A POPULAR Italian restaurant first owned by a Premier League referee has closed its doors, with new managers hoping to start serving Indian cuisine in the coming weeks.

Sottovento Restaurant was a much-loved staple in Farnworth, but it was announced this week that the restaurant would be closing — with new managers moving in to open an Indian restaurant.

Muhammad Ali says he got the keys to the restaurant at the start of the week and is looking forward to opening Monal Bar and Grill, aiming to be up and running by the end of the month.

He said: "We're now starting to change the signs and the decoration. Hopefully we will be open at the end of January."

Mr Ali says he has worked in the restaurant industry for 25 years in Spain before moving to Bury.

He says his menu will be filled with traditional Indian and Pakistani curries but will have a selection of other world cuisines.

Mr Ali added: "We're going to serve steak and burgers as well. We might have groups of people and someone doesn't like Indian food — it's important to have choice."

The spot was opened in 2006 by internationally renowned football referee Mark Halsey, who lives in Little Lever, alongside his business partner and food expert Emanuele Pinna. The likes of Sam Allardyce came down to sample the food on occasion.

A post appeared on the restaurant's Facebook page reading: "To all of our customers. Thank you for your business over the last nine and a half years.

"Unfortunately Sottovento Restaurant has now ceased trading."

The news came as a shock to loyal customers, who looked back fondly on the hit tribute nights at the restaurant, which were running until late December.

Frequent diner Natalie Berry said: "I'm absolutely gutted about it, we don't have any restaurants at all in Farnworth apart from that one and a couple of Indian curry houses — it was fantastic and Italian is my favourite too!

"It was such a lovely atmosphere, the food was delicious, the entertainment was brilliant and the staff were just lovely. It's such a shame, gutted!"

Another customer, Gail Haslam, said: "So sad to see this, one of the nicest venues Farnworth has. It's a clean and modern establishment and it always had a good atmosphere."