City's cellars are perfect setting for beautiful meal
One of the oldest buildings in Lancaster, Merchants has long since been one of my favourite pubs in the city.
Set in “rediscovered” cellars dating back more than 300 years, the pub is made up of a main room along with three stone archways, and a mountain of character on top.
But while Merchants 1688 has been firmly on my list of cracking places to drink, I only recently stumbled across its fantastic food offering.
It was actually husband Martyn who discovered the quality of the menu, quite by accident, and that’s what took us back for our tea on Tuesday evening.
Another - very welcome - discovery we made, was it is actually cheaper to drink wine than not to drink wine on certain nights of the week. Winner.
On Mondays and Tuesdays, the restaurant and bar offers “wine and dine” - two main courses and a bottle of wine for £28.
Clocking the offer, (but not before already ordering two pints) we made ourselves comfortable in one of the cosy archways to peruse the menu.
Several starters caught our eye, including a sharing antipasti of meats, sun-dried tomatoes, olive tapenade and focaccia, as well as pan-seared scallops.
But we both decided on firm favourites of Morecambe Bay potted shrimps, served warm with bread and salad, at a cost of £8.
And they were absolutely gorgeous.
Served with melting, flavoursome butter, and cooked perfectly, Martyn described them as “lush” and said he would make the journey for those alone for lunch.
The main menu looked just as good, divided into pub favourites and main courses.
I was torn between Lancashire hot pot, pie of the week - chicken and leek, which looked great at the table next to us - and also duck breast and lamb rump.
Everything sounded amazing, all served with interesting sides and reasonably priced for the quality we had come to expect.
But, as the steak had been recommended by Martyn, who assured me it was delicious, that’s what we both chose. We plumped for the 10oz rump steak, with garlic sautéed new potatoes, asparagus and carrot purée.
At £16 each, it was the most expensive dish on the menu, but ordering a bottle of red wine on the side saved us £4.
I chose a red wine and wild mushroom sauce to go with my steak, while Martyn picked a creamy peppercorn sauce, both at £2.
When the dishes arrived, the first thing we noticed was the great presentation and lovely colours on the plates.
The steak was cooked beautifully, while the vegetables were still crisp and flavoursome.
Both sauces were rich and deep in flavour, and finished off the dishes perfectly.
It was one of those meals where I was a bit upset when it was over, I had enjoyed it so much.
After all that, neither of us needed dessert.
But, after another few sips of our wine, we were both having a sneaky look at the pudding menu, just to see what was on offer.
Martyn was drawn towards homemade sticky toffee pudding with toffee sauce and ice cream, while I fancied lemon, almond and marscapone cheesecake.
But, being full up but still tempted by something sweet, we both chose a selection of flavours of English Lakes ice cream.
As expected, it was delicious, with the apple crumble flavour a particular hit.
In total, our bill came to £62.40. Maybe a little more expensive than a standard pub tea, but with three courses of great food each, beer and wine, we will definitely be heading back in the near future.