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Amico Mio – Italian Restaurant

Amico Mio is a cosy Italian restaurant located in the small town of Whalley. When Amico Mio opened in 2002, it had an excitingly intimate European atmosphere.

Often a musician would play quietly in the corner, strumming away to a relaxed audience. Charming waiting staff zipped through the narrow gaps between tables, whisking meals to hungry customers. An artist had painted faux cracks into the building, making the sandy orange walls look like the crumbling city walls of Rome. These are small details.

amico-mio-whalley

I turned up at Amico Mio’s early in the evening. It was ‘Happy Hour’, where the you can eat any pizza or pasta for £5.90 (not £4.90 like it says on the website). To qualify for this offer, buying a drink with each meal is mandatory. With drinks prices on the steep side, this is something to watch-out for. A half pint of Peroni is £3.90, making it quite possibly the most expensive pint of beer available in the Ribble Valley.

The menu is extensive. With around 20 starters, 17 pizzas, 17 pastas and over 20 other main dishes, the kitchen staff have their work cut out. I started with a tomato and chilli garlic bread. This was crisp and fresh, with just enough chilli kick mixed in with the light  tomato puree.

amico-mio-taomato-bread

For my main course I had a hearty portion of Spaghetti Bolognese, topped with a generous scoop of Parmesan cheese. This was basic but tasted great, although the portion size got the better of me.

amico-mio-spaghetti-bolognese

My dining companions ate Tortellini con Spinaci e Ricotta , and Penne all’Arrabbiata. Both of which I am assured, not least by their vanishment, tasted great.

amico-mio-tortellini

At Amico Mio the food is consistently good. For £5.90 you can’t knock Amico Mio. If I had chosen the £20 steak, I would be less likely to forgive feeling like I was sitting in a ‘cheap and cheerful’ pub, where the waiting on staff wanted me in and out as soon as possible. The musician and the cracks painted on to the walls, have both disappeared. Personally I would like to see them back, and would prefer to see ‘Happy Hour’ gone, and for Amico Mio to focus on the high standards and attention to detail that once served them so well.

The Freemasons At Wiswell – Steven Smith

In the picturesque village of Wiswell, hidden away up a narrow alleyway, sits the Freemasons At Wiswell. It is a small country pub serving food that you might not expect.

The downstairs has a pub feel, and locals stand around the small bar chatting, upstairs feels more like a restaurant, is a little more refined, and perhaps homely. On this occasion I would be dining upstairs, at a large, beautifully set, chunky wooden table.

The decor reflects the country setting, and speaks of an opulent countryside lifestyle of hunting and feasting. Animal heads complete with horns and antlers adorn the walls, amongst pictures of country life. The hunting theme may put some people off, but this is no place for the faint hearted – you won’t find a vegetarian option on the a la carte menu.

You can order from the a la carte menu, or a seasonal set menu at certain times of the week, which is £19.95 for 3 courses, or the 8 course taster menu at £60. I dined on the a la carte menu which is very simple, featuring 5 starters and 5 main dishes.

I started my meal with a Veloute of Chargrilled Sweetcorn, with Roast Chicken, Foie Gras Hot Dog. This is a flamboyant and skillfully crafted dish. It is indulgent, fun and a silky smooth treat of taste and texture.

soup-freemasons

For my main course I had roast rump of Nidderdale Lamb. The rump was accompanied by lamb Kofta (a Middle Eastern spicy meatball), chargrilled aubergine, mint and yoghurt. This dish was visually stunning and offered a great range of complimentary flavors. The lamb was beautifully tender and, as the waitress advised, served blushing pink.

lamb-freemasons

To finish I had the exquisite Lemon Amalfi, a deconstructed lemon meringue pie, featuring three different types of wonderfully indulgent meringue.

amalfi-lemon-freemasons

Steven Smith, chef-patron at the Freemasons At Wiswell, promises that his menu will “feature the best produce available at its seasonal best” and it does. The quality, style and presentation of the food and the venue, all help to explain why this ‘pub’ has retained the Michelin Bib Gourmand, for the third year running.

With starters costing as much as £17, the Freemasons At Wiswell might not be for everyone all the time, perhaps reserving it for special occasions. For me, a trip to the Freemasons At Wiswell is a special occasion. Steven Smith delivers the unexpected.

The Three Fishes

About 3 miles from Clitheroe is the small parish of Great Mitton. It is home to a 13th Century Grade I listed church, an ancient manor house and two pubs.

One of these, The Aspinall Arms, has closed down. The other, The Three Fishes, has just enjoyed a full refurbishment.

the-three-fishes

The Three Fishes is the flagship pub in the Ribble Valley Inns group, co-owned by Craig Bancroft and Nigel Haworth, which has an annual turnover of £10m.

Today I was dining at the Three Fishes with six of my family. Recently I had been let down by bad service at the Three Fishes, and was interested to see how they would manage with my table for six. I was running late, and my companions were already enjoying a drink in the reception/bar area when I arrived.

