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Sofrito - restaurant review

Neil McQuillian finds warm vibes make up for everything on darkest Whitechapel

Published on February 21st 2011.

Sofrito - restaurant review

IT is perhaps apposite that on the day The Daily Telegraph, among other news sources, reported a “gruesome discovery in the Cheddar Gorge [which] suggests that ancient Britons indulged in cannibalism and even drank from the skulls of their victim”, we should be reviewing a restaurant whose blog made the startling announcement last October, of their new ‘Putting U in the Menu’ initiative.

Having discovered this blog days after having eaten at Sofrito I cast my mind back for any suspicious meat (Liverpool’s own Whitechapel murders!) but nothing stood out and, as a lapsed Catholic, my grasp of the whole wine/blood difference is a little hazy anyway. Could this be why the scallops were so delicious?

But really, the ‘Putting U in the Menu’ thing was a competition inviting people to submit a recipe held dear by their family, with the winner receiving a free meal at Sofrito and the thrill of seeing the recipe feature on the specials board for a month.

In this initiative is to be found a little of what saves Sofrito from banal Mediterranean ‘So what-o?’ because, while the food was at times good there were also moments of distinct ‘meh’ (or ‘bof’ if you want to be Mediterannean about it).

But it was the welcome afforded to us and to everyone we saw come through the doors which made for a pleasurably memorable evening. Keep this up, and Sofrito could really achieve that Cheers-like, everybody-knows-your-name status. As a culinary term, sofrito refers to the aromatic braise of chopped vegetables which forms the base of so many Mediterranean dishes and with this kind of welcome the restaurant establishes the strongest of bases.

So to the food. Bread and ‘dips’ (£3.10) were suggested by our waiter to start.

The bread turned out to be warm but insubstantial as cotton wool – if they’re going for authenticity here, as the website claims, then they need to get the bread right. A tangy sourdough, a chewy baguette bought in the morning that’s rock hard come lunchtime: this is one of the Mediterranean’s strengths. The hummus, balsamic vinegar and olive oil alongside were good, though.

Pan roasted scallops with a little bunch of herbed cherry tomatoes (£7.25) were excellent as were calamari fritti served with aioli and a courgette and coriander salad (£5.75).

Pasta and risotto mains run from £9.50-£12.50 but we wanted flesh: specifically that of the 8oz ribeye steak with “handcut chips” (is there something offensive about the word "chips" which means it can never be just "chips"?).

It was a strange, Baileys-like colour. Criss-crossed char marks made it look a little pre-done, like some cutlet from the frozen food section: However, this is merely the cosmetic downside of the ever-so-trendy griddle pan.

It tasted way better than it looked, while the chips took chunky to pyramid-brick proportions. The green peppercorn sauce (£2 supplement) got up my nose, in good way – hot and creamy at once.

The elder diner desired salmon (£13.95) but didn’t fancy a “coating of spicy harissa paste with a mint and lime cous cous and mango salsa” and asked instead for the preparation that featured on the prix fixe section of the menu (more of that later) ‘with café de Paris butter and dauphinoise potatoes’.

It was the welcome afforded to us and to everyone we saw come through the doors which made for a pleasurably memorable evening

This went down well, with some reservations about the spuds, which were as suited to the “chunky” label as the chips had been: a little too dense, to his taste.

The sticky toffee pudding served with Mrs Dowson’s vanilla ice cream (£5.10) and the cheesecake (£5.10) were both decent enough to barely touch the sides.

Overall, the food was more under- than overwhelming but, in keeping with the family-friendly stance, there are some excellent offers available: on Tuesdays, two courses (not the fancy ones) can be had for £10 whilst on Wednesdays grilled steak and fish has 50 percent off (the price, that is/).

At other times, except Saturdays evening, there’s a two/three course offer for £11.95/14.95. At lunchtimes loads of mains go for £7.95. There are no wines over £21 and the house is available by the glass (£3.20/£4.45) or in 500ml (£6.75) or 1L (£13.50) carafes.

Décor-wise, the stand-out feature is the one wall strewn with photographs. On the restaurant blog, owner Soufiane points out that they are all black and white, “except for two, which have flashes of red in them to stand out.”

Now, this is doubtless unfair to remark on, but there was a certain Oscar-winning film which employed this device to rather harrowing effect. Nonetheless, they do enhance the atmosphere, even if you have to get your bottom close to the faces of diners eating at the tables lining that wall in order to get a good look at the images.

So what we have here is Mediterranean food in a relaxed atmosphere with breathtaking views of, well, not the sea exactly, but certainly the Yates’s Wine Lodge, whose Queen Square incarnation does at least have some of the bulk of an ocean-going liner.

Just across the street is Kozys, which offers “Free room hire, free DJ and VIP lounge” and even if Sofrito can’t offer diners these delights, it’s certainly “kozier” than many restaurants in the city, and that counts for a lot on a rainy Friday night.

Rating: 14/20
Breakdown: 6/10 food
4/5 service
4/5 ambience
Address: Sofrito
51/53 Whitechapel
United Kingdom,
L1 6DT
Tel: 0151 236 0411

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away

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bernice10818February 18th 2011.

I've been 3 times and loved it! great service, tasty food, definitely a favourite in the city!

Debbie-AnnMarch 4th 2011.

I have been and it was lovely going again next week for my friends birthday yum x

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