Tag Archive for: Michelin

The last time I ran into Matthew Fort he was with fellow food critic Tom Parker Bowles at Booths Salford Quays flogging an upmarket brand of pork scratchings they were both associated with. They later jumped ship when the actual producers abandoned a core selling point – the use of English pigs. 

Not the high point of Fort’s championing of British food. That would have to be the publication 25 years ago of Rhubarb and Black Pudding (for evocative northern cookbook titles it vies with Crispy Squirrel and Vimto Trifle, in which I admit a vested interest). I hugely enjoyed his foodie romps around Italy on a Vespa, but his account of a year in the Lancashire kitchen of chef Paul Heathcote was equally evocative… and benchmark influential at the time. A real fly on the wall record of an exceptional restaurant’s workings and relationship with suppliers in the unlikeliest of regional settings.

In the preface Fort wrote of the Eureka moment of his first visit to the Longridge Restaurant – to review for The Guardian. “I was immediately transfixed by the style and quality of the food. I was served poached salmon with a courgette flower stuffed with courgette mousse, smoked chicken and broccoli soup, slow-roasted shoulder of lamb braised with an aubergine mousse, and chocolate parfait with honey and oatmeal ice cream (all for £12.75!). Although the influence of French cooking and finesse were uppermost, nevertheless there was English sensibility running through the flavours, the textures, the combination of ingredients.”

The influence of one of Paul’s mentors is obvious. On occasions he had crossed swords with Raymond Blanc while working for him at the Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons but also found inspiration for when he set up his own restaurant. Aged just 29 and with a £200,000 loan he opened in 1990 and within four years had won his own two Michelin stars.

I treasure my copy of Rhubarb & Black Pudding as much as the memories of meals Paul cooked for me over the years. But as 2023 stumbled into life it took an image re-Tweeted by my friend, the food historian Dr Neil Buttery, to tangentially remind me of its distant impact. Ah, rhubarb. There, glowing enticingly crimson in a custom-built ‘forcing’ shed in Pudsey, West Yorkshire, was the first of the new season crop, due to be harvested by candle light in a week’s time.

The social media charting of the coveted stalks’ development is a recent phenomenon, but Twitter poster Robert is the fourth generation Tomlinson to grow forced rhubarb by this traditional method. The plants first spend two years outdoors to harden against frost, then are brought in to a dark, heated habitat, to grow quickly, while straining for light. Once ready, the spears are picked by candlelight because too much light causes photosynthesis, which can halt the growth of the crowns. This process produces a sweeter fruit with a white core – a kind of Rhubarb ‘premier cru’.

It’s estimated only 12 such producers remain across the ‘Rhubarb Triangle’ between Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell. Originally the trade benefited from a surplus of cheap heating coal from the local pits.

Paul Heathcote’s rhubarb source has aways been from nearer his Lancashire base in Longridge – via long-time veg and fruit supplier Eddie Homes, who set up a supply chain of raw materials of the quality he required.

“Rhubarb and asparagus were just two items we persuaded local allotment holders to grow for us,” Paul tells me as I catch up with him at Preston North End, another connection that goes back a long way. His Heathcote & Co team have been responsible for match day dining and events since launching in 1997 (with a six year hiatus). His flagship restaurant, eponymous Brasseries and Olive Presses are now all in the past, the Longridge site forlornly on the market, but his corporate catering business maintains the iconic Heathcote brand. 

No looking back for Paul? “Until you told me I hadn’t given it a thought it was a quarter of a century since the book came out. It certainly took longer to do so than we envisaged! It was expected to come out in 1996 or 1997 after first being mooted in 1994. 

“I remember vividly Matthew turning up at what was our makeshift front door – we were having a new kitchen fitted on the other side. He’d got off the train at Preston and, satchel on his back, walked the 14 miles as the crow flies, a lot of it along an old railway track. It was a warm day and he looked knackered.”

Matthew Fort’s personal Lancashire journey had begun long before. The family home for generations was Read Hall, near Padiham, his father (who died when Fort was 12) the MP for Clitheroe. After Eton, the food critic to be studied at Lancaster University, further sowing the seeds of his knowledge of the county’s topography and cuisine. 

The acquaintance was resumed during his exhaustive research for Rhubarb and Black Pudding. Paul agrees with me: “Yes, there was a lot of Matthew in the book, but there have been few better evocations of how a restaurant works. Certainly not a place as off the beaten track as ours.”

