The group, which was formed by Nortcote hotel founders Craig Bancroft and chef Nigel Haworth, spent £200k on refurbishing the 130-cover former coaching inn.
Birbeck, who previously worked under Haworth’s tutorage at the Michelin-starred Northcote, has been tasked with creating his own menu for the pub – making it the first Ribble Valley Inn venue to feature a completely autonomous food offering.
“It’s an exciting time for The Highwayman,” said Haworth. “We’ve been working on this development behind the scenes for a while, and I’m really looking forward to unveiling what Bruno’s created here. It’s the first time I’ve handed over the reins that bit more, and I’m really proud of what’s come out of this.”
Birbeck, who is originally from Cumbria, won the American Express UK Young Chef of the Year Award while working at Northcote and went on to head up the kitchens at Hipping Hall in the Yorkshire Dales and The Torridon in Scotland.
“I’ve stayed in touch with Nigel ever since Northcote – where he gave me my first opportunity to learn seriously about fine food,” he said.
“He’s always kept an eye on what I’m doing, and so for him to offer me this opportunity not too far from where I grew up, now I’ve started my own family, is perfect.
“I’ve always wanted to run a food pub, despite all my fine dining training, and so The Highwayman represents, for me, the most exciting time of my career.”
The Nag’s Head
Meanwhile, Ribble Valley Inn’s fifth pub, The Nag’s Head at Haughton, opened in Cheshire last month.
The group spent £1m on refurbishing the Grade II listed 17th Century former smithy and inn, restoring period features including Victorian tiled floors, Tudor beams and open log fires.
The pub now services 150-covers and has a large outdoor area complete with a bowling green, kitchen garden and lawn. In a nod to its location and name, it has a set of horse bays for equestrian diners alongside plentiful car parking.
Haworth worked with head chef Michael Eminson to create a menu that celebrates local, seasonal, artisan ingredients. Main dishes include grilled native lobster with garlic butter and new potatoes and poached cornfed chicken breast with herb tea butter sauce, asparagus and new potatoes.
The pub also serves a range of 28-day aged Angus steaks cooked on an Esse charcoal grill, as well as sharing platters and salads served with homemade bread.
The wine list was created by Ribble Valley Inns co-founder and managing director Craig Bancroft, consultant and Master of Wines Nick Adams and Northcote’s sommelier Adam Pawloksi. The pub also serves a range of locally brewed cask ales including a signature Nag’s Head Ale, the 1629.
“I’m over the moon that we’re now open in Cheshire. It’s been a fascinating journey for me this one – I’ve discovered some amazing new producers who I’ve never worked with before, which has led to an authentic menu that I’m really excited about,” said Haworth.
“I love the pub itself too – this is the oldest one that we have in the collection and the bowling green, stocks and horse bays I think all add to a really unique atmosphere.”