Tag Archive for: Chef

Last Saturday (Nov 26) marked the final service at Le Cochon Aveugle in York. It was no surprise. Owners Josh and Victoria Overington had announced the closure date in the summer, saying it was “time to start a fresh adventure”.

Adventurous summed up the restaurant, whose French name translates appropriately as ‘The Blind Pig’. Guests ordered a six or eight course tasting menu and that, wine pairings aside, was the last choice they had to make. Only when it arrived would they discover what they were eating.

Rab Adams worked there for Josh. Each trained at Cordon Bleu school – Rab in London, his mentor in Paris. After the thirtysomething Scot branched out (via Roops, a Bramley sourdough bakery named after his dog) to open his own restaurant, Hern, fellow chefs’ support was there for the tiny bistro on Stainbeck Corner, two miles north of Leeds city centre.

Josh guest-cheffed as did, more recently, Al Brooke-Taylor of the mighty Moorcock at Norland, itself about to shut for good in January. Quite an accolade – Al has rarely cooked outside his own moorland kitchen. So what were they coming into? Not much more than 20 covers in a white-walled, spartan space behind a plain shop front. Just the quality restaurant cookbooks on a shelf giving away the ambitions of the man in the cramped kitchen out back. From the likes of Relae, The Sportsman, Pierre Koffman and zero waste crusaders Silo. Rab’s personal cv includes Hedone and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay.

On the evening I visit his own project two blackboards provide their own reading material, which proclaim ‘no choice’. Which is why I’m here on the back of a similar ethos at an old favourite, the Michelin-starred White Swan, Fence, now offering a five course set menu.

Co-owner Gareth Ostick defended the decision to discard the several-choice a la carte of yore. Their five course tasting menu has been a success with punters beyond the obvious cutting down of possible food waste. It has also re-energised chef Tom Parker, giving him the opportunity to roll with what’s fresh on the market as the menu subtly transmutes week by week. 

Location, location. The White Swan is relatively remote, so that Michelin star is a welcome magnet. In contrast Hern is in the prime foodie territory of well-heeled Chapel Allerton, surrounded by places to eat out. The real giveaway, though, is the cluster of high class food and drink shops – notably Tarbett’s Fish, George & Joseph Cheesemongers and Wayward Wines. I’ve shopped at them all on recent trips to Leeds but somehow Hern had passed me by. My loss. Everything about the four courses for £40 appeals. 

Bread and snacks such as gossamer light panisse and delicate cod’s roe (oddly with crisps) are followed by a sublime assembly of smoked eel, beetroot, celeriac and some bracingly bitter radicchio. 

I resist the £10 cheese supplement but do cough up the same sum for an extra fish special, which arrives next and is my favourite dish of a solo evening when I am spared the tyranny of jousting with a ‘lovely review companion’ over who eats what. 

The wild sea bass is all mine and I’m wild about it in its whey sauce, laced with bottarga, stems of bitter puntarelle peeping out. Once again it’s a case of that’s amaro and I’m not complaining.

Then onto pleasingly pink duck breast in a pumpkin puree, the bite here from chunks of pickled pear and further uncompromising greens. With it I can’t resist a glass of tonight’s red special, an under the radar Grolleau from the Loire, where my modest bottle for the evening also originated – a La Pente de Chavigny Sauvignon Blanc from the talented Mikael Bouges. 

Baked cream with apple and oats completed the evening’s entertainment with a sense of little wasted, with everything to gain. Rab in the kitchen with one young assistant and Ben,  knowledgeable front of house, who has served his time in London. Less is definitely more at Hern.

Hern, Stainbeck Corner, 5, Leeds LS7 3PG. 0113 262 5809. Open Wednesday to Saturday from 6.30pm. Also open Saturday lunchtime with a small a la carte menu to road test new dishes.

