2016 Lancashire Life Food and Drink Awards, Mercure Blackburn Dunkenhalgh Hotel

Lancashire Life Restaurant of the Year winner was Nutters Restaurant, Rochdale.

Lancashire Life Restaurant of the Year winner was Nutters Restaurant, Rochdale. - Credit: Archant

The county’s culinary elite – and television cameras – descended on the Mercure Blackburn Dunkenhalgh Hotel for the prestigious Lancashire Life Food and Drink Awards. Emma Mayoh reports.

2016 Lancashire Life Food and Drink Awards sponsors

2016 Lancashire Life Food and Drink Awards sponsors - Credit: Archant

It’s been an incredible nine months for Kevin Tickle. Since he opened the doors of the now acclaimed The Forest Side in Grasmere, the 33-year-old, has been receiving accolade after accolade including the ultimate – a Michelin star.

But it still came as a surprise to the talented chef when the establishment received the Lake District Dining Hotel of the Year award and he was named Chef of the Year.

‘I never expected this,’ he said. ‘I never would have even considered it. To have an award for the Forest Side team and for me is just out of this world.

‘I just can’t believe what has happened since we opened. I can’t find the words. I’m very pleased.’

Lake District Dining Hotel Restaurant of the Year was The Forest Side Hotel and Restaurant, Grasmere

Lake District Dining Hotel Restaurant of the Year was The Forest Side Hotel and Restaurant, Grasmere. Photographed here is Andrew Bellamy of Lancashire Life with Rob McGill, Kevin Tickle and Jack Seidler - Credit: Archant

Dubbed as king of the foragers, the father-of-one has worked at some of Cumbria’s most prestigious restaurants including Sharrow Bay and Simon Rogan’s renowned L’Enclume in Cartmel. But the promise of being able to build his own kitchen lured him away to the new Grasmere hotel.

Kevin is a man passionate about provenance and Cumbria – an ethos at the very heart of Forest Side. He’s a great champion of regional food and his unique take on ingredients and their outstanding preparation have produced rave reviews.

In a short space of time they have taken the establishment from near dereliction to one of the rising stars of the hospitality industry.

It was a big night for Wildsmith Hotels, owners of Forest Side. The Restaurant at Hipping Hall, another of the group’s hotels near Kirkby Lonsdale, received the Hotel Restaurant of the Year award.

Head chef Oli Martin started his career as a pot washer but he is now a master of his craft conjuring up sumptuous dishes served in dramatic surroundings.

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‘We’re surprised, this is really incredible,’ said Violaine Giacolettto, restaurant manager. ‘It’s exciting for us because it shows that we are really progressing, getting better every day. We have a really good team and this just proves it. We’re thrilled.’

The smiles and success for Wildsmith Hotels – and the rest of our winners – were caught on camera as documentary film makers were shadowing Kevin for an upcoming ITV series celebrating Cumbrian food, set to be aired in 2017.

There was also plenty of reason for the team from Gilpin Hotel and Lake House to celebrate. This family run hotel restaurant, which received the Lake District Dining Excellence Award, has always been top class with a great eye for detail with the Cunliffe family at the helm. But the addition of their new chef, Hrishikesh Desai, recruited via a reality TV competition, proved to be the tipping point which led to a thoroughly deserved Michelin star awarded earlier this year.

Their busy year is not set to get any calmer as a new restaurant, Gilpin Spice, also at the Windermere hotel, was due to launch at the time of going to press.

‘We are very happy, incredibly pleased, it’s terrific’ said Barney Cunliffe. ‘We’ve had the Michelin success and now this. This is a tremendous tribute to Hrishikesh and the work he has done.

‘But he will also see this as an award for the fabulous team he has, he wants them to succeed together.’’

The Lancashire Life Food & Drink Awards is an evening that reveals the county’s shining stars and celebrates the finest hotels, dining pubs, restaurants, food producers and chefs. The celebrations could be heard around the Pendle Suits at the Mercure Blackburn Dunkenhalgh Hotel and Spa at the prestigious annual event, a landmark of the north west’s culinary calendar.

Venues were nominated by our readers while the shortlist and winners were chosen by a panel of independent judges comprising Lancashire Life editor Roger Borrell, Trevor Stone, who headed the AstraZeneca catering operation, dedicated chef and lecturer Nick Hatch and Emma Mayoh, who edits the magazine’s food and drink coverage.

