Food by Breda Murphy celebrates ten years of fine dining

Martha Forsyth, Anne Wilkinson, Breda Murphy and her sister, Theresa Murphy

Martha Forsyth, Anne Wilkinson, Breda Murphy and her sister, Theresa Murphy - Credit: Archant

Breda Murphy’s love of ‘real’ food helped put Whalley on the culinary map, writes Sine Fleet. Photography by Glynn Ward

Sea food fritters with roast garlic and Chardonnay mayo

Sea food fritters with roast garlic and Chardonnay mayo - Credit: Archant

Over the past decade, the Ribble Valley has become a hotspot for food-lovers and gastronomes as an enclave of top restaurants, dining pubs, cafes, artisan producers and farmers’ markets has steadily taken root. Earning a place among the elite is Food by Breda Murphy, a Whalley restaurant which this year celebrates its tenth anniversary.

With a clutch of impressive awards under its belt, the restaurant has regularly received plaudits for the quality and creativity of its food from The Times to Lancashire Life, which named it Restaurant of the Year.

Owner Breda Murphy-Purves can’t pinpoint when her passion for food began, as it’s something that has been part of her life since childhood. Growing up on her parents’ small farm in Ireland’s County Carlow with four siblings, Breda loved to help her mother - a professional cook - prepare fresh, homemade dishes. Immersed in the culinary world from a young age, Breda learnt more than most about the art of creating great food, and its journey from field to fork.

A career in catering beckoned, and following school Breda took a food and beverage management course, before successfully applying to study at the renowned Ballymaloe Cookery School in Cork. The school teaches both classical and contemporary cooking from all over the world, and her studies there proved to be a life-changing experience for Breda, when the initial 12-week intensive course led to a three-year stint teaching at the school.

Gareth Bevan with his dishes

Gareth Bevan with his dishes - Credit: Archant

Family-run by a famous Irish cooking dynasty, they recognised her talent and offered Breda a position on the day she completed her course. ‘Ballymaloe was a fantastic experience for me,’ says Breda, ‘it’s an amazing course, and incredibly intense, with visiting chefs like Madhur Jaffrey, Marcella Hazan, and Sophie Grigson. Everything possible is grown on its organic farm and it taught me my approach to real, fresh food - growing it, preparing it, cooking it, eating it and enjoying it!’

In 1995 Breda arrived in England to start work in top London kitchens, but within a few months her skills had been spotted by the team at the Inn at Whitewell and she was destined for Lancashire to take up the role of head chef. During her time there, the Inn gained several awards, including Hardens Top UK Restaurant, Les Routier Hotel of the Year, Egon Ronay Pub of the Year, and AA Four Stars.

In 2001 Breda took the plunge and set up her own catering business, also producing preserves for Booths supermarket chain. Needing company branding and an eye-catching logo, a serendipitous visit to local design agency Ginger Pumpkin led her to meet the owner Guy Purves, now her husband.

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Deciding to put down roots in the Ribble Valley, Breda opened her Whalley restaurant in 2006, and with the help of her team has developed several strands to the business. The popular restaurant and cafe is the most visible, but Food by Breda Murphy also has a busy outside catering service for all kinds of functions. There’s a deli selling everything from coffee and cakes to full meals to take home, an order and collection/delivery service, and even a stylish lifestyle shop with design-led homewares, gifts, textiles and foodie treats.

Expanding the business has meant that Breda handed over the cooking to her trusted head chef, Gareth Bevan, and his team of cooks. Looking back on ten years in Whalley, Breda describes the business as something of family affair - her sister Theresa manages the restaurant, and head chef Gareth, along with Anne Wilkinson who heads up outside catering, have worked with Breda for more than 18 years.

‘Gareth has been here from the start and cooks and creates all the menus. He really has his finger on the pulse when it comes to new ideas and clever combinations,’ she says. ‘Creatively, Gareth is much more “out there” than I am, so we have a lovely blend of classic and contemporary I think.’

But it’s not simply the food that leads her customers to become regulars – Breda is known as a warm and effusive host, often seen front-of-house with a genuine welcome and real passion for the best ingredients, local produce, and the ‘real’ food that is all freshly prepared from scratch here.

Breda returns to Ireland ‘at least six times a year,’ but it’s the Ribble Valley that is her young family’s home, and Breda thinks they couldn’t have found a better place to bring up their four children, Sorcha, age nine, Mairead, age seven, and five-year old twins Orlaith and George.

‘For families, the Ribble Valley is great – you have so much at hand and it’s a lovely way of life here. The school’s are excellent, there are so many good places to eat or have a glass of wine, and then you’re just minutes from beautiful walks and scenery around the valley.’

Breda also appreciates the strong sense of community in the area. ‘We’re very lucky to have a lovely, loyal customers who come back time and time again. Many are local, but some of our regulars come from as far as Harrogate!’ she says. Breda and Co are busy with big plans in the pipeline (tantilisingly under wraps for now), as well as special events to celebrate her restaurant’s 10-year anniversary. Reassuringly for food-lovers, Food by Breda Murphy looks set to remain one of the Valley’s epicurean favourites for decades to come.

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