Jonathan Schofield finds the journey to Robert Owen Brown’s new place more than worth it
Hearty sums it up, hearty tells it all. Hearty food, hearty pub, hearty chef. The goodness of earth, river and sea on a plate, real skill allied to bags of character.
Robert Owen Brown is, of course, the whack-a-mole chef, hit him on the head in one place and he’ll pop-up in another. Now he’s at The Hinchliffe Arms in Hebden Bridge but this is no pop-up. This is the sort of institution you dream off when you wake and think I want a run out to the country and a proper old-fashioned pub with real fires, great ales and food that is full-on and British delivered with flair and imagination.
So this is what you should do: M62 to Milnrow, jig round Hollinworth Lake, skirt Littleborough and then scoot over my dream Pennine hill, Blackstone Edge (I grew up not far away). Take a first left after the reservoir, down the B6138, the Tour de France route when there was a stage or three in Yorkshire in 2014. At the foot of the hill is Cragg Vale and the Hinchliffe Arms in a lovely situation: a clough filled with trees and close to a church and stone cottages. The drive is beautiful, dramatic, a definition of the pure North: milltowns and moors.
Or you could take an equally good if less dramatic journey by train from Manchester Victoria and be in the nearest town, Mythomroyd, in half an hour. Then it’s simply a mile or so walk to the south.
Either way it’s a worthwhile journey.
The Hinchliffe Arms might be in Yorkshire but it is firmly in the Mancunian hands of brewers JW Lees. The interior is spacious yet comfortable, the welcome from Kieran Douglas-Clark, business partner of Owen Brown, and his staff warm.
The food is superb. Robert Owen Brown helped popularise the Manchester Egg, a variety of Scotch Egg with black pudding wrapped round a pickled egg. Here he’s turned it into the 'Soon-To-Be-Famous Craggy Egg' (£4) by adding ground pork scratching to the casing. The result works perfectly whether as an entrée or a snack with beer. The presentation in a sturdy wooden box is handsome.
A couple of starters sum up Owen Brown’s approach to British food.
The fish starter he caught himself off the Welsh coast. (He shoots some of his provender as well. And forages the waysides and woods for good grub.) The fish was a dab, livened up with lemon, bacon and prawns and ridiculously cheap at £7. It was a wonderful dish.
Another starter was the flash grilled ox hearts (£6) with parsley, caper and shallot. If you can cope with offal, then get here quick and dig in. Heart is my fave inner organ of beast and fowl and these were subtle babes and quite delicious.
A main of ‘wood roast’ ribeye steak from local farm Rudd Clough came atop a big fat field mushroom with chips, watercress, carrots, a fabulous gravy and cost £19. This was a proper stomach stretching size meal but, ladies and gentlemen, it was lush too, bold, rich.
Then came the grouse at £18. Grouse with all the proper trimmings is a Robert Owen Brown speciality. There’s the full bird, game chips, crispy bacon, another big gravy and a cracking bread sauce. The flesh on the grouse was excellent on its tod, or forked together with the bread sauce, bacon and gravy. Grouse, like this (seasonal, of course), is rare to find within fifty miles of Manchester. This is the best version.
A pudd of warm chocolate sponge with a thick almost over-the-top chocolate sauce and fruit for £6 came crowned with a regal wrap of spun-sugar. This continued the theme of heartiness. As did the pints of Lees’ ale and a deep rich bottle of red.
I wholeheartedly recommend a trip to the Hinchliffe.
Owen Brown is beloved by Fergus Henderson and Jay Rayner amongst others. You can see why. Traditional British food done right is labour intensive, takes maximum care and needs the right ingredients; that’s why so much of it in restaurants and pubs is lacklustre. It takes so much care that often, traditional British food is better home-cooked for the family.
Owen Brown’s food is home-cooked but at scale. His food is above-all honest, timed to perfection, incorporating superb raw materials and frequently inspired by old or rediscovered recipes. Then he adds the extra flair and imagination. The cooking at the Hinchliffe reveals that, as long as the kitchen has the time and chef has the skill, our traditional cuisine compares favourably with that of any other nation.
The Hinchliffe Arms, Cragg Vale, Hebden Bridge HX7 5TA. Tel: 01422 883256.
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
(egg 8, ox-hearts 9, dab 8.5, grouse 9, steak 8, pudd 8)
Welcoming and discreet
Hearty pub, hearty chef