A quarter of a century on what still shine vividly are the portraits of the suppliers who Paul cultivated primarily to have the freshest raw materials to hand. “It was not deliberate policy on my part to promote the area’s produce as such. It never occurred to me to put images of my suppliers on the walls. Good products come to you or in some cases you create them. There was so much enthusiasm but it could be a slog at times. In Fleetwood Chris Neve (still an active supplier of fine fish) got it straight away. Reg Johnson down the road recognised what I wanted but it took a bit longer to produce the quality of corn-fed poultry I required. It was frustrating at times, there were failures along the way if I’m honest.”

Still poultry farmers Johnson and Swarbrick never looked back as top-end restaurants across the land coveted their speciality chickens and ducks. And Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire cheese from down the road gained much needed national recognition. 

Black pudding, too, got a serious profile upgrade thanks to Paul. And it was all down to his old friend and Ribble Valley gastro rival, Nigel Haworth, once of Northcote, now back at the Three Fishes, Mitton (where he once dispayed images of his suppliers).

“We were in a team of chefs, who travelled over to Champagne and had to cook for our French equivalents and Nigel challenged me to create something different. So I decided upon my own refined version of black pudding and it was a success – the dish I’m most proud of.

“I used to make black pudding from scratch, using fresh blood in those days, but after BSE came along we had to change to powdered. The texture of the original was different – much creamier.”

It all seems far off now. The last black pudding of PauI’s I tasted was in a main at The Northern, a restaurant Heathcote & Co launched briefly pre-Pandemic inside the town hall complex of his native Bolton. It tasted good but no fine dining aspirations with its mustard grain sauce, mushy peas and triple-cooked chips. Alas, no rhubarb on the menu. Maybe it was the wrong season. Maybe you can be too elegiac.

When I look back on years of reviewing there’s a special roster of restaurants where I got there first. And reassuringly where I raved others followed. No delusions. Places really prospered after my initial sounding was endorsed by fellow critics with a much higher profile. Which brings me to The White Swan at Fence. A slightly slower burner after I awarded it 16/20 back in 2015, the food eulogy undermined by the basic village pub in transition ambience. Neither food nor pub enhanced by a wrong setting on my Canon Power Shot G15. Fuzzy! Shamefacedly, my incognito cover blown, I had to ask chef Tom Parker, at peak Saturday service time, if I could re-shoot certain dishes on the pass. 

Tom was the reason I’d hurtled up the A6068 Padiham bypass to the strung-out commuter hamlet of Fence. A real talent setting up in the most unlikely of places – the only Timothy Taylor tied house in Lancashire. Formerly dubbed ‘The Mucky Duck’.

My chef friend, Mike Jennings (Grenache at Walkden/later WOOD), had rung me to recommend his former Northcote oppo, who started there at 16, five years later winning UK Young Chef of the Year.

Northcote has held a Michelin star for over a quarter of a century; the Swan gained its own in 2018, three years after my first visit, and has kept it since. The award was a surprise to those fixated on more gussied up establishments but, of course, the consistent brilliance of the food counted most. 

That revered status has been confirmed this week by the resurgent Good Food Guide, now a purely digital operation, yet retaining its authority. Strong on expert reader recommendations, it rates UK restaurants across four categories, Good, Very Good, Exceptional and World Class. Only three form the latter pantheon – L’Enclume, Ynyshir and Moor Hall, with all of which I am very familiar. 34 further places make the Exceptional list, including The White Swan at Fence

According to The GFG: “Exceptional equals cooking that has reached the pinnacle of achievement, making it a highly memorable experience for the diner. The whole restaurant will be operating at the highest level: not only perfect dishes, showing faultless technique at every service, but also superb service, a high level of comfort, and a warm, welcoming atmosphere. These are the best places to eat in the country.”

Great company for the White Swan. That elite bunch includes the likes of A. Wong, Claude Bosi at Bibendum, Hjem, Inver. Outlaw’s Nest, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Restaurant Story, The Raby Hunt and The Sportsman.

It all leaves me feeling in the right place at the right time again. Read my review of Yynshir where, between booking and staying, it won its second Michelin star and was named the UK’s number one restaurant.

Cue last Saturday, when I booked a Swan lunch for myself and Captain Smidge, the gourmet chihuahua, en route checking the photo settings on my iPhone 13 were spot on. The five course lunch is £55 a head on Saturdays, compared with £45 Tuesday-Friday. Each prix fixe will rise by a tenner from December 1 (for obvious economic logistical reasons). Our standard set dinner will increase to £80 per head Tuesday to Saturday.

