These beauties are giving you the hard stare. Stocky they may be, but Dexters punch above their weight in the beef stakes. Cross-bred with Longhorns, not just grass fed but rich pasture-nourished 24 hours a day, they produce meat that is unparalleled.
Expect to find this product from ‘Jane’s Farm’ at Poole Hall, Cheshire – alongside their ultimate free range pork – sizzling off the Josper at the reincarnation of Higher Ground. Repurposed as an ‘agriculturally focused bistro and bar’, it will open to the public in Manchester on Saturday, February 18. Here’s a link to their sample menu. There’s a palpable sense of elation that, three years on, the globe-trotting restaurant team that wowed at a pop-up in the fledgling Kampus development can now really fly.
The pandemic restrictions clipped their wings. Two years of planning for one potential site ended in deep frustration. But Joseph Otway, Richard Cossins and Daniel Craig Martin battled back. Most visibly at Flawd, their natural wine bar up at Islington Marina in Ancoats. Otway got shortlisted for Chef of the Year at the 2023 Manchester Food and Drink Awards and was highly praised by Sunday Times reviewer Marina O’Loughlin. All this despite the venue’s very limited cooking facilities.
The real tools behind his artfully assembled small plates were the salad, fruit and veg sourced from Cinderwood, their own organic market gardenin deepest Cheshire. It was how the Higher Ground gang occupied the lockdown hiatus, turning over the one acre leased to them by Poole Hall’s owners, Jane and Chris Oglesby. Polytunnels and a shed were built, horticultural nous acquired in the shape of head gardener Michael Fitzsimmons and a supply chain created to a network of enlightened restaurants. The future seeds were sown, but that has proved to be only the beginning as a deal has now been struck to take on Jane’s remarkable meat.
Higher Ground and Climat collab
The latest restaurant in Manchester to source from Cinderwood will be Climat, which hit the ground running just before Christmas. It’s actually quite a long way off the ground – on the eighth floor of Blackfriars House – and was praised to the skies last weekend by Observer critic Jay Rayner. Climat are actually going one step further by tapping into the ‘Jane’s Farm’ link-up that promises to make the resurgent Higher Ground such an exciting destination for 2023. The two restaurants have reserved a four-year-old heifer to share, avoiding wastage, and that beef will be on stream into the spring. But first the triangular farm to fork pathway will be forged by the pork on Joseph Otway’s launch menus.
Jane Oglesby has kept back six pigs from the autumn, which have been gorging on acorns in the Poole Hall woodland, so they each weigh a whopping 150 to 170kg. Noah’s Ark style, every fortnight a pair of pigs will be ferried to an independent, small scale abattoir on the Wirral, accompanied by farm manager Ste Simock. The carcasses then go to Littlewoods in Heaton Chapel, arguably the finest butcher’s in the region, to be jointed for the Higher Ground chef team.
The end product may include (off the sample menu) pig head terrine, pickled garlic capers (£10), Jane’s acorn reared pig belly with grain and mushroom porridge (£24) and dry-aged pork leg steak, cauliflower, fermented mustard leaf (£20).
The beef, in its turn, will hang for at least four weeks at Littlewoods. Future plans include mutton from sheep sourced from Jane’s cousin in the Dales. A further third of an acre is being leased at Cinderwood, where sheep will graze, turning over the soil naturally, avoiding the plough, just a final ruffling with a rotivator before brassicas are planted on the site. The aim? Both brassicas and meat will be ready at the same time for a seasonal companionship on the plate. This is so true to the agricultural philosophy Jane espouses…
Jane Oglesby and the joy of regenerative farming
After negotiating a maze of rutted country lanes in the Nantwich hinterland it’s after dark when we pull up at Poole Hall. So I have to take it on trust that out there across 200 acres those Dexter crosses and a scattering of their Belted Galloway rivals are revelling in being given the licence to roam and chomp the vigorous wild plant life, while in the woodland thickets Large Black x Tamworth porkers root for acorns. Just like their Spanish cousins. But they are still a work in progress, unlike the 120-strong cattle herd, which Jane Oglesby has been building up for over a decade.
I’ve come down from Manchester with Joseph and Richard to collect a couple of pork joints for the test kitchen ahead of a New Year’s Eve feast at Flawd (three sittings, check availability with them), where the centrepiece will be pork shoulder slowly seethed in milk. If it follows the Italian method for Maiale al Latte, lemon and sage will feature. As a dish it’s not a looker since when the pork is cooked the milk will have curdled into brown nuggets, but it will be delicious.
