Hotel Review: The Shibden Mill Inn, Halifax, West Yorkshire
Review: Steven Bonfield
Occasionally in this job you think, ‘I wonder how it got that one!’ – awards, I mean.
This is definitely not one of those times!
The Shibden Mill Inn, just outside Halifax, has recently done extremely well on the annual awards circuit – Great British Pub of the Year 2015, Les Routiers Inn of the Year 2015, winner of a Sawday’s Pub with Rooms Award, all underpinned by two AA Rosettes for gastro dining and 5 AA Stars for Inn Accommodation. Having just spent a wonderful weekend there I can honestly say, that in my opinion, every accolade is well and truly deserved.
On arrival, the Shibden Mill Inn does not look big enough to have 14 rooms but as the excellent Maria took us from Reception up through the narrow but light passages, she explained that each room had been individually designed to make the most of the available space and light.
We were allocated The Bower Suite. This magnificent room leads you from a soaring vestibule with free standing Victorian bathtub, through an impressive original stone arch into a beautifully appointed and furnished sleeping area incorporating a super-king bed complete with quarter canopy . To complete the experience, French windows lead you out onto your very own private garden terrace. Impressive, romantic, slightly decadent all suitable adjectives but unlike sometimes when you feel reluctant to touch or use anything in a boutique-type room for fear of spoiling the effect or breaking something, everything about The Bower Suite says ‘ use me – enjoy me’ . Comforting and comfortable – those are the words.
Ever the exhibitionist, Mrs B had a wonderful time floating in the vestibule tub filled to the brim with a ridiculously self-indulgent amount of glorious hot water topped off with old fashioned bath salts and ‘Sprout Out ‘ natural cosmetic products from Gilchrist and Soames.
Personally, I love monsoon showers and the one fitted in the wet room style bathroom of the Bower Suite did not disappoint. Having used both the bath robes and lots of the white fluffy towels supplied, cleaned and refreshed we made our way to the bar for a pre-dinner tipple.
It was a Saturday evening . Customers can and do just come in for a drink (several hand pulled real ales are on offer) where they stand around close to the bar whilst always extremely polite and well turned out bar and waiting staff, weave their way through the crowd to deliver menus to and take orders from those booked in the restaurant (the Mill Room) , serve bar meals to those who prefer to eat in the less formal setting of the bar itself and deliver aperitifs to those who, like ourselves, required a drink before taking dinner in the Grill Room .
The Grill Room is on the first floor above the bar . After the hustle and bustle down below, first impressions are of a haven of calm and tranquility in an airy, high-ceilinged space (complete with beams). The walls are adorned with animal skulls, resplendent with horns and a magnificent either ceramic or metal cast bull’s head to subliminally remind you that this is a grill room at the heart of the kitchen of which, stands a charcoal copa oven, on which the chefs will cook you meat!
There are dishes for vegetarians but first and foremost this is a sanctuary for carnivores.
The menu is not huge, 6 starters, three fish mains, three meat mains (other than beef) and three vegetarian dishes. And then there is steak! All sourced from Waterford Farm in North Yorkshire, if you enjoy steak, this is the place for you. All the cuts and variations including Chateaubriand and Beef Wellington – but I am getting ahead of myself .
Mrs B had enjoyed a glass of house champagne (Vallereaux Brut excellent value at £6.40) but sticking with the Yorkshire theme I ordered a gin and tonic using Masons gin which is distilled in Northallerton and is a citrus flavoured delight.
Anticipating the meat feast to come, we both considered the lighter starters of potted shrimps, Caesar salad, smoked salmon and home made minestrone soup before Mrs B chose the slightly more exotic dish of roast marrow bones on toast. This was different, tasty and the fattiness of the marrow was offset perfectly by the merlot vinaigrette.
Pate and Yorkshire Pudding – surely they can’t be serious! But I assure you, they are. Two of my favourite starters, chicken liver parfait – flavour enhanced with venison in this case- served not with boring old melba toast but with two large warm crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside, home-made Yorkshire Puddings. My first tip – forget your knife and fork. Tear the puddings like bread rolls and spread the pieces with the gorgeously smooth parfait before topping it with a little of the home-made piccalilli. Absolutely delicious.
