Published on November 14th, 2014 | by Alastair Gilmour


Polished pubs: Something old, something new

Confidence in the North East’s pub sector is heartening with refurbishments, restylings and complete rebuilds popping up at regular intervals. It gives us – the customer – extra choice and more opportunities to enjoy

Newcastle’s oldest pub has the distinction of being the city’s latest to have a facelift. During his incarceration in Newcastle between 1646 and 1647, King Charles I was reputed to have been allowed to play “goff” on the Shield Field and while away idle hours in The Old George. It’s entirely plausible as the former coaching inn dates back to 1582. The chair he is supposed to have used is still where he left it, though it could do with a beermat under one leg to stop it from wobbling.

CHE45_11Seriously, The Old George is looking fabulous. Its old, trodden floorboards have been sanded and polished to the enth degree and the place is bright and welcoming – different yet not. A touch of luxury seating is comforting, the old fireplace is much more of a feature, an upstairs lounge is a more intimate refuge and its venerable age is celebrated by the old, wayward beams (but did they really have to paint them?)

The beer choice in this oasis is faultless – Big Lamp Prince Bishop, Anarchy Blonde Star, Allendale Mosaic, Consett Ale House Red Dust and Draught Bass form an impressive line-up.

Great meal deals include two for £9.45 Monday to Friday; the Black & Blue Burger (from £8.85) is topped with portobello mushrooms and Dolcelatte blue cheese, but the pick of the menu has to be steak pie slow-cooked in Rioja and chorizo sauce (£8.95).

St Mary’s Inn is part of the former St Mary’s Hospital two miles west of Stannington in Northumberland. The “sister” pub to the award-winning Jesmond Dene House in Newcastle takes up the hospital’s former administrative block at the heart of what will be a purpose-built village by Bellway Homes and by its opening on November 1, it will have soaked up £1.5m in development.

But while the inn boasts 11 boutique bedrooms, its owners are keen to emphasise it is not a second Jesmond Dene House – it’s a place that offers food and board. Well, perhaps exceptionally good food and luxurious board with fine beer from Wylam Brewery.

Marketing manager Nicky Sherman said: “St Mary’s Inn will first and foremost be a pub in a beautiful area of Northumberland serving good quality, value-for-money food.”

Local ingredients and regional suppliers are very much to the fore – and alongside Wylam Brewery is fish from Latimer’s Seafood in Whitburn, Carroll’s Heritage Potatoes from Coldstream, kippers from L Robson and Sons of Craster, and Lindisfarne oysters.

The inn’s site includes a mature orchard with apple, pear, plum and cherry trees in the extensive grounds, part of which will be turned into a kitchen garden producing fresh seasonal salads and vegetables.

The latest in an expanding portfolio of Head of Steam pubs has opened in Sunderland. The Dun Cow, sitting next door to the city’s iconic Empire Theatre, has benefitted from a £300,000 investment to restore it to its former glory.

Hartlepool-based Camerons Brewery has been working in partnership with the Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture Trust over the last four months on the project to reopen this former Edwardian “gin palace”.

The bar and back bar have been carefully restored thanks to painstaking work by North East businesses Johnson Conservation and S C Allen.

The Dun Cow now offers between six and 10 draught craft beers, more than 75 bottled craft beers, 10 ciders and seven cask beers as well as a terrific selection of wines and spirits – plus a range of premium gins. All the beers and ciders will rotate on a weekly basis giving customers unlimited choice.

A range of tapas-style dishes, sharing platters and handmade burgers is available and a new function room will be completed by the end of November.

General manager Anthony Ellis said: “Our customers will get to try some of the best craft and cask beers from local, national and world brewers. The Head of Steam brand is known for its live music and this venue will be no different. We’re looking for local acts to play on our regular acoustic nights and when the function room is completed later this month we’ll be offering some fantastic new bands.”

Camerons is continuing its expansion by opening a new Head of Steam venue in Leeds. The pub was previously trading as Spencers on Mill Hill and, while it is currently closed for refurbishment, it is expected to open in early December. The expansion comes after successful openings in Whitby and Tynemouth.

Joe Smith, operations and pub director, said: “When we identified potential new locations as part of our expansion plans, Leeds was one of the first destinations we had on our list. At one time, Camerons had a lot of pubs in the city.
“It is a vibrant city and Mill Hill – adjacent to the railway station – is a busy area and, with several great pubs creating a fantastic circuit, we feel the Head of Steam brand will fit in perfectly.”

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Alastair Gilmour

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