Inside Poole Hall, a sophisticated kitchen belying the country house’s Regency trappings, our host Jane offers us each a bowl of restorative beef broth. It reminds me of the ’dry-aged beef ends broth’ reputedly served when the great American ‘farm to fork’ champion Dan Barber transformed his upmarket Greenwich Village restaurant Blue Hill into a pop-up called wastED for two weeks. It later guested at Selfridge’s in London
You nailed it: creating thought-provoking dishes out of kitchen cast-offs. Even the candles were made out of beef tallow, which you dipped your bread into (Caroline Martins at her Sao Paolo Project in Ancoats was recently pulling off the same trick). Akin to the Italian brodo, that Barber brothmay not sound a radical statement but it marks a change of direction in a top-end restaurant culture that can be profligate with raw materials.
Using every part of an animal, capitalising on the virtues of vegetables, respecting the soil – Joseph Otway and Richard Cossins learned these lessons first hand while working together, as fish chef and front of house respectively, at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in upstate New York. Barber’s farm to table restaurant is symbiotically linked with an on-site Rockefeller-funded non-profit farm and educational centre engaged with the pursuit of ‘regenerative farming’.
That too is Jane’s hands-on mantra across her own increasingly fecund Cheshire land. No ploughing, encouraging wild nutrients in fields formerly given over to dairy farming. Result a yummy riot of clover, yarrow, trefoil, chicory, sheep’s parsley and plantain. She insists: “My belief is that when they have a multi-varied diet the meat is more tasty, all down to the variety of herbs consumed.”
It was through a mutual friend that Jane linked up with the Higher Ground team. As Richard Cossins recalled on my initial visit to Cinderwood: “Chris Roberts (a chef specialising expert in cooking with fire) had told the Oglesbys they really ought to meet us, we’d really get on, so they just turned up out of the blue at our Kampus pop-up launch night. Jane produced this pasture-fed beef from her handbag and Joseph, after opening the windows, cooked these amazing steaks.
“Jane really knew her stuff, had read Dan Barber’s (seminal) book,The Third Plate, and it had inspired her quest for regenerative beef. We bonded at once and they offered to lease us land to start Cinderwood on the estate.”
One thing led to another. Joseph and his team got to appreciate the quality of the meat, while hosting private dinners for Jane and her husband Chris, chief exec at developers Bruntwood. All this culminated this autumn when the couple rendezvoused across the Pond at Stone Barns with Joseph, Richard and their Flawd/Higher Ground partner and natural wine expert Daniel Craig Martin (this NOMA alumnus met Joseph when the pair were working in Copenhagen).
For Jane Stone Barns more than lived up to its manifesto of an integrated system of vegetable, cereal and livestock production, dedicated to cultivating new varietals, and its former employees recognised the Barber sustainable quest had even ratcheted up a gear.
What none of them was quite prepared for was their meat course in the kitchen there. By the fireside at Poole Hall Joseph shared phone images of the half a cow’s head they were served. Not nearly as shocking as the infamous horse’s head in the bed in The Godfather. Still it’s more approachable when the choice meaty bits have been levered out for you.
‘Jane’s Farm’ send their animals in pairs for slaughter to Callum Edge’s abattoir on the Wirral. To reduce stress they may be accompanied by Ste Simock. Day to day the herd is calmed by leaving the bulls with them and employing a 15 year-old dairy cow to impart her own field wisdom.
The Belted Galloways, brought in to be ‘finished’ are from her cousins’ farm up in the Dales – Jane’s first contact with agriculture. “As kids we used to come up from London or Birmingham to stay at their farm,” she recalls. Much has happened in the world of cattle rearing since then. Not least the shrinking number of small scale abattoirs like Edge’s, the latest to quit the century-old Mettrick’s in Glossop. The remaining ones are hog-tied in red tape, the industry geared to force-fed, accelerated growth livestock.
“Pasture-fed animals necessarily take longer to grow, but regulations dating back to the Mad Cow Disease epidemic place restrictions on animals over 30 months old,” Jane tells me. This former GP, has said in the past: “The health of my family was what got me into farming. The combination of being a GP and a mother started me thinking seriously about what I was eating. When my daughter was a baby, there was very little information about what was in food or how it had been raised.