It’s three years since an abandoned 200-year-old boozer off Cutting Room Square, Ancoats, was exhumed. Another reminder of my own imminent decrepitude – I’d propped up the bar at the Edinburgh Castle as a national hack working out of the nearby Express Building in the 1980s. Not the friendliest of street corner locals then; today’s stylishly restored version is infinitely preferable, even if some question if it recreates a true pubby vibe. But do any of us yearn for sticky carpets, nicotine-stained ceilings, neolithic toilets? The new model was doing something right, though, since it won Pub of the Year in the 2021 Manchester Food and Drink Awards

Inevitably it has been the upstairs gastropub element that catches the attention in a neighbourhood feted as a foodie destination. Cosy and candlelit, the 36-cover restaurant has had aspirations from the start, either side of the lockdowns, but culinary continuity has been lacking.

Two chefs who have headed up the EC kitchen I count as friends. Kiwi Julian Pizer launched with his signature bee’s wax aged beef but moved on and remains a real contender, running Another Hand in Deansgate Mews. Similar acclaim greeted Iain Thomas at The Alan Hotel before his recent departure to run private dining/pop-up operation Our Place. A year ago when he was head chef at the Edinburgh Castle he hosted a quietly daring ‘Trust The Chef’ blind tasting game dinner featuring venison, woodcock and partridge.

The baton has now been passed to Shaun Moffat, still in his mid-thirties but with a wealth of experience, in the South West and then London, latterly at Manteca in Shoreditch (No.11 in the National Restaurant Awards). His new exec chef remit covers not jus the Edinburgh Castle but also sister bar/restaurants Cottonopolis and Libertine, which I welcomed recently – Cooking on Sizzlng Hot Coals.

Live fire cooking features heavily in his CV at London’s John Salt and the trail-blazing Middle Eastern grill house, Berber & Q. So is he going to set Manchester on fire? I caught up with him after cooked an exquisite ‘soft launch’ dinner at the Castle (mussels, chicken parfait, slip sole, Tamworth pork chop, treacle tart – he may become my friend, too) and quizzed him on his culinary philosophy and plans for the group…

Tell us about your journey to Manchester (and I’m not talking Avanti West Coast) I spent time working in small independent restaurants in the South West, Bath mainly. For Jamie Oliver, too. Moving to London I worked for Mark Hix at both his Soho site and the original Oyster & Chop house. I spent two years at The Conduit (private member’s club), Nest in Hackney and at Berber & Q. I finished my tenure in the city with Chris Leach and David Carter at Manteca.

Where did you originally call home? I am originally from South Africa, living there until I was 13 and relocating to the UK with my mother. Both my parents are British citizens and in turn so am I. I am now bordering on the age of 35. My wife Natalie is from Manchester and since we’ve had our child a few years ago the move out of London for a better quality of life was always on the agenda.

Are you an admirer of the city’ food and dink scene? Name names! Definitely. I’ve followed what’s been going on here for a long time. There’s a real clear drive from the industry here. I’m a massive fan of the team and offering at Erst, I have frequented it a lot in the past. The team at Suppher have been doing some great work as well. Everything the Flawd team are putting out looks amazing and also just a lovely bunch of individuals there. With the scene being a smaller pool than I’m used to there is a real sense of support and involvement from everyone. 

Who/what are your culinary inspirations in your career? A tough one to answer, I’ve taken inspiration from basically everyone I’ve worked with and had conversations. There’s an abundance of really talented people in this industry and it would be an injustice to only name a few. Personally my aspirations are to cook food that I want to eat and that people want to eat. I get excited by great produce and producers who generally care about what they’re growing, farming, harvesting or rearing in sustainable ways. Moving forward as community, I feel there is a real need for this connection between people and produce.

You are in overall charge of the three very different kitchens up here. What changes will you make? In particular at Cottonopolis with its Asian-inspired menus? Cottonopolis will be altered to align with the ethos of the other sites. The menu and offering will be more concise and sustainable and using British sourced ingredients

from fish to soy sauces and misos, using preservations for its dashis and XOs. But there will be obviously some produce from abroad as we’re not trying to change the DNA of Cotton. There’s a lot of character there. 

