AS a former Roker resident, I was once a regular at R Bar.
Back then it was the place to be on a Friday night, before that particular coastal drinking circuit began to wane. Could the bar’s new guise reignite it and lure drinkers back?
If first impressions are anything to go by, the answer is simply yes.
Some people may think the owners have taken licence with the spelling of Poetic License - there’s been quite the debate over their use of license over licence - but what’s undebatable is that the decor’s most definitely been improved, thanks to a £500,000 revamp.
Gone is the sports memorabilia, tartan wallpaper and clashing striped carpets to be replaced by a more cohesive theme, best described as industrial meets New York loft apartment chic. Think feature lighting hanging from chains, exposed brickwork, distressed furniture and dividing walls made from shelves of vintage-style glass bottles.
It’s reminiscent of successful bars elsewhere in the country and fits in with the improvements being made across the board at the coastal hotel.
It now boasts Let There Be Crumbs cakery, Italian Farmhouse restaurant and Poetic License bar and distillery.
Each has its own character, with the food and drink on offer here differing greatly from its stablemate venues.
Venues that merge a bar for drinks with an informal restaurant setting seem to be very of the moment, and here it blends seamlessly.
We were seated in a snug area which overlooks the soon-to-open distillery and its various shiny vats and pipes, which will be making the venue’s own spirits.
Though I also noticed a couple of rogue gaming machines, perhaps a remnant of R Bar, which looked a little incongruous amidst the new slick look.
Food-wise, the menu is a blend of ‘posh’ pub grub and classics, a mix of small plates to share, flatbreads and salads, classics such as bangers and mash, burgers, hot dogs and steak and fish, with the rather unusual addition of skewered hanging kebabs.
To start, we chose five small plates to share which you can pick up for three for a tenner or five for £15.
We chose the halloumi salad, grilled tiger prawns with garlic and chilli butter, hummus, tzatziki and chilli dips, pulled ham terrine and smoked salmon with crème fraîche bruschetta.
It sounds a lot, but the plates are served tapas-style, morsels designed to be dipped in and out of. The prawns were juicy and loaded with flavour, but hadn’t been overpowered with garlic, while the terrine was a delightfully chunky loaf which was heavy with pork and light on fat.
The starters were great, but it was our mains which stole the show.
We just had to go for the hanging kebabs, which come in a choice of Moroccan spiced lamb, tandoori salmon, chilli and garlic beef and BBQ chicken, priced either £8.95 or £9.95.
So what is a hanging kebab? Though I’ve had one up the road in Newcastle, this, I believe, is the first place to do them in Sunderland. It’s basically meat served on a vertical hanging skewer with a pot of sauce at the top. In this case, it’s garlic butter which you pour from the top so it douses the meat. At the base is a dish of either chips or salad.
With my dish, the subtle spice of lamb was so delicious, it didn’t need any more flavouring. The meat was succulently tender and you get plenty of large chunks for your pounds.
After that lot, we were stuffed so swerved puddings. But for those with room you can choose from options such as churros, milk and cookies and lemon posset, all served in a mug. Not sure whatever happened to plates, but the puddings served at the other tables certainly looked great.
Instead, we tried out the drinks menu.
Again, it’s bye bye to the alcopops and shots of R Bar and hello gin, rum and classic cocktails. I chose the cucumber collins, which comes served in a chunky cut glass tumbler. My pet hate is saccharine cocktail mixes, but this version was packed with fresh cucumber and lemon, with gin and soda. It smelt fresh, it tasted even better.
Prices are comparable to other venues of this ilk, starting from £5.45 for cocktails.
For those who prefer their drinks in pints, as well as the usual premium lagers and ciders on draught and by the bottle, there’s a regular cask of Sonnet 43 Craft Ale from the company’s own Brew House in Coxhoe.
There’s also four guest casks and four craft kegs each month.
When it comes to attracting punters back to Roker with the promise of top food and drink, this venue has a licence to thrill.