19.12.10

THE PUB DIARIES HAS MOVED TO PUB DIARIES.COM

So as mentioned the blog has undergone a bit of  revamp. Its now found at www.pubdiaries.com and is hosted using wordpres. For the bloggers reading this, its simply and easier tool and gives more options.

Hope you'll continue to follow as the new address.

10.12.10

The Pub Diaries is on the move!

It's been a busy few weeks which is the reason for a lack of any posts.

Those who follow on Twitter may have worked out that I've been travelling. So to come very soon are a wealth of posts from HK and Australia... once i'm over the fact that its back to the reality of work!

To add to this the blog will be jumping from Blogger to Wordpress so you should see a better looking site in coming weeks. More news as it happens!

3.11.10

SE1 Beer Revival: The Dean Swift

Reaction to suggesting that SE1 was the go to place for beer lovers in London was unexpected; with hundreds of hits on the blog, Charlie McVeigh of the Draft House proclaimed the SE1 "beer revival" on Twitter and there were suggestions that NW1 was in fact the place to be. With the imminent opening of the Euston Tap it was a fair point but I stand by SE1 and beyond as superior.

In mentioning the big hitters in that post I'd relegated the rest to an etcetera. But these etceteras aren't mere footnotes and The Dean Swift is a good example. This Shad Thames pub on Lafone Street is just streets away from Tower Bridge and has the hallmarks of a local having undergone a change of ownership and a spruce up, while retaining a local feel. The choice on the bar isn't the vast head scratching exercise of the Draft House but there is still around 8 beers on tap, a mix of craft and the likes of Becks. To be honest after a busy day I just don't have the capacity to make decisions and with the increasingly popular Sierra Nevada on tap it’s an easy decision to make. Having paid over £5 in Shoreditch its more than fair at £4 a pint. A sharer of Fish and Chips serves as a good filler on our visit. Proper pub food in a basket is something that you don't see enough of.


Add in friendly and knowledgeable bar staff and and it’s a real winner. Another tick for SE1.
 
The Dean Swift
32 Lafone Street
SE1 2LX

2.11.10

SE1: who needs North of the river

North has always been my compass bearing of choice. So it surprises me to say that South really is the place to be. It's been coming for a while with a move South of the River last year after years in Clerkenwell and Hoxton (I never owned skinny jeans or a brakeless racer mind) but Sunday afternoon confirmed there really is no need to venture across the river.

The SE1 starting point was the Draft House on Tower Bridge. It was the perfect place to meet the Dane, over for the weekend and staying nearby.  The last visit was during the soft launch and i've been looking for an excuse to come back ever since... not that I need an excuse, but the hangover that first visit was difficult to cope with after the over indulgence. The atmosphere was perfect for a Sunday afternoon. There had been thoughts that it may be packed out with tourists in hiking boots and kagools (a style choice I can never really get in Central London) but thankfully this wasn't the case. Enough fellow punters for a bit of life but not so many that we had to wait for service. The choice as always was impressive so much so that i'm left making a choice and changing it, not wanting to miss out on something that i've not seen. Possibly the reason for the hangover last time! Captain English joins us and we are set for a few hours drinking and catching up.

As we depart, the Dane heads East and English and I head towards London Bridge. It's at this point that I remember Tweets about the South West Beer Fest at The Rake. Attempting the "one more no more" it falls flat as English has an appointment with a pair of oven gloves. I've never been one for drinking on my own, least of all at a Beer Festival, but the lure of The Rake is too much. It's the closing hours when I arrive but there is still a decent crowd, the staff are in Halloween costume; at least I hope so as i'm sold a pasty by a Droog. I sample in halves and manage to get through Bath Ales Festivity, Lizard Ales Helford River , Isle of Purbeck Fossil Fuel and Yeovil Ales Stargazer. With each half I note down what i've had on the iPhone until I come to the realisation that the next step could be a notebook, similar to the Ticker next to me. I put the phone away, consider another half but decide that I don't want a repeat of the Draft House Head.

I head to London Bridge through the market to ensure there aren't any detours to Brew Wharf or a host of others. The choice is so rich in SE1 I'd say there is no better place in London for a lover of beer, pubs and Droogs selling pasties... put simply who needs North of the river?

Draft House
206-208 Tower Bridge Road
SE1 2UP
 
The Rake
14a Winchester Walk
SE1 9AG

6.10.10

Dovetail, Clerkenwell: The Saviour of Tuesday

There was a time, not that long ago, that a few beers on a Tuesday night could turn into an unexpected session. Random dives, curry and kebabs would likely be involved; as inevitably would the Wednesday morning hangover and the prognosis of: it must be something I ate. Nowadays I'm a little more restrained. Attributable in part to the conversion. Not of the religious kind, Though on reflection it does involve a morning baptism and a great number of oh god, jesus, jesus's, as I plunge into an outdoor pool which today read 15c. It's not something to be attempted with the remnants of a session clunking round your shattered mind and body!




So planning a few Tuesday evening drinks these days requires more thought. The main rule here is that too much of a good time should be avoided or you are risk of a session.

Meeting Captain English around Farringdon I'm stuck for a venue. I've always found the station end of Cowcross Street to be a wasteland for decent pubs and bars so this is firmly out. Ok so I said too much of a good time should be avoided, but a bad time is just a waste of time and money. There's a niche between the two which is pleasant conversation, a few laughs (but not too many mind) which will see you on the right train home every time. Clerkenwell Green, the Gunmakers and the Peasant would all be too dangerous a proposition so the choice was the Dovetail. A bar specialising in Belgian beer should surely be a dangerous choice? But strangely it isn't. The service is ok, the choice is extensive and tucked away on Jerusalem Passage it's a relatively quiet location. I've spent time here for after work drinks and on weekends when I lived around the corner but have never made a connection in the same way as say the Peasant or 3 Kings, that makes me want to stay. English and I ponder this over a Kwak; the conclusion is it's identikit feel; with Tin Tin posters, pews, Belgian beer memorabilia, not to mention the stale chip fat aroma, we could as easily be sat in a Bromley chain bar. A shame perhaps? Well not really as without the likes of the Dovetail occupying the niche between favourites and the likes of Cowcross Street, Tuesday nights could be a thing of the past. As conversation strays to the existence of a Kwak Pipe it's time for the short walk to the train station.
9-10 Jerusalem Passage
Clerkenwell
EC1V 4JP

5.10.10

Turner Prize: Chip #3

Turner Prize furore is fast approaching; with the prize announcement on 6th December and work available to view from today at Tate Britain.

The Daily Mail and other such liberal minded publications will be sharpening their knives and preparing their blunt rhetoric for another year. In a time of recession is there anything better for them to tear into than something which is modern, conceptual and is ultimately destined to have a price tag attached equal to a 3 bed detached in Nuneaton and a top of the range Mondeo? Rule of thumb being that if it isn't at least 150 years old, appropriated from another culture or of some naked bird then surely it cannot be art.


 

Lou and I were at Tate Britain over the weekend (I can stroke my chin with the best of them) to deliver my Turner entry. Only to be told that this isn't the way it works. And there was me thinking it was akin to The Gallery on Hartbeat. I explained i've been referred to as an artist of note on many occasions. Often preceeded with the word piss but an artist all the same. This as you can imagine didn't sway the good people of the Tate and tail between my legs, retired to the Canton Arms, safely across the bridge.

So instead I share it with your goodselves. The Pub Diaries presents: Chip #3.



I would ask interested buyers to form an orderly queue behind Charlie Saatchi. Don't worry there's plenty to go round... I've got a bowl full..

2.10.10

Raouls, Jericho, Oxford: Aviation

Cocktails have never really been my thing. I've had too many that were overpriced or over liquered. So they aren't usually on my drinks radar, unless I find myself at a time or in a place where a beer just isn't appropriate (yes there are such times), and importantly the Bartenders know what they're doing. Not some Tom Cruise obsessive who's practiced their bottle tossing more than their mixing; and certaonly not someone who refers to themselves as a Mixologist. After a day of historic Oxford colleges and pubs we made our way to Raoul's, raising a birthday toast to Lou's sister Elise.