At my table opposite the Landlord and Boltmaker cask pumps Gareth Ostick (co-owner with his wife Laura and Tom) tells me that the decision to discard the several-choice a la carte post lockdowns has been a success beyond the obvious cutting down of possible food waste. It has also re-energised chef Tom, giving him the opportunity to roll with what’s fresh on the market. And, of course, in any Michelin destination, added surprises are quintessential.

Here the amuse bouches cluster across the table (no tablecloths and, all you old school Michelin tickers, don’t count on cloches). A tomato consommé topped with intense whipped basil and smoked bacon speckles comes in a prawn cocktail style goblet. With a large pebble of sourdough there’s a choice of butter, Leagram’s organic sheep’s curd, or their signature black pea hummus, which is as ‘Lanky umami’ as ever. Oh, nearly forgot a game liver parfait ‘tart’ coated in hazelnut. I’m driving, so my aim is to make my pint of Taylor’s last but already the glass is half empty, half full. Such a shame, though, not to explore the wine list, these days supplied by the excellent Miles Corish and a vast improvement on that 2015 selection.

Bread aside, Captain Smidge has to wait to the third course of herb-fed chicken to be rewarded with his tythe. It comes with hen of the woods and an old school yet light mushroom sauce with madeira and thyme. It cries out for a creamy Chardonnay, but I stay firm.

Before the fowl there is a cute little Burford Brown egg yolk, under fried potato discs dressed with herring roe and dill, giving it a Scandi brunch feel. Then, more excitingly, in  a red prawn curry foam a substantial Skye scallop topped with its own coral in the lightest of tempura batters. Masterful.

Honey truffle, mascarpone, pears and verjus is a playful palate cleanser before this accomplished kitchen unveils a triumph of soufflé technique, using Valrhona chocolate. With it a darker hot chocolate sauce and a stem ginger ice cream. All as pretty as a picture in my photos. Mostly.

The White Swan at Fence, 300 Wheatley Lane Road, Fence, Burnley BB12 9QA.

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.

Some cookbooks have a longer shelf life than others. Well-thumbed, splattered indelibly with ingredient stains, they’ve stayed the course. Many courses, if you forgive the culinary jeu de mot. One such tome is The Carved Angel Cookbook by Joyce Molyneux, a bastion of my recipe collection since it was published in 1990. It sold 50,000 copies despite the chef’s lack of TV exposure or reluctance to self-publicise. Unlike a certain Mr Floyd, who ran a gastropub upriver from Joyce’s Dartmouth, Devon base. Until bankruptcy.

Her  book celebrates the very special restaurant on the riverfront, where she made her name. I mention it now because this groundbreaking female chef turns 90 this month after being retired for well over two decades. 

Happy Birthday, Joyce (and fellow legend Shaun Hill, 75 this week and still at the stove in his Michelin-starred Walnut Tree, near Abergavenny). 

An appropriate dish to cook in Joyce’s honour might well be the famous Salmon in Puff Pastry with Stem Ginger and Currants, invented by her mentor George Perry-Smith when she worked for him at The Hole in The Wall, Bath in the Sixties. It accompanied her to Dartmouth when in the early Seventies he set up her and his stepson, Tom Jaine, to run the Carved Angel.

One hitch, though. It’s not in the The Carved Angel Cookbook. I’d got it in my head that  it was. An easy enough mistake to make. You’ll certainly find it in two Jane Grigson books, her Fish Book (1993) and The Observer Guide to British Food (1984),where this great food scholar/cook writes: “I’d gathered that the source of the idea was a medieval recipe, but then I found something almost identical in the Cook and Confectioner’s Dictionary by John Nott (1726, reprinted in 1980). In that more fanciful time, the pastry was scored to look like a fish; inside were mace, butter and ginger in slices, along with the salmon.”

For the salmon Perry-Smith insisted on best Wye, then Tamar when he moved his own restaurant to Cornwall; for Joyce definitely Dart?

There was an obvious affinity between Joyce and Jane (who died of cancer in 1990). Tom recalled Jane and her irascible poet/critic husband Geoffrey coming for dinner to the Angel once. Joyce was apprehensive because at least one recipe had come straight from one of Jane’s books. Fortunately all went swimmingly.

