursome, though Red struggled to get the gin and tonic from the very enjoyable sorbet that accompanied it. My raspberry meringue was a classic combination of meringue, raspberries, cream and a sorbet that you could taste the champagne in.
This was a wonderful way to celebrate our big occasion – it was a quality meal in which all the elements were done extremely well. Clearly a restaurant that, though in the shadow of its Michelin starred sibling, is more than capable of standing on its own feet. Our 21st wedding anniversary will live long in the memory, though Red seemed less impressed by the 1 year membership of the Aughton Chub-rub Cyclist Society that I had bought her.
Service: 9/10 Slight wait to order but otherwise great service from the BPs
Atmosphere: 9/10 great dining room, well decorated. Slightly
Food: 9.5/10 excellence as you would expect from one of Britain’s best chefs
Value for money: 8.5/10 Total of £77 for 3 courses for 2 people
Overall: 9/10 Great food, great location, worth the journey.
These are judged against the best of that type of restaurant. For example cafes against what you would expect from the best cafes, high end restaurants against the best high end restaurants etc.
Website: The Barn at Moor Hall