The cocktail list is vast but Lou goes for her regular of an Old Fashioned. Elise and middle sister Jerry go for some sweet concoction. Col seems set on his choice which could be anything from a Dirty Martini to a Donn Beach Zombie, such is his eagerness to give anything a go (this includes Channel Swimming and Richard Gere impressions). Lee AKA Ho Ho Ho Green Giant asks for something to knock him over which is a decision he may have later regretted. Being a relative novice, but knowing what I like (and more importantly what I don't), I ask a few questions. The bartender knows his stuff and sells me on the Aviation. It's in the Forgotten Cocktails section, served in a Martini glass and the main constituent is gin. Its right on the mark for me. Its dry, fresh and not an umbrella in sight. Its one of those classic drinks that makes me think of an age of elegant air travel. The days before bodily swabs and Easyjet snack packs, when people were more likely to light a cigar than their shoes.


I was so impressed that I had a look into the ingredients and method to recreate at home; something that you cannot do with a pint without a decent amount of expertise, patience and brewing equipment (one day perhaps). Who better to take guidance from than Erik Lorincz of the Connaught, recipient of International Bartender of the Year.

So its predominantly Gin; about 2 shots of something decent (Bombay Sapphire, Tanquray, Hendricks). Raouls adhere to one of the original recipes which uses Maraschino (1/3 shot) and Violet (1/8 shot) liqueurs; though some dispense of the Crème de Violette. A shot of lemon finishes the mix. 

Pour into a ice filled shaker (a pint glass if you need to improvise). Shake and strain to a chilled glass. Garnish would traditionally be a flamed lemon peel but I think you could be forgiven as with the Crème de Violette for not adhering fully at home! Retire to the terrace to the strains of Frank, Dean or Sammy and enjoy.


32 Walton Street,
Jericho,
Oxford,
OX2 6AA

01865 553 732

30.9.10

The Old Bookbinders, Jericho, Oxford: You'd be Nuts Not To!

The Old Bookbinders is tucked away in the residential streets of Jericho. No snap happy tourists here unless you count the snap happy blogger and his iPhone. On a drizzly Sunday afternoon, there is just a handful of locals at the bar and a friendly but bored barman. Our arrival more than doubles the occupancy and draws some stares which confirms that this could be pigeon holed as a "local"; or just the normal reaction to 5 Aussies and a Northerner.




The pub has a jumble sale aesthetic, which looks like its slowly crept through the pub, with vinyl, beermats and rows of spent lighters clustered on walls. I imagine it to be great for a proper session with its dimly lit back room and corners to occupy.
I opt for the seat without a lethal looking ice skate dangling above and have a pint of Bath Ales, Gem, accompanied by free monkey nuts scooped from a large barrel. I am happy. Easily pleased perhaps but the simple pleasure of cracking shells, supping the the rich malty Gem and good company is what Sundays are all about.

17-18 Victor St
Jericho
Oxford
OX2 6BT
01865 553 549

28.9.10

Jude the Obscure, Jericho, Oxford: We Love Sundays?

As far as statements go, We Love Sundays is pretty unequivocal; and taken next to a £7.95 price tag the Roast at Jude the Obscure in Jericho seemed like a good option. Now I'm not expecting gastro pub fare, just the hope of some wholesome pub grub. I can't tell you where it came on the scale between boil in the bag heap and my Peasant benchmark as Jude's relationship with Sunday seems to be an on off one; Roasts only being available November onwards. The thinking perhaps being that no one eats Sunday Roast in Autumn? The suggested alternative to the Roast is, as a Yorkshireman, quite shocking. In fact I think this would bring a grimace to the face of even the most ardent Lancastrian.



Yorkshire Pudding is something that really shouldn't be messed with too much; as it simply doesn't need to be. A Roast Beef Yorkshire Pudding Wrap therefore is something of an abomination, ranking up there with the Lasangwich. There are doubtless pud-purists out there that object to Toad in the Hole as unecessary. This concoction would finish them off. On the assumption that a Yorkshire Pudding should be light, crisp and risen after being cooked in oil or fat; then preparing a pancake like batter wrap surely makes it something else other than a pudding? But then Soggy Beef and Batter Pancake Wrap doesn't really have the same ring I suppose. 

Lou, ordered the Wrap, though bearing in mind that she hasn't had a proper Yorkshire Pudding she cannot be held accountable; and it at least allowed me a guilt free taste; albeit a small one. With a  consistency of pancake rather than Yorkshire pudding I loaded it with horseradish and chewed; and chewed. Recent bids to endow the humble Yorkshire Pud with European protection would put pay to not the dish but the passing off as a Yorkshire Pudding; perhaps we could have the start of the Yorkshire Pancake? Which could almost be bearable.



24.9.10

Enter the Flagon: Beer Kung Fu - Walk Like a Panther

Beer Kung Fu Master status comes to the lucky few. We don't wear a belt to denote our status but we can be seen in action in licensed premises throughout the drinking world.

The ability to pass through a crowd of punters without spillage is one sign of a Master and the most precious of skills (more so when its £4 a pint). It's what we call Walk Like a Panther. Perhaps a Panther whose had a few, but a Panther all the same.

The latest test to hone my Master skills was the Garage, Highbury. Before me stood a crowd of anticipant punters; Grinderman's entrance onto the stage was moments away and I had two pints filled to the plastic brim with expensive, bland, gassy Lout.

I choose a zig zag route through jostling groups; last minute toilet dashers and most dangerous of all hazards: the random wavy arms. Like flailing beer assassins, they can spell disaster. Unlike stationary hazards such as random laptop cases this foe often cannot be anticipated with forethought. They require the lightening dexterity of a young Jackie Chan. In my case a quick back step and roll passed this obstacle with zero spillage. Other moves for any aspiring Master are the shoulder nudge, beer in the air (a risky move when failure leads to spillage on heads below. In which case normal Kung Fu maybe required); all accompanied by a booming shout of 'SCUSE ME! I am in no way what you would describe as coordinated but with the Power of Beer I dare say I could pirouette if required. 

Beer safely delivered and status well in tact I hand the plastic vessel to Captain English, he immediately spills the contents, misjudging the flexibility of the plastic (for someone described as a Music Alpha Male, having been to more gigs than some roadies, this is an amateur moment). More training required for his Yellow Belt I feel. Grinderman take the stage, Nick Cave throwing some impressive shapes, throwing mike stands and generally making the stage hands earn their keep; which while great on stage, makes me think that he could be added to the list of foes, when off stage.

Are there any fellow Masters out there who wish to share the ways? 

14.9.10

Intoxicating Sweet Shop: Draft House, Tower Bridge


I first heard that the Draft House had a new Tower Bridge outpost through Twitter and a look at the website revealed a soft launch with 50% off all food before the "real opening" on 13th September. I suppose the thing with a soft launch is that it a kind of forgive us if you we make mistakes but we are only new, we're not really open yet. Whatever your thoughts on that I thought it a fair enough deal at 50% off and based on my visit to Battersea I spent the rest of the day clock watching.

Captain English took little convincing and we spent more time debating how to get there. Now he holds a Boris Bike token walking seems so, well, pedestrian. Vernon as usual was a tentative and with that we had our three. I made it to Tower Bridge quickly through the City backstreets and all that stood between me and the a much needed beer was the tourist throng. I weaved my way through, taking no regard to stop while the fifth or sixth or seventh tourist took a picture of a loved one pointing at the bridge, at the river, at City Hall. It took on an almost Top Gear challenge anticipation as I got closer to the Draft House, expecting to see the Captain fly past. 

Stepping in, I saw him just at the bar, wiping the slightest glint of sweat away, which seems to have been more from the mission to find a docking station than the actual ride. The décor is somewhere between gastro pub and diner with melamine tables and a pea green banquette around the walls and a centre high table with stools. The walls, as with the Battersea Draft House are hung with classic music posters and despite the table service by smart staff in shirt and tie it feels relaxed enough for a quick beer, a longer session or a proper meal, which seems to be the main focus.

Attention soon turned to the pumps. Despite the array of bottled choice, the first had to be hand pulled, but with a choice of 10 or more it wasn't proving to be easy. We started with something we know, the Wandle Ale and steadily worked our way through Junction, Porterhouse Red and Sharps', Chalky's Bite, to name those that I recall. From the bottle we had Mort Subite Kriek (in place of dessert) and an Aventinus. It has been said that when faced with this kind of choice I am like a kid in a sweet shop, albeit the most intoxicating of sweet shops. This was no exception.