Years later, Joyce would hang a grand Jane Bown portrait of Jane at the threshold of her kitchen and, one further link, Jane’s daughter Sophie was co-author of The Carved Angel Cookbook.

All of which I find fascinating but it still leaves me adrift of a birthday dish. Easy really. Let’s keep the puff pastry. Joyce provides a recipe: you could buy it in but insist on butter. It provides the light casing for a very springlike dish – A Pastry of Quail’s Eggs and Asparagus with a Herb and Cream Sauce. Wild cepes would be a luxury addition but are not essential. Check out the recipe at the end of this article. As for that definitive salmon and ginger en croute dish Google and ye will find. Versions are all over the Public Domain.

So what makes Joyce Molyneux and the Carved Angel so special 30 years on?

I happened to be in Bath this year for International Women/s Day. By odd coincidence that city has been Jan’s home since she retired in 1999, having taken ownership of the Angel years before. I called her groundbreaking before. That she certainly was, as was evident during the infrequent dinners we booked there. Joyce was always there in the properly open kitchen – an innovation in those times – with a larger quotient of female sous chefs than you’d normally encounter. And a sense of calm.

It’s seen as cool these days for kitchen staff, not just servers, to bring out  plate to table. That was the norm there. Local sourcing? Farm to fork? In the book there’s a shot of the chef patron harvesting from her own lofty allotment above the winding River Dart. She made exemplary use of the seafood on her doorstep and first introduced me to samphire plucked from the foreshore.

The menu, invariably just a few dishes, no plate overcrowded, avoided the Froglification of ‘fine dining’ at that time. Still I couldn’t resist substituting feuilleté for puff. The true French influences are obvious, yet they are filtered through the acutely Gallic sensibilities of Perry-Smith, Grigson and, inevitably, Elizabeth David. I can’t recall how many covers there were. Not many. Everyone appeared to be enjoying themselves. We certainly did.

The story of how Joyce achieved such eminence, even for a while keeping a Michelin star,  is striking. Read Rachel Cooke’s tribute as The Observer Food Monthly gave her a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017.

It traces her journey from domestic science classes designed to equip a gal for marriage (Joyce never wed) via a revelation what gastronomy could be during an eight stint in a Stratford restaurant to the Hole in The Wall epiphany.

How The Carved Angel soared and then, post Joyce, began its descent

When the Good Food Guide named The Carved Angel the Best Real Food Restaurant of 1984 it was a remarkable reward for Joyce Molyneux’s persistence in following her culinary vision. She took over completely when Tom left the following year. In his memoir of that time he quotes a poem about the Carved Angel written by adopted Devonian and regular customer Poet Laureate Ted Hughes: 

‘The Angel carved in wood

Resisted all temptation.

She fasted and withstood

Libidinous immolation

And anointings of breasts

Of birds and thighs of beasts.

She did not bat an eye

When those two loose-mouthed harlots

Claret and Burgundy

Turned glass and drinker scarlet.

She barely coloured – say

Chassagne Montrachet.

She only cracked when Tom

Plucked Sally from the shrine as

A cork out of the Dom.

This bomb among the diners

Shattered the Angel – left

Her not so carved as cleft.’

Joyce continued to run The Carved Angel until 1999. Since her retirement it’s had highs and lows under several ownerships. As The New Angel under turbulent celebrity chef John Burton Race it briefly regained its Michelin star. Nowadays, rebranded The Angel, the kitchen is in the hands of 2018 Masterchef: The Professionals finalist Elly Wentworth. Along the quay the big chef name in town now is Mitch Tonks at The Seahorse. His culinary hero? Joyce Molyneux.

A Feuilleté of Quail’s Eggs and Asparagus with a Herb and Cream Sauce (serves 4)

Ingredients

100g puff pastry; 8 quail’s eggs; 225g green asparagus tips; 1 egg, beaten; sesame or poppy seeds; Messine herb sauce; chervil or watercress, to garnish.

Method

Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface to form a 20cm square, 4mm thick. Trim edges and divide into four 10cm squares. Place on a baking sheet; rest in fridge for at last 30 minutes. Boil  pan of water. Add egg for one and half minutes drain, rinse with cold water and place in a bowl of cold water to rest. Tie the asparagus in a bundle, cook in boiling, salted water until tender (5 mins). Drain and keep warm.

Brush pastry with beaten egg and sprinkle with seeds. Bake in a pre-heated oven, gas mark 9 for 5-7 minutes until golden brown and risen. Out of he oven cut each so there’s a lid. Store the lids in a warm place for use later.

