I recently went along to a bloggers’ evening at The Common Room. Invited by the Forum Café Bars (FCB) group, I was joined by fellow bloggers Feast & Glory, Short Lashes, Lemon Freckles, Pink Little Bean and Angel in the North.
Other venues in the FCB group include, unsurprisingly, The Forum on Devonshire Street, which The Common Room is upstairs from; its neighbour The Old House; The York in Broomhill; The Broadfield on Abbeydale Road, one of my locals; and The Crown and Anchor at Barugh Green, which is just the other side of Barnsley. Rumour has it they have another venue coming on board soon, out towards Crystal Peaks. The two I have visited most are The York (their Jacob’s ladder beef ribs are amazing) and The Broady, where I normally enjoy the ham hock, which is approximately the size of my head, or a pie.
I have to admit, I have always steered clear of The Common Room. I thought it was just a sports bar. I thought it would be full of boys playing pool and generally blokeing out at football/boxing/NFL on TV… It is, but it’s more than that. It’s a haven for meat-heads (though their veggie options are pretty rad, too). So long as you don’t mind being surrounded by screens showing a multitude of different sports and a generally high noise level, it’s all good.
The Common Room is not so much one room- it feels like four different spaces in one! The entrance on Devonshire Street doesn’t give away how vast it is once you get upstairs.
There’s a series of funky illuminated signs luring you up to The Common Room.
Once you get up there, the pool area is dead ahead, or the bar/restaurant area is round to the left.
Has anyone ever counted how many TV screens there are in here? I’d say there must be more than in your average branch of Currys. The lighting is nice and the tables don’t feel cramped together.
Musically, it was right up my street. A nice mix of rock/alt anthems, old and newer, including RHCP, The Cure, The Clash and Doves.
The Common Room specialises in what Masterchef Australia would call “dude food”. They’re inspired by the American deep South and their love of the BBQ; to make it work in sunny Sheffield, FCB have invested in two massive pit grill smokers, which I am reliably informed dominate the kitchen space at The Common Room. They are so serious about meat that their wifi network is called Meat Sweats. They mean business. And so did I.
Here’s some piccies of what we ate- I’m missing a picture of the amazing onion ring stack (£3.50 for 12 rings and a selection of dips). Please take my word for it,they were immense: reassuringly greasy, but crisp, and with non-slimy onions inside. The dips they came with included banana ketchup, which isn’t too banana-y, but still wasn’t for me. The scotch bonnet jam, however, I would eat with everything for the rest of my life.
Fried pickles were new to me. On paper, they’re not something I’d ever order- battered, deep-fried gherkin slices. They shouldn’t work… but they do. The gherkins were still tangy, but with added crunch. Go on, give them a try.
Burnt ends- now, these were my favourite of the starters. These are the bits of meat that are cut off the ends of beef brisket while it cooks, glazed in BBQ sauce. A dish of them costs £4.50 and I’d definitely recommend them as a starter.
The BBQ pit beans come as a side with some of the mains, or you can order them for £2 for a pretty generous portion. These were like BBQ baked beans with bits of meat in them (scraped from the BBQ pit). Slightly bland for my liking, but they could be easily spiced up with one of the many sauces in the caddy on the table; chipotle BBQ sauce is my tip. SO good.
The parade of mains started then (yes, they were all starters up til now!). The amount of meat on the table made my eyes water a bit. Behold…
The photo above is showing off the pulled Boston butt at the top (aka pulled pork; £9), which came with fries, green chilli slaw and BBQ pit beans. I like my pork a little saucier than they serve it, so again the chipotle BBQ sauce got squeezed on.
The meat fest pictured on the other tray above is the Big Rib Tickler. From the combos and sharers section of the menu, this feast would easily feed two very hungry people or three averagely hungry people. It consisted of beef, baby back and St Louis cut ribs, as well as more burnt ends (yay!), cornbread, slaw, BBQ pit beans and fries. It’s £24 but seriously is good value for the sheer volume of meat right there. The St Louis ribs were big, proper meaty pork ribs. I’m getting meat sweats just writing this bit.
Speaking of the cornbread, it’s great here. Individual little homemade loaves, which were just sweet enough and with a good bite on the crust, served warm with chilli butter.
We also shared The Whole Damn Farm, a real beast of a burger. Why the moniker? Well, it had meat in five different forms on it: a 4oz beef patty, a Southern fried chicken breast, pulled beef rib, pulled pork and bacon. Are you beginning to understand the reason for their wifi name? As if all that meat wasn’t enough, it was bursting at the seams with Monterey Jack cheese, an onion ring, jalapenos, lettuce, tomato and burger sauce. It’s £13 but you probably won’t need another meal for 24 hours if you have it to yourself (I reckon a bib would be needed, too).
The Whole Damn Farm also came with The Common Room’s very awesome sweet potato fries. I’m a sucker for these, done well, and The Common Room is on that list now. Mmmmm. The Southern fried chicken breast in the burger was lush, with a crisp jacket and a succulent inside. Rich, The Common Room’s friendly general manager, said he’s hoping to do the chicken as a stand-alone item on a future iteration of the menu; I’d definitely order it if he does.