Food is an easy choice once I spy Pork Belly, served with a Black Pudding mash. Vernon has arrived by this point and turns his nose up at the thought of Black Pudding. In my mind unless you are a Vegetarian or acutely Hemophobic you have no business turning your nose up at Black Pudding, not least when it is mixed with mash potato  The pork is good as is the crackling, albeit sparing in its portion. My appetite does however grow in proportion to the volume I have drunk, so I'd maybe have to return to comment conclusively.

Compared to my last Draft House experience this was comparable; with a great beer selection, good food and friendly and knowledgeable staff. Service was a little unsure at times, though there was always a more experienced barman to hand, but as I've already said this is early days. I will return, when I'm sure the service will be as flawless as the beer. 


14.8.10

In The Wedge: The Cavendish Arms

So it's been a while since my last proper post. I'm back by popular demand. Well OK maybe just the demand of a few of my regular drinking companions, but back all the same.

So where better to start than The Cavendish Arms in Stockwell. I've mentioned  the Cavendish in previous posts but I felt it was time to do it justice.

Found in the wedge between South Lambeth Road and Wandsworth Road, the Cavendish on approach looks like an estate pub which would be avoided by all but locals and a brave stranger. Draw closer and you will find a newly revamped beer garden which is a mere taster for what you will find inside. A comfy living room atmosphere of Chesterfields and the odd Spitting Image annual in the main bar is your starting point of discovering the delights of the Cavendish. 

It never ceases to impress me with it's friendly service from the Landlady, sound engineer and sometime Musician Shirley-Jane, to Dave the Compere (pulls of a gold jacket with aplomb), Daniel the barman and his architecturally impressive hairdo or occasional Pub Organist, Tam. Yes I did say Pub Organist. As if this in itself isn't reason enough to visit there is the Ballroom. At one time this would have been the smokey backroom; now transformed into an intimate venue complete with stage, mirrorball and velvet curtain. The often free line up includes Music, Comedy and now and again a bit of Burlesque; and who doesn't like a bit of free tassle!

So if you haven't guessed already I am quite a fan. Usually I would leave the choice to the reader but I will make an exception and command you to jump on the Northern or Victoria line, bus or bike and head to The Cavendish Arms.


21.7.10

Slack

A combination of iPhone v. washing machine (washing machine won in a clear knockout), trips to Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin and a sprinkle of apathy have seen me being a little slack on the blogging front of late. Rest assured I will be putting this right over the next week or so with a few entries that are bubbling away at the moment. So coming up will be:


Herr Spargal's Berlin punk karaoke

Farewell to Meister (he's departed for sunnier climes not the afterlife!)

Dancing monkeys and cocktail clowns in Paris

East London's finest

The Sam Smith's Crawl (or more accurately Stagger)

And more…

Oh… Meister does this count as a post?

24.6.10

Game of Two Halves, Game of Two Pubs: First Half

It's a Saturday afternoon kick off for the Socceroos second fixture and the Aussies gathered again in SW8. Our venue this time is a new Sports Bar on Wilcox Road which adjoins the A Tasca corner restaurant. I've passed many Portuguese bars in SW8, but until now have not tried one. It's friendly albeit empty and has Sagres and Super Bock as the standard offering; preferable over a pint Carling any day.



The game's kicked off when Lou and I arrive and we find Meister and Nic watching intently. When the commentary is low, monotone and wholly in Portugeuse you have no choice but to watch intently. Minutes later the first goal goes in and the Aussies are looking confident. This lasts all of 13 minutes before the double blow of Kewell sent off and a Ghanaian penalty goal. The commentary takes on more enthusiasm and pace. As much as commentary can be banal it still gives a little insight. We ask if there is anyway the barman can get BBC. He apologises that he can't. Nic jokingly tells him that he can translate. The barman misses the humour and duly translates, proving in the process that commentary is universally banal. The whistle blows for half time and we move on across the road in search of banality.

21.6.10

Mawbey Arms, Stockwell. C'MON AUSSIES

Having watched England's stuttering first match I was in little doubt that the Germans were going to repeat such a performance with the Soceroo's. As much as I admired the optimism of the Aussies round the table I couldn't help but think that they were about to get a lesson in the Beautiful Game.


Our unlikely venue for the Sunday evening kick off was the Mawbey Arms in Stockwell. Tucked between South Lambeth Road and Wandsworth Road its not a place you stumble upon. Patriotism is not in short supply here. I start to count the St Georges flags and get bored by 73. The barmaid eyes us with caution and I'm expecting the South London equivalent of "your not from round these parts are you". As we indecisively look up and down the pumps debating the merits of each choice a long sigh is audible from behind the bar. Meister notices the Doombar and comments that it's available back in Perth which initiates further discussion. The sigh is now accompanied by tapping fingers. Ordering our drinks the tapping ceases and we move to the beer garden, because who knows what follows tapping fingers.

The patriotic theme continues and I can add another 80 flags to the tally. The big screen is accompanied by big sound, the volume booming out. We take it in turns to try and turn it down, with no success, but this soon becomes unnecessary as the rib rattling bass of a car stereo drowns out the pre match analysis. By half time the confidence is waning and the cries of "C'MON Aussies" are sounding increasingly desperate. The car stereo has stopped and we can now hear the commentators. They seem to have their Thesaurus out and are seeing how many variants on eviscerate they can use by full time.

The whistle blows. At 4-0 the enthusiasm has drained out of the Aussies and post match celebratory drinks look unlikely. We head back into the pub to drain the last of our drinks. There are a few more punters now and unnervingly all eyes are on us. O and Meister are looking at a particular flag of the many. It's signed by Peter Shilton we are told. I nod respectfully as one should. There may even have been a slight eyebrow raise. "Peter Who?" asks O. I explain while the laughter and shaking of heads subsides. Making our way to the door Meister seems to think he can get out through the brick wall. "I'm sure there was a door there before". More laughter.

1.6.10

Supper Club: Harwood Arms

As an aged Sloan Ranger and her daughter loudly berate a Polish tradesman, for the crime of asking them to move down the tube carriage,  I raise my eyebrows at Cockles. I sense we are both hoping that the schlep to Fulham is worth it. We are en route to meet Captain English and Meister for what could be the final Supper Club: A loose fixture in our diaries where we invariably end the night with tight waistbands and light wallets. Meister is heading back to Oz and is working through pubs and restaurants at a commendable rate. Our venue, the Harwood Arms, has a task ahead of it in the gastronomic stakes but as London's first Michelin starred pub the night is full of promise.

Set on a residential street the unsuspecting could wander in thinking it was your bog standard Gastro Pub, though here you will not find the standard fare. We find English and Meister at the bar and take it in turns to ponder the menu. Much scratching of heads and stroking of imaginery beards ensues.  We are still deciding well after being seated.

Wine selection is Meister and Cockles area of expertise. With a considered debate and lots of questions of the staff we start with the Chateau Petit Val Grand Cru, St Emilion, Bordeaux, 2005. I will
confess that my question was less about the attributes of this particular choice but more a question of how much it would cost my pocket. They both have form for choosing wine by quality and not price which I am slowly coming to terms with. Straight faced Meister tells me it's £45. My eyebrows raise and I bite back my Northern urge to protest. Well in truth there may have been a little protest but then  curiosity gets the better of me and we go with it. Now Oz Clarke has nothing on this Aussie in terms of the theatrics of wine tasting. First comes the long smell with nose fully in the glass, which I'm told should tell you most of what you need to know. Second the swirl, followed by the taste, with or without a slight slurp and then final consideration. A slight pause for dramatic effect. And the verdict. In this case it's the thumbs up. Some would view this spectacle as pretension but I see it more as Meister quality control.  I'm not disappointed with the choice and have to admit its good though I feel I need some further education to fully appreciate it. A trip to a few wineries perhaps.

