Where exactly is it? A proper rustic Cumbrian retreat, the Black Bull Inn is located at the western tip of the Yorkshire Dales in Sedbergh, a small market town that’s lined with independent stores, cafes and delis.
The interior and vibes? Think rambling old 17th century Dales hostelry reborn as foodie restaurant, cosy bar and hip boutique hotel. With 18 bedrooms, it only opened in 2018: not long after, like everything, was hit by Covid.
What was good about the rooms? Both the cooking and bedrooms effortlessly fuse Japanese and British influences, due to the heritage of married owners, head chef Nina Matsunaga and James Ratcliffe respectively. Our elegant and minimal room was a tonal mix of greys, whites and black with super-comfy bed and bedding, a huge walk-in shower, and romantic balcony with hill views that remained sadly unused due to the poor weather.
OK: let’s talk food. These are dishes with a twist, inspired by the fusion of the pair’s different upbringings, as well as their joint history in Manchester’s streetfood pop-up scene.
We ate a late Sunday lunch in the simple, spacious dining room, whose floor-to-ceiling windows offered captivating views of the street. As well as well-priced Sunday Roasts (around £14.95) there are select dishes from the more expensive a la carte.
So, starters? The stand-out was a ruby-red Wild Lakeland venison tartare (main picture, above) with rye, blobs of cured egg yolk hollandaise and the refreshing crunch of sliced kohlrabi (gone in seconds after the photo); meanwhile, delicate ravioli was filled with butter-soft prawn and sat in a creamy bisque, charred cucumber adding bite.
Golden balls of crispy Thai spiced cauliflower with crème fraiche, from the Nibbles menu, are also recommended. And a lovely maple pea hummus is served with crackers to dunk in, too.
And mains? We rather greedily shared three, each perfectly sized and executed: blushingly tender Mansergh Hall pork loin was seasoned with pancetta, braised baby turnip and kimchi adding earth and fire; while crisply guilt-skinned seabass was beefed up by meaty morels and umami-rich mussels. A must-try is pink Howgill Herdwick lamb, with white beetroot, mint and anchovy, plus a creamy mash.
Desserts? A wibbly-wobbly Yorkshire rhubarb jelly was matched with rhubarb ice cream and pistachio and coffee crumb, while a small slab of lemon tart excelled with raspberry sorbet and white chocolate. At £6.95, these are well-priced, too.
What’s the service like? Extremely friendly and deft on a packed lunchtime, with the usual Covid mask-wearing rules applying, of course. After a short rain-drenched walk, evening pints of Lancastrian Farmyard Ales Gulf IPA – along with advice on what local beers to order – arrived swiftly in the fire-lit bar, with its red banquette seating, mesmerising wood-burner and walls of framed prints and artworks.
Breakfast? There’s mackerel and scrambled eggs, or Welsh rarebit on toast. Our Full English boasted explodingly orange yolks, deeply meaty sausages, crisp bacon and hot buttered sourdough, as well as home-made beans. Juice, summer fruits, tea, coffee: boom, we were refuelled.
Any other facilities? Outside is a vast and beautiful beer garden at the foot of Howgill Fell, and there’s also a new sourdough pizza kitchen and outdoor bar, complete with cover if it rains. Did we mention that it did?
Don’t miss: local walks, both fellside and flat – check for routes online or pickup local leaflets at the tourist office on Main Street. You should also hit the Three Hares deli (above), Nina and James’ other (and first) venture in the village, for local produce, posh ready meals, pickles, sauces, bread and coffee-to-go.
Makers and artisans, such as the Craft Workshop, abound (another tip is Farfield Mill, closed on our visit, a mile or so out of town); and there are independent restaurants, such as Al Forno pizza, which we enjoyed in the evening, and the excellently named Haddock Paddock fish and chip shop, all on Main Street.
Any claim to fame? Eponymous school aside, whose pupils spread themselves throughout the streets at weekends, Sedbergh’s also a ‘Book Town’ due to the number of second-hand bookshops along its cute high street. Especially recommended is Westwood Books, while other outlets include Clutterbooks and also the Book Shelter, where you can swap a used book with one from its shelves.
Can I do a pub crawl? Yes you can. For another proper boozer try The Dalesman, or nearby Red Lion, both seconds from the Black Bull, while craft beer bar the Thirsty Rambler looked like a good’un but was shut on our visit. Cheers – and don’t, whatever season you choose to visit, forget to pack a sturdy brolly.
Weekendr stayed as guests of the Black Bull Inn.