Breakfast, beers and characters at Bankers.
Wetherspoon. Saviours of the British pub or parasites draining trade from proper boozers?
Look at their numbers: 900-plus pubs across Britain and Ireland, many in converted listed buildings - theatres, cinemas, banks and churches - with total annual sales of £1.5 billion, twice named pub company of the year.
The Bankers Draft is one of nine Wetherspoon pubs in Sheffield. It’s in the 2016 good pub guide alongside the Fat Cat and Kelham Island Tavern and features in CAMRA’s real ale Pub Guide.
Not everyone approves.
Writer and arch critic Will Self describes Wetherspoon’s as “brown dollops of establishments smeared incontinently across our cities” – and that’s leaving out the swear-words.
But which other company goes into big and empty historic buildings - and they’ve done it all over the country – renovates and keeps them open, full and profitable?
Compare the functioning Bankers Draft to the boarded-up and decaying old Crown Court building on the corner of Castle Street and Waingate.
Formerly the York City and County Bank, the opulent Edwardian granite and stone edifice and Corinthian columns of the Bankers Draft were designed by Walter Brierley in 1904.
Sitting in its voluminous interior with the morning sun slanting through giant arched windows, the architectural scale and grandeur are impressive.
But some of the tables near us are populated by, there’s no other way of saying it, hardened boozers.
Men in their 60s and 70s on their third pint by 10.30am. A significant minority of weathered and doddery addicts alongside blokes having a laugh with their mates.
Some need help, some just need somewhere to sit, share stories and take the mick the way they did on foundry and factory floors when such men made things for a living.
We were there for breakfast and ordered ‘starters’ of toasted bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese and portion of fruit with organic Greek-style yogurt with honey.
Both come as they are and on very attractive crockery. The bagel is crisp and toasted and the salmon has the necessary slither and smoke, though the cream cheese is a bit too thinly spread.
The fresh fruit turns out to be slivers of apple and banana, both ripe and tasty but we were expecting a bit more variety. The yogurt comes with pre-added honey and the whole thing is very pleasant, if a little ordinary.
For our ‘main course’ we go for the traditional breakfast of egg, bacon, sausage, baked beans, tomato and a slice of toast.
It looks the part.
The hash browns are freezer-style patties and the eggs are a little hard by the time we get them but the sausage is reasonably meaty and the beans recognisable and tasty.
I asked for our bacon and sausage to be well-done and they were. But rather than being cooked longer the bacon came with stripes charred into it and a whiff of the burnt.
The tomato was fine if a little under-ripe and the toast was, well, toast.
We even went for a breakfast dessert of pancakes and maple syrup but this was the least interesting of all we had.
Without a knob of butter to add salt and creaminess they were a bit bland, though light enough, and a pouring of maple syrup will cure many culinary ills.
It’s a proper stag-do breakfast though we had coffee with ours rather than early-morning bravado beer.
Manager of the Bankers Draft Jonathan Atkinson said: “We get people coming from out of town on stag nights, football crowds, supporters and parents of people competing at Ponds Forge. It’s a mixed crowd.
“We do between 650 and 700 breakfasts a week and the most popular is the traditional English breakfast.
“We get office workers and people coming in from work after their shift at all times of the day – this is their leisure time and some like to relax with an alcoholic drink.”
We went for a cappuccino and a filter coffee, both costing £1.10 but the latter coming with free refills
People like to sneer at Wetherspoon’s but they sell beer, wine and food at good prices. They aren’t artisan, gastro, or craft and in terms of sourcing their food, this is not local enterprise although the company says its chips are 100% British potatoes; Burgers 100% British beef; Sausages 100% British pork. All steaks are said to come from Britain and Ireland.
Wetherspoon’s says it supports over 400 UK brewers and delivers over 5,000 ales.
Experience and anecdotal evidence suggest Wetherspoon’s are well-run, reliable and half the price of many of their rivals.
The ‘respectable’ and the discerning will not be convinced. The former because they might have to stand next to a person with less than them, the latter because they’re looking for excellence.
But if you’re after a half-decent breakfast at a knock-down price you could do a lot worse than the Bankers Draft.
For five breakfast items and coffees we paid £14.77.
Star rating out of five:
* Bankers Draft, 1–3 Market Place, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, S1 2GH
* Tel: 0114 275 6609
* Breakfast served 7am to midday.