Grilled salted ox tongue with cauliflower cheese croquette, bread and butter pickles is first off. I can't say I've had Tongue in the last 20 years (snigger) but this was an excellent reintroducton. What I expected could be chewy was delicate and light. A great start which set me up for the main course. Shoulder of Roe deer follows, served with sauerkraut, mash and greens. For two on a wooden platter, my eyes widen as it is placed between English and myself. The bone slips away effortless as we dish up generous hunks and even more generous dollops of mash and sauerkraut. It's a bold, hearty dish which is what Supper Club is all about. It is faultless. I am at risk of drowning my keyboard as my mouth waters just thinking about this! Rounding off the meal I am torn between the English cheeses with toasted Bara Brith or the baked custard with Grasmere gingerbread. I'm told the Bara Brith and gingerbread are both made on the premises and on the basis that no one makes Bara Brith like Nan did I go for the custard. The top cracks satisfyingly but I could have probably done without the accompanying sorbet. The gingerbread is good but lacks the dustiness and snap I was expecting. That said it's a good end to a great meal. Where the country comes to town is the phrase that came to mind when I was trying to sum up the Harwood Arms and it's menu. They beat me to it I see as it's emblazoned on their website. Just when you thought you'd had an original thought!

20.5.10

The Rake. Preaching to the converted?

I would think I'm preaching to the converted in writing about Borough's, The Rake so I'll keep it brief. It's one of those placesthat has been on the list for some time, is by no means a trek from work, yet I'd never been. We won't count the weekend when i found it closed and all I could do was stare through the window and vow to return.

The return was with Cockles, Captain English and Hadedar. A relatively brief visit but all the same as I type my head is pulsating with every tap. Let's just say it's like being a kid in a sweet shop, albeit an
alcoholic sweet shop. Where to start? Do I start on the pump or bottles? Arrrr too much choice!

The Darkstar American Pale Ale seemed like a good starting pint. It's maybe here that I should have settled on this as my nights choice. However faced with such choice the Six Hop and Saison came and went. As I made my home the avoidance of the 9% Brewdog had me feeling rather smug, though with my frontal lobe throbbing I feel anything but smug and it isn't helped by seeing today's choices tweeting in my feed. Hair of the Brewdog perhaps?

19.5.10

Climbing Off The Fence: Back Tracking


In the spirit of my previous post - Climbing Off The Fence - I feel it only right that I post this update. I portrayed myself as a normal CAMRA member. Not in the slightest like the sinister Mr Deltics portrayed by Pete Brown. At the time of posting it was the truth. However since then (a matter  of mere weeks) I have some shocking and rather shameful news. I have been dabbling in Steam. And I liked it. What does this mean? Is this the early onset of an addiction to Steam? It's a real worry. An addiction like this could spiral downward and before long I'm living in a Croydon bedsit eating from unlabelled tins and surrounded by cats dressed as station masters.

After spending the weekend at All Tomorrows Parties surrounded by the achingly cool, the prospect of a steam train was a strangely welcome one. I'd spent three days watching the likes of Broken Social Scene, Camera Obscura, The Fall, Pavement and The Clear but The West Somerset Railway was just too much of a pull. Running between Minehead and Bishop Lydeard it transports one at a more genteel pace through country and coastal views. Preferable to being thrown round bends on a sweaty bus full of hungover hipsters? Or maybe this is just a cover? I ask myself how long it will be until I am living with the cats and carrying my magazines in a plastic bag.

Does anyone know of any possible treatment?

16.5.10

The Ship Aground: Mankini Man

Leaving Butlins we were back in the real world and looking for a pub. A proper pub. One without a theme. We found it in The Old Ship Aground; ideally placed by the quayside. Picnic tables looking out to sea; the perfect spot to soak up the rare glimpse of sun and enjoy a pint of Dartmoor Best. Having passed the Quay Inn further down the road this looked like the more local choice.

We could have happily sat for longer eyeing the Ploughmans, which looked to come with a months cheese intake. It wasn't to be as approaching we saw a gang of blokes approaching. I say blokes but they probably referred to each other as "chaps". A safe guess was that this was a stag do as one of their number was Mankini clad. For those who are uninitiated as to Mankini you want to think twice about googling it. Let's just say it's a piece of Lycra that leaves very little to the imagination. Initially the group caused some amusement as only a man half naked in fluroescent Lycra can, but told that they couldn't be inside unfortunately found the table next to us. If Butlins was Shoreditch on Sea this particular part of Minehead had become overrun with Claphamites. No need to Google this just think public school boys. As we left without eating I did get berated by Lou and Hadedar for being too judgemental. The advantage of writing a blog is that I can say I was 100% right. I'll let you decide. A selection of comments:

• Dan Dan Dan has never been to Prague...

• OHHH MY GOD they were real locals.... Then I chundered haw haw haw

• Thats well loco man

And my favourite

• Edward, get me a Real Ale with a top.

Standing this no more we headed down to the Quay Inn.  It's a second choice and seems to be struggling with the slight increase in their custom. The laminated menu isn't a good sign as is the potato Smiley Faces; or the grinning face of your childs future heart attack. Ordering Ploughmans we are told it will take upto an hour as they are serving in order. Despite the wait and the inability to get a pork pie, cheese and pickles out in under 60 minutes it's preferable to the view of the Mankini.

15.5.10

All Tomorrow's Parties, Butlins, Minehead


I've made a break for the coast for the weekend for a stay at Butlins with a difference. It's All Tommorrows Parties curated by Pavement. A 3 day music festival in the unlikeliest of places: Butlkns, Minehead. With not a Red Coat in sight the camp has taken on a look of Shoreditch on Sea with no shortage of skinny jeans or trilby's. This is festival in a more civilised form. The only tent is the main Pavillion, there are no Portaloo's and you queue no more than 5 minutes for a beer.



Choice of drinking establishment is like the worst town centres in Britain with a mix of theme pubs and chain clubs. Having travelled from London on 2 trains, tube and bus I felt I deserved a drink. It's hardly an arduous journey but any excuse. With Lou travelling after work and Hadedar resting I ventured out with Captain English to do the shop and a crafty pint.

The Swinging Shillelagh is as name suggests an Irish pub. Correction. It's a pub themed loosely on Ireland. Guinness and shamrocks do not make anIrish pub. The pint of the aforementioned black stuff takes all of 10 seconds to pour into a plastic glass, part of which is down the side. This explains why every surface is sticky. Whole tables like human fly paper.   

Day one highlights are Calexico covers cover of Love Will Tear Us Apart. When I think of Calexico I think of the Dead Mans Shoes soundtrack, dark and brooding. The mariachi tendencies came out here. An uplifting start to the weekend.

Broken Social Scene headline the first day and continuing a theme of politeness they thank the audience and Pavement multiple times. Who said rock n roll couldn't have manners. In a Spinal Tap moment the lead singer proclaims "so hey, you've got a new government, what's up with that... Let's hope there's change people". No one I guess has filled him in on the Tory past.

By 1am we've seen post punk journeymen Mission of Burma and Portland trio Quasi perform on a stage usually used for talent shows and karaoke. While the skinny jeans dance until we retire for the evening. We have two days to go after all.



12.5.10

Trafalgar Arms (judging a book by its cover)

Is it possible to judge a pub by the cover of the newspapers available on the bar? There were multiple copies of both the Mail on Sunday and the News of the Screws on the bar at the Trafalgar Arms when I visited with Meister. Neither publication are high on my Sunday reading list, my preferences leaning more to the left of "hang em all". I should have maybe taken heed and done an about turn to find a pub with proper Sunday sized papers. The type you need a week to read fully. An overreaction perhaps? After all I don't walk out of the newsagents fearing I may come into contact with a Mail reader, preferring to just duck behind the pick n mix.

A sparse mix of locals and students underwhelmed the large interior; a mix that often coexists for a pubs survival. The lone student offer was chalked behind the bar as was the existence of the Fat Frog which I assume to be a noxious cocktail of some kind (most likely green and served with multiple straws). The white wine list, also chalked up, was a curious sight. All Pinot Grigio. All the exact same price. It seems it's not just the papers which were limited.

