Fine dining in North West museums and galleries
PUBLISHED: 00:00 18 May 2017
There is an emerging fine dining scene at the heart of our county’s galleries and museums, as Mairead Mahon discovers
Gone are the days when dining in a museum or art gallery meant a tired sandwich and a cup of instant coffee. These days, several in our region boast award winning chefs, restaurant quality food, well stocked bars and stunning surroundings. So, it’s not really a surprise to learn they have become dining destinations for foodies in the know.
Take the Whitaker Museum in Rossendale, a not for profit community organisation run by Carl Bell and Jackie and Julian Williams.
‘We’re all foodies, so when we first began we took it in turns to make soup, said Carl. ‘This led to some bantering about who could make the best. It was me.’ laughs Carl.
Maybe so. But today a band of talented award winning chefs run the fully licensed restaurant, with a keen eye to make sure ingredients are locally sourced and ethically produced. Julian visits farms in the county so he knows exactly where the meat is coming from. Stock is made completely from scratch to a secret recipe and the honey comes from Rossendale beekeepers.
By day, there are hearty soups, home-made breads, hot dishes and salads as well as a selection of at least five Lancashire cheeses. Scrumptious cakes make a great addition to afternoon teas and there is even a tea menu. It includes speciality, organic teas but if you want to sample some of them, then it is here or The Savoy Hotel – the only other place that serves them.
The Whitaker is home to one of the most stylish bars around. It’s made from hard steel and wood in order to reflect Lancashire’s industrial past. As well as wines and locally sourced ales, often from microbreweries, spirits include marmalade vodka and gin served in a teapot.
Its daytime dining is hugely popular but it is the Foodie Friday Evenings that are bringing in lovers of good food from across the North West.
‘It is fine dining at its best,’ says Jackie. ‘There is waiter service, candles and it’s a relaxed and refined way to enjoy top quality, perfectly cooked food.
‘It’s all in a gorgeous, atmospheric room that has a stunning Victorian bird cage as a centrepiece.’
Food is also linked to culture at The Whitaker. Menus served on regular film nights always reflect the content of the movie: French food for a French film and Cuban delicacies for a film with a Cuban director.
Peter Booth, of the award winning, The Modern Caterer, runs the wonderful Café in the Trees at Manchester’s Whitworth Art Gallery. He is also keen to ensure that food reflects cultural events going on at the gallery. As well as serving locally sourced food during the day, Peter goes to Smithfield Market every week to choose the best produce. His monthly supper club reflects what is currently exhibiting at the gallery. One of the latest complemented the Andy Warhol exhibition.
‘I discovered that Warhol was very fond of Italian food, so our menu consisted of foods that could be described as ‘Little Italy in New York’, explained Peter. ‘We had dishes like braised beef cheek in Sicilian red wine with black cabbage as well as wild nettle and chestnut mushroom ravioli and blood orange polenta cake.
‘I like to think Warhol would have enjoyed it but I know for a fact our diners certainly did.’
The Café in the Trees at The Whitworth is a modern and elegant stainless steel and glass construction, with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the newly designed art garden.
In complete contrast, the Haworth Art Gallery in Accrington is a Tudor style mansion. Housing the largest collection of Tiffany glass in Europe, it is home to the Haworth Gallery Kitchen.
Run by Simon Shields and his award winning chef, Kenny Meldrun, it also has its own trained cocktail specialist – not your run-of-the-mill addition to a gallery. Wines, beer and spirits are also on offer, as well as a tantalising collection of loose leaf teas.
It’s not just drinks, though, that make the Haworth Gallery Kitchen special, it’s the waiter-served food itself. Most of it is sourced from no more than ten miles away and there are plans to have a herb and salad garden right outside the kitchen door.
‘Why not?’ exclaimed Simon. ‘Local food is always going to be the best food and, as all our dishes reflect the seasons, what could be better than salad and herbs grown right here.’
During the day sandwiches served on bread made in the Gallery Kitchen are always available, as well as dishes for those with heartier appetites such as pan-fried Goosnargh chicken or pork served three ways. But on Friday and Saturday evenings, soft lights announce the evening menus. Diners can choose from dishes such as pan-fried Bowland pheasant breast or sea bass fillet, served with lentil, chickpea and sundried tomato cassoulet. It is hardly a surprise that booking is usually required for the chance for fine dining in one of Lancashire’s most important buildings.
There is no denying it, Lancashire’s galleries have become the new ‘go to’ dining destinations for those who enjoy the culture of food.