The rural pub is located just north-east of Halifax in West Yorkshire and was a finalist in the Great British Pub Awards’ Best for Food category this year and is also No.14 in the Top 50 Gastropubs.
Facts ’n’ stats
Name: Shibden Mill Inn
Owner and front of house: Max Heaton
Address: Halifax, West Yorkshire, HX3 7UL
Here, owner Max Heaton tells us about the pub and its top-notch offer.
The building is a former corn mill dating back over 350 years, set beside Red Beck stream in an unspoilt rural valley, rich in industrial heritage.
The large beer garden sits alongside the mill stream, surrounded by mature woodland, a peaceful spot to enjoy the Yorkshire countryside.
The inn oozes character, low oak beams, open fires and a maze of different rooms. Aiming to create an uncontrived and authentic atmosphere we have consciously avoided professional interior packages and clichéd trends.
We want guests to feel they have stumbled upon their own secret retreat – we are often referred to as a ‘hidden gem’. The inn is full of one-off finds, interesting individual pieces and bold colours.
It has evolved in an authentic and personal way, a labour of love. Atmosphere and ambience are key to our offerings – a major factor for our customers who feel part of ‘their own special place’.
Tucked away in beautiful Calder Valley, we have carefully maintained its character – sensitively creating a whimsical and eclectic backdrop for an efficient and well-organised business.
Close to Halifax, we benefit from close proximity to the Piece Hall and Shibden Hall. The Piece Hall is an amazing destination, great to visit for its history and architecture but now famous for the big names it attracts as a unique live music venue. Shibden Hall is famous for being the home of Anne Lister who was the subject of Sally Wainwright’s recent BBC period drama Gentleman Jack and has been very popular ever since.
My first memories of Shibden Mill Inn date back to when I was eight years old and my parents bought the place, it was very sad and run down. I roamed around with my brother and the general manager’s young son exploring dejected hotel rooms and crumbling outbuildings. Quite an adventure for us but less fun for the adults as they slogged away at their ambition to change this wreck into what is now known as a ‘gastropub’.
This was early days for such a high flying ambition – especially in Halifax. The kitchen was tiny with just one cook who nipped to the supermarket for supplies each day. We never lived at the inn but it was a huge part of my childhood – we often ended up here straight from school.
I was always aware of what a mammoth (and financially draining) task running this place was, fortunately, what I didn’t realise was that one day it would fall on me.
There was never any expectation that it would pass on to the next generation. I was left to forge my own way and, when the travel bug bit, I headed off with a rucksack and not a backward glance in the direction of Shibden Mill Inn.
Fast forward 10 years and I found myself back in Halifax. I had a degree in business management from Manchester University under my belt (more by accident than design) and several years’ experience working in tourism.
Initially, I just came to help out but quickly found this trade suits me and the place needed the next generation involved if we were going to hang on to it and take it forward.
New challenges faced the business and I had to learn quickly. It’s a difficult trade as anyone involved knows. A pragmatic approach is essential to deal with the highs and lows. Late nights and early mornings are part of the package and I work on the same shift patterns as the rest of the staff – on the floor front of house.
As custodian of this grand old historic inn, I respect its distinguished traditions. I am proud of what has been achieved and excited by what challenges the future holds.
An original destination pub and community hub for much of its 350-year history, we remain true to the traditional values of a country inn – a genuine Yorkshire welcome, quality local produce and great service.
Creating a friendly, relaxed atmosphere for regulars and new visitors alike has been central to our success, unpretentious and comfortable but with traditional high standards of service.
Most of our customers dine with us and the hotel guests tend to come and stay specifically to enjoy the food. We do have core group of local drinkers though and that’s really important to us – we don’t want to be a restaurant, customers love that we are open to walk-ins and drinkers. It keeps the place lively and adds to the atmosphere.
Although we are at the bottom of winding country lanes, we are much closer to civilisation than it feels, it’s odd that people refer to us so often as a ‘hidden gem’ despite us being five minutes from the main road, it’s nice though and it’s the feeling we want to create.
I work all the same shifts as the duty managers and take on all the same front-of-house responsibility. Being so hands-on means I know, and work, shoulder-to-shoulder with all staff members. I face the same adversities and hear all the customers’ feedback. This is key to both training and retaining staff. I am supported by an amazing bunch of people who have remained passionate about the industry and the Shibden Mill Inn.
Many of the staff members have been here a long time and seen us through the good and the bad times. The manager has been here for 24 years, he’s also a close family friend, several of our chefs and duty managers for more than 10 years, bar manager seven years and head chef six years. We have a ‘spirit of the blitz’ mentality. We pull together and have a great sense of achievement at the end of a good service.
We have a full team of eight chefs and eight kitchen porters, which has finally allowed us to give the chefs a four-day working week.
The housekeeping team is headed up by the amazing Bev, she’s been with us 17 years and runs a tight ship and together with five housekeepers, they keep the 11 bedrooms immaculate.