It's the last day of the season and Moscow Rovers were just about to crush plucky Wigan 8-0 to clinch the title. You would expect a crowd, even if this is not exactly Chelsea, but besides a group around the pool table there were only a handful of lone drinkers and a group of students most of which weren't taking much notice. The staff and their friends seemed to be the largest and most vocal group. Lounging on sofas in front of the lit fire grate they looked to have commandeered the best spot in the pub. This leads me to one of my pub gripes, of which there are many. Pubs becoming a private club for owner and staff alike. Where you are interupting the party by daning to request a drink. When that drink could then be classified as a crime against Guinness the feeling of annoyance grows. If the marketing is to be believed it takes 119.59 seconds to pour a perfect pint of Guinness. The Trafalgar has obviously introduced efficiency measures as this was more likely 10 seconds. The result a murky pint which has a detergent edge. It's almost understandable when the bar is three deep as the title race is coming to a dramatic conclusion but when you are the only customers at the bar it's just plainly shoddy.

The half time whistle is a reprieve. We put our unfinshed drinks on the bar and leave. In future I will unleash the inner Mail reader and succumb to my knee jerk reaction and do an about turn without thought.

11.5.10

Climbing off the fence

I have a secret. A dirty little secret which I keep from colleagues, friends and loved ones. They wouldn't quite understand. No I don't steal under garments from washing lines. No I didn't vote Cameron. I'm a... a... I am a card carrying member of CAMRA. I pay about 20 quid a year to join with ohers who love Real Ale. Yes, some have beards and books to tick; and a mind for facts whether they be about great English battles or the age of steam. I have neither beard nor tick book and as for facts let's just say I don't know my Battle of Worcester from Bosworth. Our common interest, love and in some cases obsession is of supporting brewers and sellers of real ale. And obviously there is the odd pint involved as well.

A cosy world of appreciation one may think? Little did I know before dipping my toe in the blog pond that tensions exist, with esteemed commentators as non members and a debate around the "noxious culture of entitlement" raging. Who'd have thunk it? It's debates of this like that make me question whether I should request that my What's Brewing and Beer be sent in plain brown paper. I should maybe point out that I've never been a joiner. Not since being thrown out of the Boys Brigade. So as I took the unusual step to ally myself I must be happy to say I'm a member and share my loose reasons (in no particular order) for joining:

1. Discounts. I am a Yorkshireman, and if there's one thing we love, it’s a bargain. Either that or we're tight. As much as 33p off a pint sometimes. I figure I only have to drink in the region of 350,000 pints, pocket the discount and i can buy my own pub.
2. Information and Support. Who doesn't want to sit on the train at 7.30 reading Beer? If you've ever bemoaned the lack of a decent pint, a lack of choice then CAMRA is worthy of support. I could at this point write a serious commentary around the Campaign but I would direct you to the website, while I continue with my ramble.

3. Being in my thirties. On turning 30 many of the preoccupations I had in my teens and twenties (I would write "in my youth", but that would be too depressing) were replaced by an attitude of doing exactly what I wanted to do, as opposed to what I ought to do. My iPod wasn't playing just the latest indie band which I should be heard listening to. They were unashamedly rubbing shoulders with John Coltrane, Dolly Parton and Dean Martin. On occasion Jamie Cullum (ok, I may have gone too far with the honesty now). Being associated with stereotype beardies, bores and beer obsessive's doesn't bother me in the slightest.

4. Annoyance. Not why I joined but possibly why I will renew. If I knew there was such dislike of members in purist circles (perhaps too worthy to join?) I would have stumped up for membership years ago, got on a train to Sheffield and declared loudly in the Tap "BARMAN. FREE BEER OR I WILL UNLEASH THE WRATH OF CAMRA"... I would expect to be shown the door and sentenced to the local Wetherspoons, but it could be worth it, although the train would cost me at least the discount of 230 pints. What can I say I just like a bit of antagonism.

So that's it in short. The secrets out. I've climbed off the fence. Time for a pint perhaps. Now where's my membership card. Can't forget the discount.

27.4.10

The Warwick (The Gastro Half Marathon)

The Warwick in Pimlico was the venue for a Sunday lunch which will not soon be forgotten for food and service which were poles apart.

As Lou and I arrived at 1pm to meet O and Meister there were only a handful of tables occupied. Designed from the gastro pub by numbers manual it’s a mix of mismatched tables and chairs, benches on stripped floors. Asking for a pint of Royal London, one of only three Ales (Green King IPA and Abbot Ale being the others) the barman seemed confused by my choice. Repeating my choice again I pointed at the pump. This first sign of the trend for the afternoon barely registered.
As the bar filled over the next 2 hours a definte division formed with a Nappy Valley developing in the lowered area. Getting from the table to the toilet became a mission, weaving round strollers, toddlers and their parents all blocking the passageway to the toilets.

The pace of the 3 staff increased with every new table, dashing from one side of the bar to another, in and out of the kitchen, nerves fraying, a scene of inefficient fire fighting. Plates were stacked at either end of the bar, constantly fed by annoyed diners clearing their own tables. The pile closest to Nappy Valley looking as if there could be a cascade of knives, forks and gravy at any second. Although this should have been our cue to leave the food looked and smelt great and watching what would unfold next was like strange voyeuristic theatre.
The danger to Nappy Valley is cleared by one of the kitchen staff, or perhaps even the chef, which could go some way to explain the near 60 minute wait for food. There are no thoughts of the chaos around us as we ravenously attack the Soft Shell Crab, Pan Fried Scallop and Seared Foie Gras. If the kitchen is at boiling point at this point it doesn't show as each dish cannot fail to impress, from good produce to presentation. The scallop and foie gras dishes while pan fried or seared are crisp from the pan but not overcooked, as is often be the case when diverting from normal pub menus. The accompanying carrot puree with the latter dish adds a subtle sweet edge to the richness of the main element. Its safe to say that appetites are sated and we are ready for the main courses.

We prise another bottle of Malbec (Mendoza 2007) from the bar after pointing it out on a stained and sodden wine list, an early casualty of the plate mountain. This sustains us for the 35 minute wait for three mains, the fourth coming 15 minutes afterward having been left off the order. All I can do is drool at the plates as the other three tuck in. The roasted cod looks good, though there seems to be a shortage of puy lentils. My roast pork belly arrives without any word of apology. Its at this point that my nerves start to fray slightly and I ask if they expect me to pay. The manager waves his hands around and mutters for me not to worry. He's probably contemplating that there are many hours of this left; with a group of weary London Marathon runners limping in medals round their necks. I'm thinking we deserve one at this point for the Nappy Valley Slalom and the Freestyle Drink Pointing. Despite all the grief it's certainly worth the wait. It has a thin scored crackling which delivers the required sweet fatty hit without picking it from the molars for the next week. The pork is moist, the accompanying veg, apple sauce and Yorkshire Pudding are all to a good standard.
Our own half gastro Marathon complete consensus at the table is that dessert may be a dish too far. Meister and myself leave quickly for a pint at Cask while the ladies settle the bill. We are seated and served when we receive a call to say that we need to guess the bill. They sound please with themselves. We have a little time to think before they arrive. Knowing that it should be in the region of £150 we are dumbfounded with the final bill after an expert complaint. £55. Was it the right bill that they discounted? How did they reach that amount? I'll probably never know if this was an isolated incident for The Warwick, as despite the fact it was hugely discounted and the food was superb there are plenty of places that can get both right. So, Gold medal for Lou and O for world class complaining, Silver to myself for the Slalom, Bronze to Meister for his choice and a wooden spoon to The Warwick.

23.4.10

Walkabout (can it ever be justified?)

Facing Shepherds Bush Empire I have a choice to make. O'Neills or Walkabout? Neither would be a choice I'd usually make but we're meeting before a gig and its one of the two, set either side the venue. So is it the Craic Den or something reminiscent of a Shearing Shed? With a chill passing through me I take a deep breath and head towards the neon of Walkabout.

Am I being unfair to this employer of hundreds of Aussies and Kiwis? This purveyor of quality student night outs, supporter of drunken hen and stag do's? I don't think so. Every Aussie I know has a healthy disregard for it and those who don't I would seriously questions as suitable company. Tolerating it only for AFL coverage and familiar beer. They would doubtless choke on their VB if they saw the claim that its an "authentic Australian bar chain". Authentic 1920s Drovers Station possibly.

