Engine Social brings real culinary pedigree to Sowerby Bridge
PUBLISHED: 00:00 09 October 2019
Melia Melia Photography
Big flavours, drawn from every corner of the world, are what Engine Social's owners Wil Akroyd and Mark Kemp are all about.
For foodies in the know, it's a gem nestling in the former West Yorkshire mill town of Sowerby Bridge. The clean, minimalist brickwork and pared-back sign swinging above the front door give little hint of the plates of joy that lie within.
Juicy green padron peppers sprinkled with Cornish Sea Salt, fat Spanish meatballs bathed in a rich tomato sauce, spiced koftas fragrant with punchy Aleppo chilli. Big flavours, drawn from every corner of the world, are what Engine Social's owners Wil Akroyd and Mark Kemp are all about.
Wil is local to the area and has worked front of house for many years in restaurants while Mark, the head chef, has a background of working in kitchens like the esteemed El Gato Negro. But getting to this point wasn't easy. 'After converting the building we had sleepless nights thinking 'what have we taken on'? When we opened the doors nearly a year ago we had just 30 pounds left in the bank.'
When Wil and Mark picked up the keys to the former pub it was stripped right back to four brick walls and a single room. 'We were very lucky with the building, it was a blank canvas to put our own stamp on and we could change our mind. We spent lots of time creating the best interior so when opening night came it was never a case of 'that could've been done that better', it had to be perfect,' says Wil.
It is a beautiful room. Shades of turquoise and deep petrol blue contrast with the black brickwork and flashes of orange flames bursting form the open kitchen. The furniture is rustic, the bar well-stocked - small details are clearly important here.
'I remember the day before we opened when the tables were still wrapped in their plastic, shelving in the kitchen still to be put up, the scaffolding outside the building had just been taken down, we'd just got the gas switch on. My wife kept saying to me 'are you ok Mark?' and all I wanted to say was 'no' and have a cry because the there was so much depending on it. Once we got started in the kitchen though the rhythm flowed and it felt right.
Wil nods in agreement, 'It was a huge boost to see our first night full and it was a case of building on that, not dropping the ball but refining the experience to make it the best it can be. We are a local restaurant which compliments what's already in Sowerby Bridge. The majority of our customers come from a five mile radius and word of mouth is the best advertising. We now have people coming from Leeds, Manchester, even London.'
They're travelling for the menu - packed full of bold, exciting tapas dishes - and the buzzy, lively but relaxed atmosphere, with its open kitchen where you can see and talk to the chefs as they prepare your food.
It's definitely a place that's playing its part in Calderdale's renaissance. TV shows like Happy Valley and Gentleman Jack, the gloriously-refurbished Piece Hall and the eclectic town of Hebden Bridge have all upped the cool factor. Engine Social fits in perfectly.
'I like the idea that we wanted to make it available to everyone', says Mark. Families who like a little bit of tapas through the week or those who come out and want a real high end experience and go home feeling fed and well looked after.
'The food is sustainably sourced and local where possible and our vegan menu is now just as popular. People's trends can't be ignored so let's do it and be at the front of the queue' adds Wil, who obviously relishes the challenge of a changing landscape in food.
For the future, both Wil and Mark are very much content with the progress so far of Engine Social but that doesn't mean they are complacent. Just the opposite says Mark.
'We are always wanting to make sure everything is the best it can be, make sure the quality is consistent, are we doing everything absolutely spot on.
'We pushed the envelope as far as we could with the building to make the experience something people would want to come back to and talk about. We are just grafting, learning something new every day and making progress. It's hard work but tremendously rewarding when you see the smiles on faces.'