Damon Fairclough finds some unexpected combinations in suburban Aigburth
This is not a sentence I ever thought I’d write, but for once, Michael Bublé was exactly what I wanted to hear. Say what you like about the jazz mangling, lounge lizard but at the dusky end of an over-heated day, there’s a very specific type of mental uptightness that can be loosened by his brand of ersatz queasy listening.
Because it was indeed Michael Bublé who was playing as we entered 5 Fifty Bistro on Aigburth Road – next block along from the cricket club, opposite the Travelodge and mock Tudor Toby Carvery – and, quite against my better judgement, I really did sense the day’s worries being instantly soothed away.
None of this quite outweighed the very real pleasure of retreating into a comfortable neighbourhood bistro with such a genial, easy-going atmosphere
There was something deeply calming about the venue’s interior too, with its Casablanca ceiling fans and mushroom-grey mood, all freshly emulsioned since its recent switch from the long-standing Paul’s Place into its new guise. Same owners though, and the same chef, and the same exemplary commitment to getting that casually unbuttoned, finger-clicking atmosphere just right.
5 Fifty Bistro’s menu works on a fixed price basis, or a ‘meal deal’ as the venue calls it, thereby tainting the mellow vibe with thoughts of pre-packaged sarnies from Boots. The hand-scribbled menu lists a few starters and mains, with a couple of additional blackboard specials in each category, all for £17.95 on Wednesday or Thursday and an extra quid later in the week.
Most of the starter options seemed like standard bistro fare or the stuff of mid-range wedding breakfasts, with onion soup, smoked mackerel pâté and deep fried brie all present and correct. From this list, the salt-and-pepper chicken (main image) was served as a breadcrumbed breast topped with spiced and oh-so-salted onion and pepper strips. The deep-fried meat was a pleasure – non-greasy and well-seasoned – but the salt-and-pepper veg had all the briny subtlety of a mouthful of the Dead Sea.
Other options seemed a touch more leftfield, with my tower of black pudding, onion bhaji and breadcrumbed poached egg standing mid-plate like a full English breakfast with an unexpected guest. A moat of red wine jus complicated matters still further. Taken individually, both the black pudding and the bhaji were decent enough, but they made truly bizarre bedfellows. This isn’t to say the dish wasn’t weirdly fun to eat, but the culinary culture clash never reached a particularly peaceful conclusion.
Rump steak with chips (£2.50 supplement) was a great choice from the mains selection, being beautifully cooked and wonderfully juicy, with some good fat chips, a scorched tomato and a couple of moist and glistening mushrooms.
Slightly weirder was the seabass with king prawn linguine (£2.50 supplement), which I imagined would be a crisped piece of fish set against a delicately oiled pasta accompaniment, but which in reality felt like two separate meals in one. The floppy fish sat on top of a huge mound of linguine weighed down by a very rich tomato sauce, too hearty and heavy to be the backdrop that the fish deserved.
No desserts were listed on the menu, but on request, a handheld blackboard the size and apparent weight of a vintage fire-screen was hoisted onto the table, from which we made our choices.
You might think Eton mess (£5.50) would be tricky to get wrong, but the uneven distribution of meringue made for unsatisfying mouthfuls, and, worse still, a highly synthetic-tasting strain of strawberry sauce gave the whole dish the character of unsettlingly lumpy Mr Whippy.
Unfortunately, the Lotus Biscoff cheesecake (£5.50) was similarly tainted, being doused in the artificially flavoured strawberry badness. The cheesecake itself was a good end to the meal though, looking and tasting like a slender slice of fudge topped with a crumbly caramelised layer.
However, if the meal was a mixed bag and the menu marked by a few quirks and eccentricities, none of this quite outweighed the very real pleasure of retreating into a comfortable neighbourhood bistro with such a genial, easy-going atmosphere. There’s a lot to be said for black pudding, a bhaji and some Bublé it seems, and after ‘one of those days’, you might even find you enjoy them all at once.
5 Fifty Bistro, 550 Aigburth Road, Liverpool L19 3QC
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Salt and pepper chicken 6; Black pudding, onion bhaji, poached egg 6; Steak and chips 7; Sea bass and linguine 6.5; Eton mess 5; Lotus Biscoff cheesecake 6.5
Good for your blood pressure