Who are your prime suppliers? I’ve been luckily enough to secure supply from some amazing places. Our bread comes from Pollen, who arguably are putting out the best bread in the city. We are using Wildfarmed flour for all of our flour work here at the Castle and at Libertine. It’s Henderson’s Seafood for our dayboat fish. They have a massive focus on sustainability and not over fishing the waters. We are sourcing chalk stream trout through them as well. And we’ll be using Keltic Seafare in Dingwall for a Scottish shellfish supply .

Fruit and vegetables come from Cinderwood market garden and we are also utilising the British produce on offer from Organic North. Relying on their seasonal lists helps steer the direction of the menu. Meatwise we source from Swaledale in Skipton, who are working with some really incredible farmers based in the Dales. And we get our mushrooms from Polyspore in Altrincham. 

We loved the simplicity of the slip sole and Tamworth off the new menu. Is that a key to your cooking style? I appreciate that, To a point I think simplicity is crucial a lot of the time. I dislike busy, crowded plates filled with a list of items. I feel nothing gets a chance to shine. The way I cook concentrates on the flavours that are already there, only elevating and accentuating with items that tie into the main product naturally.  I feel that food should be sourced well, seasoned well, cooked well and served well. 

You have a history of cooking with fire. What does this bring to the party? It seems an important part of the Libertine. It’s one of my favourite ways to cook. We have a small Konro (Japenese grill) at Edinburgh Castle as well. The majority of the menu at Libertine is either cooked over the coals or through the wood-fired oven. I generally find it very a natural and organic means of cooking, there’s just so much that can be done and offered.

Edinburgh Castle, 19 Blossom St, Ancoats, Manchester M4 5EP; Cottonopolis Food & Liquor, Newton Street, Manchester, M1 2AE; Libertine, 437 Wilmslow Rd, Withington, Manchester M20 4AN.

Main shot of Shaun Moffat by @lateefphotography. Pork chop and parfait images by Olivia Morgan

Is it fanciful to judge chefs from the books on their restaurant shelves? Obviously there to make a statement. True, what they put on the plate is paramount, but any committed artist is in part the sum of their influences. Take the wondrous Moorcock Inn at Norland. Among some hefty cookbooks in the bar you’ll find the (out of print) eponymous cookbook of Kobe Desramaults. At his legendary Michelin-starred In de Wulf in Belgium he was once mentor to Moorcock chef/patron Alisdair Brooke-Taylor and the legacy shows.

Aspirational younger chefs are keen to display an inventory of their own inspirations. Just a couple of impressive examples I recall – Steven Halligan at Restaurant Metamorphica in Haslingden and Paul Sykes at Hyssop in Glossop. 

A shout-out for the latter restaurant which was gutted by fire recently. Paul and his partner Jess have launched a Crowdfunder “to help raise the funds to get us trading again, on a smaller scale, while the bigger project of rebuilding Hyssop starts.” Well worth supporting.

Newly crowned Manchester Chef of the Year Eddie Shepherd’s own book collection sits in his living room – as do we at one of his acclaimed Walled Gardens dining experiences along with eight other foodies. He calls it his ‘Underground Restaurant’ suggesting some Hobbit hole or a homage to the Beat Poets, but the bijou setting is in a Whalley Range housing development. To call it a ‘gated community’ would bely its charm. There is something otherworldly about it. His enclosed garden is home to the beehives and herbs that fuel his perception-challenging project. His home is his laboratory. The knives on the wall he forged himself, few domestic kitchens could host his cutting edge molecular gastronomical kit (a £10,000 electric homogeniser, anyone?) and the names on those book spines above our table … El Bulli, Noma, Alinea, El Celler de Can Roca. It’s a roll call of the runes of experimental cuisine. 

So how does self-taught Eddie, a philosophy graduate who found his kitchen calling by chance, fit into the lineage of Ferran Adrià, René Redzepi, Grant Achatz and the brothers Roca? 

Impossible to compare a solo suburban explorer like Eddie – let’s call him the Alchemist of Alexandra Park – against their beefed up brigades and well-stoked international hype. He is a one-off.

