Vicky Andrews gets some French bistro dishes down her hole in one

It’s par for the course that you’ll bump into a couple of golfers in Southport, home to the UK's highest concentration of championship links courses and regular host to The Open. It’s not just sand dunes, fish and chips and Funland there you know.

They must be doing something right to rank as TripAdvisor’s number one restaurant

My guide on this visit was my good friend Sandra, a sixty-something sandgrounder socialite. Sandra will tell you that she’s from “Royal Birkdale” to which I always reply, “Love, you’re not from Birkdale, you’re from f***ing Southport.” 

2019 06 10 Bistro 21 Interior
Inside has all the romance of the breakfast room in a seaside hotel

Hidden down a lane off Lord Street, Bistro 21 isn’t the kind of place you’d randomly stumble across, so they must be doing something right to rank as TripAdvisor’s number one restaurant here. “Good evening, is it Vicky?” the host asked as we walked in. Was he psychic or were we the only booking? I assumed it was going to be a quiet night, but wondered if I should ask ‘Mystic M’aître D’ for Saturday’s lottery numbers, just in case.

Inside was quite old-fashioned with high windows, boxy chairs and flowing white tablecloths; all the romance of the breakfast room in a seaside hotel. The menu hinted at Gallic decadence, but read like Raymond Blanc’s weekly shopping list; oriental beef salad was given further explanation by way of ‘ginger, garlic, soya,’ while cod was a blunt ‘lettuce, pea, bacon, emulsion, mash’. I wasn’t sure if mash and pea were ingredients or instructions.

2019 06 10 Bistro 21 Crab Prawn Beignets
Crab and prawn beignets (£8.95)
2019 06 10 Bistro 21 Cured Mackerel
Cured mackerel starter (£7.25)

My starter of crab and prawn beignets from the à la carte menu (£8.95) was a light and savoury version of the famous French pastry. A satisfying marriage of crab cake and fritter bathing in a luxurious lobster bisque. Sandra’s cured mackerel starter (£7.25) lead to no complaints, the trio of hot fillets pointing to a kitsch little green salad, apple and cucumber slaw and pretty dashes of beetroot pickle.

As we poured another glass of the quaffable El Picador sauvignon blanc (£19.95) I looked around the room and realised that the restaurant was suddenly full. “We’re the only women in here now,” I said. Sandra looked around like a meerkat. “Oh yes, how funny!” she chuckled. It might have been the wine but I think she was blushing.

“They’re all golfers,” said our server. “The competition was last week, but they just keep on coming,” she laughed, before disappearing back into the kitchen to bring out another ten plates of chicken liver pâté. Apparently, the collective noun for golfers is a ‘tedium’ which seemed a bit ironic given the amount of noise these boys were making. 

2019 06 10 Bistro 21 Pigeon
Pigeon with black pudding, sweet beetroot and mash (£18.25)
2019 06 10 Bistro 21 Fillet Steak Pepper Sauce Chunky Chips
Fillet steak with pepper sauce, mushrooms and chunky chips (£25.45)

I wanted to try something a bit unusual for main course so ordered the pigeon (£18.25). Earthy black pudding, sweet beetroot and creamy mash was a good match for the gamey bird, but pak choi seemed a bit lost and a side of mange tout, carrots and dauphinoise made the aspirations of this dish all the more confusing.

“A friend had pigeon in a restaurant once and found some shot still in it,” Sandra said. I looked puzzled. “Well, how do you think they get them?” she said. “They don’t just wander into the kitchen with their wings in the air.” I hadn’t really thought about it. Perhaps rare pigeon wasn’t my best choice, but I’d enjoyed it up until that moment.

Sandra’s more traditional main of 5oz fillet steak with pepper sauce, mushrooms and chunky chips (£25.45) was met with a chorus of happy sounds and when I finally managed to pry some off her fork, I had to agree that it was perfectly cooked and a good choice.

2019 06 10 Bistro 21 Assiette Dessert
Assiette of desserts - lemon drizzle cake, chocolate brownie and mango posset (£9.95)

Portion sizes had been moderate so far, so we asked for two spoons and the assiette of desserts to finish (£9.95) - a trio of lemon drizzle cake, chocolate brownie and mango posset. Ice Magic wouldn’t have looked out of place on this retro platter, but we had no major complaints other than the dry lemon cake - next time give me more of that delicious pear ice cream.

“So, how does this place compare to your French bistro in Birkdale?” I asked Sandra as we settled the bill. “I really enjoyed the food here and I’ll definitely be back,” she said.

“Bistrot Vérité is more for a very special occasion. It’s the kind of place where Alan Hansen might be sat on the next table. Which has actually happened to me.” 

She paused for a sip of wine. “He also got the last pie in the butcher’s one day when he was in the queue in front of me. B******d.”

You might not see celebrity golfers in Bistro 21, but you will find good food, friendly service and a decent value set menu. And that’s got to be better than missing out on the last pie in f***ing Southport.

Bistro 21, 21 Stanley St, Southport PR9 0BS

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2019 06 10 Bistro 21 Receipt

The scores:

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.

  • Food 6.5/10

    Mackerel 7, crab 7, pigeon 6, fillet steak 8, assiette 6

  • Service 4/5

    Fun but efficient. Fore!

  • Atmosphere 2.5/5

    Traditional to a tee