On my last visit to the Upper Street outpost (to watch AFL with Meister) a psychotic customer took off his shirt and beating his tattoed chest screamed at his barfly companion that he was going to "rip his face off". The manager, without a moment of hesitation said "look mate. I've told you before... Do it again and your barred". What would you have to do to get barred from a Walkabout? Actually rip his face off?

There's the dubious appropriation of aboriginal culture and iconography in the name and the design, there is the use of the word "dunnie", there is the full size ping pong table which makes me think I'm in a hostel or a sanitorium, there's the Steinlager which the barmaid could only describe as being from New Zealand, with an expression on her face that said "look it tastes like piss but what do you expect for £2". There is the use of the word "Awesome" on their website, the over use of which is anything but awesome. There is.... Well I could go on for hours.

Is there a plus side? Erm.... Well. This is difficult. I did see Alan Fletcher sing to a Freshers week crowd. Although this should be in the against argument the combination of numerous bottles of VB and Tooheys New, being neither a Fresher nor a student and seeing Dr Karl himself was a heady mix.

With the doors to the gig open and our party complete we headed out past the ping pong table to watch Angus and Julia Stone, who incidentally were excellent. They also hail from the land down under, where beer does flow and men chunder... Possibly at the thought of Walkabout? Bet they went to O'Neills.

22.4.10

The Roebuck (This Is England)



We arrive at the Roebuck from Richmond Park, hot and very thirsty. It's early evening and a smell of gravy laden Sunday lunches hits the nostrils as we enter. The interior is reassuringly unspectacular. It's a solid pub and has been since the 1700s, the smell confirming it hasn't been gastroed, which is surprising in these parts.


With a choice of London Pride, 330, Ascot Anastasia Stout, I start with the 330 and make my way onto the Stout.  Heading outside to take advantage of the remaining sun we cross the road and step down onto the wide public terrace running parallel with the road. On a spring evening in Richmond there is no better place to enjoy views of Richmond Park and down across the Thames, an idylic English scene of people simply messing about in boats.

Groups congregate on the benches and the railings either side of the terrace in a scene which is positively European. Through in a game of boules and it may not be England. Deciding to sit on the hedge that drops into the park a fellow drinker is swallowed whole. As we watch the sunset we watch as his legs flap and his girlfriend tries desperately to pull him out. Inevitably the crowd claps, cheers and laughs at this moment of pure slapstick before some eventually heave him out. He holds his hands up to the sky in appreciation of his public before checking his scratches. Spots of blood forming on his white Ralph Lauren polo he heads to where else but the bar. It could only be England.

20.4.10

Steins (what's the Wurst that could happen)

The skies over London have been quiet and free of emission trails for a few days now. Berlin was the weekend destination for Captain Engish and Hadedar but short of braving trains, ferries and buses they had no alternative but to concede to the volcanic ash cloud and recreate the German experience in London.

Saturday morning, the sun was shining and I one foot in the doghouse following a later than planned Friday night. The text came suggesting Katzenjammers and as much as I felt like sitting in a windowless cellar having hair of the dog (possible its entire back), a walk in the park was the order of the day. Late afternoon and an update. Common sense has prevailed (also known as Hadedar) and the trip to the cellar has been shelved in favour of Zeitgeist. The text simply read "In Zeitgeist, eating curry wurst and chips". At this point although the park and the Vitamin D had done me a world of good the thought of curry wurst was appealing, not to mention the prospect of a pint of Paulaner. I wouldn't have to wait too long as a further text suggested a Sunday afternoon at Steins in Richmond.  The prospect of an afternoon by the river and a few beers was a promising one.

Set off the towpath close to Richmond Bridge, Steins offers a Bavarian al fresco experience, serving traditional dishes and beer by the pint and stein. All seating is outdoors, the only indoors being a wood cabin housing the kitchen and the toilets.

As I arrive I find a English and Hadedar have found a table and guarding the extra place. I am handed a menu and told to take my place in the queue, order my food and beer, pay, collect my beer at a seperate queue and that the meal will be delivered to the table. The queue moves at a crawl with one person operating the till; slowly. What happened to German efficiency, or is that just a lazy stereotype?

Mission accomplished and stein of Paulaner Munchner in hand I return to the table, weaving through buggies and tightly pack tables. Within minutes my food arrives. Perhaps the system does work. The sausage is tasty as are the spicy potatoes (albeit over seasoned). There is an absence of sauerkraut which was part of the description and in its place a limp salad. I consider asking for it be added but expecting that there would be a queue for this I finish my meal and head to the bar for another Paulaner Munchner; ensuring my food receipt is at the ready. No beer is served without having ordered food, perhaps due to licence or to keep firmly focus on the family market.

On a warm day by the river in Richmond you cannot fail to have an enjoyable experience but still Steins didn't quite live up to the promise.  Ideal for families, the owners target market it benefits from not being overrun by loud groups interested only in drinking as many steins as possible, but could deliver more in terms of the food and the experience. For me it needs to be less works canteen and deliver more on its prime riverside spot. That said it was busy and doubtless will continue to be so. In short, enjoyable, not a destination in itself but they're are wurst places to spend a day by the river (sorry couldn't resist).

16.4.10

A Thirst for Politics?

With a May Election rapidly approaching its hard to ignore the relentless wave of news, whether it be the papers, TV, radio, blogs, tweets and whichever other way the sultans of spin have found to influence us. Rows of telepaths at Conservative HQ? It's an excuse for everyone including the humble blogger to devote countless hours and inches to the claims of identi-kit politicians.

Well I'm no different I'm afraid so if your mind is a political vacuum and you want it to stay that way turn away now or maybe take a moment to trap the cat instead. Studying the Labour manifesto, which I know we all do, I note that under a heading of protecting community life, Mr Brown claims to:

Understand that strong community life also depends on protecting the places in which people come together…The local pub and social club are also hubs of community life. Too many pubs have closed that could have been sustained by local people.

It's interesting to note that this is wheeled out as part of the manifesto rather than having acted on this decline over the last 13 years. The British Beer and Pub Association recently released figures to suggest that we are losing 28 pubs a week and has topped 58 per week at a peak. Naturally special interest groups shout from the pumps and beer cellars that we need to do something about this decline and link closures to this kind of political promise. But do we need to save pubs? Strange maybe for a pub blogger but I say broadly in towns and cities no we don't need to save them. A recession and harsher trading conditions are a great leveller for any service business. My rationale is that roughly speaking a bad business will fail and a well run one which is relevant to its customers - with good service, well kept beer and a sense of community will survive. These well run businesses may even prosper from the failure of less successful pubs. Yes, there are wider issues of the way the industry works but I think there is a certain truth in good businesses prosper, bad ones don't. We didn't save whole industries; the closure of which decimated whole towns, villages and regions so why start with saving pubs. Save the industries and you in turn save the pubs that serve the communities in which those industries are based. In smaller towns and villages where there may only be a handful of pubs, a declining population, property bought for weekend getaways, the argument is admittedly different and this is where Brown's measures could make a difference. The manifesto continues to claim that:

We will support pubs that have a viable future with a new fund for community ownership in 2010-11. Councils must take full account of the importance of pubs to the local community when assessing proposals that change their use, and we will make it more difficult to demolish pubs. Restrictive covenants applied by pub companies to property sales will be curbed and flexibility for pubs to provide related services promoted, making it easier to have live entertainment without a licence. A non-tie option should be available for pub tenants;

Obviously as a manifesto there are no definitions of viable future, the use of should and there seem to be no hard figures around the community fund. Is it all hollow electioneering? Will this community fund come of a lottery fund? Will Gordon even be around to carry it through? Only time will tell.

Right, I'm off for a beer, anyone know a good pub that's still open?

15.4.10

Canton Arms (next stop Haggis Toastie)

My appreciation of the Canton Arms seems to be growing with each visit. I need a weekly fix as a minimum and this week found myself sharing the fix over dinner.

Our meal for 4 (with Lou, Meister and O) had swelled to 7 when news spread that we were dining as well as drinking. Captain English dropping hints as big as his eyes when faced with a Fopp sale secured the invite with his other half, Hadedar. Making up the seven was Silvio; to whom I promised not to mention his recent appreciation of a corked bottle of wine. "Hmmmm. Interesting.... Its different. But I like it". His name has been changed (as with all) to protect his pride further. I mean its a mistake any Italian could make (well at least that's what he told us).

