The success of Gentleman Jack has had a knock-on effect for local businesses including the Shibden Mill Inn. Amanda Wragg pays a visit.

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There’s nothing like the runaway success of a telly programme filmed down the road to boost local trade. Visitor numbers have gone through the Tudor roof at Shibden Hall, where Gentleman Jack, Sally Wainwright’s romp of a series about Anne Lister, “the first modern lesbian” is set. Add into the mix the Piece Hall, Square Chapel, the fabulous new library, the refurbished Industrial Museum and countless indie bars, cafes and vinyl shops that have sprung up in Halifax and is it any wonder some wag on Twitter has dubbed it “Calderfornia”?
“How’s business?” I ask Max Heaton, who’s in charge of the Shibden Mill since his father Simon handed over the keys after decades of careful stewardship. “Pretty good,” he says. “Some of the stars stayed here, and folk were coming just to catch a glimpse of Timothy West. But he and we were very discreet”. I wonder what Mr West made of the approach to his B&B. Those of you who’ve made the satnav-defying, nose-bleedingly steep descent to this handsome, smartly white-washed 17th century inn tucked into the bottom of a wooded valley know the rewards are many. Rambling wisteria? Tick. Babbling brook, birdsong? Tick. Glorious flagged beer garden. Tick.

Inside, it’s all wonky walls, burnished oak tables, huge fireplaces and low beams – a traditional, comfortable series of rooms either side of the bar. Before you know it you’ve got a drink in your hand and all’s well with the world.
Since long-standing chef Darren Atkinson left a couple of years ago the kitchen has been a bit unsteady, but the arrival of Will Webster looks to have settled things down – and the offer has gone up by more than a notch. I’m pleased to see he’s not gone down the “small plates” cul de sac – I’ve nothing against them per se, and when they’re good (Host in Ilkley, the Moorcock at Norland, Elder in the Piece Hall) a three-course dinner can’t touch them, but all too often it’s a case of style over substance.
Anyway, we’re sitting down to a classic three-courser – well, four with “nibbles” which kick things off nicely with the likes of lamb belly nuggets with wild garlic ketchup, Yorkshire bath pig chorizo cooked in apple juice with truffle honey – and anyone who offers sourdough with Hendersons relish butter gets my vote. Pigeon Rossini, a dark and dangerous looking plate of food, is no oil painting but packs an absolute punch, with breast, parfait, hazelnut, liquorice root, a pedro ximenez sauce and pickled apple for sharpness. From the specials list comes cured chalk stream trout, postcard pretty, with a sublime fennel pollen crème fraîche, earthy beetroot cubes for colour and a sesame seed tuille with sweet treacle dressing: a really clever, thought-through dish and full of flavour.

Hogget rump, hogget cheek, carrot and lamb fat purée

Two impeccable mains follow: hogget rump and halibut loin. The lamb didn’t die in vain and is sweet, pink and plump with a cute, tasty cheek croquette and a game-changing carrot and hogget fat puree; there’s some black grape and shaved almonds and the ras el hanout jus brought a bit of subtle spicing which I loved.
From the specials menu comes a perfectly cooked fat pearly chunk of halibut with a cracking chicken fat rosti and smoked garlic sauce which could easily have overpowered the fish but didn’t.
There’s one of those posh Kopa grills in the kitchen so expect good steaks (served with those dripping fat chips) and sides including ham hock peas and nduja buttered leeks and broad beans. The Shibden has a reputation for good vegetarian dishes and I like the look of black truffle rosti, pea and tarragon sauce, Yorkshire asparagus and pickled radish.

Vegan Northern Bloc peanut chip ice cream magnum style, salted caramel and frozen raspberries.

Webster was “poached” from a local brasserie and given the sous-chef position, but within three months he was running the kitchen. Previous stripes were earned at Hipping Hall, the Box Tree and the Devonshire Arms. Even so, walking into a well-established, much-loved local treasure must have taken some chutzpah and this talented lad clearly has it in spades.
He’s got a sense of humour too. Peanut butter Magnum is a hoot and Webster needs to patent this beauty. Max, you’ve found your man, and he’s brought another level of Happy to your Valley.
The Shibden Mill Inn, Shibden Mill Fold, Halifax, HX3 7UL, tel: 01422 365840, www.shibdenmillinn.com

About The Author

Amanda Wragg

Mandy Wragg is a freelance food journalist, writing and inspecting for the Yorkshire Post, Alastair Sawday, the Morning Advertiser, the AA, Cool Places and David Hancock's Inn Places. She co-writes www.squidbeak.co.uk, an independent guide to eating, drinking and staying in Yorkshire.

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