Food Review: Shark Club – A Sports Bar With A Bit Of Bite
By Adam Clery on November 4, 2011 in Food
There are very few instances when I’ll allow myself to completely drop this icy shell of sophistication and self-regard and audibly exhale a ‘wow’, but by the time we’d been served our starters, I’d done it thrice.
This sort of thing had happened once previously, when my first ever encounter with a 24 hour supermarket, and my first ever encounter with a “special” bag of mushrooms, happened to occur within an hour of each other. But we’ll not get into that.
Tonight though, far from the shiny things in the pet food isle, the venue was Newcastle’s latest (and I suspect only) Canadian import, an ultra-modern gastro/cocktail/sports bar – or Shark Club to use its “street” name.
I’ll confess. My reaction to hearing that the former site of the Scottish and Newcastle Brewery was going to be graced by the presence of a swanky, slick slice of transatlantic table service, was not one of unbridled delight. Presumably still reeling for the fact that I was never again to gorge on the sweet autumnal malts that wafted through its concrete, as I strolled back down Gallowgate with three precious Premier League points tucked under my arm, the only rejoinders I was willing to offer sat somewhere between a roll of the eyes and a shrug of the shoulders. Or ‘meh’ if you’re so inclined.
But no sooner had my own pupils begun to dilate from the dark of the room and the glare of the endless television screens which adorned the walls, than my plentiful cobwebs of underwhelmism were swept effortlessly aside.
The point I’m labouring over here is that, despite my tender looks and delicate yet inviting facial lines, I’ve seen my fair share of Newcastle’s watering holes and swanky troughs. Some of them have raised an eyebrow, some of them even milked a “hmm”, but none before have managed to get a fully committed and unabashed “wow” out of me.
You see the thing about Shark Club, and what sets it apart from everywhere else, is that it’s a one off.
Withhold your skepticism for a moment and hear me out. We’ve all been in Sports Bars before, I’m sure we all remember what an unrelenting mess of pool tables, hen nights and stagnant urine the Sports Cafe was before Wetherspoons put it out of its misery. That’s because we, the British, cannot pull this sort of thing off. We’ll stick up posters of James Dean and eBayed portraits of non-specific American football jerseys and think we’re being cultured. We’ll wedge a Budweiser tap in between the Fosters and Kronenberg and claim to do the “best rootin’ tootin’ curly fries in town”. Enough. Please.
Which brings me nicely back to my point. Shark Club isn’t a tacky imitation of what some disgruntled regional manager from Slough vaguely remembers from his two hour stop-over in Toronto, it’s actually a genuine slice of Vancouver hospitality. It’s practically the Canadian embassy.
From the 40+ TV screens (showing a mix of British and American sports broadcasting) to the buzzing colony of waitresses (broadcasting a mix of British and American showmanship) it’s the complete package. You’d be mistaken for thinking you were actually on holiday, provided the first thing you’d do on your travels was head into somewhere for a pint and a gawp at the tele.
Well, I say “pint”…
I am a man, and as such, I have to be very careful about recommending any drinks which might come with umbrellas in them. But the quality of the cocktails on show here was absolutely breathtaking. Just for you, and because we’re so very dedicated to our jobs, we made a special effort to try every one of the 7 concoctions on offer here and, if I may be so bold, they’re what I’d recommend most. They’re also what provided me with the second “wow” of the evening.
The Mexican Bulldog, which must be seen to be believed, is a tequila and triple sec concoction that comes with an upturned bottle of Corona in it; the Long Island Ice Pop is, as the name suggests, part lolly; the Ceaser can only be described as having bullied a Bloody Mary through school; and the World’s Best Gin & Tonic was, I’m delighted to tell you, not exaggerating. Ranging between £5 and £7, they’re even competitive with any other decent effort in mixology in town.
Be brave. Give your pint the night off.
It does say food review on this page though, and that’s duly what arrived at our table next. Feeling it would be prudent to try a broad selection of the appertisers, we opted for just a half portion of nachos to go with one or two other things that had caught our eye. I’m not sure what constitutes a “half” in Canada, but judging by the size of the plate we were presented with, their football games must be about 4 days each way. There were three of us and, as a starter, we couldn’t even dent them; bought on their own we might have gotten about half way. If you’re turning up in a group and want something to line a few stomachs, they’re seemingly tailor-made only £6.95.
For just shy of a tenner, you’d expect a plate of Steak Bites to be absolutely out of this world and, it has to be said, they were, but so to were the Pepper Prawns at almost half the price. It was comparisons like this which did highlight both the menu’s main triumph, and it’s only short coming – there are some things on there which are definitely, definitely to be saved for special occasions.
For example, two people could come here, sit down for a meal, and probably hit three courses for well under £30, which is fantastic value anywhere these days. But likewise, if you fancied treating yourself and, like we did, started getting experimental with the drinks, the sky would virtually be the limit for your bill.
On the face of it, this kind of choice and flexibility is a great thing, but given that everything we tried, regardless of how much it cost, was of an exceptional standard, it makes you wonder why it all can’t be pocket friendly. It also means you’ve got to come in and demonstrate a degree of restraint, and we all know how bad we are at that. But that’s a tiny gripe to pick at, and if every restaurant in the region had the same problem I’d probably eat out a lot more.
Finally we made it to the mains, which if this was a gig review I’d have to say I didn’t envy. The decor, the cocktails, and the starters had all set a bar impossibly high and I’d be lying if I said they slightly, fractionally, hardly, imperceptibly disappointing. I have to put this in context though, as if I’d waltzed straight in off the street, dispensed with the foreplay, and tucked straight in to them, I’d have been raving about them before I’d even finished chewing.
Let’s get one thing straight, neither my Chicken and Tiger Prawns, or the Seafood Linguine and Jambalaya that also adorned my table are getting anything other than gleaming reviews, but the act the had to follow was one that would have made virtually anything feel a little flat. On their own merits though, they were excellent.
Tucked under the shadow of St James’ Park, it’ll provide welcome relief (and unwelcome competition) to the usual sardine tin of Shearer’s Bar. It’s got that wonderful flexibility to be a heaving hub of post and pre match banter, a quiet place to grab some lunch, a cosmopolitan drinks and dance hotspot, a banker for a first date, a swarve xmas party, or whatever else it needs to be, so you’ll find yourself with a plethora or occasions to check it out. And you should check it out, because it’s really, really good.
- Beer It Comes – Ashbrooke I Love You