During the recent Armistice celebrations a photo caught my eye – a picture of troops outside a public house at the bottom of Bridge Street, I didn’t recognise the pub name. I had to think for a moment, where is that? Ah, that’s The Encore.
It’s funny how quickly the past becomes a jigsaw. Further investigation reveals the building to date to the 16th century, and the first pub there was called The Bear; a later recording around 1800 cites the pub as being called The Anchor. It became The Encore in the 1970s reckons a Herald colleague. No doubt it’s had other names; and our facts are fuzzy and muddled.
We like to cling on to our heritage, and often rue the changing times. A particular reminder of that is the increasingly empty number of retail properties as internet shopping does away with footfall in the town. Cheap supermarket booze has also seen pubs closing – worryingly 25 per cent of pubs have closed since 2001.
So how as a pub do you stay ahead of the game and, crucially, still a going concern?
The Encore’s recent reopening last month following a revamp is a lesson in how to do things in style, and keep the wolf from the door.
Situated in the heart of the canal basin, a short stroll to the theatres, its biggest clientele is the tourists. While I’ve often popped in for a drink – it’s a great place to sit and relax – invariably one is surrounded by out-of-towners sitting down to eat.
So The Encore needs to keep casual local drinkers happy and dining visitors leaving glowing reviews on Tripadvisor.
The pub has been given a generous lick of paint on the outside – definitely raising the bar for the increasingly tatty Bridge Street. The interior has had an even slicker makeover – peacock colours, lushly upholstered sofas, and lots of pomping and preening, with dazzling knickknacks, and all tastefully done. It’s a feminine chi-chi look, part boudoir, part country chic.
It feels like the sort of place you come to for a regular treat. A gin on Friday night for example. Ah yes, gin. Naturally The Encore is on board with the all-consuming trend for gin – and it even has its own gin station, where you can order any number of brands and mixers, and then, once you have your goldfish bowl of booze, you can pimp it up with all sorts of syrups, botanicals, condiments and fruit – anything from diced apple to sprigs of rosemary. Don’t worry, there’s still a full bar, and the staff are very welcoming, so it’s not like you have to get glammed up to pay a visit unless you feel so inclined.
The Herald was invited to try out the new extensive menu. We took a seat upstairs where the dining room has a lovely view over the canal.
The food choices are vast – steaks, pizza, pasta, and seafood. And the feel is bistro with American accents. I started with scallops with grilled brie and bacon. Yes, that sounds over the top and indulgent and it was, deliciously so – the scallops had a nice sweetness to them, undercut by the smokiness of the bacon.
For mains I plumped for the most expensive thing on the menu: the fillet steak (£24.50) which came with ale-glazed shallot tart topped with Cropwell Bishop custard, Stilton and walnut crumb and twice-cooked chunky chips, with which I greedily ordered a side of king prawns and garlic butter. Well, it’s not often I get to ‘surf and turf’. The steak was well cooked with a lovely flavour, but it wasn’t the most tender I’ve ever had, and the prawns could have been bigger and fresher.
A silky and scrumptious New York-style cheesecake rounded of my visit with a small round of applause for The Encore.