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Restaurant review: Fifty One The Promenade

Andrew Hobbs lands a prize catch and tells us why we should all make a trip up to Southport

Published on January 14th 2010.


Restaurant review: Fifty One The Promenade

I ENJOY bearing grudges. I once spent a year being outwitted by fish, so to see them on my plate with a nice sauce feels only fair.

I was eleven and all my mates were into fishing, so I had to be too. I once got a minnow out of the water before it plopped back into the river, the tease, but that was it, apart from a few nibbles. I had the strongest maggots in Lancashire, with all the exercise they had.

Fifty One buy their
fish from Liverpool’s “speciality markets” every day, and it shows. This is a restaurant that
puts together good ingredients in simple, classic ways, and
lets the quality
speak for itself

And before you say it, there was nothing wrong with my tackle, and I can prove it. I was fishing in the shallows of the Ribble one summer’s day when a group of older lads came wading upstream in their swimming trunks. When one of them asked if he could have a go with my rod, I acquiesced, since he was bigger than me, and so were all his mates.

Within five minutes he had caught a full grown eel. He took it off the hook, put it in his swimming trunks, gave me my rod back, and went on his way. I’ve often wondered how he and the eel got on.

So, the average fish may be cleverer than me, but now I’m a grown-up I can go to restaurants and pay people to catch the fish and cook them for me. Who’s laughing now, fish-face?

This time I paid the people at Fifty One The Promenade, and they did pretty well. Opened five years ago by Attilio Sergi, Tamlyn Stone and Erica McKenzie, Fifty One buy their fish from Liverpool’s “speciality markets” every day, and it shows. This is a restaurant that puts together good ingredients in simple, classic ways, and lets the quality speak for itself.

The restaurant, as the name gives away, is on Southport promenade, on the corner of Bold Street, right opposite Southport Theatre. The front is at the side, if you see what I mean, in fact the Bold Street aspect looks much more attractive than the front (or is that the side, I mean the bit facing the Promenade), which has a scaffolding-and-canvas-type canopy which does it no favours.

Up a couple of steps and into the bar, the impression is of clean, simple style, with plenty of sunlight (unless it’s raining; or dark; or a big lorry is parked in front of the windows). Cream walls, original wooden floors and big windows make the most of what is a fairly small space. A bar leads into the long, narrow dining room, with its crisp, white linen and fresh flowers on the tables.

On a Wednesday night there were only two other tables occupied besides ourselves, but the atmosphere felt comfortable and friendly.

Service was a little slow, but perhaps that was our impatience. Complimentary appetizers of guacamole and anchovies on pannini put us in a good mood, and the way the balsamic vinegar formed a globule underneath the olive oil in the little bowl was a source of endless fascination. You can see why I was regularly outwitted by fish.

Wot no pizza? The residents of Southport are too well-mannered to shout it, but it must cross their minds the first time they see the menu at this “authentic Italian fish restaurant”.

There are three pasta choices, but we’re talking fish here (that’s conversing about fish, I’m not saying Cath and I are fish who talk).

Of nine starters on the a la carte menu, four were fishy, three vegetables or cheese, and two meat. Five out of nine main courses were fish, alongside steak (from local butchers Broughs), chicken and vegetarian dishes.

Cath reckons that you can learn a lot from what people do with their aubergines. Here, they serve them as a starter baked in a rich Mozzarella, tomato and basil sauce (£5.95) and they do it with aplomb. My Cornish crab (£8.95) arrived as a little tower constructed of fresh, juicy crab flakes, avocado and tomato, with just enough Marie Rose sauce to make it ironically retro rather than cloyingly naff.

Each one of Cath’s ravioli (£11.95) contained sundried tomatoes, olives and Ricotta, and arrived in a long line down the middle of a long dish, as though they’d been doing that sitting-down dance to “Oops Upside Your Head”. They were good, although there weren’t enough vegetables (the irony of many vegetarian dishes). Perhaps we should have ordered a side dish, perhaps our charming young waiter Enrico should have suggested this. Still, no use in regrets.

This is a fish restaurant, and they know how to cook fish. Not as obvious as you might think. The wild sea bass (£19.95) was firm and juicy with a crispy skin, and came with asparagus, new potatoes, rocket and beautifully roasted carrots. Those carrots showed a respect for vegetables which is a certain sign of quality.

We had a bottle of 2007 Vernaccia di San Gimignano (£20), apparently one of the best known wines in the world, so I’m hardly going to admit I’ve never had it before. Anyway, it was fresh and crisp, with an earthy vitality, a bit like Cath, and thank-you to Enrico for recommending it, even though it was cheaper than the Chablis we almost ordered. Most of the wines are organic and Italian, and fairly priced.

Puddings were a rich apple cake and delicate panna cotta (both £5), both very good.

As well as the wine, the vegetables at Fifty One are also organic, the fish is wild, the meat free range and the bread, pasta and pastries are home-made. The menu changes often, according to what’s seasonal and available, and there is a mid-week fixed menu for £15.95, as well as the a la carte. Our bill was £84.80 including pre-dinner drinks and two powerful espressos, a fair price for food of this quality in a tasteful setting, with good service.

As we were leaving, Sr Sergi, unprompted, handed three red roses to a diner who was obviously very keen on his dining companion. But that discreet touch was the only pandering to the expectations of the pizza-popping populace, from these Puglian piscatorialists.

Rating: 14/20
Breakdown: 7/10 Food
3/5 Service
4/5 Ambience
Address: Fifty One The Promenade
51 The Promenade
Southport
PR9 0DX
01704 510051

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5 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Michael FishSeptember 5th 2008.

The kipper Tricky Woo!

Parliament PlaiceSeptember 5th 2008.

Is the fish repeating on you, little chap?

Tricky WooSeptember 5th 2008.

Oh no. Not this again.

C. BassSeptember 5th 2008.

An Ambitious assemblage of alimentary alliteration, Mr. Hobbs! The proprietor should not carp about it. I’m sure eel be pleased!

Mike HomfraySeptember 5th 2008.

Finally got round to going here on Saturday. Its a gem - really excellent.

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