Re-heat the eggs in hot water for a minute and heat the sauce thoroughly. Drain eggs and place two in each pastry case with asparagus and coat with sauce. Cover with pastry lids and garnish.

It’s too easy to pin ‘Magnificent’ to Obsession but it’s a perfect fit for Northcote’s gourmet festival. For over two decades, with ever-starrier line-ups of guest chefs, it has lit up the depths of January. Last year, alas, the lights went out as the shadow of Covid cancelled all hospitality.

Now it’s storming back, ambition undimmed, from January 21 to February 6 2022 at the Michelin-starred Ribble Valley stalwart. Caution remains with an absence of global big hitters but this is more than made up for by 16 chefs, with 15 stars under their belt, from the UK and Ireland.

In announcing the cast of Obsession 22 Northcote exec chef Lisa Allen was quick to point out the big plus of this approach and I’m inclined to agree. After a torrid 18 months and more for the industry, and with staffing and supply headaches that won’t go away let’s celebrate ‘our own’. Their world class quality but also their energy and durability in the circumstances.

Not that there’s anything remotely parochial about the schedule below, tickets for which go on sale on Tuesday, September 28. It ranges from the high profile Michelin likes (above) of Matt Abe (Restaurant Gordon Ramsay), Simon Rogan (L’Enclume) to Obsession newcomers Roberta Hall McCarron from Edinburgh and Jordan Bailey from Co KIldare (below) alongside familiar telly faces Tom Kerridge and James Martin. Bailey, who runs two Michelin-starred Aimsir with his wife Majken, particularly intrigues me. Once a key part of the Restaurant Sat Bains team, he was later head chef at 3-star Michelin Maaemo in Oslo before they moved to Ireland in 2018.

As is traditional, Lisa Allen kicks off the 14 days of dinners on January 21 and she returns for a formidable female Grande Finale on February, when she teams up with Monica Galette and Nieves Barragan Mohacho.

The lineup: 

  • Fri Jan 21: Lisa Goodwin Allen, Northcote, Ribble Valley (1 star) 
  • Sat Jan 22: Matt Abe, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, London (3 stars) 
  • Sun Jan 23: Mickael Viljanen, Chapter One (previously The Greenhouse), Dublin  
  • Mon Jan 24: Jordan Bailey, Aimsir, County Kildare (2 stars) 
  • Tue Jan 25: Simon Rogan & Tom Barnes, L’Enclume, Cumbria (2 stars) 
  • Wed Jan 26: Roberta Hall McCarron, The Little Chartroom, Edinburgh 
  • Thu Jan 27: Alex Bond, Alchemilla, Nottingham (1 star) 
  • Fri Jan 28: Galton Blackiston, Morston Hall, Norfolk (1 star) 
  • Sat Jan 29: Hrishikesh Desai, Gilpin Hotel & Lakehouse, Cumbria (1 star) 
  • Sun Jan 30: Kenny Atkinson, House of Tides, Newcastle (1 star)  
  • Wed Feb 2: James Martin, celebrity chef and TV presenter 
  • Thu Feb 3: Tom Kerridge, The Hand & Flowers, Marlow (2 stars) 
  • Fri Feb 4: Atul Kochhar, Atul Kochhar Restaurants, London  
  • Sun Feb 6, Grande Finale feat Monica Galetti, Mere, London; Nieves Barragan Mohacho, Sabor, London (1 star); Lisa Goodwin Allen, Northcote, Ribble Valley (1 star) 

Lisa said; “Obsession 22 is particularly special. After having to cancel this year’s festival due to the pandemic and with the hospitality industry taking such a hit, we’re all ready to put on a show of culinary brilliance. This year it was only right to bring all corners of Britain and Ireland together, focusing on the incredible talent that we have on our shores, but still with an injection of different styles of cooking, different regional ingredients and different flavours. We have some great emerging chefs like Alex Bond, and much-loved household names, as well as some of the UK’s best female chefs, joining us.”  

Tickets for Obsession 22 go on sale on September 28 and are priced at £160 per person, including a Louis Roederer Champagne and canapé reception, five course menu, coffee and petit fours. A specially paired wine flight can be added, starting from around £65 per person. For more information visit this link.  VIP hospitality packages are available to book for six or more people in the Louis Roederer Room or at the Chef’s Table, from £2,350 + VAT. A few lucky (and swift) guests might be able to book one of Northcote’s 25 boutique bedrooms. Northcote, Northcote Road, Langho, Blackburn BB6 8BE. 01254 240555. Here’s my review of Northcote’s five-course tasting menu.

