The Merchants wasn’t what I’d been expecting at all. I don’t know why, but from what I’d heard and read I was expecting an upmarket, olde world, Virginia creeper clad, burgundy carpeted place full of Rugby types; solicitors and architects having an extended lunch.
To be fair there may have been solicitors, architects and other professionals sat in the barn of a pub, but the people I saw all had that look of being retired, at leisure and eating, or having eaten. I seem to recall the pub being the focus of an interesting Morning Advertiser article on Pub Food and lunch time opening, which may have been the source of my misconception.
A lad working behind the bar put me right. The pub was originally a wine merchants and then Café Noir, before being turned into a pub. Amongst the acres of beer and pub memorabilia on the walls there’s actually the original sign of Whittakers of Rugby, Wine Merchants est. 1907.
The pub is owned by Burlison Inns who also have the Malt Shovel, Northampton which is also a very good pub and similarly decked out in mucho genuine pub and breweriana, courtesy of Gary Burlison a keen collector.
The food was absolutely spot on. Top quality, decent portions, well presented and competitively priced. I think everyone in our little group agreed we couldn’t have done better, like Retrired Martin said, you never get sweet potato fries at no extra cost to everyday ones! As well as food there’s also twelve real ciders and One Hundred Gin varieties with eight different types of tonic to go with them.
There were nine cask ales on too, sometimes they have ten. Hopefully they get through them when everyone’s watching the rugby because there weren’t many getting pulled on a Friday lunch time. I had Black Jack, a Black IPA from North Cotswold brewery, I wouldn’t have it again but I rated it NBSS 3. I also tried a half of Wantsum Black Prince which was in better form at NBSS 3.5.
They also had beers on from Nethergate, Box Steam, Purity, Oakham, Shakespeare and Titanic breweries. As pointed out by Pubcurmudgeon in his report , Titanic Plum Porter seems to be a ‘must have on the bar’ beer for Rugby; maybe all that Plum Porter puts hairs on your chest. Prices were around £3.60 pint.
I was quite interested in their range of Sam Smiths bottles, 8 different ones, including; organic lager, all their fruit beers, Imperial and Chocolate Stout. I take a keen interest in the brewery and it never surprises me when their products turn up in the most unexpected places.
As well as being noted for food, in March 2018 and again in 2019, The Merchants was voted the Best pub in Britain to watch the game of rugby, in a competition run by the Aberdeen Standard Investments Melrose Sevens Tournament.
I should have asked the assembled Pub Men what they actually thought of the place? In terms of being a pub, it serves beer and it is in the current Good Beer Guide. Equally it’s as much an eating place as anything and it isn’t exactly a traditional pub, having only been open around 15 years.
That sort of brings into play something a mate mentioned the other day, saying his wife was fed up with going in tired and shabby Good Beer Guide pubs and had purchased him the Good Pub Guide instead. She much preferred the pubs in the, far from independent, Good Pub Guide.
Like I always say, different isn’t wrong, and some Pub Men might turn their noses up here, but my mates wife would be really pleased with The Merchants.