What we thought of Poetic License bar - the home of one of Sunderland's biggest exports

What better way to celebrate the end of Dry January than with a trip to a distillery?

Wednesday, 29th January 2020, 5:00 pm
Poetic License bar and distillery within the Roker Hotel, Roker, Sunderland.
Poetic License bar and distillery within the Roker Hotel, Roker, Sunderland.

I remember the bar at the Roker Hotel when it was R Bar, a lively end of the route after a Friday night spent going round the Roker pubs.

Fast forward to 2020 and it’s very much a bar for the 21st Century: a hybrid destination venue with a bar serving its own-brand gin distilled on site, hearty food that caters for a range of dietary requirements and a buzzing late night atmosphere for both its hotel guests and non-residents, as well as various parties, all under one roof. There’s even a flower wall, the true marker of a bar that’s entered the Instagram age.

The aforementioned gin shares the bar’s name and it’s a brand that’s proved to be one of Sunderland’s most successful exports of late, with 50,000 bottles of Poetic License made each year and sold worldwide, as well as being stocked on the shelves of supermarket chains such as Asda and high-end stores including Harvey Nichols.

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Small plates, flatbreads and dirty fries from the food menu

Each batch is distilled in the on-site pot still, Gracie, who looms large at the back of the bar and you can learn all about her, and the award-winning gin she helps to create, at gin masterclasses, which are priced from £19.95 per person.

We’d booked for food in the restaurant area, rather than a masterclass, but server Nathan was still on hand to talk us through the different serves, from a wintry Fireside gin served with ginger ale to the brand’s popular Picnic gin with mixed fruits, which is perfect for beer garden weather. (Gins are priced from £4.95 for a single)

If gin’s not your thing, there’s also a good range of ales and craft keg beers from local and national breweries, from the hospitality firm’s own-brand S43 beers to the regular beers you’d expect to find in a bar.

Food-wise, there was a better range than I remembered from my last visit a couple of years ago, as well as more options for people after gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan or vegetarian grub.

The distillery is through a glass window at the back of the bar

As it’s primarily a bar, the seating area is less formal than a restaurant, but it’s a good choice if you’re eating in a group or after somewhere with a weekend vibe. The food suits the relaxed feel of the venue with a range of sharing platters, flatbreads, burgers and a better selection of pub grub than most, with choices such as beef and ale pie made with their own brand beer (£10.95), hanging kebabs, priced from £10.95, and Sunderland’s signature dish of cheesy chips at £2.95.

As a group of four girls starting their Saturday night out, we got stuck into a range of flatbreads and small plates to share. Pretty soon after ordering, the centre of our table was filled up with a spicy pulled beef flatbread (£6.95); hummus and feta cheese flatbread (£7.95) and nachos, mac ‘n’ cheese and olives from the small plates section, which is three plates for £12 or five for £18. The dirty fries sounded too good to miss, so we added them to the order at £5.95.

Prices are really reasonable for the portion size with plenty of tender, shredded beef in the doughy flatbread, which is served folded with red cabbage and salad and had plenty of kick flavour-wise. The veggie cheese version too came with plenty of chunks of buttery feta. It’s a simple dish but it hit the spot.

The nachos too did the trick while the mac’n’cheese served with bacon was a good warmer on a winter’s night.

Small plates are priced three for £12 and a perfect for nibbling on inbetween gins

It was the dirty fries, however, which proved the crowd favourite. They did what it said on the tin – a heap of sinful chips loaded with plenty of smoky piri piri pork and gooey cheese and are the perfect way to line your stomach for all those gins.

I’ve had mixed service at the restaurant over the years, but Saturday night’s was spot on and the staff juggled multiple covers on a fully-booked night well.

Poetic License may have taken poetic licence with the spelling of the term, but they’ve got a fun, Saturday night out on the seafront nailed.

Spicy pulled pork flatbread
There's a seating area within the bar for diners
Dirty fries come loaded with piri piri pork and cheese