Lancashire’s most exciting restaurants on surviving the pandemic and waiting for the buzz

We’ve got it good in Lancashire. Everyone knows it. Some of the greatest restaurants in the country are right here, and we’ve got some of the best food producers in the world on our doorstep too. It makes sense; our local artisanal cheeses couldn’t be made without our verdant grassy fields, and our fresh, seasonal vegetables couldn’t be grown without our unique climate. Yes, it rains a bit in Lancashire, but our food is all the better for it. And with great produce comes excellent dining.

2020 was a difficult year for the hospitality industry, and our local, independent restaurants felt the effects severely, with some sadly closing for good. Now that we’re looking forward to a summer where we may actually be able to open restaurants and bars, sit at tables other than our own and be served delicious food we didn’t cook ourselves, where would we like to go? What experiences do we most crave? After over a year of restrictions, how can we possibly choose?

I’d like to thank the wonderful lasses of Preston Beer Girls for helping me to compile this list of brilliant Lancashire restaurants that more than deserve bums on seats when their doors open again.

La Locanda, Gisburn

La Locanda has topped “best restaurant” lists for years. It’s won awards. It’s been known as the best Italian restaurant in the country, and it’s in the Michelin Guide. But to local guests who visit regularly, what’s more important is Cinzia and Maurizio Bocci’s heartfelt welcome, and the beautifully prepared dishes of authentic Italian cuisine.

Open for 15 years and still going strong, the pair can’t wait to reopen. “We’re waiting to greet our customers with a big hug,” says Cinzia.

The pair have spent the months of lockdown refreshing the restaurant’s décor, and over Christmas they launched La Locanda’s take-away service, bringing delight in the form of Aberdeen Angus carpaccio, Maurizio’s dreamy handmade pasta ravioli and slow cooked red deer stufato to homes all around the Ribble Valley.

“Things seemed like they were changing over Christmas, like everything might start opening again, so when it didn’t happen we thought it was a nice occasion to start doing take-away food that makes people feel special.”



Food at La Locanda

“We have people coming every Saturday for the takeaway, and that’s brilliant you know. It makes us feel so positive for the future.”

“We had a really big response from our customers, all the period of lockdown customers have been so supportive, they bring art, letters, they call us to see how we are.”

The pair are looking forward to being able to eat out too, but perhaps a little differently.

“We just want to sit on a bench together and enjoy a picnic in the sunshine in a beautiful place. After such a long time where you can’t go anywhere you just want to enjoy the little things that make you happy.”

La Locanda will reopen on May 18 2021.

Sakura Valley, Leyland

Chef and owner of Sakura Valley in Leyland, Lida Wang, is truly passionate about creating beautiful Japanese food made with super-fresh ingredients — often it’s better to order your meal well in advance, so she can buy the ingredients on the day you visit. Her tiny restaurant buzzes with happy, delighted people, making the sort of noises only great food can illicit.

Perfect sushi, crisp tempura vegetables, soft, aromatic gyoza, tangy, tart dipping sauces, spicy noodles….It’s exactly the sort of place I’ve been dreaming about going back to. A meal like a holiday; food so good it’s a temporary departure from real life. Take me there. Now

“I’ve missed the people, definitely,” says Lida. “We’re slightly different to other restaurants, we try to create a personal service, and make it as comfortable and enjoyable for you as possible!”

Leyland locals have gotten well behind Sakura Valley’s take-away service over lockdown, and Lida has been selling out regularly.

“It’s just me at the moment, so I’m very happy that people have been so supportive — and understanding when I’ve had too many orders!”

Once Sakura Valley opens again, I wondered if there are plans to expand to fit in more people. Lida doesn’t think so.

“We just want to serve people better and bring more healthy food and happiness to the local people who have supported us for the past four years. If you want to ensure the quality of the food, better service, I think you do that by staying small.”

And where has Lida been dreaming of going out to?

“I can’t wait to meet friends and enjoy the atmosphere at the pub!”

Breda Murphy, Whalley

Breda Murphy is a Ribble Valley institution, it’s fair to say. Run by chef Breda Murphy, of course, it’s a welcoming, comfortable restaurant that feels as though everything was created especially for you. That personal touch, and Breda’s focus on food that nourishes the body and soul, is what her regulars and fans love. And her immensely delicious fish pie. It’s addictive.

“What I’m most looking forward to is welcoming our customers back,” Breda says. “They’ve become friends over the years. And I want to see the enjoyment on their faces. It’s soul-destroying to see the empty restaurant, so to see it fresh, hear the clinking of glasses, the clatter of the plates, to enjoy the buzz — that’s what we need, what we want: to provide it.”

The restaurant started their Breda Murphy Pantry takeaway service from St Patricks day 2020, delivering meals locally to vulnerable and shielding people. Since then popularity has soared, and Breda launched her new website in March 2021 to begin serving takeaway meals nationally.

“There were so many customers terrified at the time, so we were doing everyday nourishing food to enjoy and a little bit of satisfaction.”

“The takeaway was a way of us surviving, and it’s also been a way of helping people who were less fortunate than us.”

As for where Breda Murphy herself wants to eat when she gets the chance?

“I’ve actually booked the Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore for when we can go back to Ireland to see our family. It’s a wonderful place, with wonderful seafood.”

The Quarterhouse, Lancaster

Run by chefs Alan Hempton and James Cocker, The Quarterhouse opened in November 2019, but thanks to the pandemic, they’ve only managed to open for about half that time.