For starters let’s explore one of the 13 dishes in the £85 tasting menu he serves us across a Sunday afternoon of recurrent delights. A visual feast too. Made all the more enchanting by his modest refusal to detail at length the intricacies of preparation for each dish, though he was happy to answer questions from the exclusive gathering. For all the answers visit his exhaustive You Tube channel.

With BYOB the meal itself is an absolute steal. He’s been doing it here for six years, three long weekends a month and has no plans to open a conventional restaurant.

Cured mushrooms with vanilla and beetroot is a stand-out among stand-outs. He explained its gestation to my Manchester Confidential colleague, Davey Brett: “Eddie takes a mixture of mushrooms, thinly slices them, dehydrates them and soaks them in umami stock to rehydrate them, taking on the stock’s flavour. He then sets them in a block with an enzyme and this compressed block is cooked for two hours, cut into small pieces, smoked with oak, before finally being seasoned and marinated in oil.

“The whole process takes several days and concentrates a punnet’s worth of fungi into roughly two mouthfuls of cured mushrooms. It’s a ridiculously luxurious dish, but when you consider the steps and processes that go into a raw Wagyu steak or traditional cured meats, is it really that bonkers?”

It tastes as extraordinary as it sounds, coming after he has served us a lemon verbena and grapefruit G&T with his own gin and infused tonic and an ultra-instagrammable dandelion petal fruit pastille each. Soundtracked deliriously by REM’s Shiny Happy People. Northern Soul and Gomez also feature in Eddie’s eclectic playlist, which adds a surreal homely feel.

Next up is even more visual (see main image), his latest in a series of dishes investigating the culinary potential of blue algae. Yes, this miso is very blue, a light below exaggerating the effect as it cradles a cube of tofu garnished with pickled mushrooms. Another glowing (sic) report for the extraordinary range and subtlety of the plant-based palette of flavours.

The sole dairy presence comes with the only ugly course. Split open that black charcoal carapace and inside it is a rose and koji marinated halloumi. To accompany, a pot of rhubarb molasses. It’s a playful rejoinder to the bad old days of the grilled Cypriot cheese as token veggie dish on a menu.

Playful also sums up carrot charcuterie as a dead taste ringer for the real thing, topped with a show-stopping dehydrated carrot tuile. It is cultured with koji and cured with juniper and black pepper, and smoked before drying. Not necessarily all in order. I smudged my notepad.

Superficially more conventional nettle soup, a fluffy aligot featuring potato, truffle and Blue Wensleydale and a glorious treacle and walnut bread provide ample comfort eating. Eddie bakes every day, but he admits none of his own cultured butter can match the bright yellow ‘Bungay’ he has set before us.

This is hand made in Suffolk by the folk behind Baron Bigod cheese using the same raw milk from their grass-fed Montbeliarde cattle. For my close encounter with this breed in their native Jura follow this link.

Another daily task in the Shepherd household is the preparation of proper tortillas, inspired by Eddie’s travels in Mexico. Most Gringos wouldn’t trouble to grind corn into masa to make their own. I’ve tried it in Tijuana once; it’s messy. You have to niximalise in an alkaline solution the corn (in this case heirloom olitillo blanco from Oaxaca), grind it to make fresh masa and then press and cook the tortillas fresh at service.

During this visit our host takes Mexican fave one authentic step further with his huitlacoche (pronounced whee-tla-KOH-cheh) topping – a direct link with the Aztecs, They prized this staple, thought to have more protein than than regular corn and high amounts of lysine, an essential amino acid.

Whatever its attributes huitlacoche – also known as corn smut, fungus or Mexican truffle – is essentially a plant disease that grows on ears of corn around the kernels in puffy, grey clouds. I looked all this up afterwards. A meal at the Walled Gardens is nothing if not thought provoking. The taste? Mushroomy, a hit of smoked chipotle, a dash of gooseberry salsa that works a treat. Gone in one. 

Puddings are equallly left-field obviously. Chamomie and Raspberry, Honey and Wildflowers (bees are his current passion along with knife construction), Pinecone Sorbet and finally another example of mind-blowing technique with a purpose. 

