Mark Birchall: "Ultimately, it's about making the guests want to come back"

By Joe Lutrario contact

- Last updated on GMT

Mark Birchall on Moor Hall restaurant winning the National Restaurant Awards

Related tags: Moor Hall, Mark Birchall, National restaurant awards, Chefs, Fine dining

We catch up with the chef behind 2021’s Estrella Damm National Restaurant of the Year about what a meal at Moor Hall involves and his policy of incremental improvement.

How does it feel to retain the National Restaurant of the Year award?
To get it a second time feels amazing. The first time we were buzzing, but it feels like an even bigger thing to retain, especially given the challenges of the last 18 months. I cleared all the awards off the shelf when we reopened after the most recent lockdown as it felt like it was time to start again. I’m very proud to now have the award back on the shelf. The staff were all beaming going into our first service earlier this week.

Have you seen a big uptick in bookings?
Yes. Our rooms are fully booked until Christmas and there are no Saturday tables available until March 2022, which is incredible for us. It’s easy to forget that Moor Hall is still a relatively new business, we only opened in 2017.

What does a meal at Moor Hall’s flagship restaurant involve?
It sounds a bit pretentious, but it is intended to be a journey for the guests. It usually starts with a walk through the garden, then people come into the kitchen for their snacks. Guests like it, because most don’t get the chance to see a garden or top-end kitchen like ours up close. We offer four or eight course tasting menus but guests can expect quite a few extras and surprises. Ultimately, it’s about making the guests want to come back. We want them to feel like they don’t want to leave. When they do leave, we want them to be thinking “when can we go back?”.

Has the pandemic changed Moor Hall?
We haven’t made any major changes. We’re about steady improvement here. We’re human so there are peaks and troughs, but we’re always trying to do better than the day before. But I’m not a chef that spends ages analysing dishes, I like to keep things as natural as possible and work with the seasons. I also spend a lot of time securing great produce, whether that’s improving what we grow, sourcing locally or sourcing from further afield. I certainly believe we’re a much better restaurant than we were when we won the award in 2019.

Moor Hall is a far more self-sufficient than most other places, how are your many culinary projects going?
We’ve got to where we want to be with the charcuterie. That’s in full flow now, the systems are working well. We’ve done a lot of cheesemaking trials – including working with different milks, cultures and rennets – but the project was disrupted by the pandemic. This year’s big project is to really master that side of things and fill the cellar with cheese. We’ve also inoculated our hazelnut trees with black truffle spores, so we’re hoping to serve our own truffles soon.

Anything else?
We’re also looking at launching a centralised bakery that would provide all the baked goods for Moor Hall. It would also have the potential to supply a concession of some sort. I like the idea of a physical shop somewhere that could retail our charcuterie, cheese, bakery products and the beers and gins that are produced for us by other people. We’d also like to launch an online shop, but retail is probably one for next year as we have a lot on our plate right now. We’re also waiting for planning permission for seven more rooms, which will take the form of lodges that will be positioned throughout the grounds. That will bring us up to 14 rooms in total, meaning that we can pretty much fill the flagship restaurant just with residents.

You got two stars very quickly. Have you got your eye on a third star?
I will always try and make things better. I’ll never settle on second best for the guests or the team. We want to be a world class destination, and we have ambitions to be the best. A big thing we’re working on now is improving things for the team. This industry can be tough, so we’re looking at ways to reward them and to try and make the environment in which they work as good as it can possibly be.

Related topics: People, Restaurant, Profiles

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