Nine years after he started at L’Enclume, Mark left to find a site for his own restaurant. After much searching, he came across a Grade II* listed country house in Aughton, Lancashire, and with his business partners Andy and Tracey Bell put the money down to turn it into a culinary destination. ‘We bought Moor Hall in January 2015 and instantly went about getting planning permission to start developing it,’ explains Mark. ‘It was recently the home of the CEO of Quiksave, but to turn it into what we wanted and because of the nature of the site we had to make the application almost 200 pages long – it was one the biggest the architects had ever done!’
The reason the application was so long – and why Moor Hall won’t be ready to open until September 2016 – is because there’s going to be so much more than just a restaurant. As well as the main dining room, kitchen, wine cellar and cheese room extension to the hall, the barn will be converted into a casual dining room upstairs (to open after the main restaurant), serving simple yet high quality food, drinks and charcuterie. Downstairs, guests will be able watch the cheesemaking suite in action, butchery with meat ageing room and a charcuterie room, which will be glass fronted. There’s a kitchen garden outside with raised beds and glass houses, and Mark even has plans to build a small brewery in the near future. That’s as well as the seven bedrooms, with plenty of room for expansion. All these different aspects result in much more than somewhere you’d just go for dinner – it’s a full culinary experience in beautiful surroundings.
‘I want to break down those barriers that can intimidate people about food and drink, especially when it comes to wine,’ says Mark. ‘I want people to go into these rooms to choose their wine, and see the cheese when it’s still in full wheels. If you’re expecting people to stay at your restaurant for three hours you need to keep them stimulated, and I think this interaction is the perfect way to do that.’
Moor Hall won’t be open until September 2016, so menus and dishes are still up in the air. But Mark has some ideas about what it’ll look like. ‘I want to have several menus,’ he says. ‘My dish of venison in coal oil will probably make an appearance, but other than that I can’t mention specific dishes. There won’t be anything crazy – the food will be simple and produce-led rather than focusing on the method, as we have some great suppliers in the North West; Banks tomatoes, for example, are grown just down the road, and I think they’re the best tomatoes in the UK outside the Isle of Wight.’
Mark says all he wants for Moor Hall is a busy, successful business where people can walk around the grounds, eat some fantastic food, drink good wine and make plans to come back again. Whatever happens, it’s set to be one of the most exciting restaurant openings of 2016, and we can’t wait to see how it looks in September.