REVIEW: Bonbar, Fenkle Street

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LAST time I was in The Assembly Rooms it was a casino. At the roulette wheel I put £60 on red … it landed on black. D’oh!

Today, however, you’re odds on for a good night out in the magnificent Georgian building after an impressive £1million pound refurbishment and a change of tack. Gone are the roulette wheels and blackjack tables, and in comes the decidedly upmarket, contemporary Bonbar, that makes every effort to exude sophistication and glamour.

A gargantuan bar takes centre stage in this cavernous venue with booths dotted all around where you can sit down, relax and drink in the atmosphere … or just drink. Cocktails were the refreshment of choice among the clientele when we arrived, with all sorts of exotic concoctions (many billowing dry ice!) being dished out by the staff, but we were there to sample the food on offer.

And it was pleasing to note that the effort in moving the venue upmarket had extended to the food. Available until 9pm each night, the menu was a mix of pub classics such as steak and ale pie and burger alongside more imaginative fayre like sweet potato and chickpea curry and miso cod.

For starters we ordered the selection of breads, which came with salted butter and tapenades, the Asian salmon fishcakes (£6.50) and the lime leaf chicken skewers (£7).

The fishcakes were livened up with a zingy lime and soy dipping sauce, as too was the chicken, which was accompanied by a sweet chilli dip.

What added to our enjoyment was the banter from the staff. Our meals were served by Sunderland lad Scott Patterson who, as well as singing the praises of the restaurant, regaled us of his tales in the trade, including a particularly character-confirming anecdote about Russell Brand (space, and taste, means you’ll have to ask him yourself).

For our mains my wife opted for the grilled halloumi salad which did not skimp on quality or quantity, with ample amounts of halloumi, marinated beetroot, dill tzatziki dressing and baby potatoes (£8.50). I choose the fish of the day – sea bass, with salsa verde, which was cooked beautifully. We ended our evening with a warm chocolate and beetroot brownie (£5) and fruit crumble with custard (£5).

Unlike my last visit to the Assembly Rooms, Bonbar proved no gamble … it was a sure-fire winner.