Andy Mossack enjoys a dinner deep in Cumbrian countryside at the legendary Black Bull Inn
It seems cross border harmonious relationships are nothing new to Sedbergh. After all, the town itself could be deemed as lying in West Riding Yorkshire right by the Yorkshire Dales National Park, yet it is officially Cumbrian. The same could be said of the couple who own and run the Back Bull coaching inn on the High Street. James Ratcliffe, Dales born and bred and his partner, head chef Nina Matsunaga, born in Dusseldorf, Germany to Japanese parents. A veritable fruit salad of cultures it must be said, but nevertheless combines to bring a unique aspect to a venerable old building.
They first cut their own hospitality teeth in Sedbergh with The Three Hares café, bakery, and bistro and armed with a growing reputation for high-quality food took a leap in 2016 to add the 17th century Black Bull to their portfolio. And so, another chapter began, one that infused German and Japanese influences with ingredients that are undeniably Yorkshire and Cumbrian born and bred.
Perhaps the new gastropub raised eyebrows amongst this tiny town’s residents brought up on solid Dales fare, yet it didn’t take long for word to spread further afield, bringing well-heeled tourists to its tables lured by Matsunaga’s exotic mashup.
It was certainly a curious mix when I walked in; a Friday night crowd of regular locals sitting at the bar supping stout surrounded by walls and tables adorned with traditional Japanese Kokedama moss balls. But the gastropub crowd were not to be outdone; the chatter from my neighbouring tables was more about cave-aged cheese shops and Waitrose sushi than flat caps and Woodbine
We kicked off with a couple of tasty nibbles; delightfully crisp Thai-spiced cauliflower florets with Crème Fraiche (£3.50) and maple pea hummus and crackers (£3.50). If anyone doubted the potential of Matsunaga’s Asian fusion, the starters would put their collective minds to rest. Prawn ravioli with cucumber and sea greens (£9.50) was taste innovation on a plate while my Apache potato with watercress and lentil (£7.95) was more hearty but no less enjoyable. We did ponder on choosing wild Lakeland venison tartar with rye, mustard, cured egg yolk and kohlrabi (£9.50) but didn’t want to use up our appetite before the mains.
We didn’t have to wait long. Our mains were brought triumphantly to our table and set down with glee. Mrs M’s Howgill Herdwick lamb with beetroot, anchovy and mint (£19.95) done to a tee, the tartness of the beetroot a perfect support cast member for the lamb. I on the other hand went old school. Hereford beef pie with seasonal greens (£15.95) recommended by our luxury B&B hosts Absoluxe Suites in nearby Kirkby Lonsdale. It didn’t disappoint, sensational crusty pastry holding butter-soft beef that had clearly been cooked for hours.
We shared a truly sensational rhubarb ice cream with coffee panna cotta and pistachio (£6.95) that will go down long in the history of the Mossack culinary experiences. What a quite magnificent blend of taste and texture.
It is always satisfying when reputation is evidenced first-hand and for me, the Black Bull Inn offers up magnificent and affordable fare. I was slightly envious of its guests who were staying the night upstairs in one of its 18 bedrooms. They would get another chance to sample Nina’s food over an equally delicious breakfast no doubt.
There may well be confusion over Sedbergh’s location, but when it comes to the food at the Black Bull Inn, there’s no confusion at all. It’s simply delicious.
All food images (c) Andy Mossack
Tell me more about the Black Bull Inn at Sedbergh, Cumbria
The Black Bull, 44 Main Street, Sedbergh, Cumbria, LA10 5BL
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