Sedbergh. The Black Bull

‘The most delicious and original dinner of 2021…Miraculous,’ said writer and journalist Rachel Cooke after eating at the Black Bull last year. The hot guinea fowl croquettes; mackerel flavoured with sudachi; cod with smoked roe and seaweed; and sticky toffee pudding were one of ’10 things that saw me through 2021’. 

Such words - in the Observer Food Monthly - are wonderful but not uncommon for Nina Matsunaga and James Ratcliffe who run this 17th century coaching inn, and the team who work here.

The Black Bull was named North West Pub and Bar of the Year at the National Pub and Bar Awards 2022 while Nina (head chef) won the Pub Restaurant Chef award at the Craft Guild of Chefs Awards 2022

She was also one of CODE Hospitality’s ‘100 most influential women in hospitality 2021’, described as an ‘exhilarating talent’ in the Sunday Times Magazine in 2020 and winner of The Innovator award in Olive magazine’s Chef Awards 2019.

It is the influence of Nina’s upbringing (born in Germany to Japanese parents) and the Lune Valley background of James that play heavily in the kitchen’s direction of travel, local produce ‘transformed by innovative Japanese-inspired cooking,’ as the Good Hotel Guide 2022 puts it.

Starters in the two AA rosetted restaurant, for instance, may include Howgill Herdwick lamb faggot, spelt and salsify; or wild Lakeland rabbit, while main courses could offer Howgill Hereford beef pie; wild Lakeland venison; Cornish seabass, octopus, cauliflower, blood orange and chilli; British White beef sirloin; or Howgill Herdwick lamb, oma, tofu, sesame and Korean chilli.

The couple’s ethos is very much local, seasonal and traditional. ’We believe that meat which is slow-grown tastes best, traditional breeds from this area should be championed at source and that seasonal ingredients yield the very best meals,’ say Nina and James.

Their first venture in Sedbergh was the Three Hares café and bakery which they took over in 2014, fresh from running a street food business in Manchester called The Moocher. Three years later the Three Hares was included in the Good Food Guide, a relative rarity for a café. 

They still have it (it’s now a deli) but the Black Bull offers a bigger stage for their undoubted talents, one of those being Nina’s great skill as a baker. So while you’re here, try as many breads as you can. 

Outside in the beer garden is a kind of ‘Moocher in the Meadow’, street food and drink in the form of a bar, a pizza oven, spit roasted dishes and more, served at ‘bierkeller-style’ tables. Japan meets Germany in sight of the beautiful Howgill Fells. You don’t often hear that.

The Black Bull, 44 Main Street, Sedbergh LA10 5BL: 015396 20264, Lunch and dinner are both served.

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