Admission: I’ve got a thing about angels. From binge-watching Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire to a treasured print of Marc Chagall’s Jacob’s Dream with its striking Seraphim enmeshed in the battle between good and evil… I’m smitten. Maybe less so with Robbie Williams and his angelic vision.

Still one chunk of Angel’s lyrics strikes a heavenly chord: “I sit and wait/Does an angel contemplate my fate/And do they know/The places where we go/When we’re grey and old?”

The answer, in this grizzled food lover’s case, is back to the Angel at Hetton. Our Own Private Angelo, in another age, when it staked a claim to being the nation’s first ‘gastropub’. Well ahead of The Eagle in Farringdon, one much-touted contender.

The surrounding Dales countryside looks little changed from the Nineties when this was a regular foray but, pulling off road, we notice all the roseate creepers have been purged from the inn frontage and the signage is now a discreet ‘Angel’ and a Michelin star insignia.

We park next to a silver Jaguar F-Type convertible, which may signal the presence of pop royalty for lunch. Or his Satanic Majesty. We never find out. It’s the weather that has us dazzled. If memory serves, it rained incessantly in Yorkshire between September 1996 and April 1999. Today, July 19, 2021 offers the dry heat of Provence in high summer and the Hetton village limestone is all honeyed Luberon in the glare.

The Angel interior, reassuringly well-ventilated, is cool and grey. Like me, only with better manners. Yet it does not feel stuffy. Staff are young but properly drilled. This means a Kir Royale (for birthday girl whose treat this is) and a water bowl (for Captain Smidge, the panting chihuahua) are swiftly brought. It’s touch and go which of the pair will have the prime share of a lamb main in this dog-friendly establishment. 

Restaurant and bar area are both being used for meals, a la carte or tasting menu, to  maximise covers while spacing out tables. It’s done well. The attention to detail will carry over into the food. We are here because Michael Wignall is here. 

Wignall is one of the star chefs that have contributed recipes to Lancashire Diamond, celebrating 60 Years of Wellocks

A chef not given to self-publicity but among the profession a legend. Not so much for his one-time consultancy role with Hotel Football when Gary Neville gave this Preston-born United fan the opportunity to create Nev’s Noodles and a black-pudding sausage roll (both splendid but maybe the punters weren’t ready for umami and the like). 

The rest of his career path, though, reads like a road map of New British Cuisine with two star tenures at The Latymer and Gidleigh Park. We last tasted his fastidious food, with a hint of Japanese influence, when he guested at Northcote’s 2016 Obsessions festival.

Two years later the Angel became the first restaurant of his own, the ambitious transformation made possible by a partnership with friends James and Josephine Wellock, top end catering produce suppliers.

We watched all this from afar as the pandemic narrowed all our dining out opportunities but noted the swift recognition of a Michelin star and a meteoric rise in the Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs list. Until this mellowest of Mondays it remained on a bucket list as I persuaded myself the joys of labour intensive home cooking could more than compensate for a proper restaurant experience.

Which brings us – as some seriously cute amuse bouches reach the table, prompting explorative sniffs from The Captain on his cushion – to why we first patronised this off the beaten track drovers inn that dates back to the 15th century (though the oak beams and other ‘original’ features are 17th).

It’s all down to Moneybags. No, not the kind that helps fund Jaguars. As far inland as you can get in our realm and fish specials were the lure. Owner Dennis Watkins would chalk catches of the day up on a blackboard but the one constant was a little filo parcel in a pool of lobster reduction. The full name, ‘Little Moneybag of Seafood’.

The barn complex across the road houses some of the Angel’s en suite accommodation

Simple pleasure that it sounds now, yet it became a kind of signature dish of the Watkins dynasty that began in 1983 and turned The Angel into an unexpected foodie destination. The family kept going when Dennis died in 2004, just after an expansion into a former barn had created bedrooms and a ‘wine cave’. A decade ago its reputation was still high enough to merit a visit from Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in the original series of The Trip.

Chefs came and went. One former private chef to Donna Karan with a back story in the Turks and Caicos introduced his own silver hake satay and other innovations but when Moneybags orders dipped the writing was on the wall.