Enjoyment of the Canton starts with the ale board, which rarely disappoints. New to me were Tring Brewery's, Jock O'Legs, copper coloured with a hoppy bitter taste and Acorn Brewery's, Barnsley Bitter. At 3.8% this dark chestnut bitter could sustain for a session with its rich flavour.

The dining room was busy but securing a table was effortless (no bookings taken under 8 diners). Presented with the option of a Salt Marsh Lamb, slowly pot roasted for 7 hours, served with Boulangere Potatoes (my mouth is genuinely watering), there was no contest and a quick show of hands confirmed we had the required 4 to manage the dish. Starter was similarly an easy choice. There was no answer other than "yes" when Meister suggested the Foie Gras toastie to share. I rub my hands with glee at the prospect.

Neither course disappoints. The toastie had as much for its novelty value than the fact I love foie gras wasn't as rich as I thought. For £8 you aren't going to get masses of it but what you get is more than enough. accompanied by a chutney or relish it won't be the last time I sample this dish, or the further choice of haggis..
Served from the oven, the Lamb and Potatoes were placed in the centre of the table with serving spoon, fork and tongs. The Lamb had benefited from every minute of its 7 hours, the meet falling from the bone. The potatoes were the standout, crisp with a rich onion taste from white onions reduced to almost puree. I could order this on its own, although I don't think my belt has enough notches to cope.
The Canton goes from strength to strength. Next stop Haggis Toastie!

14.4.10

Stockwell Easter Crawl Pt 2: The Landor / The Surprise / The Cavendish

Moving on from the Marquis we headed for the Landor. Promising from the outside this North Clapham theatre pub had all the atmosphere of a bends chamber. This is the danger point of any crawl. You are 4 pubs in, and maybe 6 pints or more down. Spirits waning we necked them quickly and headed on before the will to carry on deserted us..

Crossing Clapham Road we made our way to the Surprise, just off Larkhall Park. A Youngs' pub, it fits the tag of a local boozer right down to the tumbleweed moment as the door creaked open and all eyes turned to us. Could this be another killer blow to the crawl?

A few locals sat in the small front bar and despite the initial tumbleweed we got a friendly enough reception. Well we made it out intact after another swift pint, though unlike the Landor I will probably return to the Surprise, even its just to find out what the Surprise is.

Heading on to the sixth and final pub of the crawl there wasn't any doubt as to which pub it would be. Set at the edge of a Stockwell estate is the Cavendish. You write this pub off as another estate. pub at your own peril. In fact it should itself be called the Surprise with the backroom Ballroom showcasing new comedy, music and on occasion burlesque. Added to which it's probably the only pub in London to have an occasional house organist. The on tap selection isn't huge with Greene King being the choice to round off the crawl. Standing at the bar chatting with the staff, there is a thought that if we started the crawl here we wouldn't have made it far. We'll defintely be back here for a full entry as it rightly deserves.


So 6 pubs down and the pint count pushing double figures, there is no thought of the head related sonsequences in the morning; thoughts more reserved for the pubs we missed (notably The Priory and the Canton). Surely an excuse for a second annual Stockwell Crawl. Or perhaps just next week.

Stockwell Easter Crawl Pt 1: The Grosvenor / Queens Head / Marquis of Lorne

A good night can often can turn into an impromptu pub crawl and planned pub crawls can in turn be mundane tick box exercises; dictated more by the proximity of the first to the second to the third pub. With this in mind Captain English and I set out on our Easter Crawl knowing only the starting point: The Grosvenor, Stockwell.


Set amongst council blocks and displaying posters for thrash metal gigs many would have second thoughts about our starting point. Having downed plenty of pints there in the past we had no such hesitation. Slightly down at heel and with a well used pool table its a reminder of student days spent in smokey pubs playing pool badly and feeding the jukebox. The crowd at 6pm on the Thursday was a mix of Portuguese tradesmen playing pool, a couple of old Irish pensioners sat supping at the bar and a group of students putting the world to rites as well as a barrel of cider. Being Cask Ale Week and feeling nostalgic I went for a Moorhouses Bitter, a hoppy session beer. A great start. Two pints down and we move on towards Brixton and the The Queens Head.

Formerly The Far Side, The Queens Head as it is now is far removed from The Grosvenor. Superficially it’s nicely renoavted, as premium lagers and one token ale. Adnams. My heart sinks at the sight of it and we opt for a cool pint of Erdinger. Large Gorillaz canvases adorn the walls, and although they are now on their third album, its still a touch that you would expect in about 2000. My thoughts overall would be that its nice. Not exceptional. It's proximity to the Brixton Academy would probably make it a good stop for a pre gig drink but otherwise I wouldn't make a point of stopping by. With that in mind we declined a second round and moved on.

It may be cliched to say that stepping into the Marquis of Lorne is like stepping back in time but in this case it is fitting. Approaching the pub you notice the original ornate tiles outside. It is hard to think many breweries or pubco's today would lavish money on something so ornamental. Much more likely to invest in a Sky subscription and a Big Screen. Thoughts of an interior to match are dashed as we get inside. This is pub three in our crawl, and as much a change from the Queens Head than is possible. On the inside its a faded boozer with character (or characters as the case may be). Looking round the pub seems to be pretty much exclusively regulars. The pool table is in constant use and there are signs that the dart board gets its fair share also.

After five minutes I take a call a call from Lou and step outside as I feel that along with a smoking ban phones should be next. I peer through the window to see that Captain English has made a new friend. Stepping back inside I am intoroduced to the Landlord, who's sat at the bar. He tells us about his improvements and plans for the pub, the area and how its changed. He's a South Londoner through and through and proud of his pub. It has to be said that he's had a few at this point but amiable with it. As he launches into a passionate description of his Garden he reaches over to his cigarettes tapping one on the box, lights up and casually chuffs away, waving the fag around as he talks. Now in saying its a step back in time you could date this as anywhere before 1st July 2007, when such a simple act wouldn't raise so much as an eyebrow. The barmaid, gave a concerned look toward the guvnor but he was plainly oblivious. Two pints and it was time to leave Summer 2007 and venture back to a cold 2010 and the next pub...

2.4.10

Crown and Sugarloaf

Asked to visualise a pub in Central London that served Bitter at £1.96 and lager not far above you would perhaps imagine a scene from Hogarth of ravaged alcoholics staring mournfully into their beer in an equally decrepit pub. A mobility scooter parked in the corner its basket in front full of dented tins and Special Brew. Such places exist but they certainly aren't the Crown and Sugarloaf or for that matter any of the other Sam Smith's pubs in Central London. Tucked away off Fleet Street its easy to imagine it once being a smoky joint serving Journalists and and printworkers. These days the clientele are more likely to be Bankers and Barristers.

Located so close to St Pauls and rich in original features you would expect it to be bustling but rarely is. Perhaps in part due to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese (close to Dr Johnson's House) being a little further up Fleet Street or that tucked in an alleyway people simply detour to pubs on the main thoroughfare.

If you are looking for a pint of Stella or Guinness or anything else other than Sam Smiths you will be disappointed. Choice isn't a word that's used freely in a Sam Smith's pub nor is it a word that is really required. You've got a bitter, stout a couple of lagers and if you want anything else you are in the wrong place. The bitter is smooth and perfect for a session and the Alpine lager is crisp and to my mind as good or better than most premium pub brands. The distinct advantage being that they are cheap.

1.4.10

Citizen Smith

Citizen Smith could easily have been dismissed in our search for a pub, slating itself as a "Drinkery". The day to this point had been spent with Lou, her mum and sister; while watching another participate in the Head of The River. It was early evening and we literally needed a stop gap before the weary rower arrived after team drinks. Located opposite Putney Rail Station its main appeal was that it wasn't the nearby Wetherspoons and it had plenty of free tables. Hardly a ringing endorsement but we just needed a pub. Looking like a venue for a girls night out of overpriced cocktails and Tom Cruise wanabee barmen, as opposed to a meeting place for the Tooting Popular Front, I wasn't hopeful, but it was preferable to squeezing into the Rugby fans at the Wetherspoons.

