Lancashire Life food editor Philippa James visits Sprout Cafe, Blackburn

PUBLISHED: 01:16 18 July 2012 | UPDATED: 21:38 20 February 2013

Philippa James with Neil Minney and Andrea Holden

Philippa James with Neil Minney and Andrea Holden

Food and drink writer Philippa James visits a vegetarian café in Blackburn inspired by travels to Alaska, Australia and Thailand

Completely out of the blue I received an e-mail from a friend, Andrea Holden, who I had last seen working at a vegetarian caf in Blackburn, before her decision to take off and travel with her then boyfriend, Neil Minney.

Weve come back to Lancashire and opened a place of our own, said Andrea. Its called Sprout.

I was concerned to hear from Andrea that their first couple of weeks, positioned above Mercers Toy Shop, just down from BBC Radio Lancashires studios, had been very quiet so, when I was on my way over, I was delighted to receive a text saying they were running way behind schedule because they had been so busy.

Even well after lunchtime when I arrived it was still packed and as the team cleared down I tucked into a bowl of three bean soup topped, unusually, with a wedge of lime. I squeezed it rather hesitantly into the bow, but instantly appreciated how the flavours worked so brilliantly well together.

I read the chalk board showing the Sprout specials as I sat in this oasis of calm, listening to the gentle, south American guitar strains in the light and airy bistro which hosts work by local artists.

One of the emails Id had, sometime after the couples departure in May 2010, was from Alaska, one of their favourite places, where they spent time running a back-packers guest lodge at Homer, over-looking the stunning Grewingk Glacier in Kachemak Bay. Andrea and Neil would trek across the bay to the glacier and had to wear bells on their shoes to ward off black bears!

Travels continued to Melbourne, where vegetarian Andrea worked in a bistro and learned to cook a mean steak to help pay their way. They then moved on to Thailand, and the Phi Phi Islands, the inspiration for this months recipe from Andrea, a place with fond memories where Neil proposed to her on the beach.

Once they were engaged, the couple returned to England but after just a few weeks they missed Alaska so much they returned to Homer, the halibut fishing capital of the world.

Last August they returned to the UK and found work through a friend who knew of a 17th century hotel near Skipton, where Andrea became the chef. I pretty much had free rein over running the place, she said.

This gave Neil and Andrea the motivation to decide they wanted to open a bistro of their own, concentrating on their own vegetarian ethics and with a view to good quality food. As if by magic, through another friend, they chanced upon this ready kitted out caf .

I asked why Sprout? We were growing so quickly and ideas kept sprouting, like bean-shoots, so it was a natural choice, Andrea said. She said the feedback they are getting has been amazing, they are growing at a real pace. Their focus is to get folks in, stay positive on the quieter days, and keep believing.

The dishes are inventive, vibrant and extremely tasty, with big wedges of home-made cakes or scones for elevenses or afternoon tea.

Neil added: Theres such a buzz to running Sprout; theres not many jobs where you can not only be together but also look forward to coming into work.

Andrea beamed up at Neil. There was nothing more I needed to say.

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