Is Preston about to become a major foodie destination?

Delicious local food on offer at the Lancashire Market

Delicious local food on offer at the Lancashire Market - Credit: Archant

The Lancashire Market returned to Preston this summer. A hotbed of quality, local produce, the event was a hit with thousands who flocked to Friargate in the city centre for a taste of the county.

The Lancashire Market

The Lancashire Market - Credit: Archant

From cheese and pies to delicatessen items and sweet treats, an abundance of market stalls lined the street offering something for all. The market, which takes place three times a year (Easter, summer and Christmas), is the focal point of the city-wide campaign, Love Food Love Preston. Run by Preston’s Business Improvement District (BID), the campaign showcases all of the fantastic eateries available in the city.

BID manager Mark Whittle said: ‘We are in the middle of a major celebration of the food Preston has to offer, both in its restaurants and eateries and from local producers. The campaign and the market gave us a perfect opportunity to shine a light on all the great culinary delights that come out of our city and the county as a whole.’

The Lancashire Market, which launched five years ago, has doubled in size and added more attractions to make it more than just a market. It was coupled with the Dine with the Stars event, which saw Coronation Street’s Kym Marsh and celebrity chefs Aldo Zilli and Ed Baines tour 12 of the city’s restaurants – including Andrea Mellon’s Duk-Pond.

‘We had Kym Marsh dine with us,’ said Andrea, who as well as owning the successful Peruvian tapas restaurant is also a member of BID and the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce. ‘She was fabulous and so friendly, spending time with staff and customers.’

An ellipse visual of the future Winckley Square

An ellipse visual of the future Winckley Square - Credit: Archant

Andrea has been involved with BID since 2006, and sees it as a great way of promoting Preston city centre and what it has to offer. ‘It’s a buzzing, up and coming cosmopolitan city. We have some cracking restaurants here, so to have the BID campaign brings a lot of interest. The Dine with the Stars event enabled different restaurants to work together, for the better, and get people talking.’

Duk-Pond has come a long way from its humble beginnings on Lancaster Road in 2006. Simply starting out as Duk in a deserted cellar, Andrea soon opened her second premises, Pond, on Cannon Road in 2008. The increasingly popular restaurants soon outgrew their venues, so a decision was made to merge the two into the current premises on Cross Street in 2011.

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‘Duk is still there but is now a funky wine bar and deli,’ explained Andrea, who prior to working in the world of hospitality had a career in travel, before being made redundant in 2001. ‘It’s been received really well. There are over 100 wines to choose from, as well as charcuterie and cheese platters. Preston was looking for something like that, another niche in the market like when I brought tapas here.’

It seems like it’s onwards and upwards for businesswoman Andrea, who is hoping to expand into a premises in Chorley by November. ‘I’m thinking maybe a retro café and deli during the day, and then tapas and wine in the evening. I am also developing a range of cooking syrups to launch into retail which is exciting. I could just sit back and do what we do but I want to continue to do different things.’

Someone who knows all about expanding into new horizons is award-winning chef, Paul Heathcote. In a career that has included jobs in Switzerland and Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, Oxford, to achieving Michelin and Egon Ronay stars, the acclaimed Bolton-born chef has now made his home in the Ribble Valley – but his culinary home is in Preston.

Paul has two restaurants around Preston’s Winckley Square, his original Olive Press serving Italian grills, pizza and pasta, and Heathcotes Brasserie, cooking French and British cuisine. The brasseriehas recently undergone renovations to transform it into what Paul hopes will be the premier venue in the north, The Winckley Square Private Dining Room, which was due to open as we went to press.

‘I have been here 20 years, so we’re doing some work developing the brasserie into a larger space for bigger functions, business events and weddings.,’ he said. ‘We are hoping to launch in the middle of September. The Olive Press has been here 15, 16 years. I wouldn’t say no to opening another food establishment but we are doing quite a lot of outside functions and festivals, so I am tending to go into events now.’

