Turning up Wrightington’s High Moor Lane, the abundance of green and lazy views over Wigan to the left offer early assurances an afternoon out of the office will be well spent.
Nestled to the right is the High Moor Restaurant, where head chef Alex Melling is planning a revolution from his kitchen.
Having taken over three months ago, the 30-year-old wants his menu to stand out as getting hold of quality food becomes easier in this more enlightened foodie culture, and while being sympathetic to the tastes of the High Moor’s loyal clientele, his aim is to gradually introduce dishes any exclusive restaurant would be proud to serve – right on our doorstep.
We arrive for lunch, but instead of tackling the tempting offerings which include a market menu and main courses such as baked cod loin and chargrilled duck breast, Alex has prepared a five course taster menu as a sneak peek into The High Moor’s future.
Having taken the reigns from former head chef Norman Price, who has had to take a step back for health reasons but remains working in the kitchen, Alex is aiming to build on the foundations which have been laid.
Pickled candy beet, cod loin, Goosnargh duck, 70-day aged marbled sirloin and textures of melon, all beautifully presented, offer a look at Alex’s spring menu which he will introduce in January.
Before tucking in it’s clear the chef’s decade-and-a-half spent in the kitchen has been a worthwhile investment. People passionate about what they do tend to do it well, and the way these dishes are presented make no effort to hide the fact the chef loves what he does.
Highlights, as you’d expect, included the Goosnargh duck and marbled steak, both prepared with the care and skill such high quality ingredients demand.
It’s no surprise to learn Goosnargh duck is served at Michelin starred restaurants all over the country, and Alex also uses award winning butchers and fishmongers.
But ingredients are only part of the equation.
The herb butter crust on the cod loin compliments its meaty texture, with micro fennell and samphire adding touches of sophistication as well as great flavour, while the steak comes with a sticky jus and beet gel – both of which I’d have been happy to mop up with a piece of bread – though I’m not sure how appropriate my company would have found such behaviour.
A juicy king oyster mushroom finishes the plate,which is presented with red vein sorrel and squash puree which would all happily
have been taken as a bigger main course.
Alex pays just as much attention to the first and last plates though, and although they don’t try to barge the showstoppers out of your mind, they do their jobs as perfectly as a small cog in a fine watch.
The poached red beet came with goat and truffle bon bons and aged balsamic pearls which set the bar nice and high for the rest of the menu, while the cooling effect of the textures of melon left the satisfaction of finishing on a sweet note without feeling uncomfortable when clambering back in the car for the drive home.
Away from the tasting menu, desserts include a tempting-looking cheese board, baked Alaska and treacle tart among other options, while wines, spirits and beers are complemented by a cocktail menu, but you’d need to be mindful of needing to book taxis if you’re planning on drinking due to the restaurant’s location.
For now, Alex’s attention is on The High Moor’s Christmas run-in before he introduces this menu in early spring.
The next step is to aim for a rosette next year, which for Alex would be a benchmark for his years of hard work which have seen him work in kitchens in Spain and Australia, as well as previous local ventures including Foodie Box in Orrell.
“I’m pushing for awards now,” he said.
“I’ve been at places that already have awards and it’s my time now. We have a very seasonal menu - very colourful, and it’s all about good produce, keeping it as local as possible. Norman has been an inspiration working through his illness and he also deserves a lot of recognition for his 16 years of graft.
“I want to put here back on the map with food.”