Renate Ruge takes in the tastes of the restaurants and pubs serving up some of the finest food in the North

The Ribble Valley is renowned for its beautiful views and picturesque country walks, and in recent years this has been matched by its reputation for being home to some of the finest restaurants in the country.

In the first part of her report back from the region, Renate Ruge visits some of the newer spots to have sprung up in this fertile valley.

Fell Bistro Longridge
Fell Bistro Image: Confidentials

Fell Bistro, Longridge

Chef Matt Willdigg is picking wild garlic seeds over a large bowl while overseeing the small open kitchen at Fell Bistro. He’s been at it for six hours ahead of pickling them in brine and, when Autumn comes, the seeds will be sprinkled on mushrooms on toast.

It’s the kind of dedication you might expect from a chef who made it to the finals of MasterChef: The Professionals in 2021 following stints working for Angela Harnett and Claude Bosi. Now he’s Chef Director and Head Chef partnering with Lancashire-born Oli Martin, also a MasterChef star, at this cheerful neighbourhood restaurant in a cosy corner of market town Longridge.

Wind and rain lashes on the windows on our visit, but it’s warm inside, so the spring showers are quickly forgotten. We're seated facing the kitchen, where a sous chef adds coals and wood to the open BBQ-style grill which are instantly licked greedily by flames, meat sizzling as it’s laid on top to sear. Watching the kitchen team about their business is fun, also an opportunity to see what the other diners are opting for.

Fell Urban Bistro Longridge Lancashire
Fell Bistro Image: Confidentials

A succession of nibbles like marinated olives and fat balsamic onions fly off the pass, delivered promptly to the hungry crowd. 

For starters, duck fat flatbreads with a smear of goat’s curd take the edge off our hunger. Wood-fired Argentinian prawns, charred and served in their shells, are finished with a zesty squeeze of fresh lime. Matt says the butter, wild garlic plus ‘secret ingredient’ marinade make this the standout dish it is, inspired by the BBQ culture he loved while living in Australia. Cutlery’s no help here and my husband Andy tucks in, relieved he’s not on a first date, even with the provision of a finger bowl.

Fell Bistro Longridge Lancashire
Dishes at Fell Bistro Image: Confidentials

Smoked leek and potato soup with a nutty wild garlic and hazelnut pesto is warming and while summer’s not yet here, the refreshingly good tomato salad offers a taste preview with a brightly coloured mix of heirloom and cherry tomatoes, smooth Baron Bigod curd and mini toasts for crunch. 

Having watched it flame-grilling, my main course of chicken supreme tastes even better, the crispy-skinned result teaming up well with charred gem lettuce, hot and salty parmesan herb fries and a tiny jug of flavourful sauce. This chicken dinner’s a surefire winner.

Rr Chicken Dinner Fell Bistro
Chicken dinner at Fell Bistro Image: Confidentials

Pan-roasted cod with artichoke and rosemary sauce, plump mussels and salty samphire is also delightful and while it’s a generous portion of fish, a sneaky side of roasted Jersey royals make for a moreish addition. It’s ‘BYO wine Wednesday’ and this midweek ‘bring your own bottle’ idea is a big tick for the more budget-friendly. Though the house rosé is a nice drop with a light blush.

Following chef Matt’s recent Spanish travels, dessert tonight has a Basque flavour with creamy Catalan cheesecake and in-season rhubarb. “I like to give people what they want,” says Matt. He certainly has.


At Longridge Fell, the nearby hill from which the restaurant takes its name, a moderately challenging circular woodland walk offers stunning views from the summit, stretching out to the Fylde Coast, the Vale of Chipping and ‘o’er tops’ of the hills of the Forest of Bowland. You can spy the Lake District on a clear day.

La Locanda Chef Patron Maurizio Bocchi Gisburn Lancashire
La Locanda, Gisburn Image: Confidentials

La Locanda, Gisburn 

Italian opera and the lilting tones of Andrea Bocelli fill the air and candles flicker in the small reception bar at this Gisburn locale, where sipping aperitivo (traditional Italian pre-dinner cocktails), you’re transported to a lakeside café in Como. 

