Eating Out: Essenza, Withnell
Some restaurants are all style and no substance. Shiny, glossy, contemporary and with all manner of platters from roof tiles to flat caps to serve your meals on, but the food is tasteless and wouldn’t fill the belly of a small budgie.
Others, meanwhile, are the complete opposite - a bit shabby but the flavours are fantastic and the portions would satisfy a shire horse.
Essenza...well, I wouldn’t really say it was either of those extremes. In fact I’m not really sure what to say about it.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with it in particular. It’s in a nice spot on the road to Withnell, easily accessible - literally just off the M65 - the bar area overlooks green fields and a west facing conservatory catches the setting sun. It’s clean, the kitchen is open to view and there’s a few quirky features - including Christmas decorations in that conservatory. Early or late?
But there was nothing that really wowed me, not helped by arriving, admittedly early, on a Friday evening to find just one other table occupied. Perhaps the food would do all the wowing, our dining partners seemed to be enjoying it after all.
With my daughter having relieved me of most of my money over the school holidays, Best Friend and I were looking for a cost effective evening of good food and gossip. The ‘two courses for £14.95’ offer advertised on Essenza’s website therefore seemed perfect - throw in a bottle of wine between us and that’s a meal and drinks for under £25 each.
Available every day except Saturday the set menu offers a good range of dishes from classic Italian starters - soup, mushrooms and bruschetta - to main courses of chicken or fish served with seasonal vegetables, plus any pasta and pizza.
It seemed really good value. But the proof of the pudding and all that.
The meal started quite well. My costolette (pork ribs in homemade barbecue sauce) were steaming hot and the meat of my first just slipped off the bone. The sauce was rich and thick, there was plenty of it and sprinkled with some fresh coriander, had plenty of flavour. However, delving further into the dish, the meat became tougher, slightly gristly and that sticky sauce was making its way further up my hands. The accompanying wipe was much appreciated.
Bestie’s chosen chicken wings on the other hand were hot, tender and delicious and smothered in more of that bubbling barbecue sauce. Don’t you just hate it when you realise you’ve made the wrong choice?
For the main course however, the tables were turned. My Pollo Piccante was a vibrant plate of soft chicken piled with a chunky tomato sauce full of peppers, garlic, oregano and a mild chilli kick. The side of veg added more colour but while the broccoli was clearly fresh (ie. under cooked) the potatoes, peas and carrots were just as clearly frozen.
Similarly, Bestie’s Pollo Milano - tenderised chicken breast in breadcrumbs - arrived looking like something you would Findus in your freezer on an uninspired Tuesday night. Plonked on a plate with an unexpected blob of spaghetti, no garnish to brighten it up other than a slice of lemon, it left my pal feeling utterly underwhelmed. As did a side of (frozen) chips which nearly always make everything seem better.
The saving grace was a crispy garlic bread - and then pudding, of course. As someone who avoids gluten as much as possible, I was faced with a dessert menu consisting of cake, brownie and pastry so I opted for a simple mixture of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream. It was very nice.
And happiness had returned to the other side of the table too with a light, creamy and decadent tiramisu. Topped with ice cream and chocolate sauce, the spot was finally hit.
Speaking of which, our bottle of house red was also going down well and was a good value, full-bodied alternative to the rest of the wine list, none of which was under £20.
As for the rest of the food, the main menu is an extensive list of stone baked pizza, pasta, meats and fishes, all moderately priced, plus a weekly specials board.
Expecting the place to have filled up a little by this point, emerging from our our gossip bubble we realised we were actually the only people left. Slightly confused we were informed by our patient remaining waiter that they close at 9.30pm on Fridays. News to us.
Heading off to a nearby pub to continue our evening we reflected upon a missed opportunity for a really great restaurant.
The gossip was good though.
Bolton Road, Withnell, PR6 8BP
Five More To Try
Fresco Fresco, Croston - Fresco Fresco (literally, ‘fresh fresh’) is situated in the heart of the pretty and historic Lancashire village of Croston. The cuisine is traditional Italian restaurant with a southern influence.
Pinocchio’s, Walton-le-Dale - Located in a listed building, the site of the Battle of Preston in 1648, Pinnocchio’s has been family owned for over 20 years serving classic and modern Italian dishes and hand rolled pizza.
Gusto Italia, Bamber Bridge - Cosy restaurant serving delicious pasta and specialities and traditional pizza cooked in a wood fired oven. As close to classic and traditional Italian as you’ll find in Preston.
Papa Luigis, Euxton - Homely restaurant, decorated and designed in fine Italian style, serving classic regional recipes including several Sardinian specialities. Bringing that little bit of Italy to you!
Mezzo, Samlesbury - Classic Mediterranean restaurant with wood floors, leather seating and a decked courtyard. The menu combines pizza and pasta options with a varied selection of meat and fish main courses.