The Halifax restaurant scene is thriving right now and True North is one of the reasons why, says Amanda Wragg. Pictures by Tony Johnson.

True North, Halifax
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You’ve really got to be a bit nimble to keep up with restaurant openings in Halifax. Prue Leith was ahead of me with this one, caught lunching at True North and tweeting “Really good Brasserie, all-day good food in great surroundings.” That’s some endorsement.
Dean Clough was famously Crossleys, the biggest carpet factory in the world in the mid-1800s, but there’s still a different energy about the place now. If you want a gym, there are two. Barber? Beautician? Hairdresser? Yep, all there, alongside the Viaduct Theatre, Northern Broadsides and IOU Theatre, art galleries, coffee roasters, cafes and a couple of bars and restaurants, the newest of which sits in the space previously occupied by the Viaduct Cafe.
Even on a grim November day the scrubbed up stone on the monumental frontage is impressive, less so the parking conundrum which involved keeping tabs on the eagle-eyed warden. By the time I’ve scored a space I’m late, short-tempered and starving. Fortunately, the welcome couldn’t be warmer and the long, low room, though bare-floored and stone-walled, is somehow cosy and inviting – it’s got a canteen vibe and I mean that in a good way.

Crispy gnocchi with mushroom salt and chive mayonaise.

All thoughts of a light lunch go out of the window. However good-looking the sandwiches I’d seen posted on Instagram were (Croque Monsieur with prosciutto, honey roast ham and pulled pork with Lancashire Shorrocks, which on any other day would do) I’m not going to pass on pork belly mac & cheese, now am I? It’s a way more sophisticated dish than it sounds; in fact, it’s so perfect it stops me in my tracks. Sticky, 12-hour cooked pork coated in a smoky sauce falls apart into a comforting well of cheesy pasta, with a scatter of pickled red onions for crunch and sweet baby coriander. Chef Mark York fesses up that it’s a dish he did a 100-mile detour for on a road trip in the States, and swore to bring it back with him. Good import, chef, though it’s playing havoc with my cholesterol count.
We’d kicked off with crispy gnocchi – neckable as Quavers and a first for me – and, ditto, mussel popcorn. My resolve to avoid bread before a meal goes out of the window when warm seeded malt loaf turns up with salty, cultured butter. It really is quite extraordinary, food of the actual gods.

Wild mushroom tortellini

Wild mushroom tortellini is another really well-judged dish with properly al dente pasta, baby spinach and a punchy black garlic cream sauce. Fish and chips come too, but not as we know it. The feather-light batter has a tandoori thing going on, the triple cooked chips are “Bombay spiced”, and there’s a lovely tangle of cucumber raita and sweet mango.
There’s a rib eye steak too with black garlic butter and hand-cut chips for £20 and crispy vegetable gyozas with rice noodle salad and chilli and peanut pickle (£8) and sandwiches along the lines of beetroot wrap with sweet potato and butternut squash with spicy beans.
If anything, the breakfast choices are even more appealing. From half past seven, you can score eggs Benedict and royale, smashed avocado on sourdough toast, curried sweet potato, spinach and cherry tomato omelette and something called the Breakfast Scotch Egg. Oh, and triple layered Nutella toast with fresh oranges. There’s also a good-looking Sunday lunch (two courses £18, three for £22) with the likes of ham hock and pea in a pork scratching crumb with black pudding, and apple and cider Hollandaise followed by pink peppercorn slow braised beef. A pre-theatre menu is also available and kids have their own choices too, including handmade flatbreads and sausage and mash.

12 hour pork belly coated in a smoky BBQ sauce with Lancashire shorrock 

Owners Sarah and Jamie Horsley (Sarah is warm, efficient front of house and a cheerful, unflappable presence] also run The Arches, a wedding venue at Dean Clough and hospitality at the Viaduct Theatre so they’ve got their capable hands full. Chef Mark has had a long and diverse career and he’s certainly got some interesting ideas; his food pairings are inspired.
Puddings next and baked double choc and fudge cookie dough with Madagascan ice cream is outrageously decadent and I like the sound of butterscotch-soaked sticky toffee pudding, but instead choose rhubarb and custard tart with ginger caramel ice cream, the only misstep in an otherwise faultless lunch.
I really like this place – it’s friendly, got a real sense of community and you’re not on a blasted “journey”. The food is honest; there are no baffling ingredients and no one needs to explain how a dish has been “elevated” – but make no mistake, a lot of thought and time has been put into it; if I worked within a mile of True North you’d have to prise me out on a daily basis.
True North Restaurant, Dean Clough Mills, Halifax HX3 5AX, 01422 849661, Monday to Friday, 7.30-11.30am, 12-3pm, Saturday and Sunday, 8.30-11.30am, 12-3pm. Also open Friday and Saturday for the a la carte menu from 6pm.

About The Author

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, an independent guide to eating, drinking and staying in Yorkshire.

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