The Mac Doggy Dog is another one of those shouldn’t-work-but-it-so-does dishes. A footlong hotdog, smoked on the premises, topped with macaroni & cheese, pulled pork and BBQ sauce. The dog has a good, smoky flavour and didn’t give me indigestion the way they often do (amazing, given how much meat I ate on the night). The combo of mac and cheese and pulled pork is dirty in a good way. If you can’t face a footlong, a half-size one’s available too (£6).
The amazing mac & cheese on the hot dog above can be had on its own, as a massive portion, for just £6. It’s topped with fried onions and served with a fresh and crunchy salad, as well as the sweet potato fries.
For somewhere that is so much about the meat, there’s actually a pretty decent veggie selection on the menu. Also on offer for herbivores are a veggie burger, a veggie not dog (geddit?!), some salads and a big ol’ veggie chilli. This was brought out but I couldn’t face it- plus, I was saving room (well, sort of) for pudding- but I’m told it’s a good one.
Finally, rounding out the mains, we had some of the whole smoked chicken wings, a mixture of plain and hot. These were good, perfectly pleasant- but there are far more interesting things on the menu, in my opinion.
As if I hadn’t already consumed my recommended weekly calorific intake, we had desserts too! A selection of the jam jar cheesecakes. These come in your choice of Oreo, peanut butter or blueberry. The Oreo one didn’t have enough Oreo in it, in my opinion. The PB one was good, but blueberry was my favourite. It had actual whole blueberries in it, not just compote or syrup. Still, I could only manage a spoonful of each as they were so decadent.
We tried the range of Dominion craft sodas. The root beer had a nice, slightly medicinal flavour. The creamy orange soda didn’t do it for me, though it may fare better as a mixer with some Absolut (or, as Dominion suggest, champagne). The black cherry soda, however, was so good. It was like red sweets in liquid form! Dreamy. At £2.80 a bottle, these are so much nicer than the crappy fountain diet cokes I normally drink when I’m driving.
With the mains, I had a bottle of Flying Dog Doggie Style pale ale. My night at Relish had given me courage in having beer with food and I really liked this one; I’d order it again. The New York Times ranked it #1 American pale ale and I can see why. It slipped right down, despite the solid layer of meat it was fighting with. If you’re a Hunter S. Thompson fan, you’ll recognise the style of artwork on the label; Flying Dog’s website explains why.
Finally, with the desserts, we were brought the full range of The Common Room’s milkshakes. Served icy cold in milk bottles (you know I love this), they were damn good. My favourites were the Reese’s peanut butter and Oreo flavours. The strawberry one was pretty lush, too: it tasted like actual fruit, not the synthetic syrupy rubbish strawberry shakes often taste of.
Our epic feast came to an end. The meat sweats were coming and it was time to go home and lie on the sofa. I was so full but had tasted an amazing array of new dishes. If there’s a serious meat-head in your life (there’s a few in mine), they’ll probably hyperventilate when they read the menu. But, remember, there’s a good range for veggies too. Just don’t go expecting to eat anything else that day. Or if you’re sick of the trend for enamel plates/mugs. Many thanks to the Forum Café Bars group for having me along on this meaty odyssey.
A few nights later, I returned to the Common Room with a gang of friends mid-way through a Thursday night out. On my recommendation, we’d decided to stop here for some drinks and grub. I was interested to see what the experience was like not as a guest of the company at a bloggers’ event, but as a paying member of the public. This is where a few gripes came to the fore. It was busier than my previous visit, but not totally rammed and we got a table easily enough.
I went up to the bar to order a drink. The chalkboard indicated that it was “Common Hour” (this is 5-9pm Sunday-Friday, and all night on a Wednesday) and that one could purchase a large glass of wine for the price of a small. What it did not say, however, that it was only on the “house” wine; more confusingly, the wine list didn’t indicate that any of them were the “house” wines. Anyways, I found out the hard way, once my large sauvignon blanc had been poured and I was charged for a large, that this invisible rule existed. I raised it with the barman who served me. He didn’t seem too bothered.
Service on this night was a bit slow, but as I said it was busier. We had to prompt staff both to take our order and to bring the card machine over when it was time to pay. Given that we were a group of nine people seated on the central raised area in front of the bar, and with the path to/from the kitchen right next to us, this was irritating. The food remained very good, though, and I had the Mac Doggy Dog again, as did two of my pals on my recommendation.
The above notwithstanding, I’d still go back to the Common Room, though I’ll probably avoid it from Thursday-Saturday having seen how busy it was. I wouldn’t be going for the crowd, or the pool, or the sport on TV. It’s the meat that’ll draw me back, meat sweats and all, enjoyed with a side order of righteous tunes.
Top tip: elasticated waistband, wet wipes and an empty stomach. And a few hours lying about afterwards.