“TURN the lights on,” chirped a fellow diner.
It was said in jest, but the lighting here is somewhat dark.
For courting couples it helps to create a cosy ambience on a chilly autumnal evening. But if it was a tad brighter you’d be able to appreciate what a fine room this is.
Its oak-panelled walls evoke an ‘olde worlde’ feel while black and white photos and Vaux paraphernalia hark back to yesterday Sunderland.
Views too are impressive from this upstairs room, stretching out along the Wear to the Wearmouth Bridge and beyond. Even the table settings are red and white - there’s no mistaking this is a Sunderland venue.
Barnett’s is a new addition to this perennially-popular boozer which, since its relaunch a couple of years ago, has racked up accolades including the Sunderland and South Tyneside Camra Pub of the Year two years on the trot, thanks to its purveyance of real ales.
Though you’re seated upstairs in arguably one of the city’s best pubs, this still feels like a stand alone restaurant - with the advantage of being able to order drinks from downstairs.
Chef Andrew Barnett, formerly of The Stackyard in East Herrington, wears the venue’s eponymous chef’s hat here and he’s trying - and succeeding - to make a stamp with the food.
In keeping with the theme of this venue, the menu boasts hearty fare. And though it’s pub grub, it’s pub grub executed with flair and panache.
Take my starter for instance - black pudding with a poached egg and peppercorn sauce.
Though it’s often shunned by squeamish eaters and left to languish on the plate of a belly-busting breakfast, the trusty black pudding has undergone a renaissance of late and is becoming a versatile regular on gastro pub menus.
This example was as far from a greasy spoon cafe version as you can get. The tender, non-greasy disc, which had been grilled instead of fried, provided the perfect base for a soft egg which oozed its yolk at the lightest of touches and swirls of peppercorn sauce which gave the dish an added kick.
If you still can’t be swayed by black pudding, other options on the evening starters menu, which runs from 5pm until 9pm, include mussels (£5.80), chicken liver pate (£4.50) and scotch egg (£4.95).
The main menu too is a carnivore’s paradise - home made steak and ale pie, made with Jarrow ale (£8.50), Aberdeen Angus burger (£6.95), lamb shank (£11.50) and more.
Though this is a concise menu, there’s also some vegetarian options for the non-meat eaters.
I chose poached salmon and king prawns, served with homemade chips or seasonal vegetables for £9.95. It was beautifully presented with lush green beans and a rich tarragon cream. The latter was a thick and lustrous addition to the lighter main ingredients, without detracting from their flavour.
Opposite, my friend tucked into an impressive slow roasted belly pork with grilled black pudding (there it is again), creamed mash, vegetables and a honey and mustard jus (£9.50).
I’m assured it tasted as good as it looked. This is certainly proper grub for a proper pub.
Just make sure you bring cash so you aren’t left singing for your supper, as there isn’t a card machine yet.