Celebrations for the The Shibden Mill Inn's 10th anniversary
PUBLISHED: 14:39 06 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:18 20 February 2013
The inn crowd gather for a memorable meal in historic surroundings. Jo Haywood joins them. PHOTOGRAPHS BY ANDY BULMER
Shibden Valley is quite a sight to behold as you hurtle over the crest of the hill and start the steep plunge down towards Red Beck. Even in a torrential summer downpour, you can't help but be impressed by its rippling green folds.
You also can't help but be impressed by Shibden Mill Inn, which nestles neatly into one of those folds. Its crisp white exterior provides a contrasting focal point among the trees that jostle for position along the winding road leading down into the valley.
This 17th century inn is steeped in history. Thanks to a recent renovation programme, its original beams and rafters have been restored to their former glory, providing an extra portion of charm on an already characterful plate. Owners Simon and Caitlin Heaton are celebrating their 10th anniversary at the helm of this Calderdale gem.
It was in quite a tired state when they took it on, but is now fully refreshed and looking enviously good for its age. 'My previous job took me around the world,' said Simon, who was chief executive of an international distribution company. 'I stayed in a lot of hotels and ate in a lot of restaurants so, as a customer, I knew what worked and what didn't. I knew this place would work.'
He brought in his great friend Glen Pearson as general manager, and the partnership is still going strong a decade later - they've even entered into another partnership at The Bull in Broughton, near Skipton. 'I'm not saying we haven't had plenty of full and frank discussions over the years,' said Glen. 'But we both share the same vision for the inn.We want it to be the best it can be.'
Between them they have created a cosy, friendly bar and an intimate candlelit restaurant, where the inn's awardwinning team now offers a wide and varied selection of dishes guaranteed to satisfy every palate. Guests can also enjoy a selection of wines from around the world, either by the glass or the bottle.
It has 11 individually decorated en-suite bedrooms (up from six), which have the warmth, style and quality you would expect from a country inn and provide a relaxing atmosphere in which to unwind at the end of a hectic day (or a very satisfying meal).
Another recent addition is a private dining room alongside the main restaurant, which offers a secluded, intimate setting for a birthday party, anniversary, lunch party or business meeting.
All in all Shibden Mill Inn caters around 800 covers a week - and all of them are created under the watchful eye of head chef Ian Booth. He's Halifax born and bred and started out on his culinary career by helping out as a youngster at the Hobbit pub, where his dad was a chef. He later moved to London, where he worked at The Ritz, but always had a hankering to return home. 'I knew Shibden Mill Inn well and when the job came up I just knew it was the right place at the right time for me,' he said. 'Choosing to come home was a complete no-brainer.'
Seasonality and locally-sourced produce are key to his menus, which are packed with classic British fare. This doesn't mean, however, that Ian isn't free to experiment too, introducing his diners to wonderful new flavours and unusual ingredients. The inn holds 'guinea pig nights' three times a month. You'll be relieved to learn that the guinea pig element doesn't refer to the ingredients but to the fact that diners have no idea what the dishes will be until they are unveiled at the table. They are also asked to fill in a short questionnaire about the meal afterwards.
'People love to be surprised,' said Ian. 'And we certainly don't let them down. It's not every day you get to try passionfruit and coconut scented mussels or jellied eel in elderflower jelly, is it?'
The menu for our lunch was less experimental, but no less interesting. After a generous trio of canaps, the meal began with a fresh, flavoursome lobster and crab salad, followed by a duo of new season lamb on a buttery bed of creamy mash, and a rich slice of white chocolate cheesecake topped with sweet, juicy strawberries and an elegant twist of dark chocolate.
After such a fine lunch, it was a real wrench to leave the warm, friendly atmosphere of the inn and wend our way back up the wet and windy hill. Those comfortable en-suite bedrooms suddenly seemed even more tempting then ever.