The Black Bull, Sedbergh, Cumbria

The Black Bull At first sight, the white-wash and black timbers of The Black Bull on Sedbergh’s narrow, almost medieval Main Street, seems to promise ale, steak pie and horse brasses. After all, they measure social distancing in sheep lengths round these hilly parts.

Yet, the Black Bull, set against the brooding backdrop of Howgill Fell, described by Dales cartographer Wainwright as a herd of sleeping elephants, has become a foodies’ destination. Pre-pandemic, National Geographic’s judges decreed that the Black Bull was the runner-up in their Gourmet Getaway category. Only The Bless Hotel, in distant Madrid, scored higher.

Nowadays, you are quite likely to have a food critic on the next table rhapsodising over the shorthorn beef sirloin with Hokkaido squash or taking on a 31-ounce tomahawk steak. Yuzu and shimeji mushrooms contributing up to duck and venison dishes prompts purple prose.

The fact that it is all unpretentious and understated – local farmers still drop by for a pint or three – is part of the appeal. Chef Nina is an up-early, hard-working nose-to tail chef, making the most of every part of an animal.

The Black Bull hosts James Ratcliffe and Nina Matsunaga So how did what was once a rather dowdy pub – and I know as I stayed there two decades ago – end-up with Japanese kokedama moss-rooted plants on the restaurant tables, a German themed wine-list, wasabi vodka behind the bar and deep Japanese style Thinking Baths in its 18 bedrooms?

Nina Matsunaga, born in Düsseldorf of Japanese parents, met James Ratcliffe, born in Cumbria, and after honing their skills on the Manchester street-food scene decided to settle in Sedbergh, taking on the project of the rambling but weary Black Bull.

Their renovation with hyper local sourcing buys into every grass tuft and rock environment of the surrounding Yorkshire Dales. Every room, as well as the public areas, have prints from local photographer Rob Whitrow, capturing the rapid mood swings of the surrounding dramatic fells and valleys.The Black Bull Blankets on the beds are from Laura’s Looms and the hints of fresh leather lemony toiletries are provided by the Sedbergh Soap Company. And of course, the chunky chocolate chip cookies on the tea tray are home-made, whilst the cups are thrown by a very local potter.

Even before Nina and James’ arrival, Sedbergh, a popular stop-off on the Ilkley to Windermere Dales Way, was busy. As well as the hikers and bikers, it is England’s Book Town, the massive Westwood books moved there. Hopefully, when Covid-19 subsides, the Sedbergh Book Town Festival will return. Sedbergh Even the old stone bus shelter is now an informal “book shelter” library. Sedbergh is the sort of place where you would expect J.R. Hartley to be searching for an elusive copy of his “Fly-Fishing” book.

The Black Bull’s rooms are a haven for those in Sedbergh on a quest for birdwatching, books, dark-skies, walking or simply enjoying the Yorkshire Dales National Park. With their clean lines and Zen-simple aesthetic, the rooms favour neutral colours save for the occasional matt-black feature wall.

There are Zen vibes to the restaurant too. A rock garden, inevitably featuring edible ingredients including alpine strawberries and mint, forms the base for vast windows bringing bright light to the interior.

The Black Bull For most diners it’s effectively a four-course menu as it’s hard to resist “Nibbles”. These might include crispy Thai spiced cauliflower with a creme fraiche dip or crispy Hereford short rib beef with an amiably gentle garlic mayo.

One starter that epitomises Nina’s original approach is roasted rabbit and cockles: both complemented by sweet, crispy cicely. A light and original surf n’ turf fish.

The Black Bull Though it’s the Asian twists that provide the surprises. So, on the seemingly traditional Mansergh Hall pork loin, a serving of kimchi – spicy fermented vegetables – is captured in a charred lettuce leave.

When the guest check-out, they frequently head across the road, to the Three Hares. It’s a cafe / deli also owned by Nina and James. They return with bags full of jars of Nina’s kimchi and pickled walnut ketchup, plus a few of the lesser-known Austrian and German wines they have discovered. Really daring guests take home a bottle of the wasabi vodka.

The Black Bull

91 people found this helpful

Share Article:

Michael Edwards

Travel writer

Leave a comment


Sign up to our newsletter to receive the latest travel tips on top destinations.

Join the club

Become a member to receive exclusive benefits

Our community is the heart of Silver Travel Advisor, we love nothing more than sharing ideas, inspiration, hints and tips between us.

Most Recent Articles

Geoff Moore joined events across the island to celebrate Liberation Day, one of the most important dates in Guernsey’s calendar…
The Royal Shakespeare Company offers far more than just live theatre as Gillian Thornton found out on a visit to…

Come feel the love on a Princess cruise. You’ll enjoy the MedallionClass experience others simply can’t, and it’s exclusively for everyone. Visit incredible destinations and be involved in the best experiences around each one of them.

Experience more with Princess and connect effortlessly with the world around you, spend time away with loved ones, take a moment for yourself, and fall in love with your holiday of a lifetime, every time.

With over 20 years of experience, Wendy Wu Tours has mastered the art of creating exceptional, fully inclusive tours which showcase the very best of each destination.

Each tour is led by a world-class guide, who will highlight the very best of their homeland, and includes authentic cultural experiences so you are not just seeing the sights, but truly immersing yourself in local life.

Say hello to ease at sea. Ambassador’s purpose is simple: they want to inspire every guest to experience authentic cruising, effortlessly and sustainably. Passionate about protecting our oceans and destinations, their ships comply with the highest industry emission standards and there is no single-use plastic on board.

On your voyage, you will receive the warmest of welcomes from the Ambassador community as you sail upon the friendliest ships afloat.

This is a global co-operative co-owned by local partners using real local experts and guides, which supports local communities, environments and wildlife. It offers travellers quirky places to stay, activity holidays and learning experiences. Not In The Guidebooks gets travellers off the beaten track into local culture with day experiences and longer, immersive adventures.

From wild wellness breaks in Wales to painting in Portugal, sustainable adventures in Mauritius to food safaris in Brazil, this is immersive, exciting travel.

Seabourn’s five intimate ships carry guests to the heart of great cities, exclusive yacht harbours and secluded coves around the world, while two new purpose-built expedition ships will combine exhilarating adventures in remote destinations with the sophisticated amenities of the world’s finest resorts at sea.

From the luxury of all suite accommodations to complimentary fine wines and spirits, and a no tipping policy, Seabourn exemplifies the definition of travelling well.