As I’m tonight’s designated driver, mine’s a Crodino, a non-alcoholic spritz with an “Aperol feeling”, and for my husband an excellent negroni decorated with a twist of orange rind.

The doorbell jingles and co-owner Cinzia rushes to welcome the first diners of the night. “Buona sera”, she calls cheerily ushering guests to their seats. Hailing originally from Lake Maggiore in northern Italy and married for 37 years, Maurizio Bocchi and wife Cinzia 'set up shop' in Gisburn in 2003 and the couple are still successfully serving authentic Italian fare some twenty years on. 

You could argue they were game changers of the local gourmet scene back in the days when Italian cuisine centred around pizza in the UK. But with no pizza oven, they simply cooked using fresh quality local Lancashire ingredients along with some imported Italian products like olive oil and wine.

Marrying the chef's background in farming and studying agriculture in Italy with his deep respect for produce and Cinzia’s knowledge of wine and warm hospitality proved the perfect recipe for a multiple award-winning restaurant that is now a local institution. Chef says he’s the “worst combination”, with “the soul of a farmer and the brain of a chef”. 

Originally a converted weaver’s cottage and once a sweet shop, downstairs comprises the bar and a small dining section. Vegetables are delivered weekly to the back door by a ‘secret local gardener’.

It’s all very atmospheric. The main restaurant upstairs has exposed wooden beams and stone walls and when seated by the window on a cushioned banquette, with fresh flowers and linen napkins on the tables, you could be in the Italian Alps. 

Looking around, a local farmer has brought a flower for his lady friend and at the large table opposite a family of what are clearly regulars are having a spirited conversation about what to order, and reassuringly in Italian, so we follow their lead.  Chef Maurizio, obsessed with extra virgin olive oil, sends out a tasting of three oils – Gabrielloni Virgoro comprises a mild (Mignoro), fruity (Coroncina) and latterly stronger (Ascolana Dura) with a peppery kick. Dipping home-baked focaccia in this liquid gold is bellissima. “As your palate prefers”, says Cinzia, wafting by as we debate which is best. There’s an excellent sherry-like Modena balsamic vinegar too. “English people like to mix it with olive oil”, she adds with a shrug.

La Locanda Gisburn Lancashire
Dishes at La Locanda Image: Confidentials

The tomatoes in the salad starter taste like they’ve just been plucked from the vine.  Hailing from nearby Hesketh Bank, they were perfect served with creamy burrata from Puglia and drizzled with basil pesto. 

For a riff on a Lake fish dish or carpione, there’s white bait from Fleetwood, just in season and marinated for 24 hours in wine, oil and vinegar, the small fish then fried and served chilled to make for a light and tasty starter. 

La Locanda Tomato Salad And Whitebait Starter Rr 3817
Starters Image: Confidentials
La Locanda Seabass And Pasta Mains Renate Ruge
Fish Image: Confidentials

Hot olives are a hit. Pitted and filled with ground beef, egg and parmesan and breadcrumbs before being deep fried to resemble the tasty street food snack olives all’ascolana originating in the 1800s in Ascoli Piceno and typical of central Italy’s Marche region. “Try to be hungry”, warns Cinzia, as we empty the bowl.

Pan-seared crispy-skinned wild sea bass is summery with fresh red chicory, fennel, sweet baby tomatoes from Preston and endives, perfect with a glass of Piedmont wine – dry with a hint of lemon.

Renate Olives La Locanda
Deep fried olives Image: Confidentials

The pasta, ‘one of chef's best’, is beetroot tortellini filled with homemade goats’ cheese and acacia honey from the Dolomites. A hint of chilli cuts through the sweetness, chiming well with a glass of a fruity red Frapatto from Sicily, also reasonably priced at a fiver a glass.

