The Moorcock at Norland is distinctive in several ways. Those ways been outlined on these pages numerous times previously but let’s remind ourselves.
There’s the location, of course. Many is the Uber driver that has grimaced and gurned as they’ve hauled us up the hill that twists and steepens out of Sowerby Bridge. At the top, on arrival, there’s an appealingly desolate sensation and usually a bit of moody weather to contend with.
There’s that sweet and smoky funk of burning wood, too. It drifts in from the outdoor ovens and permeates the bar and dining area. It brings on a good thirst, for which the refreshments here are many and varied.
And then there’s the food, which is always surprising and inventive and often causes you to raise your eyebrows in a “no, I can’t say I have ever tried roasted yeast mayonnaise before”, kind of way.
I’m not keen on the roasted yeast mayonnaise, as it goes. Ever the Hellman’s loyalist, this stuff’s a tad on the sour side for me – but that’s fine, because there’s always a bit of something leftfield when you come to the Moorcock for tea. And while I don’t believe that eating out should be a challenge, it’s character-building to face the unknown on occasion.
On this return visit – it’s been too long – things get going via snacks of homemade cream cheese – tangy, dense; what weedy Philadelphia can only aspire to become – and pork rillettes that reek of the unfashionable parts of a good pig. Both are spread on the ever-excellent sourdough (the real deal) which is dark-crusted and broad-crumbed.
Wood-baked cod collar is a mass of meat and cartilage (£19). Fingers are deployed to separate the one from the other, and any remaining bread is used to soak up the umami-rich shellfish and bacon sauce, which – as it sounds – is a broth-like coming together of excellent things.
More of the pig follows. Here its tail has been crisped up, stuffed with herb-laden sausage and served on a hefty slick of tart apple sauce. It’s gelatinous and sticky but dark and edgy at the same time (£21).
It’s rare that you’ll experience the same dish twice at the Moorcock but the crispy smoked potatoes have become something of a stalwart on the blackboard menu (£4.50). They are mini boulders, flaxen-hued and with a shard-like crust. Look at them. It’s easy to see why they get the love that they do.
A shaved celeriac salad is a nice bit of leafy yin to the fleshy yang of fish and beast but is an unnecessary addition (£9). Indeed, a good quota of those larger plates end up being boxed and bagged up for us to take home only for us to realise in the taxi, halfway down the aforementioned precipice, that our collection of high-end pickings has been left back in the bar. The journey home is a sad and silent one.
There’s dessert before that sorry episode, though, so let’s dwell on that happier time. Because even when you’ve ordered beyond your needs there will be somebody in the party to whom the “profiterole filled with squash cheesecake mousse” speaks. Yes, I know, it’s a bad picture – moody lighting will do this to the amateur snapper – but the dish is a minor work of genius and is Moorcockian through and through (£6.50)
A pudding with a root vegetable at its core may not sound like much of a treat, but its softer sweetness makes for a moreish mouthful. A mild milk ice cream, cold against warm pastry, plays its part, too. (The ice-cream up here is always, always on the money.)
So, not a review of the Moorcock as such but a gentle reminder of the occasionally surprising, often outstanding, and always smoky brilliance being dished up at the top of a hill in the Calder valley.