There’s been a shift in Saturday nights in Sunderland.
Sure, there’s still plenty of bargain shots and dancefloor-filling music to be had, but the renaissance of the area that’s been dubbed the ‘cultural quarter’ has seen the emergence of a new type of Saturday night scene.
It’s one that’s a lot less rowdy and arguably more pricey than elsewhere in the city, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less popular.
The transformation of the area around the old Fire Station has seen a rise in trade in this side of town and the success story of its pub, the Engine Room, has had a knock-on effect in neighbouring pubs.
We popped in for a pre-dinner pint on a Saturday night in January and found ourselves five deep at the Engine Room bar before heading over the road to another new addition in this corner of the city, No2 Church Lane.
Despite it being open since last summer, this was my first visit here. Not through want of trying, however. I’d attempted a few times to visit in the first few weeks only to be told they weren’t serving food and I gave up and took my rumbling tummy elsewhere.
Trip Advisor also seems to have a love / hate affair with this site, meaning it sits at a lowly 114 in the ratings. Some might say you should never judge a restaurant on its Trip Advisor ranking and that’s certainly the case here.
Thanks to a combination of good burgers, beats and beers, we enjoyed our Saturday night at ‘Churchy’ so much we spent three-and-a-half hours there - and it would have been longer had the bell not rung for last orders.
Much like Manchester’s Northern Quarter it’s got the perfect recipe for an informal, inclusive night out. The music’s great (as you’d expect from the owner, who’s also behind the city’s Independent club), but the smooth blend of soul, funk and disco isn’t loud enough to drown out your conversation.
It’s an informality echoed in the bare brick New York loft-style interiors which are comfortable enough and fits well with the period features of this historic building, which was well-known as an opticians for a number of years.
The food exceeded my expectations too. The restaurant capitalises on the gourmet burger trend, but there’s more thought gone into the menu than most with a good range for vegans and vegetarians, as well as inventive specials to coincide with shows at the nearby Empire.
There’s a fine line between inventive burgers and just plain daft though and, thankfully, it’s a burger menu devoid of odd accompaniments like Lucky Charms and Monster Munch.
To start, we chose deep fried gherkins £2 (amazing, if Marmite-esque, invention), halloumi fries £2.95 (gloriously gooey cheese dream) and chicken goujons £3.95 (better than just finger-licking good).
My choice of Plain and Simple (£8 with chips) was the least adventurous of the burger options, but it allowed the quality of the succulent meat to shine. None of your flaccid patties as served up in burger chains here.
Meanwhile, my friend’s choice of Tyrannosaurus Mex was a towering double 3oz burger flanked by chilli with Flag Porter (from the local Darwin Brewery), Monterey Jack cheese, chorizo and chilli jam. Belly-busting perfection.
There’s also an excellent selection of more than 70 craft beers from around the world, as well as creative cocktails to wet your whistle, such as Aperol and peach spritz (£6) and an exceptional negroni, made properly with burnt orange peel to release the zest (£6.50)
They took a little while to make, but they were worth the wait.
More of this in Sunderland please.