Other winners included Dining Pub of the Year, the White Swan in Fence, which has been lauded by top food critics as well as receiving a Bib Gourmand from Michelin with the help of young chef, Tom Parker. Huntley’s Country Stores in Samlesbury was awarded the Independent Retailer of the Year Award; Bowland Brewery was named Lancashire Life Drink Producer of the Year; El Gato Negro was named the City Restaurant of the Year accolade and The Garden Kitchen at Holden Clough Nursery was named Lancashire Life Tea Room/Café of the Year

The room erupted with cheers when Nutters Restaurant, a Rochdale institution that has been steered to success by super chef Andrew Nutter, was named Lancashire Life Restaurant of the Year. Some of our local food producers were celebrated too including Ian and Emma Reilly who work tirelessly at Gazegill Organics in Rimington.

‘This is amazing, really exciting,’ said Ian. ‘For ten years, we have worked extremely hard. We never leave the farm, we’re always working. We were happy to just have a night out, but this, this means everything.’

One of the biggest cheers of the evening went to Tarleton producer Peter Ascroft, who has been working the land at Worthington’s Farm since he was 11. He could easily qualify as Lancashire’s cauliflower king.

He’s a modest man passionate about his business. The Lancashire Life Food Hero of the Year accolade was awarded to him for his dedication and passion to growing cauliflowers and golden beetroots – which he has dubbed the Lancashire Pineapple. He has supplied Booths for 20 years and top restaurants across the country, including Michelin starred Northcote, serve his produce on their menus.

‘I have never won anything before in my life,’ he said. ‘Not since I first started on the farm at 11. I’m just so overwhelmed, so happy. I feel very proud.’

All of the winners were presented with coveted Lancashire Life Food and Drink Award plaques to display as well as celebratory prosecco. More than £1,300 was also raised for Hospitality Action, a charity that offers a crucial lifeline to people of all ages, working and retired, from the hospitality industry.

2016 Lancashire Life Food and Drink Awards - the winners revealed

What the judges said

The White Swan, Fence

The food here is packed with wit and inventiveness, seasonal and local, beautiful to look at and quite brilliant to taste. The menu is short but the quality is long. This is pub food like no other and it’s a great testament to a kitchen team full of flair and a front of house staff who really seem to enjoy being there as much as their customers.

Gazegill Organics, Rimington

This family has been custodians of the land they farm for more than 500 years. Their remarkable dedication to maintaining a rich, diverse and healthy eco-system, their low input, low impact approach, their devotion to indigenous breeds, and their educational programme involving more than 250 schools a year makes them an exceptional farming family. In short, they put in much more than they ever take out.

Bowland Brewery, Clitheroe

This business started small but it immediately struck a chord with beer lovers. A barrel-load of awards followed and what started as one man’s dream grew from a micro-brewery into a business serving hostelries across the county. It is now occupying a prime spot in a remarkable renovation project in one of Lancashire’s iconic old mills ensuring its audience will grow ever bigger.

Huntley’s Country Stores

This winning business rose from the ashes of the Foot and Mouth disaster of 2001 when one farmer decided diversification was the only way to survive. Now in the ownership of another farming family, this retailer has a towering reputation for quality meat and expert butchery, a bakery and deli specialising in locally sourced produce and a restaurant packed with people from far and wide.

The Garden Kitchen, Holden Clough

Despite its remote setting this establishment attracts lovers of afternoon tea from many miles around. This was another close call in an extremely competitive shortlist but the location, the exceptionally friendly service and the novel props make this tea with a real sense of drama.

What we ate

To start

Casterbridge fillet of beef carpaccio, celeriac and mustard remoulade and micro salad

Served with Casas del Toqui Reserva Chardonnay from Robinsons Wine

To continue

Loin of lamb with a mousse of chicken and tarragon, Dauphinoise potato, roasted roots, Tenderstem broccoli and jus

Served with Casas del Toqui Cabernet Sauvignon from Robinsons Wine

To finish

White chocolate and vanilla panacotta, raspberry crisp, forest berry jelly served with Mrs Dowson’s blackcurrant and liquorice ice cream

The big cheeses

A taste of Butlers Farmhouse Cheeses served with biscuits and chutney. Served were Trotter Hill Mature Farmhouse Lancashire, Blacksticks Blue and Button Mill

Tea and coffee was served with chocolates from Whitakers