Gisburn's La Locanda is the Ribble Valley's Little Italy
PUBLISHED: 02:06 16 January 2010 | UPDATED: 21:13 18 April 2016
It may be small but La Locanda in Gisburn, Lancashire is the best in Britain. Emma Mayoh reports
Cinzia Bocchi had to pick herself up off the floor when she found out. And when the 42-year-old rang husband Maurizio to tell him their Gisburn restaurant, La Locanda, had been voted the best in the UK, he had to keep it quiet.
Cinzia explained: ‘I’d gone to the award ceremony in London and we never expected to win it. When they read our name out, I felt like I was going to collapse on the floor. I was so happy. It was a dream come true.
‘Maurizio was in Fleetwood that day being a judge for the Young Chef of the Year competition so he couldn’t start jumping up and down but we definitely celebrated as soon as we could.’
The couple had been awarded a Platinum Award for the Best Italian Restaurant in the UK at the prestigious PAPA Pizza, Pasta and Italian Food Industry Awards. They beat off competition from industry heavyweights in London and Glasgow, who seat substantially more than their 40 cover restaurant.
The award was one of a string of accolades in the past five months including winning the Taste of Lancashire category at the Lancashire and Blackpool Tourism Awards and being Highly Commended for the Taste of England category at the North West Tourism Awards. They were also Highly Commended in the Reader’s Choice category of the Lancashire Life Food and Wine Awards in 2007. La Locanda, which translates as the inn, is also one of the venues on the Ribble Valley Food Trail.
You won’t find any of the Italian recipes created for a British palate here - only traditional recipes that you would enjoy in a typical restaurant in Italy.
‘Garlic bread is not an Italian recipe,’ explained Cinzia. ‘So we don’t serve it. What we serve is the food that you would enjoy over in Italy. We love it if people go on holiday and then come back here and ask us to make it. As long as we get a bit of notice, we can make anything for them, it’s part of the fun for us.’
The couple, who live in Burnley, moved to Lancashire from the Lake Maggiore region on the Swiss border in pursuit of a better life and career prospects. It was after working in a bakery in Accrington, where they introduced their own recipes, that they decided to set up their own business. They found the small stone building they have converted into their restaurant and opened six years ago. They chose Gisburn because it reminded them of home.
Former accountant Cinzia, who looks after front of house, said: ‘We loved it because it’s a nice little town and we remember it and think of it as being a lot like Italy. We were in the middle of the mountains and hills and with all of the farmland and countryside around us and it feels like that here too.
‘In Italy we also have the little stone cottages just like we have here in the village. It’s a home from home.
The couple import the best Italian products and they go to great lengths to get them. Cinzia travels back to Italy three times a year to visit family and source quality food including goat’s cheese. You can only reach the maker by either walking up 1,500 steps to his home or getting in a cable car. They also have Italian staples like 24 month matured prosciutto Parma ham and other cured meats, 30 month matured cheeses and the best olive oil from Lake Garda.
But Lancashire produce, including much of from Gisburn, features heavily in Maurizio’s menus. He uses everything from fruit and vegetables from Jigsaw Environmental, a community enterprise set up to help boost the Gisburn economy following the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease, to fish wholesalers Fish House Ltd in Clitheroe and meats from Mitchells Meat and Gisburn Auction Mart as well as milk and cream from local dairy J Frankland in Clitheroe and organic milk from Gazegell Farm in Rimington.
‘In Italy all the food is different in each town because everything that is cooked is all based on what can be grown locally. They make the dishes from what they have available to them.
‘We wanted to do that here using lots of the produce that is grown here in Gisburn and the Ribble Valley. We produce Italian dishes from what is available to us locally and we source the finest Italian products from over there. It’s a good combination.’
When they get a spare minute Cinzia and Maurizio hold charity evenings - to date they have raised more than £50,000 for cancer charities - or they also do private catering in people’s homes, a part of the job they relish. It doesn’t seem there are many nights when you won’t find a full house at La Locanda. Perhaps it is this tireless charity work or perhaps it is the warm, comforting food and the friendly nature of the hosts. I’d bet it’s both. You’re certainly unlikely to uproot these passionate Italians from their Lancashire home.