“ Market St, Lancaster. Tel:+44(0)1524 66466. „
I fell in love recently. It was Easter Saturday in Lancaster when myself, boyfriend and his family stumbled across the objection of affection, the gastropub Merchants 1688.when looking for a venue for a quick bite to eat at lunchtime. Located near the top of Lancaster's historic town centre, just down from the castle the Merchant 1688 has it all from a quirky historic building to good locally sourced food to real ales. It really is my my idea of a perfect pub.
Merchants 1688 (or the Merchants) is housed in a former wine cellar built over 300 years ago in 1688 (hence the name). It looks quite picturesque with creepers strewn over the facade half hiding the low archway entrance. There's an outdoor seating area which would be gorgeous on a hot sunny day during England's elusive summer. Its the sort of place that looks like it could be quite expensive to dine in but thankfully its not.
Inside its just as lovely. There's an upstairs and downstairs dining area and the main bar area. We sat in the downstairs dining area, which was in one of the old wine cellar with its vaulted arched roof and roughly hewn stone walls with the end one covered in flock wallpaper, which would not go amiss in an old fashioned curry house. I loved the quirkiness but somewhat authenticity of the building. The other thing we noticed was the music.. it seemed to be mostly old school indie music but just at the right level to hear but not too loud to hinder conversation.
Merchants seems to have a good range of drinks. I had a lovely refreshing half pint of the locally brewed Lancaster Blonde whilst the others had soft drinks. I can not comment on the drinks prices, as boyfriend's brother nicely bought the round . What I can comment on is the price of cheese and it was fairly reasonable.
I was highly impressed with the quality and selection of food on offer at the Merchants. All food if possible was locally sourced and home made. You could choose from a wide variety of dishes from sandwiches, traditional pub favourties such as fish and chips and bangers and mash to more adventurous gastro menu such as Moroccan lamb or pan fried salmon with a citrus and chili sauce. Pries are very reasonable with a lunch dish being round about the £5 mark and dinner dishes about £7 or £8 going up to £12.50 for the sirloin steak. Vegetarians are fairly well catered for with pasta dishes, salads and veggie burgers. There's no children's menu but thy do do mo most of their pubffavourite dishes in two sizes I assume to cater for children or those who have a smaller appetite or want a light bite. It was good to see such emphasis put on local food with Lancashire cheese, Morecambe Bay shrimps and Lancashire Hot Pot on offer. It really is great to find a pub that has reasonable ly priced quality food, which is not mass produced, frozen then put into the microwave , like it is in a lot of pubs.
I had a big dilemma what to choose form this lovely menu. I was tempted by a baguette filled with Lancashire cheese and rocket pesto, as I adore the lovely crumbly mild creamy Lancashire cheese. However I had had it on a pizza the night before so decided against it and instead plumped for the Morceambe bay potted shrimps since they were a local delicacy. I got a deep pot of meaty shrimps potted in a nice fairly spiced sauce, which had a definite touch of cayenne pepper. It was the first time I had tried potter shrimps and would certainly have them again. It was a simple;e lunch but very tasty. They came with a big basket of freshly baked crusty wholemeal bread and a side salad.
Most of the others in my party chose the simple option of a cheese and deli board. These were a steal at £3.50 for a huge chunk of cheese on a wooden board and pickle, lovely crusty bread, butter and salad garnish. Its the most simple lunch going but so tasty. I'm not a blue cheese fan but the locally produced Garstang Blue my boyfriend's mum had was not too bad, as it was mild and creamy with just a hint of the blueness so it was not too overpowering. One of my boyfriend's brothers had the smaller portion of goats cheese and leek lasagna which looked very tasty. The only thing that marred the meal was the farmhouse pate, an extra for the cheese and deli boards was not available that day.
The service was very friendly and helpful. When the cheese and deli boards arrived the waitress was knocked by a man who suddenly got up sending my boyfriend's lump of smoked Applewood and salad flying. They promptly replaced the meal and were able to do a salad without the oily dressing for one of our party.
Lancaster is a place we shall be visiting quite often due to my boyfriend's newborn niece. We shall certainly be returning to merchants 1688 for tasty, simple reasonable food, a quirky building and some good beer.
29 Castle Hill,
The Merchants is one of Lancaster's numerous pubs, but its characteristic charm makes certain that it will not blend into the crowd. Despite the fact that it has been around since the 1500s, it remains popular to this day, especially with the students. It is made up of 3 bays, which, as the story goes, were originally underground tunnels from the castle (which is only a stone's throw away, and now houses HM Prison!) One of these bays is non-smoking (catering for those who prefer this environment) whilst one houses the pool table, arcade games and large screen tv. There are many features of the Merchants which makes it so popular: the friendly staff, the 'toilet seats'(novelty seating amongst the tables and chairs, for those who wish to be a bit different, or can't manage the walk upstairs to the loos!), the quiz night, the who-wants-to-be-a-millionare game, not to mention the cheap food. The traditional menu has a range of burgers and chips, but the range that will impress people the most is the price range. You can get a spicy beanburger and chips for £1.49 or for the meateaters out there, a bacon and chicken burger and chips is only £1.99. This place has so much character that I know when i return to Lancaster in the future it is certainly a place that I will look up again. For those who live in Lancaster and have never been to the Merchants, you don't know what you are missing out on!