Mark Birchall is the talented chef-patron at Moor Hall, a stunning restaurant with rooms set in five acres of beautiful countryside in Aughton, West Lancashire, which opened in March last year.
The restaurant marks a return to his Lancashire roots for the former Roux Scholar, after leaving his role as executive chef at the two- Michelin-starred l’Enclume in Cumbria.
How did it feel to be awarded four AA Rosettes earlier this year? Obviously the team is thrilled, but this is only just the beginning… we are constantly reviewing and refining our food and service, so we’re aiming even higher!
The award came just four months after you gained three AA Rosettes. What made the difference do you think? There’s an official ladder you have to climb in any award scheme, and we were very pleased to achieve our AA Rosettes. Who knows, maybe there’s a fifth Rosette on the cards!
How does it feel coming out of the shadows and fronting your own restaurant? It’s both liberating and daunting – I am very happy being in charge of the entire operation, but I couldn’t do it without my team behind me.
Was it difficult to walk away from L’Enclume? No, it was time – I had been there for nearly nine years and I had always wanted a place of my own.
How important, as a Lancashire-born chef, was it to open your first restaurant on home turf, and how has the traditional local fayre influenced the menu? I am proud to be from Lancashire and I have been so impressed with the incredible variety of local suppliers and tradesmen, for both the kitchen and the entire renovation project for Moor Hall.
Do you ever think you’ll succumb to the lure of the capital? No, it’s a crowded place. We’re close enough at Moor Hall to two big cities – Liverpool and Manchester.
Tell us how your garden kitchen impacts on your menu. The gardens are starting to come into their own now, one year on. My chefs and I constantly collaborate on planting for both vegetables, fruit and flowers for our menus. I love being in control of some of our ingredients in this way, making it ultra-seasonal.
You’ve talked in previous interviews about “greater guest involvement”, and have installed a walk-in cheese room and wine cellar at Moor Hall. How does this enhance the dining experience in your opinion? We want our guests to understand as much as possible about the detail going into our menus, and we also welcome them to tour around the kitchen and our gardens.
Tell us about your plans to create an on-site bakery, meat-hanging room and dairy. Work is in progress and we hope to have all three up and running by late summer.
Describe the perfect hotel breakfast. I’m proud of what we’re offering at Moor Hall to overnight guests – it’s a bit of everything, from homemade granola to smoked salmon and eggs, plus our own bread and jams. It’s like a little breakfast picnic buffet on the table.
You displayed grit and perseverance in entering the Roux Scholarship four times (succeeding in 2011 aged 29). What made you keep going and why was it so important to you? I respect the Roux chef dynasty and learned a lot from each year that I entered.
How important is entering culinary competitions to aspiring young chefs? What advice can you offer to them? Both culinary and wine competitions are good exercises for young chefs and sommeliers. It’s an opportunity for them to meet fellow young professionals and pick up new skills and broaden their professional network.
And now for three questions that we ask all of our Leading Lights…
1. What are your three kitchen secrets? That would be telling.
2. What is your favourite ingredient and why? Elderflower vinegar. It’s great to use in sauces, mainly for poultry.
3. Please could you share your favourite recipe, along with your reasons for choosing it? Lancashire Hot Pot. It’s my favourite dish because I’m from Lancashire, so it’s a childhood dish.
Lancashire Hot Pot (Inspired by Nigel Haworth)
300g shoulder and neck of Herdwick lamb, cut into 4cm pieces (equal quantities)
150g de-boned breast of Herdwick lamb, cut into 4cm pieces
500g white onions, thinly sliced
500g King Edward potatoes, peeled and medium size
15g plain flour
60g salted butter, melted
20g fine sea salt – approx.
50g white chicken stock
1. Pre-heat the oven to 140°C.
2. Place the lamb in an earthenware dish and season with 15g of salt (approx.), pepper and dust with the flour.
3. Sweat the onions with 20g of butter and a pinch of salt until translucent. Cool, then add to the lamb.
4. Pour on the white chicken stock.
5. Thinly slice the potatoes, dry and season with 5g of salt and some pepper. Mix with 30g of melted butter and layer on top of the lamb/onion mix.
6. Bake for 2. hours.
7. Brush with the rest of the melted butter.
8. Serve with pickled red cabbage, beetroot and salt baked carrots.