Scotch Bonnet Truffles are created by distilling the searingly hot chillies at low temperature in the rotary vacuum evaporator to capture their flavour but remove any spice and heat.

The resulting distillation is blended with double fermented Valrhona Itakuja chocolate to make the truffles. All the vivid aromas of the chillies without the burn. The dish is finished off with shards of fruit glass, in this instance made from passion fruit. I think. For more information on Eddie’s Youtube there’s a video and a printed recipe if you want to attempt it at home. I’d suggest instead you high-tail it down to the Walled Gardens. Eddie will soon be offering slots into 2023. What has been a hard booking to arrange probably got that little bit harder.

For a full list of winners at the Manchester Food and Drink Awards and my thoughts on the event visit this link.

How best to pay homage to the passing of one of the greatest chefs of his generation? No brainer: cook one of his signature dishes. But will my take on Alastair Little’s Pollo Orvietano evoke the tastes and aromas of a chicken cooked with wild fennel and local olives at La Cacciata, the farmhouse cookery school he founded in the Umbrian hills?

The death of ‘the godfather of modern British cooking’ at the age of 72 came out of the blue, so I haven’t had time to acquire my chicken of choice from Loose Birds, Paul Talling’s unmatchable operation near Harome, North Yorkshire, but I’m happy with a Soanes from Driffield in the Wolds, bought on Todmorden Market, and serendipitously I’ve been able to supplement fennel from my daughter’s garden with a bunch inside my ‘No Dig Club’ veg bag (£14.95 via this link) from Cinderwood Market Garden.

I always associate Little with his eponymous restaurant that sprung up in Frith Street, Soho, in the mid-Eighties. Behind its Venetian blinds it offered a rebuke to haute cuisine thanks to its menu restricted to soup, salad, fresh fish and meat, plus puddings, changing twice a day according to availability of raw materials.

Paper napkins and an absence ot tablecloths contributed to the determinedly Keep It Simple ethos. That was the name of his first book, aimed squarely at the adventurous home cook. Jonathan Meades, greatest food critic of Little’s era, said of it: “What makes Alastair such a good cook (apart from talent, taste, application and curiosity), is that he possessed the un-English conviction that eating well is a normal part of a civilised society.”

There’s a recipe for Chicken Orvieto-style in there and a subtly different one on his website, referring to the town not the wine, but it would seem wrong not to use that straw-coloured, slightly bitter white for the 250ml of wine required. In the end I’ve adapted an alternative recipe from his second, equally evocative, cookbook, Italian Kitchen: Recipes from La Cacciata (pictured in the autumn mists above). It came out at around the same time as Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers’ first River Cafe Cookbook, cementing rustic Italian cucina as the aspirational ingredient-led cuisine du jour (apologies for my French).

Ingredients were always paramount for Little, always ahead of his time and a handsome, engaging champion of real food on television. In the Noughties he ran a deli-trattoria called Tavola in Notting Hill; in 2017 he moved to Australia (check out the archive of BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme for a Sheila Dillon entertaining interview with him on the eve of his departure. He was to open a restaurant in his wife’s home town of Sydney, where he died this week. 

Alastair Little not sparing the wine in a marinade. Image: Alastair Little

The Colne-born chef had trained in top London kitchens before setting up on his own, but he initially seemed defined by his academic pedigree, having read archaeology and social anthropology at Downing College, Cambridge. He taught himself to cook in his last year,dishing up meals for, among others, his exact contemporary, Rowley Leigh (Christ’s) later a chef/restaurateur and food writer in his own right.

With them I always associate (though his only Cambridge connection was winning a choral scholarship aged eight) another chef/scholar Simon Hopkinson, two years younger. Little was from Colne, Leigh from Manchester, Hopkinson from Bury.  A fourth member of an incomparable quartet has to be Jeremy Lee, who worked for both Little in Frith Street and for Hopkinson at Bibendum in Fulham. The Scot, a mere stripling at 58, is still manning the stoves in Soho, at Quo Vadis and has a highly anticipated book coming out on September 1 – Cooking: Simply and Well, for One or Many.

