Well worth return to unique Lancaster pub

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Clare Kelly pays a visit to a 300-year-old wine cellar – now a pub/restaurant – in Lancaster

I am no stranger to Merchants 1688, a 300-year-old wine cellar, now pub/restaurant in Lancaster, although it’s been such a long time when I last visited the premises.

I remember as a student at St Martin’s College going for a pub lunch at Merchants, opting for ham and eggs. My house mate, whose favourite animal were pigs, made me feel slightly guilty.

Fast forward to 2013 and, strangely enough, we heard Pulp’s Common People (which mentions a different St Martin’s College and takes me back to my teenage years) in the venue.

As a fan of atmospheric, historic places, I’m surprised at my younger self that I only visited once during my uni years. Still, finally I’ve returned.

This is no chain pub with chain food set in a chain building with a chain feel.

Merchants is something unique. Location-wise it’s just down the road from the castle, and feels nearly as old. It’s also five minutes away from the train station and town centre.

There is plenty of room to sit in Merchants. We were sat in a large tunnel-shaped cellar room, but the pub expands further – it also has a beer garden – and it oozes atmosphere.

Let’s just say I wouldn’t be too surprised to hear if the venue was haunted.

The menu has a combination of traditional pub grub such as fish and chips and pie of the week, starters and light bites, sandwiches, and a Something Special section with roast rump of lamb and extra matured rump steak.

Merchants seems keen to go local with ingredients, so fish is from Fleetwood and lamb is from the Lune Valley.

However, it was lunchtime and so I opted for what was called a light bite on the menu. Actually it was very filling, but in a good way. My feta and red onion bake with toasted ciabatta cost £5. It was deliciously creamy, and went rather well with the ciabatta. It was just the right amount.

My friend decided to try the slightly spiced bean burger, served on a ciabatta with lettuce, tomatoes and onions in the filling.

There was also chunky chips and chilli relish. The bean burger with all the trimmings cost £8.50.

The pub does offer cask ales from local breweries such as Hawshead and Lancaster Breweries, and an extensive cider and wine list (which is what you would hope for a previous 300-year-old wine cellar!) But we finished the lot with tea, a good amount with a little mint chocolate at the side of the saucer.

Merchants 1688 isn’t cheap in the way of ‘two for one’ offers, but the tasty, well presented, good quality food is still value for money. And the location and venue is fantastic.

The staff were friendly and helpful, asking if we were happy with our meal. (We were).

I hope it won’t be such a long time before a revisit.

Merchants 1688, Castle Hill, Lancaster. 01524 66466