The chef has seen a great change in Preston over the years, and believes that the city is a much better place to do business now. ‘It was competing with the likes of Manchester and Liverpool, but it’s coming back. I’ve been involved for a number of years in getting more people involved in foodie events, and I think the Preston Guild 2012 helped kick start some of that.

From the Winckley Square food festival, the Lancashire Food Markets and an eclectic mix of restaurants opening, there’s no question that agents are looking to open other brands here.’

The principle of Altrincham Market is something Paul thinks could work really well in the city, a permanent space that would give the opportunity to demonstrate all that is good in Lancashire. ‘There are very few open air markets that are left that are food orientated. Altrincham is great, so if something could happen here that would be excellent. However investment is needed to support food events and festivals, both commercially and from the council.’

New kids on the block

Until July 2014, Preston Guild Hall was owned by Preston City Council, who were considering its demolition due to its high running costs. However it was then sold to local businessman Simon Rigby, who has since begun a project of transformation on the building to turn it into a premier entertainment hub, after purchasing it for just £1.

‘The overall aim for the building is for it to be an entertainment hub, and part of that is the dining experience,’ said Hannah Slater, marketing manager at the Guild Hall. ‘There are lots of plans to overall make it an end-to-end experience for people, catering for all.’

Their coffee shop, Leaf or Bean, was the first to open, followed by tapas restaurant Mundo in December. ‘We’ve had a really good reception since opening the restaurant,’ continued Hannah. ‘Review, a wine bar will open at the front of the hall this December in what was the old box office. It’s Simon’s aim for it to be the destination for pre and post show drinks, as well as a place where people from Preston and the surrounding areas can enjoy.’

‘A lot of money has been invested back into the building,’ added Radu Soloman, the Guild Hall’s food and beverage manager. ‘The whole year has been exciting and there is more to come.’

An Italian restaurant, The Villa Italia, is also in the early stages of planning to open in the New Year, as well as a host of new places from a dance school, radio station and a nursery.

‘It will be very unique. Hopefully people will like it and come,’ said Hannah. ‘When the regeneration for the exterior of the building is finished it will look fantastic and make a big difference. Ideally this will be in 2016, but we’re waiting for the pedestrianisation of the area so we can coincide this with the council works.’

Winckley Square 2.0

‘Now that the Heritage Lottery Fund has given us this funding, the legal process can begin and we’re aiming to be onsite summer 2016,’ explained Simon Turner, the director and co-founder of the Winckley Square Community Interest Company (WSCIC). The HLF and Big Lottery Fund announced that a bid for almost £950,000 was successful, meaning that the project to breathe new life into Preston’s historic Winckley Square Gardens will certainly go ahead.

The project, which in total has received £1.2 million in funding (including from Preston’s Business Improvement District and smaller grants), will enable a sympathetic restoration of the gardens.

‘It all started in 2011, when five other professionals and I were fearful that the square was in decline,’ explained Simon, who is the managing director at Freshfield, a marketing communications consultancy. ‘There is flooding, no lighting – which is not safe, a lack of seating and poor entrances for those with prams or in a wheelchair. It’s an important heritage aspect of Preston, so we started an open dialogue with Preston council and Lancashire county council to look at raising funds.’

Fast forward four years, and with a lot of ups and downs along the way, Simon and the rest of the WSCIC team are looking forward to starting the restoration that will see that square retain its period look.

‘We don’t want it to be modern and take away the history and those figures that have lived here. All we want to do is make it usable and educate visitors of its story. Usability is at the heart of this project.’

The improvements to the gardens will include the restoration of the Robert Peel statue, work to resolve the current flooding issues, add new lighting, create a social space and include historical reference points and more.

‘The community have helped shape this design which is important. People live, work, have days out, walk, eat and have businesses around here – it’s a very diverse local community. In this project we have tried to engage all of these local stakeholders. It will become a much more attractive civic space, and you never know it may result in refurbishment of other buildings around the area.’