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In her official biography, the Queen named the Ribble Valley as the place she’d like to retire to. Less royal but no less starry, Olympic hero Sir Bradley Wiggins regularly cycles through the lush, rolling Lune Valley landscape, claiming it’s his favourite training ground.
So the great and the good are drawn to the glorious and often unsung delights of rural Lancashire, and there’s terrific food to match. From the bling of Blackpool to the stunning Forest of Bowland, Lancashire’s artisan food producers and growers are ensuring that this heritage-rich, unspoilt part of northern England is fast becoming a foodie destination.
Local lad Michael Heathcote earned his stripes abroad before returning to take the reins of this refurbished pub complete with a proper bar, snugs and a swish dining room. The menu is a mix of traditional and innovative ideas ranging from home-cured corned beef fritters to poached haddock tagliolini with broad beans.
It may be housed in a suburban semi, but don’t let that put you off. TV chef Darina Allen’s protégé Breda Murphy sends out fabulous plates of Irish-themed food with the help of head chef Gareth Bevan. Punters in the airy dining room can enjoy anything from roast cod on cauliflower risotto to slow-cooked pork shoulder with rhubarb compote.
Lancashire hero Paul Heathcote is now focusing his efforts on lively, stylish brasserie and brings bags of experience to the table. Cream leather banquettes, white linen and dark wood walls provide the backdrop to a menu full of British and European influences – think braised beef with nettle risotto or pan-fried hake with fennel ratatouille.
Manning the stoves in this stunning 15th-century edifice is Brent Hulena, a twentysomething Kiwi whose bullish approach yields everything from turbot terrine with cucumber and ’smoke’ to Stewart Lambert’s hogget with herb crumb, belly and swede purée. To finish, resist the rhubarb, marshmallow and tonka bean dessert if you can.
Be prepared for a twisty-turny ride through the Trough of Bowland before you reach this stunning 18th-century coaching inn set in lovely grounds. This place has everything you want in a gussied-up country pub for all seasons – flagstone floors, open fires, snoozing dogs and a sophisticated menu which goes big on local game and meat.
This elegant restaurant-with-rooms run by Michelin star-holder Nigel Haworth and wine wizard Craig Bancroft has an inimitable Lancashire accent. Situated in impressive gardens and historic farmland from which most of the restaurant’s produce originates, it is renowned for its robust but original cooking – courtesy of head chef, Lisa Allen.
These days it’s a ‘retail destination’ rather than a ‘working farm’, but don’t lose heart. If you don’t fancy browsing the scented candles and dodgy art, head for The Plate – a light, airy café/bar where you’ll get surprisingly upmarket lunches. A plate of crayfish linguine with lobster bisque will set you up nicely for a spot of retail therapy.
It’s fair to say that owner Chris Johnson has achieved iconic status in the north-west since launching this stylish eatery almost 30 years ago. His love affair with Italian food and wine remains undimmed, and the kitchen produces simple, but jaw-dropping dishes – duck livers with Marsala and cream on toasted brioche is a belter.
The first (and most appealing) of Nigel Haworth’s stable of Ribble Valley Inns, this handsome gastropub in the middle of nowhere draws diners from all over the country. The crowd-pleasing menu plunders local produce for the likes of slow braised rare-breed Saddleback with sticky sauce, champ, pak choy and black pudding fritter.
This charming Grade II-listed former pub has been thoughtfully renovated by chef/owner Matthew Frost and wife Lauren. Monumental stone fireplaces, gleaming oak floors, candles and fresh flowers point up the dining room, while the kitchen delivers carefully cooked and nicely presented comfort food with an international flavour.