Tag Archive for: Sowerby Bridge

Blog post “The Engineers is as unpretentious as lard and as solid as a bag of bricks” tickled me, even if this particular unsung chronicler of derelict boozers was not quite accurate about a four-square stone edifice in the middle of Sowerby Bridge.

Yet another local, its name referencing the industry which provided its customer core, left abandoned. I’m not going to insert the devastating stats of culled hostelries in recent decades. Too late to get lachrymose; the world has moved on. Yet it’s always heartening to see a pub building rescued imaginatively.

Step forward Engine Social Dining, home to a 30-strong menu of globally inspired small plates. I was the first critic to review it back in October 2018 and lauded the kind of slick all-day operation in a stripped down setting rarely found outside cities’ hipper quarters. Hospitality has been under siege for much of the time since. Engine was thankfully still there. Would it still convince? Let’s do the locomotion…

I suspect virgin olive oil gets the nod over lard in Mark Kemp’s open plan kitchen, complete with wood burning oven, just as it did when he worked up the A58 at Ripponden for Simon Shaw’s original El Gato Negro. The quiet Ulsterman rose through the ranks to be Shaw’s right hand man. Now he’s very much his own man. With a tight-knit team.

As El Gato shifted into Manchester, Kemp became head chef at Ricci’s in Halifax, where Wil Akroyd was manager. The pair hatched the Engine project, using their own money. Famously they had just  £30 left in the bank when they opened. 

Ricci’s, as the name suggests, leans heavily towards Italy; their own place ranges much more widely. Global influences must be in the air in Sowerby Bridge. Near neighbours on Wharf Street Gimbals has generated eclectic and exotic menus for decades. Post pandemic, this Good Food Guide stalwart is now just doing weekend takeaway meals of its ‘greatest hits’. Highly recommended.

Engine has its own recognition now, in the Michelin Guide, belying the stuffy image that can accompany such a mention. Repeat regulars are what sustain a small town operation and we were glad we arrived early one Wednesday lunchtime as a walk-in. Within half an hour virtually every table was taken. Which had taken aback Wil, who was the lone server.

The space is at it coolest after dark, when moody lighting picks out the turquoise and petrol blue upholstery. For food image daylight is infinitely preferable, I hope my iphone does justice to the parade of small plates, in order and served at decent intervals: cauliflower and Manchego croquetas (£5), red curry cod fritters (£6.50), gyozas (£6), Korean spring rolls (£6), belly pork tacos of the day (£8.50), parmesan chips (£5.50), Far Barsey beef fillet (£13), Moroccan pulled lamb (£10).

The pick of a uniformly excellent bunch? The lamb, an old favourite, the spicing spot on and the accompanying man’eesh flatbread, sprinkled with za’tar an advertisement for that wood-fired oven. New to me, the Korean spring rolls were stunning – cylinders of crisp wrapper filled with lemongrass chicken and doused in a ginger sauce. Equally stunning the unusual gyozas. Filled with sobrassada, basil and chilli, they are served with a makhani (butter chicken) sauce. It’s a fusion that ought not to work but yet again it does.

Finally, a requiem for Halifax farm shop Far Barsey, which has shut its doors. Its name will live on in Engine’s Far Barsey beef. They may no longer be the suppliers but the fillet, roasted pink, is splendid. With its pink fir apple potatoes and wild mushrooms in a pink peppercorn jus it’s as close to a Brexit-fenced True Brit dish you’ll find on this menu. The rest is a celebration of cultural diversity and all the better for it.

Engine Social Dining, 72 Wharf Street, Sowerby Bridge HX6 2AF. 01422 740123.

Spring 2018 and I’m besotted. The venue a rough and ready moorland pub high above Sowerby Bridge. Not an obvious honeytrap for a tryst and there was precious little flesh on the bones of the object of my desire. A deep-fried herring skeleton on the debut menu was a mission statement for the reinvention of the Moorcock Inn at Norland.

That challenging herring bone that kickstarted the Moorcock experience

Penning the first UK review of Alisdair Brooke-Taylor’s daring fresh take on the UK gastropub I wrote: “North Sea herring season is upon us. All those Dutch and Flemish trenchermen salivating at the prospect of fatty raw fish soused in vinegar or brine. A Yorkshireman’s penchant for pickles stops at onions; herring bone to him is tweed or twill.”

