WANT good grub in a traditionsl pub? Then this reincarnation is a dun deal.
There was much hype around the MAC Trust taking over this historic boozer and bringing it back to its former glory, and justifiably so.
This Edwardian watering hole with its intricate Art Nouveau back bar is a jewel in the crown of city pubs. They don’t make them like this anymore.
MAC Trust is a charity, set up to further arts and culture in the city – the acquisition of this pub, which dates back to 1901, is the first phase in its plans to create a cultural quarter centred around the nearby Old Fire Station.
So while the trust focuses on its ambitious plans for the city, the day-to-day running of the pub is in the capable hands of Head of Steam, a brand run by Camerons Brewery.
The real ale and music brand has already had considerable success in Durham and Newcastle, and it seems its ethos of pulling proper pints is reeling them in on Wearside too.
It’s a small pub. It only holds a few dozen, and we managed to get the last table – though the crowds tend to disperse once it’s curtain up at the Empire over the road.
The lights are pretty bright inside, maybe a little too bright, but I guess if you’ve invested in specialists restoring the ornate details of the bar, down to the gold sheen on the namesake dun cow centrepiece, you may as well be able to see it.
Other than that, there’s a cosy atmosphere with roaring fires in cast iron fireplaces and a snug area to warm yourself up on a winter’s night.
Amidst the loud and neon-lit bars elsewhere in town, this is a beer-lover’s haven for craft ales and keg and cask beers. Until November 23, there’s a North vs South festival where you can sample a range of beers from up north and down south including pints from Northern Alchemy, Hawkshead Brewery and The Kernel.
Fans of Mother’s Ruin are also in for a treat. It’s a pet hate of mine not to be asked what brand of gin I’d like when ordering a G&T and here you can choose from 20. Yes, 20, including Hendricks for the bargain price of £2.70 – a third of the price I’ve seen it elsewhere.
But the newly-restored Dun Cow won’t just wet your whistle, it will whet your appetite too. Food is served Monday to Saturday, from noon to 8pm, and noon to 6pm on Sunday.
It’s a compact menu, but it does the trick, and features tapas, burgers, sharing platters, ciabattas and a good kids menu.
We chose a charcuterie sharer (£11.95 for two) and two tapas to share.
Prices are reasonable and cheaper than chain tapas bars with two tapas for £7.50, three for £10.50 and four for £13.50.
Our stomachs were well and truly rumbling after our dishes took 40 minutes to arrive, but as we weren’t off to the theatre it wasn’t too much of a problem.
A slate slab was laden with local cheeses, olives, anchovies, various cured meats, celery, dinky pots of chutney and butter and huge doorstopper wedges of bread. It was great value for two people.
The freshly-made tapas also went down a storm. The chef has worked in tapas restaurants in the dishes’ birthplace – and it shows.
Our gambas pil pil – scores of king prawns in a garlic and chilli sauce (£4.50) – had a real kick and was as good as I’ve eaten in its motherland.
We’d also ordered the crispy chicken (£4.25) and were presented with a terracotta dish spilling over with tender mounds of chicken in a moreish chilli and honey sauce.
Wonderful atmosphere: tick. Great food and drink: tick. As far as restorations go, the pub’s dun good.