Which is a huge shame, because their takes on modern British dishes are some of the most delicious and exciting in Lancashire — and they’re plated up like works of art too. Their small plates in particular are a joy: king scallops served with a tequila and lime jam, wood pigeon served with a blackberry ketchup, they’ve even put parched peas on the menu (but not like you’ve ever had them before.)

“Obviously we’ve had to close the restaurant over the pandemic,” says Alan, “but since things eased off we’ve been doing Quarterhouse at home meals and it’s been massive.”

The pair operated The Quarterhouse as a deli over Christmas, and they plan to open it again on the 14th April, selling picnic boxes, brunch and coffee.

“We can’t wait to get a buzz in the restaurant downstairs again,” he says, echoing the sentiments of restaurateurs everywhere. “Welcoming people in and feeding them.”

Over the months they’ve had to close, the pair have made a few changes to the menu.

“A seafood dish we had on the Quarterhouse At Home menu, The Seafood Celebration: whole lobster, dressed crab, crevettes, smoked prawns, smoked salmon, peppered mackerel, smoked mackerel, oysters and potted shrimps, was hugely popular, so we’re putting a lot more seafood on our full menu, definitely.”

“Some people do still feel safer at home though, so we’ll carry on offering our at home boxes even after we’ve opened up again.”

When he can get out to restaurants again, Alan says he’s looking forward to revisiting some of his favourites.

“The Freemasons at Wiswell and The Cartford Inn are always great. But it’d be nice to get out of the local area and try some new places too — and I really want to visit Moor Hall.”

Tom’s Table, Clitheroe

If there’s a Michelin Star for overcoming adversity and following a dream, give it to Tom Drinkall, the chef and owner of Tom’s Table.

Getting the keys for their beautifully quirky venue in January 2020, Tom and his team opened with a rush of excitement — only to have the pandemic close his doors three months later.

“Because of when we opened, we weren’t eligible for the first furlough scheme,” Tom says. “In total, because of all sorts of issues outside of our control, we only opened for two and a half weeks. But we were full every night. We had some people coming back four times in that two weeks!”

Tom says that one of the most difficult things about lockdown was trying to build a reputation while also being closed to the public.

“I’m local but we don’t have a reputation, we’re too new,” he says. “We just had to try offering Tom’s Table Bistro To Go and see what happened. Our customers have taken a gamble, but we’re so glad they did. It gave us the confidence we needed. At the start, we were winded, but that investment in take-aways has been really worth it, and really, it’s kept us relevant.”

“The takeaway is a taste of what we can do. We make everything fresh in house from the bread to the sorbets and ice cream, get all our veg from Clitheroe market, and our fish from Wellgate, the local fishmongers.”

To Tom, opening a restaurant in Clitheroe is a dream come true. His perseverance (stubbornness? No, perseverance) to keep the faith means that come May, he’ll be opening his ideal place in the centre of town, serving food he’s deeply proud of.

“I grew up on a farm just outside of Clitheroe and I’ve come home to do this after travelling the world.”



Food at Tom’s Table, Clitheroe

“Working with local suppliers and farmers is really important to me — we spent lockdown making those connections. I’m not an award-chaser, I just want to run a good local bistro. Bums on seats, everyone enjoying it. Be the best we can be.”

When Tom’s Table reopens on the 19th May, Tom and the team will be launching afternoon teas, inspired by French patisserie thanks to Tom’s passion for pastry learned during his time as a pastry chef.

“There’ll also be a lunch menu, and in the evening there’ll be more of a bistro menu. Guests are already booking up Saturdays in advance. We can’t wait to see everyone!”

And where does Tom fancy going if he ever gets an evening free?

“I really want to go to the Parker’s Arms, and Moor Hall. Definitely. Before the pandemic we went to L’Enclume for my birthday right before it all kicked off, which means Simon Rogan’s was the last hand I shook before the pandemic hit. How mad is that?”

Paluca, Preston

We all have our favourite pizza places, but if you’ve never been to Paluca, prepare to do some lead-table shuffling. A family-run slice (sorry, couldn’t help it) of pure Mediterranean lust for life, here you’ll find some of the crispest crusts, alongside Balkan grill kebabs, classic, freshly-prepared mezze sides and crepes. Because why not?

“After the first lockdown ended it was really amazing because the customers really came to support us,” says Tonin Paluca, owner and chef. “I get messages from regular customers saying they can’t wait for us to open again, it’s really, really nice.”

Originally resistant to diversify the restaurant and offer takeaways during the lockdown, Tonin has found a local delivery service and plans to start offering Paluca takeaway from the 17th May.

“It’s hard to do the takeaway because you have to have more staff and keeping consistency high is harder when you’re not serving inside the restaurant and that’s why we’ve hesitated before. I’m actually looking forward to using a new local service though.”

Over lockdown, Paluca has been given a serious makeover, moving the kitchen and extending it, and refreshing the restaurant’s décor.

“I’m really looking forward to opening back up. This is a family business, and our customers are like house guests — like friends. We know their life story, they know ours.”

“Just to meet people you haven’t seen for nearly 6 months. Back to normal life. I live five minutes away from my place, and often I see my customers on the walk and they say hello and how they’re looking forward to coming back. It’s going to be really good to have them back.”

“When we get a chance, I’m looking forward to visiting Plau for a meal. Jeremy and Rebecca have made such a wonderful place there.”

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