OUR ‘marked man’ Malcolm Warne is eventually rumbled at the Black Bull in Moulton

A RELIABLE source – who of course has to remain nameless – recently found himself in the staff room at the famous Black Bull at Moulton, near Scotch Corner.

Inquisitive soul that he is, his eye was drawn to the staff noticeboard and alighted on a rather large mug shot of a man he recognised - yours truly. Alongside it was an exhortation to all staff to keep their collective eyes peeled for any sightings of this man.

Aforesaid source initially wondered if this was a Crimewatch-style warning for somebody, hitherto regarded to possess a degree of respectability, who had resorted to touring the area’s eating places passing off dodgy tenners. But closer inspection revealed his crime to be that of being a food critic.

The message was clear: be especially nice to him, keep the flies out of his soup and try to avoid slopping the wine over his missus’ dress.

If I was running a pub/restaurant round here I would do exactly the same thing, and in addition targeting any other identifiable suspect likely to give an establishment a hard time via social media.

And I have to confess a slight thrill at being a “marked man”. This was definitely a challenge. Could I manage to review the Bull without being recognised?

An elaborate disguise was called for. I was thinking the devilishly handsome Edward Fox in The Day of the Jackal – dyed hair, thick-rimmed glasses, peg leg, being pursued by the full panoply of French state and military power across Europe leaving a trail of dead bodies and sexual conquests in my wake in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to kill General de Gaulle. Perhaps I would shave off my beard for the first time in 40 years (I’m a bit curious about what’s underneath).

Sylvia vetoed all this. Apart from anything else, I think she was distinctly nervous about the beard thing. In full spoilsport mode she even said no to a hat and a pair of dark glasses, suggesting this would look distinctly odd on a Saturday evening before the clocks went forward. If I insisted I would go on my own.

But despite the lack of anything that might suggest I wasn’t who I am – if you know what I mean – we nearly pulled it off.

When we paid the bill, it was revealed that it wasn’t until the main courses had been served that the penny dropped with one young waiter who alerted the two duty managers. And there was no noticeable difference in the way we were treated which is to say royally. Our starters and main courses had been cooked and served before word could have got through to the kitchen.

After super-rich, complimentary mushroom veloute amuse bouche and bread with oil and super-sticky balsamic our starters arrived - a classic prawn cocktail (£8.95) for me and wood pigeon for Sylvia.

The prawn cocktail looked impressive, served in a tall-stemmed gold-coloured Martini glass, and was serviceable rather than spectacular which the price might have suggested it would be. I regretted not going for my initial instinct choice of harissa sardines with tomato and olive salad (£5.95).

Sylvia did rather better with her wood pigeon (£8.95) which gave chef head Tom Maine (shortlisted this year in the UK wide Game Chef of the Year competition) more scope to show what he could do.

A dinky little breast, tenderly seared to a liverish, musty pink, was served with aromatic wild garlic and rather more robustly with mushrooms and a bacon crumb which was just a bit too crunchy. With one unyielding forkful she initially wondered if she was dealing with a mouthful of shot.

Her fish pie (£16.95) was top drawer with an absolutely whopping king scallop at the top of a deep bowl of smoked haddock, salmon, and king prawns swimming in a delicate lemon and dill veloute, the whole thing topped with a layer of creamy mash and melted cheddar cheese and bottomed out with a layer of spinach. It was served with baby carrots, French beans, shaved leeks and greens.

My cannon of Yorkshire lamb (£21.95) was two slices of velvety loin, seared to medium, served with baby carrots, fondant potato, a red wine jus and the real stars of the show – two crumbed and fried sweetbreads. If you are nervous about offal this is where you should start – the creamy moistness makes you initially think of a KFC chicken nugget and then that delicate flavour comes through which is probably why it’s called sweetbread even through it’s not sweet in the conventional sense of that word.

I concluded with an affogato (£4.95) - lovely vanilla ice cream from Ryeburn of Helmsley - and Sylvia choose the Banoffee pie (£5.95) which tasted fine but was deconstructed – not entirely successfully. Deconstruction works when it shows off the integrity and quality of the base ingredients. Unfortunately, roasted halves of banana is never a good look however artfully surrounded with salted caramel/toffee sauce.

The bill was £92.66 which benefited from £13 discount because our original choice of wine – a Voignier – was not available and we chose a Sancerre (a very good one it should be said). The discount was the difference in price between the two bottles.

The Black Bull

Moulton, Richmond DL10 6QJ

Tel: 01325 377556 Web: http://theblackbullmoulton.com

Open for food: noon—2.30pm and 5.30-9.30pm, Sunday noon-8.30pm

Disabled access. All dietary requirements catered for.


Food quality 8/10

Service 10/10

Surroundings 9/10

Value 8/10