It was an unusual start to the evening.
We’d only popped into the Black Horse for a quick drink before our dinner reservations at nearby Bar 1842. And yet it turned out to be the entertainment highlight of the night, as we fell into cosy company with a lovely pair of mature ladies who were regaling a small audience of random drinkers with the tale of their appearance on The X Factor auditions.
“Simon Cowell wouldn’t let us sing Moon River so we had to go back and do Puppet on a String – it was lucky we knew that one,” one of the dynamic duo explained as someone whipped out an i-Phone to play us their (sadly unsuccessful) audition clip. At least they made Simon smile so all was not lost.
Our hearty half-hour in the salt-of-the-earth Black Horse was rather a contrast to the rest of our evening in the very polished Bar 1842. This newish venue has completely transformed the old Corn Exchange into a sleek bar and restaurant, with a decent line in live music at the weekends and a stylish-looking clientele gathering in its faux-leather booths. It’s all very buzzy and minimalist, with bare bulb lighting, exposed copper piping on the walls and stripped-back tables and chairs, and it adds a different look to Preston’s night scene.
The restaurant section is small, with only about a dozen tables roped off from the bar area. We arrived a little unsure if our reservation had been made properly, as when I’d phoned to book, someone promised to call me back to confirm but had forgotten. Fortunately, when the manager popped over with a clipboard, we were on the list.
While googling to find the phone number, I’d chanced across a few reviews of 1842 which complimented the food but grumbled about the slow service. That wasn’t too far off the mark. Our waitress was very friendly but, considering there were only about three other tables with people eating, the service was indeed rather languid – it took 35 minutes from our arrival for our drinks to arrive, and we’d probably have been quicker queuing at the bar.
The menu is fairly small but an interesting mix of tapas-style small dishes to start or combine as mains; hearty pub staples like burgers, and a selection of mostly Mediterranean mains which are pricier than the other options.
I started light by having a red pepper dip with crispbread and carrot and cucumber sticks. It came nicely presented on a board with a little metal basket for the bread and a teeny glass jar for the veggie sticks. The rich, thick dip was delicious, with strong peppery tones, though I would have liked more of it to coat the three crispbreads. My other half Ben started with Thai fishcakes with chilli dip, and again the dip was the highlight of that dish with plenty of zingy flavours. The fishcakes themselves tasted freshly made but were a bit squidgy in texture, and it would have been nice to have had some salad garnish as they looked lonely on their tiny side plate.
A live band struck up in the opposite corner just as our mains arrived, and we enjoyed the duo powering through some indie classics (though the lad singing looked too young to remember Ocean Colour Scene troubling the charts...)
The waitress was unsure whether the sea bass I ordered came with potatoes, so I added a side of dauphinoise potatoes. Again, these unfortunately arrived with an apology half-way through my meal, along with some delayed sauce, but they were creamy and very moreish. The seabass itself was beautifully cooked, falling away from the skin with just a tease of the fork, and the combined greens on the plate were a nice accompaniment. The sauce was also well-matched to the fish, with shrimp in it adding some richness to the plate.
Ben’s sirloin steak was cooked perfectly and came with plenty of thin fries and some salad, though he felt the mushroom sauce was on the thin side. We didn’t ask to take a look at the dessert menu, but some of the cocktails whizzing past us to other tables looked like they could have made a great substitute for those with a sweet tooth. By now, the bar area had filled up and the band was in full swing, and the place has a nice buzz about it as an upmarket bar. However, the restaurant section didn’t really match those expectations.
The food was decent but very pricy, at £67 for the food and three glasses of wine. It’s great to see one of my old student haunts reinvent itself but I think it’s somewhere we’d go for a drink and live entertainment - wonder if they’d give those X Factor ladies a second chance?