Organised by industry leading title Restaurant magazine, The Estrella Damm National Restaurant Awards celebrate the very best chefs, front of house staff and restaurants as voted for by chefs, restaurateurs and food writers.
And this year, the top restaurant wasn’t deemed to be in London, but in Lancashire. In total, 46 of the top 100 restaurants in this year’s list are situated outside London.
Moor Hall in Aughton, Lancashire, which was awarded two Michelin stars within its first two years of opening, took the number one spot in the list having shot up from number six last year.
Set in a refurbished Grade II-listed 16th-century farmhouse with rooms, Moor Hall is overseen by chef-patron Mark Birchall, who made his name as executive chef at the two Michelin starred L’Enclume in Cartmel, Cumbria.
“As anyone that’s visited will tell you this is a restaurant run by a chef at the very top of his game,” the National Restaurant Awards tweeted about the win. And having recently visited ourselves, we couldn’t agree more.
It’s a flawless experience, and just a 45 minute drive from Manchester. And that’s certainly worth celebrating.
The restaurant, where prices start from £65 for a lunch tasting menu, was one of 23 which made the list from the north of England and Scotland, a significant increase on last year.
And one Manchester restaurant made the list: newcomer Mana, which came in at number 73. The Ancoats opening has been one of the most-talked-about in the past year, and is hotly tipped for a Michelin star, if we dare talk about such things.
Mana is headed by Noma alumnus Simon Martin, who “offers a high-end experience minus the starchy pomp,” says the National Restaurant Awards review.
“This is cooking as alchemy: creating gold from almost nothing. As such this restaurant has resonated far beyond Manchester.”
Simon Martin and Mark Birchall were also shortlisted for ‘chef to watch’ and ‘chef of the year’ awards respectively, with El Gato Negro and Canto director Simon Shaw up for ‘restaurateur of the year’.
The UK is split into 11 regions for the awards, with members of the academy voting for the top seven restaurants that they have dined at in the last 12 months, weighted in order of preference. The results are compiled, and the top 100 list of the best restaurants is created.
While only one Manchester restaurant made the list, the strong showing across the north is without a doubt worth shouting about. And of course, the past five years has seen huge growth in Manchester. According to data from consultancy group CGA, the number of licensed restaurants rose by a whopping 36.5% between 2013 and 2018.
That’s the biggest increase across 16 major UK cities, more than double the growth in London (17.7%), and far outstrips the national average of 15% – though the figure has flattened out more over the past year.
In terms of north west restaurants making an appearance in the National Restaurant Awards top UK 100, L’Enclume in Cartmel came in at number six, with The Forest Side in the Lake District at number 18. Gastropub The Parkers Arms and the Freemasons at Wiswell, both in Lancashire, also made the top 40.
Joro in Sheffield, The White Swan at Fence, and Holbeck Ghyll in the Lake District also made the top 100.
Other restaurants across the north to make the top 100 included House of Tides and The Raby Hunt in the north east, The Black Swan at Oldstead, Skosh, Le Cochon Aveugle and Roots in York, Burlington at The Devonshire Arms in Skipton, The Angel Inn in Yorkshire, and The Man Behind The Curtain in Leeds.
“London is still the UK’s pre-eminent gastronomic city, but I would argue that the north currently has a slew of serious restaurants which stands toe to toe with their southern peers, including The Black Swan at Oldstead, L’Enclume and of course Moor Hall,” says Thom Hetherington, one of the founders of Restaurant magazine and the man behind the Northern Restaurant & Bar show.
“Northern cities are repopulating with demanding, discerning younger diners, and overseas tourism is filling restaurants across the region, whether they come for the national parks or urban city breaks.
“Combine those audiences with cheaper property and it’s no wonder Manchester and the wider north is attracting ambitious chefs with sharp knives and big ideas to follow their culinary dreams.”