Back in the late ’90s I took many a tumble down the stairs at Gillespies in my Spice Girl-inspired platform trainers.
The stairs may remain at this well-known watering hole at the corner of St Thomas Street and John Street but, after a £250,000 investment, it’s the only reminder of the site’s colourful past guises.
The days of The Continental, Gillespies and, more recently, Oriental Palace Chinese restaurant, are long gone at 808 Bar & Kitchen, which is very much a bar and restaurant for the Instagram age. Don’t let the slick black facade fool you, inside there’s bursts of colour, from the baby pink blossom trees which punctuate the seating to retro blue booths and loud, feature wallpapers. The venture is the brainchild of four business partners who’ve managed to inject some vibrancy into a sleepier corner of their home city.
As well as being a late night bar, 808 serves food daily and although we visited on a Tuesday night (not usually a booming night for Sunderland’s restaurant trade), there was a fair few people trying out this new kid on the block. Such is the owners’ passion for music they named their venture after the 808 drum machine and full booths and a smooth music policy of laid-back house classics help to create a good atmosphere at the site, which books up quickly at weekends.
Punters are lured up that staircase by an imaginative menu which features plenty of sinful, stodgy options, such as platters, pizzas, burgers and sliders. This is definitely a place to leave your diet at the door.
Service was attentive and informative, but my meal got off to a disappointing start when I heard they’d ran out of my first choice of starter of king prawns flambéed in rum (£6.95). My second choice of cheesy bread shots (£5.25) was also a no go, but it was third time lucky with the halloumi fries (£5.50). We chose to share and they were good value for money at eight gooey strips which we dunked in the pot of sweet chilli mayo. I’ve paid the same for much less elsewhere.
A 2.7-tonne wood-fired pizza oven had to be lifted in by crane during the renovations, so after all that effort it felt only right to try the pizzas for mains. There’s a good range on offer with creative names to match the varied toppings, from the Smokeydoodah and Munch Bunch to Magic Mushrooms and Cheesus Crust. Prices are fair with most of the 12-inch choices coming in at around a tenner.
I chose the classic Pizza of Pizzas. Hand-stretched and nicely browned with just the right amount of bubble, the base was satisfyingly freshly made and came topped with plenty of mozzarella and refreshing basil.
My friend chose three of the sliders (from £2.50 each), a great option which gives you the chance to try small versions of the burgers which take your tastebuds on a trip around the world, from the Korean peninsula with the Kim Jong-Bun and its national dish of kimchi, to the heady spices of the Caribbean with the Jamaicamecrazy.
Drinks-wise, the choice is vast with plenty on draught, including the Mackem-sounding 808 gadgie liquid (£3.40) to options from further afield, such as a stein of Dortmunder for £8.
There’s also a huge range of spirits, which you can order by the bottle if you’re going out out, or by the glass if you’re just out.