Special wine is for special occasions; and the same is true of dining out. So, it was with no small measure of joy that on the proverbial dark and stormy night, in search of epicurean delight that didn’t require an advance visit to the bank for a mortgage, my curious finger flipped its way through the Michelin Red Guide to alight on Ribchester and Angel’s Restaurant, not far from my Lancashire home.
‘Smartly converted roadside pub with a cocktail bar and comfy lounge setting’, is what the guide said. ‘Two formally dressed dining rooms’ in which executive head chef Simon Eastham serves ‘classic dishes with a modern edge’.
The especial delight of Angel’s Restaurant, a place that offers city-centre chic in the heart of the fecund Ribble valley, is its employment of local produce, supporting farmers and suppliers from the valley. And like all great restaurants, menus vary as the seasons change, so every visit is something of a revelation. The underlying philosophy of Angel’s Restaurant is to create a dining experience based on excellent food, luxurious setting and a relaxed but professional service which is welcoming, friendly and inclusive.
Moreover, chef Simon, 48, aspires to delivering high quality menus on point with modern food trends, while staying true to his Lancashire roots and yet mixing things up by offering tastes from around the world. He is inspired by his extensive travels and likes to bring influences into his dishes from places as far afield as the USA and Malaysia. Those roots, however, are firmly set in Lancashire’s Blackburn where Simon trained as a chef, and later worked at the Red House in Blackburn and Solo Restaurant in Goosnargh before setting up Angel’s Restaurant eight years ago and later being joined by his wife, Claire, who now runs front of house, and always has a welcoming smile, while their son works alongside Simon in the kitchen – a true family business.
Our first visit really did coincide with a dark and stormy night, but once within the glitzy reception, kir in hand, gastronomic expectancy took over, and that same sense of anticipation greets us each time we return. The dining rooms are cosy, bathed in mellow light, with non-intrusive background music (pianist on Friday evenings), and the staff smiling, attentive and friendly, although that’s possibly as much due to the sociable ethos of Lancashire folk as it is with Angel’s intentions.
My wife has a thing about goats’ cheese, so baked mushroom and goats’ cheese, red onion confit, rocket pesto and pancetta was a given, in much the same way that I opt for scallops – if a chef can’t cook scallops, he can’t cook. At Angel’s they come caramelised, with crispy ham and crushed peas, and slip down with an ease that is both soothing and aromatic.
The main course took a few minutes of deliberation. There isn’t a restaurant in Lancashire worth its salt that doesn’t find venison a worthwhile addition to its repertoire, and with pommes boulangère, celeriac purée and tangy red cabbage chutney it’s like paying homage to the wee Forest of Bowland beastie. But there is ox cheek in stout, too, roast guinea fowl, beef fillet with blue cheese sauce, brill and halibut to have you wringing your hands in indecision.
When it comes to dessert my wife has a thing about chocolate. So, faced with a choice between a warm chocolate brownie with liquorice and blackcurrant ice cream, or chocolate parfait, honeycomb granola and hazelnut ice cream it was a while before I tasted the star anise and orange brioche pudding served with pistachios and frozen custard, all of which, I was assured, was completely calorie free. In fact, my waitress explained that if I opened the pudding gently with my spoon, it allowed all the calories to escape before I tucked in. I hadn’t realised that!
Lancashire may not be everyone’s first choice of location for a fine dining experience, but overlooking this green and lush county would be a culinary mistake for which your stomach would never forgive you. It is all the more pleasurable to find restaurants like Angel’s tucked into the bosomy folds of undulating rural Lancashire, especially when you realise that there are few restaurants in the great cities of Manchester or Liverpool that could rival Angel’s…but then, Manchester and Liverpool are no longer part of Lancashire.
Mid-way between Ribchester and Longridge, Angel’s Restaurant is worth putting PR3 3ZA in your SatNav for, because like wines and occasions, Angel’s, too, is something special.
Tell me more about Angel’s Restaurant.
Angel’s Restaurant, Fleet Street Lane, Ribchester, Preston, Lancashire PR3 3ZA.
Tel: 01254 820212;
· Open for dinner only, Tuesday to Sunday, 6.30pm–8.30pm, plus Sunday lunch, noon–2.30pm. Closed Monday.
· 4-course menu £37.50 per person.
· 3-course Sunday lunch £24.90 per person.
· Mid-week dinner menu (available Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday): 1 course £14.50; 2 courses £19.90; 3 courses £22.90.
· Vegetarian and vegan options are available on prior request.