Desserts (Dolci) range from Sicilian cannoli to in-season fruit and nougat semifreddo but tonight we finish with an affogato – coffee with a scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream – and homemade amaretti biscuits. The list of coffee options takes up a full page of the menu, as does myriad Grappe options.


Leafy walks take you around the peaceful Gisburn Forest or a loop of Stock’s Reservoir following a trail’s a wonderful way to walk and spot wildlife deep in the Forest of Bowland.

8 At Gazegill Interior
Eight at Gazegill, Rimington Image: Confidentials

Eight at Gazegill, Rimington 

Farm to table dining is all part of the landscape in the Ribble Valley, where Sunday lunch is always a good measure of the local offering and a chance to showcase the region’s finest produce on a plate.

New to the party –and where you’ll already struggle to get a table – is Eight at Gazegill in Rimington, where plot-to-plate dining has recently launched on a farm in the UK’s first off-grid restaurant. Ian O’Reilly and Emma Robinson run the organic farm and meat and raw milk business, Emma’s Dairy at Gazegill and along with chef patron Doug Crampton have launched restaurant Eight at Gazegill, passionate about nature and animal welfare.

After working at 3AA Rosette Anthony’s Restaurant in Leeds and training with British Michelin star chefs, Chef Doug Crampton also led the opening of the award-winning James Martin Manchester as executive chef.

Eight At Gazegill Lancashire 3 Rimington Lancashire
Dishes at Eight at Gazegill Image: Confidentials

Fermented flat breads and honey-glazed chipolatas get your taste buds going and for the main event, steaks like organic sirloin come with bone marrow, truffle jus and seriously good aged-beef fat chips and organic carrots done on the BBQ. Salsa verde and wood roast hispi cabbage come with soured cream and chopped chives.

The aforementioned carrots are also the vegetable star of the Sunday lunch show, as well as Doddington cauliflower cheese and buttered greens served for the table to share. The beef comes with a huge Yorkshire pudding and a small jug of rich and glossy gravy.

8 At Gazegill Veg Renate Ruge Image 2024 05 30 At 16 47 35
Dishes at Eight at Gazegill Image: Confidentials

This restaurant on a farm has stellar views stretching over wildflower meadows to Pendle Hill. Family friendly, there’s even a playpark for the little ones who will no doubt also enjoy scoops of Gazegill’s own soft serve ice-cream, made from the raw milk produced by the Old English Dairy Shorthorns heritage herd on the farm. Though grown-ups should pop in for some of that ‘straight from the meadow’ milk ice-cream on the terrace too, which is even better with rhubarb and stem ginger crumble.


Meander the public footpaths over the fields around the farm shop for fabulous views over Pendle.

The Rum Fox Entrance Renate Ruge
The Rum Fox, Grindleton Image: Confidentials

The Rum Fox, Grindleton 

Follow the twists and turns along the river Ribble as it snakes through verdant countryside and brings you to the small village of Grindleton, where in late spring, lambs frolic in the fields and just-shorn sheep are snowy white. 

It’s well worth taking the scenic route to dine at The Rum Fox and experience its relaxed atmosphere, where quality local ingredients are cooked up in style.

The old village pub, formerly the Buck Inn, was recently renovated from top to bottom and reopened last year by owner and chef Bob Geldard. Already winners of Lancashire Tourism Awards, Bob describes the venue as a “village pub come restaurant”, and after earning his chef stripes locally with Michael Heathcote he was perfectly poised to buy the venue when it came up for sale. 

The Rum Fox The Table Is Set Renate Ruge
Inside The Rum Fox, Grindleton Image: Confidentials

An indoor/outdoor room with exposed brick and a smart roof allows sun to filter in, while offering shade on warm days. Here diners can have a pre or post-dinner drink. It was also important to the village people that this place remained part pub and so locals still get their favourite beers and real ales like Moorhouse’s White Witch in the tap room. 

The ‘Den’ or private dining room is much like a fox’s lair, only a notch more formal with antique furniture and a chandelier at its centre and room for up to ten people seated.  An oil painting portrait of said fox gives the pub its name, one the proprietor wanted to be unlike any other restaurant in the UK.

