EATING OUT: Bags of big changes at revived Shop
The Closed Shop in Commonside has had more chapters in its history than most.'¨Last year the pub went through a rollercoaster few months '“ shutting suddenly when owner Reet Ale Pubs ceased trading and then becoming the focus of a passionate community campaign to keep it open.
It was eventually taken over and reopened by Stancill Brewery’s Thomas Gill and Adam Hague, who drank there as students.
Almost six months on, following a bumper Christmas, and the changes are clear to see.
The casual atmosphere and decor remains, but there has been a big shift towards food – and not just of the ordinary pub grub kind.
The Closed Shop has become something of an unlikely haunt for vegans, offering a brand new plant-based menu every Tuesday, which is drawing in visitors from far and wide.
“Never in my life did I ever expect I’d be a vegan chef”, laughs head chef Rose Heggie, formerly of the Rising Sun at Fulwood.
“There’s no point in not doing vegan now because you are cutting out a big section of people. If you’ve got a party of six, one of them is vegan and the place doesn’t cater for them, the group is going to go elsewhere.
“Bringing in a new wholly vegan menu has been a challenge for us but we are learning as we go and the feedback has been really good.
“We’re on the opposite side of the city to the vegan quarter so we are catering to people who might not have much choice apart from going to a chain in town.”
If you aren’t looking for dishes starring butternut squash, there’s a strong chance the beer might pull you in instead, with £2 happy hours on Stancill ales and cocktail nights too.
The a la carte menu, printed on paper and propped up by a bottle of Henderson’s Relish on the tables, has some more interesting dishes, with red snapper and artichoke bruschetta among last Friday’s choices.
It’s a bit different from the stodgy pork pie we had in the Closed Shop as a desperation drinking snack about a year ago.
Rosie, who also trained with Simon Ayres and Jon Tite at The Showroom cafe, added: “The main thing that we wanted to do was make everything fresh – absolutely everything that we do is home made down to the bread and the chips and the ice cream.
“We wanted to make food that people will know what it is and really enjoy it, but it be something they wouldn’t normally have the time or the inclination to make at home.”
Booking isn’t essential but we had a table reserved just in case last Friday – and it turned out to be a good job as the place was packed.
There is table service, and our waitress scored top marks for her just-friendly-enough manner and swiftness.
There was room for improvement with both our starters, however.
His mini Yorkshire with pulled lamb (£4.50) was too cold – which in turn made the lamb gravy seem over salted.
I liked the dense bread with a crunchy outer crust in my Yorkshire rarebit, but it was also affected by being served at the wrong temperature.
Henderson’s seemed to be in both the slabs of melted cheese and onion pickle, and a poached egg was a nice touch.
When we mentioned the lack of heat, the waitress dealt well with the complaint and promised ‘piping hot’ mains would follow.
Things did look up for the next courses,
His fillet steak was of excellent quality, and had been cooked to pink, juicy perfection in the middle.
The meat apparently comes from Price and Fretwell, in Derbyshire, and at £13.95 was a good tenner under what you’d expect to pay in some similar pub.
It came with mammoth squares of proper crispy,. golden chips and a whole jug of well seasoned peppercorn sauce, plus salad and roasted tomatoes.
My chicken ballontine (£12.95) was stuffed with plenty of sage and hearty sausage, with some cranberries to break through the savoury focus and bring back a taste of Christmas.
Fondant potatoes had been executed well – and a combination of bread sauce and chicken gravy brought the different elements , also including red cabbage, together.
There was a Yorkshire pudding perched on top, but it was dry and some greens would have served the dish better.
Desserts are displayed on a separate board, and come with a staggering array of ice creams, all made in the pub and with some very different flavours (they also do vegan ice cream)
We split a creamy banana and white chocolate cheesecake, which had a good chunky base and was dreamy, as was the intense white chocolate and orange ice cream in the side.
A gigantic brownie had the right shiny baked top and there was certainly plenty of it underneath to go with the rich bourbon infused ice cream, even if it was a bit more like cake.
With a gin fizz and a pint of Stancill we paid £52.95. It wasn’t perfect but there is plenty of potential here.
The Closed Shop, Commonside
Tel: 01142 3276484