2017 Lancashire Life Food and Drink Awards, Dunkenhalgh Hotel and Spa
- Credit: Pics; John Cocks
Chefs, restaurateurs and food producers were honoured at this year’s prestigious Lancashire Life Food & Drink Awards. Emma Mayoh reports.
‘When I was stood knee deep in mud, in the middle of a building site two years ago, I never thought we’d ever be at this point,’ admitted Mark Birchall, head chef at the much lauded Moor Hall in Aughton. ‘It’s been quite a start for us. It’s only been seven months – it feels more like seven years – but we’ve already achieved so much.’
The former L’Enclume chef rather downplayed the success he and his team have had. But the trauma and tension of bringing the beautiful building back to life has paid off. Despite being open a matter of months, Mark got the news some chefs wait years to hear – Moor Hall had been awarded a Michelin star.
‘It’s been an amazing time for us, we were absolutely elated when we found out,’ said Mark, also a Roux scholarship recipient. ‘I never really thought they would even consider us because we had only been open a really short time.
‘These first months have been really tough but it has been worth it – so great to see it finally open after so much work to get there. We’re about to open our more casual restaurant so there is no rest for us, but it’s all good.’
It was the icing on the cake when, less than a month after the Michelin announcement, the Moor Hall team were awarded the Lancashire Life Restaurant of the Year Award. It’s an award that was important for the Chorley born chef. He was commended for his menus with each dish being ‘a work of precision, flavours and textures.’
‘It’s just brilliant news,’ said Mark. ‘I’ve come back to my roots and to win an award that’s important locally like this one means a lot. It’s just fantastic.
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‘It’s fitting, too, that the chef who first encouraged me, Dave Dugdale, at my first job is also here. I’ve not seen him for 16 years but if he hadn’t given me that push, I wouldn’t be here today.’
It has been a similar story for the team from Gilpin Spice. Old friends Hrishikesh Desai and his head chef Rohan Wadke used to attend the same college in Pune in India. But the pair, who now head up the kitchen team at Gilpin Hotel and Lake House in the Lake District have created a big impression since the new restaurant launched a little over 12 months ago. The restaurant at the Windermere hotel, sister to the Michelin starred Gilpin Restaurant, was awarded the Lake District Dining Excellence accolade.
‘I’m just speechless, what a night,’ said Rohan. ‘We’re so very pleased about this.
‘We’ve not even been open a year and we’ve had two rosettes and now this. It’s just unbelievable. It’s also wonderful that us two chefs, who both came from college in the same city in India, to be doing this together in the UK and wining awards like this. I’m so pleased.’
Celebrating a milestone year were Craig and Nicola Wilkinson from the Bay Horse Inn at Ellel, near Lancaster. Craig, chef patron, only ever intended to help parents Mae and Brian out when they first opened the pub before he moved on to another restaurant. A quarter of a century later the talented chef continues to draw in diners looking for fantastic food using ingredients from an army of local producers. In fact Craig was shouting about provenance and traceability long before the likes of Jamie Oliver and an army of celebrity chefs turned them into foodie buzz words.
Winning the Dining Pub of the Year Award is a fitting tribute to their 25-year anniversary. It also adds to an already exciting 2017 as the couple, who met at the Bay Horse, also welcomed new baby, Hugh, into the world.
‘It’s been quite a year for us,’ said Craig. ‘We won a Lancashire Life award back in 2002 and when you’ve had something as big as this, you never think it’s going to happen again. But I really hoped we were able to do it tonight. And we have.
‘Having Hugh has meant that things have shifted for us massively. But winning an award like this from Lancashire Life still really matters. We’re really proud to have won.’
The Lancashire Life Food & Drink Awards is an evening that reveals the county’s shining stars and celebrates the finest hotels, dining pubs, restaurants, food producers and chefs. The celebrations could be heard around the Mercure Dunkenhalgh Hotel at the prestigious annual event, a staple of the north west’s culinary calendar. The region’s culinary elite filled the venue for the gala evening.