R Ruge The Rum Fox Fox 1685
The Rum Fox Image: Confidentials

The dining room’s a light and airy space with small vases of fresh flowers on each table, smart napkins and leather-bound menus, which all bodes well for a quality dinner. Stylish couples and well-heeled locals watch the kitchen team at work through the open pass.

English sparkling wine is a welcome aperitif and good match for a light-as-air cheese soufflé starter, using Mrs Kirkham tangy cheddar, baked and served in a skillet. 

Steaks are cooked to perfection, the ribeye juicy and succulent, home-made crinkle cut chips hit the spot with traditional peppercorn sauce and lightly steamed garlicky beans that still have snap.

The Rum Fox Mains Steak And Fish Renate Ruge
Steaks at The Rum Fox Image: Confidentials

Pan-fried cod swimming in chicken gravy is a delightfully savoury twist on a fish dish that adds depth of flavour, nicely soaked up by a side of garlic roasted potatoes, beautifully fluffy in the centre. 

The wine list is impressive too with French, Italian and Spanish in-bottle and a good selection of Australian, South African, Italian and orange wines by the glass. 

You could go for the seven-course degustation (or tasting) menu. Here Bob talks you through the various courses, which are heartily enjoyed by the diners on the next table, happily celebrating their anniversary without a care about what to order.

Meanwhile the set menu from Wednesday to Saturday lunch offers a more budget-friendly option with three courses for £28.

For dessert, sticky toffee pudding rates up with the best in the area, bathed in dark toffee sauce and served with vanilla ice cream. It's rich enough to share one, with two spoons.


Walk up Grindleton fell or along the River Ribble crossing the fields with kissing gates to get to Bolton by Bowland, Downham or meander your way to Sawley to visit the ancient 14th century remains of the Abbey.

Higher Buck Interior
The Higher Buck, Waddington Image: Confidentials

The Higher Buck, Waddington 

In the picturesque pocket of Waddington reliably good dinners are served at The Higher Buck, a pub meets gastro eatery where respected local chef Michael Heathcote’s menu is a Ribble Valley favourite. It's also a regular in good food guides, named in the Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs in the UK list in 2021.

Bring the family or book a seat in the window for a more intimate dinner date. Take in the stripped wood, tweed and a log burning stove and you know that you’re in the countryside - the quirky lampshades are even made from colanders.

The specials board is always a good place to start, however plenty of perennially good mainstay dishes are worth travelling back for. For instance the crispy duck and chorizo salad: baby lettuce and spinach topped with smoked bacon, pickled cucumber, spring onion and roasted shredded duck, all drizzled in rich hoisin dressing. Higher Buck’s fish pie is creamy with plenty of chunks of fish and mighty fine prawns served with steamed Lancashire vegetables.

The Higher Buck Duck Salad Renate Ruge 2816
Duck salad Image: Confidentials

Black pudding scotch egg with mustard mayo puts the pub firmly on the Lancashire foodie map and the cheddar souffle with apple chutney cooked in a skillet, served piping hot from the oven, is worth waiting a moment to devour. Chef loves a variation on long-standing menu classics, so this signature dish may occasionally feature blue cheese.

A foray into Middle Eastern plant-based dishes has the warmth to cheer up any rainy day, like chickpea and red lentil dhal with basmati rice and flat bread – also a tasty vegan friendly and gluten-free option.

For dessert, sticky toffee is always good but venture on for vanilla panna cotta with rhubarb jelly and compote and buttery shortbread or Courtyard Dairy cheeses with biscuits and apple chutney for a good savoury alternative.

The village Post Office is found opposite and The Waddington Arms just down the road along the river, so it’s a great spot for people watching. Tables out front for a pre-dinner drink should be snagged early if you want to watch the world in Waddington go by with a pint of Wainwright. 


The estate Hill of Waddington Fell is worth clambering before your meal or for a more sedate ramble after, the beautiful village of Bolton by Bowland is just down the road.

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