Features

Published on December 16th, 2014 | by Alastair Gilmour

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That was the year that was

We asked a selection of North East businesses how their year has been and how they’re preparing for 2015. It all seems very encouraging

THE AIRPORT PUB
THE BEER HOUSE

You’ll have had to show your passport to get anywhere near The Beer House – and possibly remove your belt. The pub is part of a £14m airside investment at Newcastle International Airport by catering services company SSI.

The Beer House and Flying Hippo both feature Tyne Bank Brewery beers with an enviable selection of draught and bottled beers that include Meantime London Stout, Kozel and Pilsner Urquell. Food is “hand-held”, drizzled in local provenance, highlighted by pulled pork and roast beef “proper stotties”. “It’s been brilliant, says SSI operations manager Steven Wafer. “Brilliant. Everything’s going very well and we’re getting good feedback from customers. The real ale sales have gone very well since we’ve opened and Tyne Bank Brewery gets a great profile here. I reckon we’ve sold 1,400 gallons of beer since we opened in March. Next year we hope to have more local ones available with some seasonals. When we set up The Beer House we made sure the cellar was close by and there was plenty of stillage – you’ve got to start off understanding what you want.”

11THE WETHERSPOONS PUB
THE LEAPING SALMON

This JD Wetherspoon outlet is by far the busiest pub in Berwick. It’s big and it’s bustling – but it is, after all, a Wetherspoons with all that massive promotional push and buying power behind it.

On the Cheers visit, the regional beer choice from an International Beer Festival included Maxim Simcoe Kid (4.5% abv), which burst with tropical fruit aromas with a pleasing bitterness, plus Mordue Americana (5.0% abv), an American brown ale with citrus and orange aromas while roasted grains surrendered their chocolate flavours in the glass.

The food list is too long to cover, but it’s value for money as you’d expect – and it’s noticeable how orderly and polite Berwick folk are when it comes to queuing for food and drink.

There’s some lovely potted local history dotted around the pub featuring Berwick events and the people who helped shape the town. Wetherspoons does this sort of thing well. The Leaping Salmon (aka The Loupin’ Troot) celebrates the River Tweed, which the pub sits above (on the end of the Royal Tweed Bridge) and the migration of salmon up river in October and November. The building dates from 1798, built as the Corporation Academy with five spacious rooms “to be used for the mathematical school, the writing and three reading schools”. Following that, the pub has been a showroom, DIY shop, snooker hall and the Carousel pub.

12THE COUNTRY PUB
THE RAT INN, ANICK

The Rat Inn is a long, low, sandstone building, much like the others in Anick, the hamlet sitting high above Hexham reliably dated to an 1188 monks’ settlement. The counter in the tiny flagstoned bar, where a log fire tinkles in a blackened range, appears to be constructed from an old sideboard, though multiple layers of brown paint disguise its provenance. A dining area spreads over a raised level just out of earshot from taproom banter, while two other restaurant areas – one a conservatory – are regularly well inhabited. 

Remarkably for such an isolated spot, up to six cask ales are on parade – mainly local beers plus the perennial favourite Timothy Taylor’s Landlord. And so with the food – The Rat’s fiercely local network of suppliers gives chef Phil Mason a head start (as if he needed one).

Phil’s other half, Karen Errington, says: “We’ve had a great year, in fact we’ve increased business every year in the seven years we’ve been here. A lot of it is down to our reputation locally which helps particularly where we’re situated. Food is a big part of the pub – trade is consistent and we have a very good lunchtime custom.

“This summer we introduced live music outside which was very successful and we’ll be doing that again. We’ve also just had a Christmas craft weekend in the pub which was really busy and that’s a definite for next year.

“But the food is the key and it also helps us keep up to six ales on the bar – we sell loads mainly from local brewers, which our customers like. But it’s a tiny bar and I’m not sure we could do that without a great menu.”

13THE CITY PUB
DATBAR, NEWCASTLE

An emphasis on craft keg beers and great value wines in an ultra-stylish setting with a dash of panache, that’s the ingredients of dAtbAr. 

Aldo De Giorgi, a long-time operator with his family of high-profile bars, cafes and restaurants in Newcastle – think Popolo, Alvino’s, Secco, Don Vito’s, Intermezzo, Nine Bar, Pasqualino’s etc – is a craft beer evangelist.

“It’s been very good since we opened last March,” he says. “The best thing we did was open the space up instead of people thinking it was for theatre-goers only. We still have a terrific relationship with the Theatre Royal but we want dAtbAr to be like our manager Joel Darby’s house; that’s the way we look at it. The service element is always very, very important. The key people in our organisation are stable and very happy and are influential in the direction of the company, responsible for dealing with brewers and merchants.

“There’s no denying things have been been tough, but we’ve been in this business for 38 years and there are lots of great new things happening in the town – Lola Jeans, for example, has opened just along the street. We need that quality of support around us, like Pleased To Meet You and Lady Grey’s too. Grey Street has breathed life back into the city centre, it’s a huge improvement. Informal dining has taken off – the formal restaurant is dead. Where do you go for the best food these days – you go to the pub. Quality value is what we do very, very well. We’ve been breaking records every weekend, particularly recently – for example, we did 400 meals one Saturday in a space that holds about 50 people at a time.”

THE MICRO
DURHAM BREWERY

One of the region’s most accomplished microbreweries, Durham celebrated a significant anniversary earlier this year – 20 years from modest beginnings to high quality, streamlined production and a far-reaching reputation. 

Former music teachers Steve and Christine Gibbs set up their enterprise in 1994, quickly becoming pioneers of the modern light, hoppy style. The White Range – explorations of myriad hop varieties over a pale malt base – became the Durham signature and still forms the basis of many of the expressions it continues to produce. Magnificent stouts followed, then wheat beers long before they became fashionable in the UK, and Bavarian lagerbiers influenced heavily by the Gibbs’ regular trips to Germany. Durham beers hold their interest from first sip to final gulp, with a touch of complexity that gives the curious and discerning drinker something to mull over. And it looks like year number 21 will keep the ball rolling.

15THE REFURB
MARQUIS OF GRANBY

The Marquis of Granby at Sunniside, Gateshead, is one of those pubs most of us have whizzed past on the A692 and commented – “next time”. 

The stone-built pub (with the advantage of a huge car park) reopened during 2014 following an extensive refit by the Heineken-owned Stars Pubs & Bars group.

It’s large, spacious and open-planned with an obvious emphasis on food – a speciality being Hot Rock Grill (steak served on a slice of hot volcanic lava, so you can sizzle it yourself to exactly how you want it cooked).

An extensive range of pizzas and pasta dishes take up most of the menu with a “comfort list” of old favourites such as minced beef and dumplings. The Marquis has always had huge potential and its latest incarnation is going a long way to realising that.

Beers lean heavily on the Heineken list but owner David Bennison is keen to listen to what his local customers want.


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Alastair Gilmour



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