Top Tables

Moor Hall, review: A safe space for serious epicureans

As Rogan protégé Mark Birchall prepares to reopen the doors to his Lancashire hideout, Hannah Twiggs recommends the following: go hungry, clear your calendar for the rest of the day and wear posh shoes

Friday 10 February 2023 19:02 GMT
Get you a man that treats you like Birchall treats these carrots
Get you a man that treats you like Birchall treats these carrots (Hannah Twiggs)

Not to memeify the recently crowned best restaurant in England but one does not simply… go to Moor Hall.

Mark Birchall’s five-acre Lancashire hideout, where dinner for two will set you back at least £500 before drinks (half that for lunch), is an exercise in high-concept, highfalutin dining, its menu a cornucopia of elaborately conceived delights. Indeed, for a restaurant that purports to be all about simplicity (most of the produce grows mere metres from your table), the food really is anything but. I suppose what do you expect when you've got the UK's best, and perhaps most experimental, chef at the helm.

After working under Simon Rogan for the best part of a decade at the not-so-distant L’Enclume in Cartmel – the flagship restaurant of Rogan’s empire – Birchall opened Moor Hall in 2016, promising “something special”. Cue… two Michelin stars, one Michelin green star, 5 AA Rosettes, winning National Restaurant of the Year twice, Best Restaurant in England once and being crowned Best Chef in the UK as recently as September. It’s also rated 5 out of 5 on Tripadvisor. He might still be one star behind his mentor, but has student become teacher? Two award-winning restaurants and a sustainable kitchen garden affixed to a country hotel in the heart of Lancashire… he’s certainly taking a page out of the Rogan playbook.

For the most part, Moor Hall is every bit as brilliant as its extremely long list of credentials cracks it up to be. But next to the many accolades nailed to the front door, it should also say: go with an empty stomach, clear your schedule for the rest of the day and wear the posh shoes.

The food is, without doubt, exceptional. One of the most memorable dishes was the beef tartare, a charcoal “tuile” balancing delicately atop. It’s giving all the flavours of a deconstructed burger, smokey and with all the trimmings. I also adored the lobster, glazed with zingy rosehip and droplets of smoked marrow, with a side of both fresh and fermented tomatoes and crunchy bits of buckwheat. Another dish is as much a lesson in everything you can do with a carrot as it is an homage to the humble root vegetable. There’s both raw and salt-baked carrots, carrot tuile (they’re everywhere) and a carrot and sea buckthorn coulis which, when topped with a veritable mound of Doddington cheese (a flavour fusion of parmesan, cheddar and gouda), becomes almost ragu-like. Carrots have never tasted so good. Get you a man that treats you like Birchall treats these carrots.

It’s everything I love about cooking at this level. It’s simple in essence but experimental in delivery. It looks like a carrot, tastes like a carrot but it’s also somehow so much more than a carrot. But then I am a firm believer that something doesn’t have to taste “nice” for it to be enjoyable – it can be eccentric and confronting and I could still be talking about it months later… like those damn carrots. My dining partner on this occasion, unfortunately, believed otherwise, so was somewhat alarmed when the first dish to arrive was a lone oyster poached in buttermilk, nestled in a wreath of ethereal slices of beetroot. Even I initially baulked at the prospect of fermented dairy, seafood and raw vegetables, though it was, I swear, delicious.

Hereford beef tartare; native lobster (Hannah Twiggs)

For all its grandeur, there’s also a certain delicacy to Moor Hall. Recurring themes on the menu include micro-herbs and tiny edible flowers artfully tweezed onto the plate, deliberate scatterings of crispy grains, and the aforementioned tuiles protruding from almost every dish. It’s undeniably beautiful, but occasionally swerves into style over substance. A teaspoon of gorgeous Dorset brown crab meat was dulled by turnips and a drenching in dashi, that most overrated of broths. The same happens in another dish with courgettes that feel bland (did I just say that about a two-star restaurant?) next to a slab of Cornish sea bass that is cooked to absolute, unparalleled perfection. If only those courgettes were carrots. I didn’t dislike these dishes, but I didn’t love them and at this level I really ought to.

All of this is accompanied by a performance quite unlike any other I’ve experienced. Before you even get to your seat there’s very dainty, very delicious snacks “taken in the lounge”; a tour through the kitchen garden to justify that green star, then through the kitchen where the chefs look wearily on, making you wonder if they are on display or you are. At the table, there’s lofty (in both senses of the word) pours of all the various sauces, Salt Bae-esque sprinklings of cheese and tableside tea brewing (I opted for the non-alcoholic pairing). The novelty has worn off long before a whole crown of honey roast duck is brought over and ceremoniously introduced, only to be whisked away and moments later a single sliver of it returned for you to eat (fabulous, mind you, served with chanterelles, an onion, liver and truffle pate and, the best thing to come out of kitchens in the 2010s, a cruffin). Dinner stretches long into the night, so I would amend my previous warning to add: wear comfy clothes. Possibly bring a cushion.

Turnip and crab; Cornish sea bass (Hannah Twiggs)

Not that you want to rush this kind of dining. Any delay between courses during a tasting menu is always welcome, but if you prefer inconspicuous service, you should look elsewhere. We can barely get through a few minutes of hushed conversation without being interrupted for the next act. That’s not to fault Moor Hall’s staff for their impeccable service: you want for nothing, and their knowledge of the minutiae of each and every ingredient is seriously impressive. The same advice goes for if you dine out for the “vibes” of a busy restaurant. For food as exciting as this, there isn’t the expected hubbub. All seats are noticeably tilted towards the open kitchen, the audience quiet with anticipation. Serious epicureans – or indeed, thespians – will rightfully love Moor Hall. It deserves its many plaudits, and, by association, its few criticisms.

Months after my visit, I was attending a screening of The Menu, Mark Mylod’s horror-satire caricature of high-end restaurants, their chef patrons and the critics that haunt them, when I was struck by a serious sense of deja-vu. The very effortlessly charming Mark Birchall is about as far from Ralph Fiennes’s Machiavellian Chef Slowik as you could get (as far as I know, only my dining partner wanted to kill me), but the similarities between the fictional Hawthorn and Moor Hall were uncanny. Even after Noma, in Copenhagen, generally considered the best restaurant in the world, announced its imminent closure and reinvention, top end restaurants still seem like the last frontier of the food world untouched by the cost of living crisis – I had to book Moor Hall six months in advance – but I think most food journalists will agree that a change is coming.

Before it does, though, I recommend booking a front row seat at Moor Hall.

Moor Hall Restaurant, Prescot Road, Aughton, Lancashire, L39 6RT | 01695 572 511 |

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