Lancashire's Italian restaurants win multiple awards
PUBLISHED: 00:00 18 April 2016 | UPDATED: 09:42 20 April 2016
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You don’t have to go to Italy to taste the best authentic Italian food. In fact, you don’t even have to set foot out of Lancashire and that’s official. According to the English Italian Awards, we have the best Italian eateries on our doorstep. What could be more fantastico?
Burnley might not be the first place that springs to mind when looking for the best Italian cuisine but try telling that to the customers at Bellissimo, run by Lynn and Giovanni Scibetta with sons, Roberto and Gero. Its friendly atmosphere and scrumptious cooking scooped it the prize of the Best Italian Cafe in the UK.
Chef Giovanni learnt to cook at his mama’s knee in Sicily and then trained as a chef in France before finding love in Burnley with bubbly Lynne. But it wasn’t only love he found here - he also discovered the joys of local pies and was inspired to hone his pastry making skills. After years of working in other people’s kitchens, the couple took the plunge and decided to open their own little slice of Italy right in the middle of Burnley.
‘It was the best decision we ever made. Burnley is our home and if there is one thing that Italy and Lancashire have in common, it’s a love of food,’ says Lynn. ‘We like to think we’ve brought new tastes to Burnley and, to be honest, Burnley has brought new tastes to John. Black pudding and Lancashire cheese make his personal top ten!’
The ambience in Bellissimo is a happy one and everyone is welcome - from locals to yummy mummies, business people and, of course, Italians anxious for a taste of home.
But what about the food? ‘Well, it literally is just like mamma used to make - everything, from pasta to cakes, is home made from scratch,’ adds Lynn. ‘A few years ago, though John was diagnosed with celiac disease (which means he is allergic to gluten). It’s a disaster for an Italian chef, cooking delicious things that he didn’t dare eat. But with Italian flair and Lancashire stoicism, we conquered it. Now John makes his own range of gluten free products including bread and pasta.’
Already blown away by the quality of the food, the competition judges were very impressed with the gluten free options. After all, most people who have to avoid gluten also have to avoid Italian food but not at Bellissimo.
It wasn’t just John who wowed the judges though; Lynn was also placed in the top ten baristas in the UK. ‘I had to make a selection of coffees in double quick time. Obviously, the judges don’t tell you how you’ve got on but I did get a little inkling of how I’d done when the judge took the cappuccino away with her,’ laughs Lynn.
Her intuition was spot on as they were invited along to the awards ceremony, where they were told of Lynn’s success and given the award for Best Cafe. ‘As far as we’re concerned, being acknowledged in this way is for the whole of Burnley and we’re very proud’ says Lynn.
They were not the only Lancastrian Italians to win awards - Cucina Seventy Three in Whalley and La Locanda in Gisburn were also prize-winners.
The Gisburn restaurant is also run by a husband and wife team, Maurizio and Cinzia Bocchi. Already the most awarded Italian restaurant outside London, Cinzia couldn’t hide her delight at taking the prize for Best Restaurant with Under 50 Seats. ‘It is always wonderful to win an award and each time it validates our approach which is authentic Italian cooking: everything must be real, for example, we don’t serve garlic bread because it didn’t originate in Italy,’ says Cinzia.
However, authentic cooking doesn’t mean that the ingredients always have to come from Italy. ‘Indeed not! Here in the Ribble Valley, we have a fantastic larder of the best ingredients: it would be perverse to ignore them. For example, I regularly meet with my local organic farmer in order to talk all things meat. We like to marry Italian and local ingredients in order to produce simple, fresh and delicious dishes. We want people to feel that they have just slipped into a corner of Italy when they come to us,’ says Cinzia.
Brother and sister Fabbio and Raffaella Fiocca are only in their twenties but their restaurant Cucina Seventy Three in Whalley won the award for Best Pasta. Like the other winners, they also make everything from scratch using a mixture of Italian and Lancashire ingredients. The one thing they all have to have in common is quality.
Fabbio is the chef and so it was special source of pride for him that his pasta was judged to be the best in the country. He makes it to his own recipe but is keeping the secret to himself. ‘I use Italian eggs and that’s as much as I’m giving away!’ laughs Fabbio
There’s a good chance that his pasta making technique might have come from his grandparents. They are the ones who inspired him and you don’t need to be Hercule Poirot to figure out just how important their influence was when you see that his famous lasagne is named, ‘Della Nonna’, Grandma’s Way!
Lancashire’s army of Italian establishments featured heavily in the English Italians Awards.
It was a clean sweep in the best pizza section with Liverpool’s Il Forno as winner with the runners-up Amalia, also of Liverpool, and Slice Pizza, of Manchester.
The best cafe runner-up was Roma Caffe & Deli in Manchester and the best family restaurant was Antonello’s, Bolton.
The best restaurant with more than 50 seats was Ristorante Vesuvio in Worsley and the runner-up in the under 50 seat section was Pulcinella’s in Cleveleys. Best pizzeria was Manchester’s Slice with The Pack at Belthorn runner-up. The team award went to Amalia in Liverpool and the best business runner-up was Bellini’s in Sheffield. Don Giovanni’s was the most romantic and Avalanche in Manchester picked up the people’s award.