Greeted by an Aussie waitress (well this is Putney) we were told that a menu was on the table and she would come and take our order. My impulse was just to ask for something generic rather than waiting for her to make her rounds again. Lucky I didn't. Far from having just a standard British and European  choices there was a far better mix than expected. Next to the four pages of cocktails there was an ample choice of draught Meantime (Kolsch, Pale Ale, Smoked Back, Stout) and Cornish Coaster for the UK, bottled Little Creatures and Coopers for Down Under and from our friends across the pond a mix of draught and bottled Sierra Nevada (Pale Ale and Porter), Brooklyn Brewery (Lager and Brown Ale), Goose Island and Liberty as well as a number of German offerings such as Schneider Weisse. Its fair to say that my interested had now piqued.

My mission for the day had been to create a good impression which I think I had to this point. This could have been a tipping point however as I pored over the choices. It was a case of do I go for a Sierra Nevada which at £4 a pint seemed reasonable to the £5+ i've paid in East London or bring back memories of Bedford Avenue with a Brooklyn Lager. After much deliberation its was the Meantime Smoked Back which clinched it. Having had a particularly lethal traditional German smoked beer weeks earlier I was interested to taste the Meantime take. Lou's mum (also Australian) attracted the waitresses attention and enquired as to which beers were chilled. With a quizzical look the waitress ventured that all the beers were served cold and they didn't actually warm any of them up. Not wanting to explain the difference to the waitress between chilled and what some people refer to as warm or room temperature I suggested a Sierra Nevada.

The Meantime Smoked Back arrived and I tasted cautiously. While still retaining the malty, smokey taste of the Rauchbier it was a lot more subtle, suiting a wider audience. While caught in my one man tasting session I was oblivious to Lou being short changed by a tenner. The waitress was apologetic and slightly embarrassed and all the more so when she did exactly the same thing to the next table. Perhaps its time for the Drinkery to invest in some product training and calculators. Leaving after the one beer, it won't be somewhere I would return to out of choice but if faced with it as a best alternative I wouldn't say no to a Sierra Nevada.

31.3.10

The Draft House Westbridge

Walking through the doors at The Draft House first impressions were good. A proper boozer with a bit of style. The fact that Van Morrison was playing just added to my admiration. As my Irish Postie once said to me "ahhh.... You can't beat a bit of Vannn da Maan"... Indeed you can't.

The Aussie barman greeted us with a smile and waited patiently while Lou and myself decided. She uncommonly choose quickly while I pondered the selection opting for a Sambrook's Wandle, brewed locally so I get to  do my environmental good deed for the day and reduce my beer mileage (if there is such a thing).

Having seen me eyeing the Sleemans Cream Ale the barman poured a small taster suggesting it maybe a good 2nd pint. He wasn't wrong. Crisp, cold, somewhere between a lager and an ale. My experience of Canadian beer is pretty much limited to Coors (and dare I say Coors Light) so I was interested in it finding its way to this corner of Battersea. The story goes that  a contact at the Canadian Embassy had misordered and rather than see it go to waste had passed on this fine beer. Whether this story had grown with each telling I can't say but it brought a smile to my face as did the beer.

Taking time we sat and deliberated over the menu, watching each plate as it came out of the open kitchen, each time changing our minds. Before hunger and fatigue set in we decided on an ample bucket of mussels to share  and thanks to the attentive table service enjoyed a few more Sleemans. All too soon it was time to move on, and although Battersea isn't local for me it will be one to visit again and again.

26.3.10

Ship and Shovell (or a tale of two pubs)

Travelling to Embankment on the Circle Line I cursed quietly at every tourist blocking me with a wheely bag, saving much scorn for the German school trip who thought it wise to block an entire platform jostling each other beyond the yellow line. I am not you may have guessed a tolerant traveller. Reaching the booking hall and navigating a group of Spanish pensioners I indicate in signs to another that you cannot scan your paper ticket against the Oyster Reader. At this point I wonder if the Ship and Shovell was such a wise choice for a meet with Meister and Captain English.
Approaching the pub through Craven Passage the first question with the Ship and Shovell isn't what shall I have to drink but which pub should I drink in. Its a curious choice but the Passage intersects the two halves of the pub. One loosely could be called the big pub, albeit it only relative to the small one on the other side of the passage. Run as one pub and linked beneath the passage by the cellar it must delight the tourists. My worries of a horde was unfounded. Thankfully they were most likely in the Sherlock Holmes.... a fate I wouldn't wish on the most obnoxious tourist.
Entering the big pub, Meister was already well into a Tanglefoot, which for the uninitiated is a smooth, hoppy ale, not a bygone dance craze. The standard fare of brand lagers and the like were available but tonight I fancied the further choice of a Hopping Hare or a pint of Badger. Before the night was up all will have been consumed and I would have had the satisfaction of saying "3 pints of Badger" I don't know why that's satisfying but it just is.
Captain English arrived late after feeding his Fopp addiction (a growing epidemic in men over 30) and we started to work our way through the choices (simply as a matter of research of course). Moving onto the Passage we stood outdoors and passed the time without the aid of umbrella or snow shoes for the first time this year. Looking into the small pub the wooden booths were full and whereas the larger pub was more lone drinkers savouring a Badger the smaller was more lager and a debate.
As the evening drew on English made his excuses and made his way home, no doubt to sample his latest hit of Fopp. Meister and I moved into the small pub and as we drained the dregs from our glasses I asked "One more no more?". The answer was a firm no though never being one to pass up the chance of one more on leaving the pub I chanced one more throw of the dice. "One more over the road?" A long pause. Smile. "Why not" was the reply. Crossing the Passage again we were faced with the last drink of the night. "Two pints of Badger please".... What else could it be..

22.3.10

Gladstone Arms

Walking into "The Glad" (64, Lant St, London, SE1 1QN), I scanned the room looking for Leigh. At over 6'2 he should have been easy to spot. I was left wondering if I was in the right place. I was told it was "small, cool, little pub in Borough" and this certainly did fit the bill.


It was a busy Friday night and packed out with groups mainly seated. Turning to the barman I asked if there was a back room." This is it mate... smallest pub in London", was his reply with the hint of a smile. Now this is probably the standard line used a 1000 times so I didn't correct him on this point, as the claim for smallest and possibly best stocked pub goes to the nearby Rake Bar. Maybe it works with the tourists?

I take a seat and call to see if I am indeed in the right pub. "On my way" comes the answer. A few moments later and he's in, served and seated. With four staff behind the bar the staff to customer ratio was better than most. A quick couple of pints and I am heading for the tube, thinking that this is definitely one to head back to. A great find, albeit not mine, but I don't mind being introduced to a new pub by an Aussie only a month or two in London (well not much anyway!).

20.3.10

Canton Arms

Its always with interest that I visit either a pub under new ownership or a  sister pub of an old favourite. The Canton Arms ticks both boxes.

As the old incarnation closed talk at the time was whether the Canton would succumb to development and be lost permanently. Thankfully it has reopened and joins the Anchor and Hope in Southwark (and the Great Queen Street in Covent Garden). A&H keeps me coming back for the impeccable food and service. Its a destination to eat but not solely drink. The initial thought for me was whether South Lambeth Road could sustain an A&H carbon copy and in fact whether it needs one. The pub retains its features and is only marginally changed. Logical as why spend thousands on a refurb when the booze and food should do the talking.

My first visit was on a Saturday afternoon. The rugby was on, with a few punters sat reading the paper and glancing up to catch the pre match build up. The staff greeted me like a regular, which I am sure I will become, and is always a reason to come back.. Two weeks later and I have since been back three times to both eat and drink. The food was good the first time, a Saturday afternoon Pork Belly sandwich (though I eyed Captain English's Arbroath Smokey with envy) and excellent the second. St Patricks day and not a Guinness felt hat in sight . The foie gras toastie has so far eluded me but one day soon will be mine (Jay Raynor's comment in The Observer should not be missed). The beer selection is good with a decent selection, Hobgoblin Wychwood and Triple B being notable highlights.

The Canton Arms for me surpasses its older well established sibling. It has everything I love about A&H but added to that is a destination for an excellent beer, a catch up with friends (the Captain and Meister living close by) and the promise of the foie gras toastie should I feel the need.