A bottle of Chinon, lightly chilled Cabernet Franc, is now at my elbow, alongside a freshly baked sourdough loaf with parsley and lovage butter. I’m driving the birthday girl home so I just get to sniff and have two very modest glasses. There was never a chance of staying over. Across the land the places you’d love to stay at are fully booked up until well into the autumn. It doesn’t stop me dreaming of a siesta, dinner and a next day Wignall breakfast followed by a dog walk over Rylstone Edge before the heat gets too intense. One day.

Never go back? Sometimes it’s good to. Hetton in high summer has just offered a slice of heaven.

SO WHAT DID WE EAT AT THE ANGEL AT HETTON?

There is a £75 tasting menu We chose three courses from the a la carte, which came with inevitable extras, including an intense pre-main mini chicken in ramen broth, a perfect little sourdough ‘pain’ with parsley and lovage butter plus dreamy petits fours. It cost £70 each.

Arctic Char

Pleasingly fatty, troutlike tranche in rich shrimp butter, cut through by gooseberry; kohlrabi and razor clam adding texture. 

Scallop

A fan of lightly marinated raw Scottish scallop is given the freshest of treatments. Frozen buttermilk, peas and cucumber are natural allies. A slash of charcoal and a scattering of Ocscietra caviar on th buttermilk is the masterstroke.

Lamb

A triumph of sourcing and restraint on the plate. Cumbrian loin and belly, blobs of celeriac puree, barbecued gem lettuce and leek with an earthy undertow from hen of the wood.

Quail

So a Norfolk quail, ethically reared by the same enterprising East Anglian farm that supplied the Norfolk poussin on the menu at Michelin soulmate Northcote. The quail is the base for an elaborate combo of breast with bitter dandelion, a leg paired with a veal sweetbread, miso/sunflower oil on the side. Artichoke dice and winter truffle all contribute to a very special dish.

Chocolate

The obvious birthday treat across the table, featuring a steamed sponge and cherries, alongside an Orelys bronze chocolate base topped by sugar snaps, frozen estate dairy milk and more cherries. I had no chance to explore further since it was devoured so swiftly.

Strawberry

Aerated parfaits I can do without, even flavoured with my favourite, verbena. Otherwise there was much to admire in the yoking together of strawberries and their distant wild cousins, pineberries with olive oil and yogurt.

The Angel at Hetton, near Skipton BD23 6LT. 01756 730263. Mon, Fri, Sat and Sun lunch 12pm-2pm, dinner 6.30pm-8.30pm; Thu dinner 6.30pm-8.30pm. Closed Tue and Wed. Under the new regime there are now 15 en-suite rooms – on the first floor, in a neighbouring cottage and across the road in the Fell View Barn, which once housed the ‘wine cave’. Two dog-friendly rooms are available, with doggy bed and bowls provided, while dogs are allowed to join their owner for meals in the normal bar area. 

WHERE ELSE TO EAT IN THIS BEAUTIFUL CORNER OF GOD’S COUNTRY?

Devonshire Arms Brasserie, Bolton Abbey

Two decades ago the peripatetic Wignall was chef at the Devonshire Arms’ showcase restaurant, the decidedly formal Burlington. In complete contrast is the venerable hotel’s second dining spot, a riot of candy-striped upholstery and ‘bold’ artworks on white-washed walls. The plan had been to lunch on the pop-up terrace next to the helipad but the weather wasn’t Hettonesque, so the perpetually sunny Brasserie it was. It shares the commitment of the Burlington to fine raw materials, Try the torched house cured salmon with beetroot, pickle and horseradish, followed by lamb rump with lentils, tomato mint, Yorkshire fettle, green olives, spring greens and pan jus. 3 courses £35, 2 courses £28.

The Fleece at Addingham

Just a couple of miles down the road from Bolton Abbey and Wharfedale has become Airedale. Cars thunder into Ilkley along the A65 bypass, leaving Addingham village relatively serene. Its best pub has twice come back from the dead after being gutted by an arson attack in 2015, then shut after Joycelyn Neve’s Seafood Pub Co, which expensively restored it, went into administration. New owners rescued half of the chain and she’s back at the helm, with supplies from her father Chris’s Fleetwood seafood business. So go for the Fleece’s fish specials or a sharing plate of fruits de mer. We pushed out the boat and splashed out £69 on two full lobsters as rain swept the terrace. We were happily under cover. Atypical’s the word for that sun-dappled day in Hetton.