The shortlist were chosen by a panel of independent judges comprising Lancashire Life editor Roger Borrell, Trevor Stone, who headed the AstraZeneca catering operation, dedicated chef and lecturer Nick Hatch and Lancashire Life’s food and drink writer, Emma Mayoh.
Other winners included Ramsbottom’s Eagle and Child pub who received the Family Dining award just a few weeks after being The Great British Pub of the Year. The success comes on the back of extensive renovations to extend the popular pub. With further plans to build an outdoor eating area for families next year, their star sets to shine for some time.
Tattu in Manchester was named City Restaurant of the Year, The New Inn at Yealand Conyers took home the prize for Newcomer of the Year and Clitheroe’s famous wine merchants D Byrne & Co was named Independent Retailer of the Year. Wignall’s Yallo cold pressed rapeseed oil, produced on a farm in Standish by newlyweds Clare and John Wignall, was awarded Food or Drink Product of the Year and Café Northcote at The Cathedral in Blackburn took home the Tearoom of the Year accolade.
Two of the county’s shining stars were recognised with special awards. James Warburton of the hugely successful James’ Places firm, which owns a stable of fantastic venues including Mitton Hall, The Shireburn Arms and most recently Holmes Mill in Clitheroe, was named Food Hero of the Year. Craig Bancroft, managing director at Northcote where he joined as general manager in 1983, was presented with the Outstanding Customer Service Award.
‘This is an award for everyone at Northcote and for all of those people who have been with us,’ said Craig. ‘Looking out in the crowd and seeing so many of the chefs here who have worked in out kitchens is also very rewarding for us.
‘This is an incredible accolade and I’m so honoured and pleased to have received it.’
It was a particularly special night for Antony Shirley, the executive chef who has steered the Seafood Pub Company to culinary success. Since the company was founded seven years ago, the 38-year-old has lived and breathed his job dedicating his time to looking at ways to improve and build on everything from food developments to the opening of new sites.
The chef could not hide his delight when his name was announced as the winner of this year’s coveted Chef of the Year award, following in the footsteps of culinary heavyweights including Simon Rogan, Nigel Haworth, Lisa Goodwin-Allen and Paul Askew.
‘It’s hard to know what to say,’ said Antony. ‘It’s pretty incredible. It’s not just for me; it’s for those chefs who work with me every day. We have got so many good people.
‘It’s just so crazy and a massive honour to be included. I have never set out to win awards but this is just something else.’
All of the winners were presented with the coveted Lancashire Life Food and Drink Awards plaques to display as well as celebratory champagne.
But no one left empty handed as all those shortlisted also took home commemorative plates. More than £1,000 was also raised for Hospitality Action, a charity that offers vital assistance to all who work, or have worked within hospitality in the UK and who find themselves in crisis.
LANCASHIRE LIFE RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR SPONSORED BY STEPHENSONS CATERING EQUIPMENT
Winner: Moor Hall, Aughton
The judges said: The line-up in this category made it a very close call but Mark Birchall Head Chef patron is formerly the right hand man of Simon Rogan of L’Enclume and winner of a Roux scholarship has developed an eight or five course menu andd each is a work of precision, flavours and textures each dish more exciting than the past.
Highly commended: The Millstone at Mellor, Blackburn; Breda Murphy Restaurant, Whalley
LANCASHIRE LIFE DINING PUB OF THE YEAR SPONSORED BY BOWKER BMW
Winner: The Bay Horse Inn in Ellel
The judges said: This inn was pipped at the post in last year’s awards but there can be no denying them this year – dining here is a great experience.
Highly commended: The Butlers Arms, Blackburn; Hearth of the Ram, Ramsbottom
LANCASHIRE LIFE FAMILY DINING OF THE YEAR SPONSORED BY MRS DOWSONS ICE CREAM
Winner: Eagle & Child, Ramsbottom
The judges said: This is an establishment that optimises all that is excellent in family dining – the food has a broad appeal but the talented staff remain firmly focused on quality.
