Sunderland’s old city centre fire station is poles apart from its former guise.
Derelict for more than 20 years, The Fire Station and its ground floor Engine Room bar and bistro, have risen from the ashes of this forgotten building thanks to the millions of pounds ploughed into Sunderland’s emerging cultural quarter.
We may have lost to Coventry as City of Culture 2021, but the embers of investment made as part of the city’s cultural future are still burning bright – and none more brightly than at The Fire Station.
While the upper floors at this new £3.5million venue focus on dance, drama studios and a heritage centre, the downstairs bistro is all about beer and bait.
I visited on a Tuesday night, usually a sleepy evening in the city centre, but the place was bustling and there’s still a palpable buzz about how this building has been totally transformed, whilst still paying homage to its heritage.
All that could be saved from the actual Fire Station has been, with original tiling and features, including the names of the old firefighters above their pegs, complemented by paraphernalia from the now defunct Fulwell Fire Station over the water, such as the original signage, firefighters’ hats and more.
As this is very much a pub that serves food, and not a restaurant, bookings can only be taken for large groups, but we managed to bag a spot in one of the comfortable booths that hug the panoramic windows at the site.
The menu’s a better than average pub offering, with choices such as a mac ‘n’ cheese flatbread and falafel pitta. There’s also a particularly good choice for mini munchers, which is served until 8.30pm, the same time as the adults menu. This is very much a pub with a family-focused atmosphere and there’s plenty of space for buggies, wheelchairs and large groups.
We chose to order tapas-style from the substantial starters menu with pulled pork nachos (£9), prawn pil pil (£7), halloumi in bread crumbs (£5.50) and baked Camembert (£5.50). We’d ordered an extra side of bread, but didn’t need to as the portions managed to put our waistbands to the test on their own.
The nachos were a towering heap of tender pork on a bed of what can best be described as posh nachos, smothered in lashings of guacamole, sour cream, cheese and jalapeños. They were a meal in them self.
The Camembert was gloriously gooey and well priced compared to versions I’ve had elsewhere, while the prawns were served Spanish style in a moreish garlic oil with huge doorstopper wedges of bread to mop up every last finger-licking drop.
There’s also themed days to look out for such as tapas specials on Wednesday, try a pie day every Monday when you can pick up two for £15 and a Sunday lunch menu with more options than most.
I’d heard grumbles about a wait for food previously, but on this occasion it was pretty prompt. Maybe teething problems have been ironed out.
I don’t drink beer (weird, I know) but there’s a good choice of rotating kegs and craft ales – though you pay for the premium pleasure. Wine-wise, choices are limited by the glass, but most bottles will give you change from £20.