Restaurant review - The Brasserie at the Ribby Hall Spa Hotel, Wrea Green
PUBLISHED: 10:35 12 November 2013 | UPDATED: 11:16 12 June 2017
Michael Noonan who has fed the opera-lovers of Sydney is now composing delicious dishes at a top spa hotel rural Lancashire. Roger Borrell went to try it out
A lady from Scotland dropped me a line last year extolling the virtues of a restaurant she’d visited while staying in Lancashire. As this came from the land of the fried Mars Bar I took it with a large pinch of salt, coated it in batter and disposed of it in a vat of boiling lard.
Then, I discovered the lady had some culinary pedigree having burnt cakes on a certain baking programme. After that, it nagged away at me like something trapped between molars.
Eventually, I succumbed and I’m jolly glad I did. Despite the signs outside, the chances are anyone who has driven past Ribby Hall and blinked will have missed the fact that the swish new spa hotel has an excellent brasserie that’s open to non-residents. Next time you are passing keep your eyes peeled and slow down - it’s very good and it has two AA rosettes to prove it.
The brasserie is found at the far end of a long straight driveway from the front gates of this up-market holiday complex. The spa hotel stands sentinel in front of some fountains. It’s modern but, even in the dark, it looked like something the architects had spent time thinking about it.
The restaurant is adults-only so, of course, there was some debate about whether I should wait in the car with a bag of crisps and a bottle of pop. I promised to be good and sauntered in.
This is a bright, modern space with a lot of cream leather, chrome, glass and light wood none of which would look out of place in a big city restaurant.
The kitchen is run by head chef Michael Noonan, a man with plenty of experience in top eating places, including the Sydney Opera House, where I’m assured he confined his performances to cooking.
Under his stewardship, Ribby Hall has appeared in the Michelin guide, recognition of the fact that he and his team have gone for quality and also pushed the boundaries a little. It’s good to find a menu with a few surprises, nice ones. The cooking is complemented by a waiting team that is chatty and knowledgeable without being obsequious or intrusive.
A little cup of Thai soup with just enough wasabi to let you know your taste-buds were still working and some excellent warm bread were the curtain-raisers.
One starter of soft-boiled duck-egg, ham hock croquettes and home made salad cream came with a little soldier of toast and a retro home-made salad cream, which was a nice touch. The other was a deliciously creamy celery and apple veloute and a moreish black pudding spring roll. Australian cooks are noted for their love of Asian cuisine and this east meets Lancs fusion certainly worked. What next – tripe chow mein?
A generous, fresh slice of cod loin was well-cooked, skin crisp and moist flesh. It sat on a bed of stewed haricots but the really clever bit was the use of preserved lemon with the fish. It gave the soft fishy flavours a subtle edge of acidity.
A plate of Bowland lamb chump was pink and flavour-packed and it came with another unusual addition – crispy lamb belly. Fatty and fabulous.
We’ve got into the habit of making an excuse and leaving before the desserts menu arrives but we stuck with it as the first two courses had been so good. A rum and vanilla roast pineapple was big on flavours and maybe could have held its own without the banana in the ice cream. A trifle with a twist was equally well executed.
With two good glasses of wine, recommended by our bright waitress, the bill came to just over £75. Great value from a chef whose food really sings.
The Brasserie at the Ribby Hall Spa Hotel, Ribby Hall Village, Ribby Road, Wrea Green, PR4 2PR. Tel: 01772 674484