Communication between staff from different departments maintains a team spirt where everyone’s skills and contributions are valued.
Specific external training is organised where appropriate. This includes cellar, barista and wine courses and ensures staff have the knowledge and skills required to deliver a relaxed, informed and efficient service.
Rotas ensure senior staff are always on hand and duty managers’ logs make for smooth handovers.
Alongside our name for good food, we don’t want to let down our drinkers and the reputation of any pub hangs on great beer. We like to focus on local produce for the bar and we have a great relationship with some great small breweries in the area.
Our cask bitter, Shibden, produced by Moorhouse in Burnley (just over the Pennines) is always a favourite with regulars. We also have cask Bread and Butter from Vocation Brewery, Hebden Bridge. Two local cask guest beers change regularly to keep up to all tastes. Magic Rock, based in Holmfirth, is one of the seven beers and lagers we have on draught.
Our house pour is Masons Yorkshire Gin and we carry all seven flavours. We suggest pairings with the full range of Fever-Tree Tonics and are sure to serve it in quality glassware with great garnish.
We carry 25 whiskies and offer tasting notes to tempt customers to try different distilleries.
Given our reputation for exceptional food, the wine list is very important to us.
All our managers have WSET Level 2 qualifications and are well versed in our extensive wine list. The list is compiled by myself, in conjunction with our wine merchant, Hallgarten. We have 11 red and 11 white wines by the glass, this facilitates wine pairings on the menu, each dish is matched with a suggested wine by the glass. We use a Verre de Vin to prevent waste and ensure quality. The wine list includes a connoisseur range and several English varieties.
I think that our food is the main reason people choose us but it’s way more than that. We pride ourselves on our service and uphold standards that others might find old fashioned. All our staff (even teenagers) are taught the right way to talk to people, serve wine, handle plates, etc.
Sample a la carte dishes (with suggested drink options)
Glazed pigs’ cheeks, Granny Smith, fermented celeriac, crispy onions, puffed rind - £12 (Gran Barquero, 6 Anos, Pedro Ximenez, Spain)
Smoked haddock, mussel, leek, smoked haddock foam - £11 (Unwooded Chardonnay Reserva, Chile)
Truffle rosti, Burford brown egg, girolles, peas, kombu butter sauce - £10 (Chateau Saint-Romans Bordeaux, France)
Cod loin, mussels, squash, leeks, sea vegetables, bacon dashi butter sauce - £24 (Riesling Trocken, Kreuznacher, Finkenauer, Germany)
Beef featherblade, smoked potato gratin, beef fat carrot, lovage emulsion, ale onions - £26 (Primitivo Riserva ‘Anniversario 62’ San Marzano, Italy)
Pie of the day, hand cut chips, creamed hispi cabbage - £20 (Shibden Ale, Moorhouse’s Brewery)
Chocolate delice, peanut, salted caramel - £10 (‘Elysium’ Black Muscat, Quady, USA)
Sticky toffee pudding, toffee sauce, vanilla ice cream - £9 (Tawny Port, Portugal)
Pumpkin mousse, candied carrot, yogurt sorbet, walnut, meringue - £9 (Chateau Suduiraut, Castelnau de Suduiraut, Sauternes, France)
Cutlery and glasses are hand-polished and uniforms must be smart and professional. Every detail counts and customers respect this nod to old-school manners. We have a reputation to uphold and I work front of house myself to be an example of how I like things done and to keep an eye on proceedings. We need to excel front of house to do justice to the food coming from our kitchen.
Our chef, Will Webster, is amazingly talented and we are lucky he has been with us six years now. He is not only creative and passionate about his food but great at many of the unsung aspects of the job. He is also skilled at sourcing, costing and team management. His food has earned us many accolades including entry in the Michelin Guide, winners of the Best Food Pub in the Great British Pub Awards and we are proud to be currently number 14 in the Top 50 Gastropubs list.
We offer an a la carte menu and a popular seven-course taster menu with wine flight. It still amazes me how many people treat themselves – even on a weekday.
We have had an exceptionally busy few years, for which I am truly grateful given the hardships this trade has to deal with. We used to organise events and host weddings but the weekends are so busy we really just focus on what we are known for, great food and service.
Functions and large tables hold up service and make it harder for our ambitious kitchen to maintain the standards they set for themselves. We made the decision to back their ambition to gain a third AA Rosette so we limit bookings to tables of 10 and put all our efforts into impressing a very discerning customer base.
This place is a money pit and investment is constant. We made a massive investment in the garden this summer. We created a large Yorkshire stone-paved patio, built and equipped a new improved outdoor kitchen and installed large commercial umbrellas and glass screens to create an all-weather outside dining space.
The list of projects is never ending – new hotel bathrooms are under way, new signage on order and plans are afoot for an improved hotel reception.
Our priority is probably investment in the kitchen because we focus on our food here and keeping the kitchen efficient and happy is very important to us.
Onwards and upwards really. Plans for the future? We’ll we just keep hoping to get better and better at what we do.
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