The bar is a treat for real ale drinkers, always well stocked with three or four of the local brews. For the price of a pint you can order a ‘Paddle Of Ales’ – 3 glasses of three different local ales – often Moorhouses which is based a few miles away in Burnley.

To say The Three Fishes is proud of its location, and the local produce, would be an understatement. It goes out of its way to let the customer know that. Their website declares that they use ‘only the freshest ingredients harvested by our local food heroes’. Photographs of local farmers, butchers and cheese makers peer out at you around every corner.  A full wall in the restaurant boasts a map of the ‘Tolkien Way’, centered around Stonyhurst College, just a few miles down the road.

Even the place mats feature local imagery; beautifully illustrated maps show just how locally ingredients are sourced.

the-three-fishes-place-mat

I assume it is award winning, local produce champion, Nigel Haworth’s, ‘inspiration’ that drives the passion for all things local. Although, rather cryptically, we are told the menu is ‘inspired’ by Nigel. Does this mean he wrote it? I’m not sure, but I think it does. It certainly features dishes that he created, and feels very much the kind of menu he would endorse.

Back to my meal. After greeting my fellow diners, we were escorted to our table by the polite and friendly maitre d’ and handed the menu. Although the menu is physically quite large, the choice is refined and concentrated down to just a few of each type of meal.

The menu continues to emphasise the local message. Dishes such as ‘Goosnargh Chicken’, ‘Lancashire Hot Pot’, ‘Morcambe Bay Shrimp’, and ‘Lancashire Cheese Souffle’ (which was enjoyed by one of my fellow diners!).

ribble-valley-food

One of the lovely things about a trip to the Three Fishes is the ‘Nibbles’ section of the menu. We ordered one of everything on offer and a selection of breads. A short time later and our bounty of nibbles started to arrive! A special mention goes to Harvey’s Mini Bangers and the ‘Bacon Puffs’. A new addition to the menu, that is super delicious, like bacon infused with air!

For the main course I sampled the ‘All In Burger’, which did not disappoint. It was tasty enough without relish, but came with a fine selection of piccalilli, chili pickle, and Black Berry Farm Streaky Bacon, topped with Lancashire cheese. It was juicy and delicious.

the-three-fishes-burger

After looking at the dessert menu I decided to share the cheese board with two others in my party. Rather than being an exciting crescendo, the dessert menu – put together by the head chef at Northcote Manor, Lisa Allen – is an anticlimax. On offer are traditional favorites like cheesecake, crumble and pancakes. All of which are lovely, but a little uninspired and nothing to get excited about – but the cheese board was good, a mix of Lancashire favorites including a slab of the delicious, Blackstix Blue.

the-three-fishes-place-cheese-board

Overall, we had a great time, and to my relief the service was fast and efficient, and all the staff were polite and helpful, especially with children, and the food was enjoyed by everyone.

Yet, the Three Fishes has just undergone an impressive refurbishment and aside from the decor, walking into the Three Fishes reminds me of walking in to my grandmother’s front room; it’s warm, welcoming and feels safe. I just can’t help feeling that The Three Fishes plays it a little too safe, and could push to be a little more adventurous and exciting.

That said, it has set the bar for standards of consistency and quality in the Ribble Valley. For value for money, it’s hard to beat The Three Fishes.

The Shireburn In Hurst Green

Last time I came here was for a wedding reception. It has since been renovated and mixes modern with traditional, to create a welcoming and comfortable atmosphere.

After completing the journey from the car park to the bar, I was unpleasantly surprised to be met by no body. No front of house, no bar staff, nothing. Eventually a bar man did appear, but served the stray who had appeared to my left.

This wasn’t a great start, but these things happen I suppose. There are a few different seating areas to choose from, which gives dining here an intimate and cosy feel.

the-shireburn-seating

We choose a table in the corner near the bar, and a waiter promptly appeared with two menus, both of which had seen better days!

the-shireburn-stained-menu

Overall the food was fine. I started with Gruyere fitters, which were good and particularly more-ish. The tomato puree and pesto worked well, and Gruyere is one of my favorite melted cheeses.

the-shireburn-gruyer-goujons

For a main course I had chicken Normandy. The chicken itself was well cooked; almost pink, perfectly succulent with a good crispy skin. Its a shame the accompanying sauce and bacon bits let the dish down, but this wasn’t well cooked. It was flabby and chewy, the fat lacked that concentrated hit of salty flavor that comes from well cooked bacon bits! The sauce Normandy was lovely and creamy but perhaps could have done with a bit more kick from the apples.

the-shireburn-chicken-normandy

My dining companion had a salad, which was apparently very good, and certainly looked great.

the-shireburn-salad

Overall, it was a lovely afternoon. The atmosphere was relaxed, and we sat there long after we had finished eating. In such a pleasant setting, with elegant decor and polite waiting  staff, it is hard not to enjoy a trip to The Shireburn.

The Foodie