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.