“I started to read about hormone use in cattle. We had a friend who had a beef farm and all his cattle had permanent growth-hormone release things in their neck. I didn’t want my children to be given growth hormones, plus there was the use of pesticides on the cattle feed. I was at the point where I thought I might become vegetarian. Then I thought, we’ve got land, I could have a cow and my family meat that I’ve reared myself. Initially it wasn’t that much of a commitment, apart from the small amounts of time that one cow and its calf take.”
But what about the health of the planet, Jane? I ask this in the wake of Animal Liberation activists occupying Michelin-starred Mana in protest at them serving meat. All that cattle-generated methane contributing to global warming. So what are you thoughts on the George Monbiot documentary Apocalypse Cow: How Meat Killed The Planet?
“Big choices have to be made on behalf of the planet. We have to regenerate the soil. Extensive rewilding is not the right direction, reintroducing wolves and vultures and all that. Monbiot is an ideologue, who sets out to challenge existing norms, but is too embedded in what he proposes. I don’t believe in the stats he uses to convince us how much cattle contribute to global warming compared with so much else. His is not the way.”
Monbiot has been equally dismissive of sheep’s contribution. So let’s finish with a ‘nature will heal itself’ narrative from Jane’s resident flock of Shropshires. “We had this maverick sheep, which went off on its own to just nip off the tops of plantains (the ‘mother of worts not the banana cousin). It set us thinking. Perhaps it was ailing. This was finding medicine the plantain is one of the great healing plants.”
So what to expect from the 2023 version of Higher Ground?
Faulkner House on the corner of Faulkner Street and and New York Street is the new permanent home for Higher Ground. The 3,000 sq ft space will seat around 50 covers, with the design incorporating floor to ceiling glass on two sides of the building, as well as a large island that will be shared between both the front of house and back of house teams.
There’s no shortage of experience there. Richard Cossins’ CV includes fronting Feta at Claridges and Roganic for Simon Rogan, but he is pragmatic about the new project they have settled on. “We don’t feel like now is the time to be opening a tasting menu only restaurant. Flawd’s success has shown that an approachable, neighbourhood concept works well. It actually makes us question our original thinking. Starting with Flawd has been the perfect entrance to a new food and beverage landscape.”
Menus will change on a daily basis depending on the season and ingredients will be sourced from the North-West with a focus on organic, small-scale agriculture and small herd, whole carcass cookery.. The wine list will encourage discovery and curiosity with a spotlight on small-scale, low intervention winemakers from around the European continent.
Expect an a la carte offering as well as a sharing menu option priced at £45 per person, made up of both individual courses and sharing dishes, encouraging family-style eating. Example non-meaty plates could include Cumberland Farmhouse Cheddar Quiche and BBQ Leek Skewers and Cow’s Curd and Celeriac with Spanish Blood Orange and Bay Leaf. Curing Rebels charcuterie from Joseph’s native Brighton will continue to feature. Guests will be offered the choice of sweet or savoury options to round off their meal with Garstang Blue and Lager Rarebit sitting alongside Yorkshire rhubarb, Custard and Caramelised Croissant on the dessert menu.
The grill will be central to the operation. While head chef at Stockport’s Where The Light Gets In Otway followed the ‘second plate’ principles of veg dominating with a reduced amount of meat effectively forming the sauce. With the Oglesby tie-in he has to accommodate butchering and not wasting any part of whole carcasses. “It’s a daunting challenge,” he tells me. “It’s about more than the prime cuts. We are going to have to be creative.
“Now that we will have a full-scale kitchen to work with, we’re eager to further our existing relationships with the many local producers and farms here in the North-West. We should hit the very beginning of spring when the restaurant opens. From a produce perspective it couldn’t be more exciting,”
Flawd will continue under the stalwart stewardship of Megan Saorise Williams with Where The Light Gets In fermentation specialist Seri Nam taking over in the kitchen.
Higher Ground, Faulkner House, Faulkner Street, Manchester M1 4DY. Bookings now being taken. Walk-ins welcome.
Kitchen Opening Times: Wednesday 5:30pm-9:30pm; Thursday 5:30pm-9:30pm; Friday 12:30pm-2pm / 5:30pm-9:30pm; Saturday12:30pm-2pm / 5:30pm-9:30pm.
Bar Opening Times: Wednesday 5:30pm-11:30pm; Thursday 5:30pm-11:30pm; Friday 12:30pm-2pm / 5:30pm-12am; Saturday12:30pm-2pm / 5:30pm-12am.