Then – the steak. 300 g (10 ½ ounces in old money) is a big piece of meat. Mrs B’s Rib Eye was cooked to perfection . She went with her usual choice of french-fry style skinny chips but I was tempted by the chunkies fried in beef dripping . I prefer the texture of Rump and Sirloin to the melt in the mouth softness of Rib Eye and Fillet but was intrigued by the offer of Flat Iron . Flat Iron steak is a cheaper cut which the French frequently use in their classic of steak – frites. It is often beaten with a spiky meat mallet or marinated in red wine to tenderise it before it is flash grilled or fried so that it is seared on the outside and ‘blue’ in the middle. The Shibden Mill Inn offers Flat Iron marinated in garlic and cooked medium. Presented in thick slices it was beyond doubt one of the tastiest steaks I have enjoyed in a very long time. My second tip. If you are tempted to choose a side of onion rings (which are excellent in panko breadcrumbs) do not order one each, as a single portion will easily satisfy four people.
The wine list is comprehensive. Whites, Reds and Connoisseur Wines are catalogued not by country region or by price but essentially by grape variety. If you know what flavours you like and what type of grapes give your wine that flavour, this is in my opinion a brilliant way of doing it . If you’re not sure – then you can always ask !
We started with a glass of the house Sancerre which was excellent and served at exactly the right temperature but then pushed the boat out with a Bordeaux from the Connoisseur selection to go with our steaks, a Chateau Batailley (Pauillac) 2007. That was superb.
To go with desert, the management make a recommendation of half a dozen or so very reasonably priced pudding wines by the 50ml glass . I really enjoyed the Monbazillac de Grange Semillion /Sauvignon blend to match my sweet of Yorkshire Curd Tart, Bay Leaf Custard fig jam and candied pistachios which was excellent, but Mrs B finished with another glass of Sancerre to set off the sweetness of her beautifully presented Pineapple Tarte Tatin and Blood Orange Sorbet. There were half a dozen deserts to choose from and had I not been stuffed, I would probably have had a go at the Yorkshire Cheese Board all from local suppliers, which looked fantastic – next time perhaps.
And so to bed to be followed by – breakfast!
Served in the Grill Room we were presented with a buffet which featured a variety of muesli , confits, jam, marmalades, lemon curd etc – all made in the Shibden Mill kitchens and classic hot breakfast items including porridge , kippers and the full ‘Yorkshire’. I went for that, of course, bacon, sausage, mushroom, tomato, fried egg and the most delicious and soft piece of black pudding I have tasted for years, whist Mrs B had classic Eggs Benedict. The staff at breakfast, as throughout the whole experience, were smart in traditional bistro black and white, polite and friendly and having welcomed us to the hotel when we arrived in reception, shown us to our room, acted as maitre d’ at dinner and served our breakfast, we were checked out by the excellent Maria.
At its heart, the Shibden Mill Inn is exactly that – an Inn – and it has all the atmosphere of a hostelry of old, catering to the hospitality needs of all its customers whatever those needs may be – all at the same time. I can anticipate that as the accommodation area is so comfortable, quiet even tranquil, some visitors to the hotel who have booked an evening meal in either the Grill Room or the Restaurant might find their entry into the bar area a little frantic and chaotic – as indeed it is – deliberately so . The trick is to drink in the atmosphere and appreciate it for what it is.
Once you do that you will be able to relax and enjoy what is justifiably, an award winning experience.
Shibden Mill Inn| Shibden Mill Fold, | Shibden, Halifax HX3 7UL
Standard Room | £100 single occupancy B&B | £125 double occupancy B&B | £182 double occupancy DB&B
Superior Room | £127 single occupancy B&B | £149 double occupancy B&B | £204 double occupancy DB&B
Bower Suite | £165 single occupancy B&B | £195 double occupancy B&B | £250 double occupancy DB&B