Metamorphica – chef whizz Steven works his magic on an extinct Roebuck

Courageous is the only way to describe opening a self-funded 12-cover, tasting menu based restaurant in a small Lancashire town with no history of cutting edge dining.

Restaurant Metamorphica is soft launching in Haslingden, as I write. Well behind schedule because of unprecedented times, yet lockdowns allowed chef/patron (ie one man band) Steven Halligan to create from scratch the project he has dreamed about since his catering student days. 

His promise was always apparent. By the age of 20 he won Greater Manchester Young Chef of the Year; two years later he was runner-up for the North West Young Chef of The Year. All this as he was fast-tracked through some impressive kitchens – notably Room and Mr Cooper’s House and Garden in Manchester – justifying his decision to spurn university. Even in 2021, while diverting towards Metamorphica, he made it to the semi-finals of National Chef of the Year.

Yet it always rankled that from the age of 16 cold water was poured upon his vision to one day run a restaurant of his own. The aim to follow in the footsteps of his chef heroes across the world, whose hefty cookbooks grace his new dining space in a former pub. Now 28, Bury-born Steven is ready to prove the doubters wrong.

Herculean best describes the effort put in by him and his father to make this happen. Crowdfunding was never going to be an option without the necessary high profile. So it has been a case of amassing used kitchen equipment for a song, hands-on graft turning an aborted Indian grill conversion into a destination more suited to the constantly evolving menus he wants to put out. The only impossible to avoid outlay was to an electrician. Steven reckons hiring outside help instead of doing it all themselves would have cost them an undoable £150,000.

What best symbolises the rebirth of the corner site just off Haslingden town centre is the window retained from its previous incarnation as the Roebuck boozer versus the butterfly logo that partly justifies the ‘Metamorphica’ monicker of Steven’s restaurant.

Ovid’s Metamorphoses sprang to mind. Not so. I’m happy to accept it might have its foundation in Metamorphica, the classic magic trick associated with Houdini and brought brought up to date by musician Criss Angel. Maybe Steven is metaphorically breaking free from a box that constrained him. Maybe referencing the metamorphic rocks caused by compression? Or mirroring the shape changing stages out of which a butterfly emerges.

A thing of beauty. So is the menu also? On paper, certainly, and after relishing a couple of handsome snacks I can’t wait to sample the real deal when all is settled in…

The first ‘development’ menu featured brioche and cheese; tomatoes, lovage, cream; house loaf and butter; mackerel, cucumber, chervil; pollock, herb tea, parsley, pink peppercorn, sesame, mead; pigeon, plum, rye; goat’s cheese, mirabelle, sorrel; lamb, apple, turnip; anise, apple, honey; almond and meadowsweet millefeuille; blackcurrant pate de fruits.

Until June 30 he is serving this kind of menu for ‘Just The Chef’ events each night, hosting 

only four customers at the open kitchen chef’s table. It will cost of £63 per head (with an optional six-strong ‘drinks journey’), compared with the eventual £78 per person for for 11 courses, maximum covers per night 12. For the foreseeable it’s to be just Steven both in the prep kitchen and front of house with his dad helping with the washing up. The chef’s own first taste of hospitality was as over a sink as a kitchen porter at his Auntie’s gastropub in 2008.

From there it has been a prodigious learning curve – eating in Copenhagen’s finest or the Eleven Madison Avenue, the New York three star of one particular inspiration, Daniel Humm, or working a stage at Philip Howard’s The Square (now closed) in London. Check out the Metamorphica website and you’ll find encomiums to many heroes and mentors, global and local, but also a fierce disillusionment with the way hospitality can stifle talent, too.

In his two years at Mr Cooper’s House and Garden (2AA Rosette and Michelin Bib Gourmand), inside Manchester’s Midland Hotel Steven rose to sous chef, becoming interim head chef for his final six months. You sense in the end he was keen for a personal challenge elsewhere. A short consultancy management role at Stockport’s influential Where The Light Gets In helped whet his appetite to do his own independent thing.

Hence Restaurant Metamorphica. Still a work in progress this steely mission statement about following your dream. Haslingden as an acclaimed gourmet destination? I definitely wouldn’t bet against it.

Restaurant Metamorphica, 1 Charles Lane, Haslingden, Rossendale, BB4 5EA. 01706 614617.