Highly commended: Miaitalia, Carnforth; The Barn at Scorton, Preston
LAKE DISTRICT DINING EXCELLENCE AWARD SPONSORED BY WHITEHOUSE CROCKERY
Winner: Gilpin Spice, Windermere
The judges said: ‘This is a very stylish restaurant with an interesting and innovative concept: the food is exceptional, the service is casual and the staff here are very professional and efficient’
Highly commended: The Punch Bowl Inn, Crosthwaite; Rothay Manor, Ambleside
LANCASHIRE LIFE CITY RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR SPONSORED BY PERFECT RECRUITMENT
Winner: Tattu, Manchester
The judges said: ’Service was slick and flawless without being overbearing, menu knowledge from front of house staff was second to none. Once we had ordered, our starters came out in no particular order which encouraged you to try each other’s starters. This was great for interaction & discussion, the flavours which came through were fantastic little small mouthfuls of taste explosions, each starter delivering another sensation’
Highly commended: Australasia, Manchester; Salt House Tapas, Liverpool
LANCASHIRE LIFE INDEPENDENT RETAILER OF THE YEAR SPONSORED BY BUTLERS CHEESE
Winner: D. Byrne & Co, Clitheroe
The judges said: This is a business that every wine lover dreams about – a wonderful shop selling an outstanding range of wines and spirits.
Highly commended: Finch Bakery, Great Harwood; Taylors Farm Shop, Lathom
LANCASHIRE LIFE FOOD OR DRINK PRODUCT OF THE YEAR SPONSORED BY KENDAL MINT LIQUEUR
Winner: Wignalls Yallo Cold Pressed Rapeseed Oil, Standish
The judges said: This award goes to a young couple who have almost single-handedly turned a run-down farm into an outstanding food producer.
Highly commended: Cowman’s Famous Sausage Shop, Pork & Blackstick Blue Cheese Sausage; LouLou’s Meringues
LANCASHIRE LIFE TEAROOM/CAFE OF THE YEAR SPONSORED BY HOSPITALITY ACTION
Winner: Cafe Northcote at The Cathedral, Blackburn
The judges said: ‘You would expect food of a high quality from this organisation but here they provide it in modern, informal surrounding with great service.’’
Highly commended: Poppins Tearooms, Horwich; Apple Store Cafe, Preston
LANCASHIRE LIFE NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR SPONSORED BY ROBINSONS BREWERY
Winner: The New Inn, Yealand Convers
The judges said: Considering this establishment has just risen from the ashes it has hit the ground running with exceptional quality food, comfort and service.
Highly commended: Forest, Fence; One88 Bar and Kitchen, Whitefield
LANCASHIRE LIFE FOOD HERO OF THE YEAR SPONSORED BY BITE NETWORK
Winner: James Warburton, James’ Places
The judges said: In a county where there are many stand-out purveyors of hospitality, this man stands should to shoulder with the best creating a diverse group of businesses – each different except in their dedication to quality.
LANCASHIRE LIFE OUTSTANDING CUSTOMER SERVICE AWARD SPONSORED BY MARKETING LANCASHIRE
Winner: Craig Bancroft, Northcote
The judges said: This is a man who has devoted his outstandingly successful career to the fine art of customer service, helping to train generations of front of house staff so they know a brilliant experience can be every bit as important as great food.
LANCASHIRE LIFE CHEF OF THE YEAR SPONSORED BY TOTAL FOODSERVICE
Winner: Antony Shirley
The judges said: This chef is passionate about everything He does - he lives and breathes it. He is always looking at ways to improve and build on what is already in place. Whether that is food development or new sites which are opening. He likes it to look right but more important is the taste, quality and freshness of what is being served. He is definitely a Chef`s Chef.
To start Beetroot gravlax Candied beetroot and honeyed goats cheese remoulade with beetroot jam and micro salad Served with Casas Del Toqui Reserva Chardonnay from Robinsons Wines
To continue Roast lamb rump with hotpot potatoes, braised red cabbage, tenderstem broccol and haggis bon bon Served with Casas Del Toqui Cabernet Sauvignon from Robinsons Wines
For dessert Custard and cherry tart with an almond tuile, sour cherry coulis and Mrs Dowson’s double cream ice cream
To finish A tasted of Butler’s farmhouse cheeses served with biscuits and chutney and tea and coffee served with chocolate from Whitakers