THE Black Bull is back! The pub at Moulton, a mile or so off the A1 at Scotch Corner, has for decades been one of the leading kitchens in the North-East and now it has reopened as a takeaway.

The Bull was just a one room inn in 1963 when it was bought by George and Audrey Pagendam, but in 1966, it became one of the region’s first entries in the Good Food Guide as Audrey claimed she became the first person to bring the avocado north of the Watford Gap.

It was, said one critic, "a pioneer of gastronomic excellence in the North-East as surely as George Stephenson led the railway revolution".

Indeed, one of its prime attractions, beyond its fish dishes, was a 1930s Pullman railway carriage which, although fabulously atmospheric, was an awful place in which to dine: cold in winter with low springy seats fixed to the floor so they couldn’t be dragged near the table.

The Pagendams sold the Bull in 2006, and it slumped into administration in 2013 with Hazel, the Pullman carriage, being carted off to pay off some debts. The pub was bought by Provenance Inns who thoroughly, almost unrecognisably, modernised it but maintained its top end gastronomic reputation.

So, in its long history, when in early January it opened as Friday and Saturday night takeaway and a Sunday lunchtime “heat @ home” venue, this was just another step on its evolutionary road. But would it still be a cut above?

The menu offers four starters, priced at up to £9, and eight mains, at up to £16 for pan seared Seabream – so the prices, for a takeaway, are still a cut above. However, a first order receives a welcome 15 per cent discount.

We ordered easily through pub’s website and later received a reassuring email to say all was well.

To collect, we splashed through the flooded lanes which were floodlit by a huge creamy-orange full moon that had become snaggled in the bare winter branches of the trees, and arrived on time. The pandemic has reduced pubs to such a sad sight: once a roaring fire and cheery Irish Jim welcomed you to the Black Bull; now the restaurant is in darkness, barricaded off from the pick-up point, and we were greeted by a hand sanitiser station.

Yet there was excitement in the bar, the lady behind us in the queue bubbling over with the joys of not having to cook and of having fine dining back on the menu.

Pick-up was prompt, and we were home within 15 minutes, the moon having escaped from the trees in its inexorable rise into the dark skies.

But can you fine dine at home, eating out of tinfoil trays with the blooming Masked Singer on the telly and, in our case, bare and splintery floorboards beneath our feet because the sanderman hasn’t been able to complete the redecoration due to the Covid restrictions?

I started with Pressed Yorkshire Ham Terrine (£7.50, before discount) which came with pickled vegetables and piccalilli. It was nice and meaty, packed with green peppercorns, and plenty of pickly bits. I thought it needed to be served on a toast or a cracker, so I went to the kitchen to get some.

Pressed Yorkshire Ham Terrine as a starter: plenty of pickles, but probably needed a toast of some sort

Pressed Yorkshire Ham Terrine as a starter: plenty of pickles, but probably needed a toast of some sort

For main, I had ordered Braised Feather Blade of Aged Beef (£15). The meat was superb, falling into fibres with the slightest touch of the fork. It sat on a bed of creamy mash and came with two excellent chestnut dumplings with soft middles that added a herbiness to the dish.

And, hidden under the mash in the corner of my tinfoil tray, there was a squirt of exquisite red wine sauce. When I found it, its rich and powerful taste was as much of a surprise as when the pink and purple plastic head came off the Blob on The Masked Singer to reveal Sir Lenny Henry crooning away inside. If only there had been more (of the sauce, not The Masked Singer)!

The feather blade of beef: superb, but no sticky red cabbage in the tinfoil tray

The feather blade of beef: superb, but no sticky red cabbage in the tinfoil tray

And if only my sticky red cabbage, as on the menu, had been in the package. The dish needed a handful of vegetables to balance it out, but fortunately Genevieve, our daughter, decided she didn’t need her “seasonal greens” from her Steak and Ale Pie (£15). During the advert break, she spooned them over and, cabbage and leek with a little something through them, they were really good.

Genevieve enjoyed her pie, surrounded with pastry and packed with steak, and served with chips and “proper gravy” – and indeed it was proper.

Theo’s Black Sheep Beer Battered Haddock (£14) was quite a standard fish and chips: nice, white fish, crunchy batter, with garden peas and a slice of lemon. He quickly devoured them and then asked about the side dish of Mac n Cheese (£3.50) which he’d been promised but which hadn’t been put in our bags.

My wife, Petra, had chosen the Lentil and Mushroom Wellington (£13), which was a tasty vegetarian option served with a butternut squash puree, a few roast potatoes and lifted by a pot of homemade tomato sauce.

The Lentil and Mushroom Wellington takeaway from the Black Bull at Moulton

The Lentil and Mushroom Wellington takeaway from the Black Bull at Moulton

Desserts are £6.50 each, and by the time we reached them, they needed a blast in the microwave, even though they had been sitting on our hot plate.

In the comfort of our own home, Theo and I were able to share two desserts. We started with a very good sticky toffee pudding, which came with a lovely Vanilla Custard.

Then we moved onto the Chocolate and Orange Panna Cotta. It was perhaps more of a thick ganache than a creamy panna cotta but it was strikingly superb. The intense, almost cloying, flavours of chocolate and orange were cut through by a dollop of light clementine curd on top, and there was a sprinkling of cookie crumb which added a crispness and a saltiness. Overall, it was absolutely great.

By comparison, Genevieve’s Mulled Winter Berry and Almond Tart was just a pleasant frangipane – you couldn’t really tell what was in the fruity layer at the bottom. The menu said it came with Amaretto Custard, the nuttiness of which could have complemented it nicely, but there wasn’t any in our bags, so perhaps we were all meant to share the large pot of Vanilla Custard.

Petra finished her meal with “three fine Yorkshire cheeses”. At £9, this cheeseboard wasn’t cheap, but there were loads of crackers, a quarter of sliced pear, grapes, chutney and some really good cheese: something like a mature Wensleydale, a really ripe and creamy Brie and a delicate blue.

The bill for four of us came to £96.50 but our first time discount brought it down to £82.50. It was a thin slice above other takeaways, and if the niggles of missing vegetables and sides, and the conundrum of the custard, were to be resolved, the Black Bull would again be a big cut above.

The Black Bull, Moulton, Richmond DL10 6QJ


Phone: 01325 377556

Open for collection Friday and Saturday, 5pm to 8pm; Sunday roast dinners come cooked and have instructions for how to reheat at home (they must be ordered before 5pm on Saturday)

Ratings (out of ten):

Covid security: 9

Food quality: 8

Value for money: 7