KEY to the success of any new venue is getting noticed. And Port of Call has done just that.
Its stripped-back, industrial chic interiors, which doff their cap to Sunderland’s ship-building heritage, have proved a talking point amongst punters - even if it’s not to everyone’s taste - as it aims to bring something different to the city centre’s pub scene.
Over the past few years, launching a new watering hole in the town has proved a gamble. There’s been the good, the bad and the ugly.
Port of Call has come in all guns blazing. Not only did the owners of nearby Gatsby buy the former Chase pub, they demolished it to make way for their new venture.
After months of construction, and a small fortune spent on marketing going by the flyers and banners seen dotted around the city, the £1million venue opened its doors just in time for New Year’s Eve.
Instead of going down the obvious route of catering for the younger crowd, it’s aimed at the over 25s: those who prefer to sup a pint in a pub where they can actually hear their mates over the music.
Like Liberty Brown and Dr Feelgood, which run as a bar and restaurant working in tandem, food is served here up until 9.30pm every night.
It’s all pretty informal and though you can just turn up, we booked ahead of our arrival.
A trendy-looking waiter, with a radio ear piece for extra authority, seated us at one of the booths which line the back wall of the first floor bar. In keeping with the theme, lights above you are made from old ships’ ropes and seafaring instruments and lamps pepper the walls. There’s even a homage to ships built on the Wear, such as the City of Adelaide clipper, whose names are printed on metal girders. A great touch which reminds you that this is an independent, Sunderland pub, not just another faceless chain.
The menu hones in on grilled meats and fish. So much so, there’s no vegetarian option as yet, but I’ve heard they’re working on it, as well as a menu for mini landlubbers.
In the meantime, meat eaters can pick from hearty options such as spiced pull pork (£9), burgers priced from a fiver, Shetland mussels (£8) and blackened cod (£11.50).
For those who want more ‘picky bits’ you can select from the bar bait section which features fiery chicken wings (£6) and pork scratchings (£3.50). I went with the latter for my starter choice and was presented with a huge mound of the perfectly crisp rinds with a deep bowl of sauce for dunking. There was so many of them in fact, that they defeated me and I had to leave some to make way for mains.
We chose to share the tomahawk steak which comes in at £31. Before you balk at the price, it’s a whopper of a steak, 24oz to be precise. As such, it’s perfectly sized for two people, and comes with two sides and sauces, which include choices such as mac and cheese and sweet potato and three bean chilli.
As you’d expect from a trendy bar, it arrived on a chunky wooden board and, because it’s a tomahawk steak, is served on the bone which makes for a more dramatic presentation than most.
We’d asked for it medium rare and although it was slightly more well done than this, it was still beautifully succulent.
Special mention must also go to my choice of sauce, which, in keeping with the quirky presentation, was served in a mini saucepan. Rich, loaded with flavour, and not too in your face so that it detracted from the flavour of the meat, this was one of the best versions of a peppercorn sauce I’ve had.
Hats off also to the drinks menu. We washed our meal down by working our way through the cocktails, an impressive list. Most have been given sea-faring names - Sailor at Sea, The Deep Blue and Blackbeard’s daiquiri - with prices starting from £5.50.
My personal favourite was the lychee collins (£6.50). I’ve had this as an overly-sugary cocktail mix in other bars in the town, but this one was executed with perfection; a smooth blend of lychee-infused gin, fresh lemon juice and cucumber with a Fentiman’s ginger beer top.
Beers are priced from £3.20 to £4.50, with locally-sourced draught such as Double Maxim and Wylams Collingwood Beer.
Now the much-anticipated Port of Call’s set anchor, this is a new venue that seems here to stay.