Lindsey Bennett asks whether Lord Street hotel restaurant deserves its top reputation
Little Napolean Bonaparte’s nephew famously lodged just off Southport’s imperious Lord Street, returned from exile, became Emperor and then remodeled Paris into the city of obviously Merseyside inspired tree-lined boulevards we all adore today.
Though Lord Street has fared a little better than the Bonaparte dynasty - in that it is still standing and remains Southport’s premier street, it is fair to say that its once grand Victorian hotels have somewhat of an air of times’ past about them.
It made me beam as wide as the Beatles' beloved Maharishi whose portrait smiles up from the menu
Ten years ago, into this lightly declining scene, the Vincent Hotel opened in a former cinema, a brave-ish punt in a town arguably most famous for sometimes hosting the Open Championship at the exquisite Royal Birkdale Golf Club. Like Southport itself - a seaside resort that doesn’t have the stench of total despair common in other Northern holiday destinations, but yet remains off the radar – Vincent its not too much of anything - so a little bold and glitzy but also quite calm and understated.
The V Café menu shares this multi-faceted trait with a range of options that should make you shudder - ranging from Sunday roasts to sushi, standard gastro-pub mains and the off-puttingly monikered ‘gringo sushi’ (not attempted on this trip) but actually does enough to leave you satisfied.
Service evokes destination dining reasonably well and the restaurant space is generally sleek and grown up with a sense of humour - even if some the ‘quirky’ design choices are truly naff and misplaced. There are some striking black and white portraits by swinging fashion and celebrity photographer Tony McGee - a personal friend of the owner - alongside cheap holly and pub style blackboard hoardings.
Despite decades of well-honed ambivalence to ordering sushi further north than Watford Gap services, I felt duty bound to begin with a small sushi platter (£19.00); the sushi here and at their Liverpool restaurant is something of a trademark for the brand. As expected, the North knows no other fleshy fish than tuna, salmon and sea bass in its raw offering although a smattering of shellfish provides variety. Vincent's regional reputation is well-deserved though as this was pleasing and competent, particularly the rice.
Not so a starter of mackerel, apple, potatoes, capers and avocado ice-cream (£7.50). The dish had ambitions for a fresh, possibly nouveau Baltic inspired taste, but in cooking an entire fillet of mackerel and placing it on minutely brunoised potato and apple, meant the former had too much flavour and the other failed to register. The ice-cream was a freezing quenelle of punishment so dense in its consistency it was suffocation incarnate. I focused on my rather lovely Moldovan chardonnay instead.
Going for yet more of the fish so abundantly offered throughout the menu, rather than staples like the chicken breast, pork belly or steak, our confident waitress steered me towards wild cod, wakame salad and prawn wonton in a lemongrass broth (£19.50). I’m glad she did, for it made me beam as wide as the Beatles beloved Maharishi whose portrait smiles up from the menu/place mats. Two restrained prawn wontons in delicious pastry that didn’t yield to the light broth and a huge crest of crispy wakame, atop an awesome fillet of strong cod.
Wild mushroom ravioli, with sauté spinach and mushroom (£13.00) was conversely insipid, crowned with utterly boring undressed rocket.
Onto dessert by way of some fluffy triple cooked chips (£3.50). Looking through the floor to ceiling windows into the total darkness outside it was hard to resist a warm and rich sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce (£7.00). Close your eyes and you could be in any gastro-pub.
Flaming smores (£11.50) were a gross disaster. Accompanied by flammable gel and instructions from the waiter, I valiantly melted my packet marshmallow, dunked it in thick chocolate and caramel sauces and slathered the whole onto a thin cinnamon biscuit that broke too quickly. The biscuit was far too mittel-European Christmas market for this classic American campfire treat. The self-constructed edifice collapsed en route to mouth so I was left with a dessert that looked like an eight year olds’ sleepover menu and presented with due finesse.
As we moved onto the final course, the restaurant had filled with solo travellers, bling–tastic couples on dates, family groups and girls from the office. Atmospherically that mixture worked. Vincent really is a broad church that has appeal for everyone. I had originally thought to bring my local 92-year-old auntie with me, but she already loves it so much she refused on the grounds of journalistic objectivity.
With this integrity expected of a critic - and uncontaminated by any geriatric enthusiasm, I must conclude that the owner has understood a town like Southport very well, building what might be its most popular and beloved venue, with just enough but not too much glamour, familiarity, class and accessibility to earn the patronage of everyone.
Napolean might have taken a few lessons in modesty and restraint from him….
The Vincent Hotel café and restaurant, 98 Lord Street, Southport, PR8 1JR
Follow Lindsey Bennett on Twitter @ellevb78
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.
Sushi 7, mackerel avocado 4, cod wakame broth 8, mushroom ravioli 5, triple cooked chips 6, sticky toffee pudding 7, flaming smores 3
Professional and competent but warm when needed
A ‘spot’, but also good for guests