Food News, with Sonja Karlsen

GOURMET food and drink topped the menu at an East Lancashire restaurant as guests enjoyed a first class festival of food and wine.

Diners at Northcote Manor, Langho, Blackburn, tucked into some delicious dishes, cooked up by a selection of the country's leading chefs.

Michelin-starred chefs from as far afield as Scotland were invited to the hotel by joint owner, Nigel Howarth, after he enjoyed a similar event on a recent trip to the United States.

Northcote retained its one-star status for the sixth year running in this month, and Nigel said it was a great achievement considering there were only 88 such places across the country which had gained such recognition.

One star status indicates a very good restaurant in its category, two stars depicts a restaurant with excellent cooking and worth a detour and three stars is exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey, according to the Red Guide Great Britain and Ireland 2001.

Mr Howarth said : "Michelin stars are the ultimate accolade for chefs and to get one star is a great achievement.

"By hosting this festival I'm trying to bring into the area some of the top chefs in the country. After all that Christmas stress I thought it would be nice for people to come here and relax.

"It's such a great idea to get people together like this and get chefs who are working for the same goals and bring them all together on one night."

Terry Laybourne MBE, who opened 21 Queen Street, on Newcastle's Quayside in September 1988 and earned the north east it's first Michelin star, was the first celebrity chef at the festival on Tuesday evening.

Then it was the turn of Charles Metcalfe, who presented a Spanish wine evening on Wednesday and tonight sees one of London's best chefs in action.

Philip Howard is head chef and proprietor of The Square, in Mayfair, and earned his first Michelin star for the restaurant in 1994, with a second in January 1998 for his precise, modern French cooking.

Scotland's Nick Nairn is the penultimate visitor on Friday. He opened his first restaurant, 'Braeval', in 1986 and it is rated as one of Scotland's finest establishments.

In 1997 he opened one of Glasgow's top eateries, Nairn's Restaurant with Rooms, which was shortly followed by the opening of Nairn's Cook School in April last year. On Sunday there is a sell-out jazz brunch.

For gourmets eager to sample some stunning fare, there are a very limited number of tickets available for tonight and tomorrow.

Tickets cost £50 per person and include a five course dinner.

To check on availability phone the hotel on 01254 240555.