Lee led the tributes from the London food world this week: “Alastair Little was a godfather of modern British cooking and a champion of keeping it simple. His cooking was just incredible, peerless. Unique, charming, brilliant, a joy to cook with, a huge inspiration, a great pal and a great boss, gone too young, too soon, much missed and never to be forgotten.”

As I write this, my own tribute is sizzling in the Aga. I’ve never cooked Pollo Orvietano before. I just hope I do it justice.


1.5 kg free range chicken; good olive oil; 500g chicken livers, cleaned and diced

2 large potatoes, cut into 1cm dice; an enormous bunch of leaf or feather fennel; 48 black olives, stoned; salt and pepper; 48 large fresh garlic cloves in their skins; 250ml dry white wine;  500ml chicken broth.


Prepare the stuffing in advance. It takes around an hour. Sauté the livers in the 4 tbsp of olive oil, stirring until coloured. Add the potatoes and gently cook until thoroughly cooked through. Add the fennel with half the olives, season well and set aside to completely cool. Pre-heat the oven to 400F/200C/gas mark 6.

Spoon as much of the stuffing as will fit into the cavity of the bird without overfilling; place the rest, lubricated with a little olive oil, in an oven-proof dish. Rub the chicken all over with a little more olive oil and season generously. Place in a deepish casserole dish, on its side, and put in the oven to roast for 20 minutes. Slide it onto its other side and continue roasting for a further 20 minutes. Finally, turn the right way up and throw in the garlic cloves. Turn the oven down a notch, put in the dish of extra stuffing and continue cooking for a further 30-40 minutes, adding the remaining olives for the last 10.

Remove the bird to a chopping board, allow it to rest. Put the garlic and olives in a dish and keep warm. Pour off any excess fat in the roasting dish and add the wine. Bring to the boil and reduce until almost evaporated. Pour in the chicken stock and reduce the lot by three-quarters. Cut the chicken into eight pieces and arrange on a serving dish surrounding the extra stuffing. Scatter with the olives and garlic and strew with more chopped fennel fronds.

We accompanied the dish with a Pheasant’ s Tears Poliphonia, a Georgian red matured in a qvevri (earthenware amphora). It’s a blend of 100 indigenous red and white grape varieties. Thanks for the recommendation, Dan at Flawd.

Serendipity? You bet. What are the chances of booking a dining destination to celebrate a ‘big’ birthday and in the intervening months it wins its second Michelin star and three days before your stay gets elevated to the UK’s number one restaurant?

Ynyshir was already a hot ticket for the foodie who likes to be challenged; now chef Gareth Ward and his design-savvy partner Amelia Eiriksson are having to fend off a press pack desperate to find out what all the fuss is about on this distant edge of Wales.

We already had a fair inkling. We holed up there exactly six years ago and adored the embryo project the pair had embarked on after taking full ownership. Since when we’ve traced from afar the radical transformation of this once whitewashed hunting lodge outside Machynlleth, once owned by Queen Victoria. A doom-laden redecoration, a ram’s skull motif and brown sheepskin throws off a Game of Thrones set, a soundtrack rumoured to make Nine Inch Nails sound like loungecore and a 32-course Japanese-influenced tasting menu that has ‘imminent overdraft’ written all over it. Bring it on.

Some time after we had polished off 15 fish courses – riffs on lobster, shrimp, scallop, crab, hamachi, blue fin, black cod and madai via a sensual overload of nahm jim, wasabi, yuzu, miso, sesame– Ynyshir really kicked off. A volcanic fire pit was ignited outside the window while a mirror ball pierced every corner of the penumbral dining room and I could have sworn the DJ ratcheted up the decibels.

Luckily we had been assigned one of two tables by the window and Captain Smidge, our gourmet chihuahua, had snuggled down on a rug oblivious to the hubbub, even missing the Wagyu beef three ways which he would have wolfed. Most of the dishes would have been far too spicy for him and anyway most were one-bite size. Hard to pick a favourite. The Welsh lamb spare ribs were sensational, ditto the blue fin tuna, the scallop with duck liver or the miso cured black cod with aged kaluga.