Not real bones, constituting the second course in a £35 tasting menu. One that started weird and became ever more wonderful. They resembled a seahorse or a fossil shape in ammonite. Three winters (and herring seasons) have passed and this take on a Japanese omakase snack has never reappeared.

Mangalitza chop and wild greens – so very Moorcock

The rare breed Hungarian Mangalitza pork that provided the 11 week dry-aged chops that followed has remained on the radar, though. It contributes to the house-cured charcuterie sharing board that is a star attraction in the post-lockdown food offering. Some component have been two years in the making.

This outstanding home cured charcuterie plate is my favourite contemporary snack

It is made up of pork rillettes, hot smoked rare breed ham, Gloucester Old Spot coppa, chicken liver parfait, jellied pork terrine, smoked prunes and toast. All for just £18 a platter. Inevitably you add on a £4.50 portion of their own wholemeal sourdough and cultured butter – like the extensive employment of a huge wood-fired barbecue, a constant since day one (main image).

You can purchase the Moorcock sourdough and cultured butter to take home

Pandemic caution means that tasting menus are shelved for the moment; attention focuses on the daily shifting boards that constitute the bar menu.

There is a walk-in capacity, mind, as Alisdair and drinks-savvy partner Aimee Tufford continue to encourage the pubby (and dog-friendly) side of their now acclaimed foodie destination. I celebrated a recent birthday there with a pint of cask Vocation Bread and Butter Ale from fellow local heroes Vocation and then drank a series of Belgian beers, culminating in an old favourite, Westmalle Tripel (in the proper glass).

Alongside natural wines, the couple are devotees of Belgium’s astonishing beer culture after cutting their culinary teeth at the Michelin-starred In de Wulf restaurant, close to the border with Northern France.

In this unlikely spot legendary chef Kobe Desramualts, with Alisdair as his right hand man, had created a very special place. Just before it closed in 2016 influential website Opinionated About Dining named it third best restaurant in Europe after L’Arpège in Paris and the Basque Country’s Azurmendi.

The kitchen garden in its early day being hewn from the surrounding moorland

Norland may seem an equally unlikely spot but over three years it has developed a similar ‘forage and ferment, cure and preserve’ ethos, utilising their own two acre organic kitchen garden and the surrounding moorlands, which yield mushrooms and wild herbs aplenty.

Alastair’s kipper ties – coming upon a batch of herring smoking merrily away

The garden has evolved spectacularly and the other centrepiece of the Moorcock, the expansive outdoor barbecue is used to increasing effect for cooking with fire or smoking. Lots of chefs – Tomas Parry at Brat notably – have bragging rights here but few do it as well as Alistair and his small team.

The chef’s talents don’t stop here. The various lockdowns gave Alistair the opportunity to hone his talent for ceramics, making glazes with the ash from the burnt charcoal. Now he’s not just providing for the restaurant. From ramen bowls to platters and jugs these have pride of place in an upstairs shop (open during pub hours) that offers gift packs of foodie goodies and, naturally, classic Belgian beers.

This ceramic plate complements this leek, potato and smoked poulet egg pie, topped with Baron Bigod and a radish salad

Lauded in the early days by national critics such as the Observer’s Jay Rayner and  Marina O’Loughlin of the Sunday Times, the Moorcock became a hot ticket. Twisting the metaphor hot tickets get cooler as as fickle critical attention shifts to newer ventures.

The extra pressure of Covid must have been immense. Potter’s kiln aside, Alasdair and Aimee tackled it with a defiant playfulness. I recall their take on a Chinese menu, featuring th likes of their in-house XO sauce and the kind of wild Yorkshire greens you don’t usually find in a black bean stir-fry.

Ever resourceful, the Moorcock turned into a community grocer during lockdown

More straightforwardly they diversified into quality foodie groceries – from Yorkshire asparagus to mixed bags of Cornish sea vegetables to over-wintered jars of their own produce. I recall with fondness Aimee’s rather lovely house Negroni made from a ‘Campari’ she crafted from rosehip, hogweed and clementine, mixed with rose petal wine and Yorkshire gin. It all helped to keep them afloat.

Crucially they kept their core staff together. Sustainable, ethical, pleasurable. What’s not to fall in love with all over again?

Moorcock Inn, Moor Bottom Lane, Norland Moor, Sowerby Bridge HX6 3RP. 01422 832103. Thanks to Joby Catto for the main barbecue picture and other image help.