A big year in Southport, Lancashire

PUBLISHED: 21:30 12 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:17 20 February 2013

Marine Lake

Marine Lake

Southport has ambitious plans. Emma Mayoh speaks to some of the people who want to make them happen

Think of Lancashire food and you think of the Ribble Valley and its bounty of local produce. That corner of the county has reinvented itself into a foodie's paradise over recent years. But a group of restaurateurs in Southport are now hoping to put their own town on the food map of Lancashire.

Southport already has a healthy menu of local produce and was the birthplace of renowned celebrity chef, Marcus Wareing. The Southport Restaurateurs' Association, set up in 2006 with the aim of promoting food from the town, now want to build on that.

Since its formation more than 30 restaurants, cafes and bars have clamoured to be accepted into the group meeting strict requirements including the promotion of local produce on their menus and a visit by an anonymous diner.

The chairman of the association is Dave Rimmer, who opened The Dining Rooms three years ago. He said: 'Southport has some fantastic places to eat which also support a lot of our local producers. We are becoming more known as a great place to go out and get a lovely meal and we want more people to start thinking of Southport in that way.

'Here, everything is fresh because we order it in every morning. It's so fresh we just have a small freezer to keep ice-cream and bread in.'

Dave, 49, has owned and run hotels for many years in Lancashire and the Lake District and one of his current businesses is The Alexandra and Victoria Hotel, in Southport. His award-winning head chef, also his son-in-law, Mike Cartmell serves up produce that is sourced from only a few miles away.

Mike said: 'There is no need to go anywhere else because we have such a good choice here. You get can Southport samphire, Southport shrimps, we get meat from the butchers around the corner and our vegetables come from Sugar Stubbs Farm just outside Southport. They grow all our fruits and vegetables as well as our herbs and we have our own field. We've got Formby asparagus just down the road and there's also tomatoes that grow locally too.

'The ingredients are such good quality and they're really versatile and I like to make quite unusual dishes with them. I like to make lemon and thyme cheesecake and cardamom crme brulee. I'm lucky to have such a good choice of food from the area.'

Mike, of course, is not the only champion of local produce in the town. Martin Quinlan, head chef at The Vincent Hotel, is a passionate advocate of food in the town.

Martin has worked everywhere from the Sydney Opera House and Sydney's Sheraton Hotel to The Mulberry Tree in Wrightington before taking up post as sous chef and then head chef at The Vincent.

The 35-year-old said: 'Local produce plays a very big part in our menus and it's important that we support the people that make such fantastic foods. Southport is a fantastic place to eat out and people are definitely starting to realise that.'

Just over the road at the Nostalgia Tea Rooms, Dave Henaghan and Lynn Rooney, have already put Southport on the map to thousands of tourists.

Since they took the business on six years ago hundreds of Americans and a host of local celebrities have visited their caf for a chance to experience traditional English tea. The tea rooms have won several awards over the past few years for service and team work.

Lynn said: 'They love it and they like to have their pictures taken with the waitresses. We also get people like Sherrie Hewson coming in when she's on at the theatre and Marc Almond brings his mum in.

'To get awards as well really was the icing on the cake for us. We love being in Southport. It's such a lovely place with lovely people and we love being here.'

It isn't just the food world in Southport that is reinventing itself. Over the next few years the old Pontin's holiday camp, in Shore Road, Ainsdale, is expected to undergo a 100 million redevelopment.

If planning permission is granted the now tired looking site will be transformed into a next generation holiday resort with eco-friendly holiday homes, as well as a hotel, bars, restaurant and cafes plus a lido and health club. It will also be open to the public as well as holidaymakers.

For Pontin's chief executive Ian Smith, born in Southport, it is a chance to breathe new life into the site.
He said: 'I used to play on the dunes around here when I was young and the area holds a lot of significance for me and good memories. The site is in need of attention and I'm very excited about these.

'It will bring huge benefits to the already thriving local community and will provide a great place for people to holiday and visit. There has been a lot of money spent on Southport over the past few years and we really hope our plans will complement this as well as putting money back into the local economy.'

But it is not just the shiny and new that attract people into this beautiful Victorian town. The architecture of Lord Street, walks along the seafront and events like Southport Air Show bring in thousands of people to the town. Around 80,000 people attended this year's show with advance ticket sales up 16,000 on 2008.

There is also the popular Southport Little Theatre, home to a handful of amateur dramatic groups, who put on shows and plays. One of these is the Birkdale Orpheus Society, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Set up in 1959, it staged the world amateur premiere of My Fair Lady and their first Fiddler on the Roof production in 1972 was the joint world premiere.

Pam Haworth, who has been a member of the society since 1982, said: 'I love being involved. What really makes it are the friendships you make. I joined because my daughter was a member, my husband is a member and so are my grandchildren. There are a lot of families in the society. It's fantastic.'

The society, which has won numerous awards from the National Operatic and Dramatic Association, put on two productions a year as well as going out carol singing at various places around Southport. This year they will be performing at the Formby Dickensian Day on December 5. Look closely and you might spot their mascot, Duckie, who makes an appearance in every production.

Pam said: 'We always dress Duckie up and he's always put somewhere for us to spot him. We thoroughly enjoy performing. It's hard work but we all work together really well. To have reached 50 years is fantastic and we're all really pleased.'

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