Impeccably behaved Smidge had been given special dispensation to sleep in the main house and to join us and 22 other souls on Yynyshir’s epic culinary voyage. The large couple from Essex, who had booked the chef’s table, looked quite blown away by the perfect storm of the adjacent kitchen brigade, with Gareth Ward as Captain Ahab on the bridge, silhouetted against the flaming grill.

A quiet date place this ain’t, yet our dinner experience had started in calm fashion on our arrival at 3pm. Like the other guests, we were invited to ‘check in’ for the meal before being shown to our rooms. Overnight stays are part of the package. 

In turn you are taken out from your lounge drink to be introduced to a large box of raw produce that is the inspiration for the dishes ahead. Beware getting nipped by the live crab. Your MC then composes a taster bowl of ‘Not French Onion’. It was a signature statement in 2016 – Japanese dashi stock flavoured with onion oil, diced tofu, pickled shallots, sea vegetables, onion and miso purée and brown butter croûtons. I conjecture this chawanmushi (savoury custard) has been refined but it remains utterly delicious. 

Next up is a session with Ynyshir sommelier Rory Eaton to discuss your wine (or sake) requirements for the evening. The list has stratospheric bottles but also a few you’d class as accessible. We went middle ground by the glass – Alsace Pinot Gris, South African Chenin Blanc, Chablis, South African Pinot Noir and a Barolo. Rory, a class act, remained attentive to our vinous needs throughout the evening. 

A similar professionalism pervades the operation. Three days before, on the Monday Gareth and Amelia had to be leant on to make the trek to London, where they triumphed at the Estrella Damm National Restaurant Awards. No over the top celebrations, mind. Tuesday, 200 miles away, was to be business as usual. Even a scalded foot wasn’t keeping Gareth from the pass. Having risen through the ranks at Hambleton Hall and Sat Bains, the towering County Durham lad is nothing if not driven. Do not expect him to cater for your dietary requirements. You are there to eat HIS food.

In a corridor near our ground floor room hung a chef’s jacket proclaiming Yynyshir’s two Michelin star status. That achievement arrived through a deliberate policy to shake up expectations of country house dining. On our first visit it was a benign luxury country retreat. Not chintzy old school, but certainly decorous, quite at odds with the Japanese techniques/lamb fat base of dishes coming out of the kitchen. Hand in hand with a ramping up of the Orient influences and an obsessive investment in the finest raw materials (local, yes, but if the best has to be imported, so be it) came that radical reworking of the look of the place, inside and out. 

Moody dark blue and grey makes a statement. As does the two teepees viewed across rewilded grounds, thronged with chest-high ox-eye daisies on our visit. They were our vista as we opted to sample the first five courses outside by the (unlit) fire pit, revelling in the kind of heat wave rarely encountered around the Dyfi estuary. 

Fortunately, our ground floor bedroom – yes, moody dark blue decor – was cool in every sense. Not that we had much time to spend in the space that was formerly the lounge/bar area (before and after above). Ynyshir is a high octane experience.

By the time we reached the seven puddings, including a playful Alphonso take on a Bakewell, we were flagging, yet rallied around an old acquaintance from first time around. Gareth’s deconstructed ‘tiramisu’ is a great splatter of coffee cake puree, vanilla mayo, chilli crémant gel, coffee, mascarpone granita and a grating of intense 100 per cent chocolate.

The finale? Well, no. Further Valrhona in an ‘after dessert’ in the bar. Single origin Madagascar Manjari daringly paired with shitake mushroom and kaffir lime… a final stroke of genius from a remarkable, unique restaurant experience.

Ynyshir Restaurant and Rooms, Eglwysfach, Machynlleth, Powys SY20 8TA. 01654 781209. Lunch or dinner £350. Prices start at £495 per person for a house room plus dinner (drinks extra). The grounds are also home to a ‘pub with casual dining’ marquee, Legless Fach. Check out my original Ynyshir review and discover the nearby shrine to austere priest poet RS Thomas, the amazing RSPB reserve over the hill and the charms of eco-friendly Machynlleth.

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.

I’m going to treat myself to all the Spring Gourmet Menu dishes pictured above and below. To celebrate an eight year anniversary of mine, coming up in June. OK, my day in their new Cookery School doesn’t even count as a footnote in the garlanded history of Northcote. The stalwart country house hotel had already held a Michelin star for 18 years when I donned their monogrammed apron and did it less than proud. 

In a 2014 piece for Manchester Confidential I charted the shame of my soggy lamb wellington. I’ve still got the apron; Northcote, at Langho outside Blackburn, retains the star… and perhaps deserves a second.

Much else has changed. Nigel Haworth, whose cooking earned the star, moved on after over 30 years’ at the stove. Good to see his new venture, bringing back to life his own former gastropub, The Three Fishes, has swiftly gained him 2022 Michelin Guide recognition. Now part of the Stafford Collection and handsomely refurbished, Northcote continues Nigel’s Obsession Festival, hosting the cream of the world’s chefs every January.

 The greatest legacy of all, though, is Lisa Goodwin-Allen, still just 40, who was barely out of her teens when she started there and rose to be head chef by the age of 23. These days her profile has never been higher. Only recently she was on telly again as a Great British Menu judge. Alongside overseeing Northcote, she spends a couple of days a month as consultant down in London for the Stafford. Holding the fort for hid exec head chef is 27-year-old head chef Danny Young, 2017 National Young Chef of the Year.

The pair have that Spring Gourmet Menu on the way and March (before it snowed) seemed a good time to revisit to road test their Chef’s Table in the same 16-capacity room that’s still home to the Cookery School. Its large glass doors look out onto the kitchen with a kitchen cam for salivating close-ups.

No wellington flashbacks for me thankfully as we tasted four seasonal courses. Slightly early days for vernal abundance to determine the menu entirely but ample evidence of a kitchen as good as, maybe better, than ever. Remarkable technical skills on show but not for show, the whole focus on enhancing the intense flavours of the raw materials. 

It’s an important balancing act to strive beyond country house food expectations without alienating the well-heeled, middle aged and beyond demographic. Though I do believe veteran MD Craig Bancroft when he outlines the importance paid to making first-timers feel at home, especially if daunted by an encyclopaedic wine list. I have no such qualms, on the day of the lunch recognising Craig’s nous in selecting a canny quartet of matching wines.

Our lunch consisted of Orkney scallop, ‘green curry’, cultured yoghurt, lemon (with the bonus of an extra, tempura scallop); quail, frozen liver parfait, apple verjus, bacon, sweet turnip; aged Lake District beef, allium, hen of the woods mushroom, black garlic; warm Bramley ‘Apple Pie’, nuts, maple, caramelised milk.

I loved that deconstructed apple pie (Lisa’s a technical whizz with puds) but the stand-out dish was the quail, served delicately with the bird’s liver in tiny frozen dice, melting into the gamey breast.

Invention is in a constant flurry of renewal in Michelin-starred kitchen. When we were there that new gourmet menu was on the brink of being approved. It sounds irresistible, hence I’m searching for a booking slot. And saving up. Priced at £115 per person, the menu can be paired with course-selected wine by the glass (£71.15) as well as the addition of The Northcote Cheeseboard (£15 or £20), comprising a selection of either five or seven cheeses from The Courtyard Dairy, served with Peter’s Yard Crackers and Homemade Bread. Available Wednesday to Sunday from 12pm to 2pm. So what do you get for your money?

Chargrilled Wye Valley asparagus, sheep’s curd, sorrel; roasted veal sweetbread, white mushroom, wild garlic, caper; wild turbot, clam, bacon, smoked potato, roe; Yorkshire duck, heirloom beetroot, aged balsamic, bee pollen; and that ‘apple pie’ (main image).

Northcote, Northcote Road, Langho, Blackburn BB6 8BE. 01254 240555. For information on a variety of gourmet breaks visit the website.