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.


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..


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!).


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.

The Rosendale

Soulless pubs are not a rarity. High Street chains managed like McDonalds with beer and food to match the McPub tag are often the main culprit; but I'd also add the unsympathetic restoration to this as well. I've been to plenty of pubs that left me cold but a visit to The Rosendale left me frost bitten. Set on the corner of Rosendale Road and Park Hall Road in West Dulwich, its a solid looking pub that has stood on the site for many years. A shame then that on entering I am faced with a pub so devoid of character that I am actually saddened. Faux leather booths, garish lime patterned columns and generic restaurant furniture say it all. Its as if whoever designed the renovation had a brief to strip away years of character. An original bar still stands which is a saving grace.

Well reviewed on opening it won Time 0ut Gastropub of 2007. Striking then that on a Sunday afternoon in West Dulwich you would expect more than 3 tables to be occupied. Venture to Herne Hill and the likes of the Florence and the Prince Regent would be heaving. The Mansion in Gipsy Hill from where we'd come was running out of tables. An isolated lack of custom? On my only other visit in late summer the pub was empty with he exception of a couple tables. The beer garden was empty. My feelings for this pub maybe compounded by the fact that I was hit by a biscuit while I sat in that garden but I assure you that a biscuit rebounding off my ample head doesn't sway my comment. Walking past many times it never has more than a handful of customers. My wonder is whether standards have slipped or people just want more character. I won't be finding out in a hurry. Lifes too short.

The Peasant

Great pubs can be like the friend you haven't seen in years but as soon as you meet up you pick up where you left off.For me that's the The Peasant. Having had a week at work to be quickly forgotten I headed to the Peasant for the first time in 6 months. Even the sight of it on the corner of St John Street and Percival Street was enough to make me smile. Friday night as usual saw the bar busy with a mix of drinkers and diners, the noise of chatter clattering around the high ceilings. When this was my local I rarely ventured in on Friday nights which were firmly the preserve of workers whereas weekends belonged to the locals.

Once in I by reflex fought through the crowd and headed for my spot at the bar. On this spot I have drunk more pints of Guinness than is probably healthy, I've had nights of indepth conversation, I've had Sundays of pouring over the papers, I've had dates which have caused much amusement among friends and other more significant moments which for now at least I will keep to myself.

The Peasant has a reputation for its great food. The bar food rivaling many restaurants which sometimes make venturing upstairs to the restaraunt uneccesary, such is the quality. The beer selection is wide to say the least with changing specialities chalked up on the board (Westmalle, Grimergen, Liefmans Kriek on my visit). The Brooklyn Brewery beer mats put a smile on my face as I recalled a drunken Brooklyn Sunday afternoon with Captain English. With all this choice I go for the Guinness, part out of habit and partly because I know that I've never had a bad pint of it there. Certainty is comfort.

Having called to say she was running late Lou arrived visibly flustered. I will explain that the lateness is a regular occurance that I've grown to cope with. But then as Lou could also be termed "er indoors" its a cross I have to bear. This pub is great on so many levels but the staff are what clinch the deal for me. Sensing a flustered woman the barman asks first "are you ok" and when the answer is "no" offers a drink which immediately gets a smile. Even in the bustle of a Friday night and not having been in for so long I get a smile from staff, shake hands and have a brief chat. Its basic human touches like this that so many pubs (and businesses in general) just don't get right. For this reason I will be back to see my old friend The Peasant many times again and hopefully it won't be another 6 months.



A visit to Clause (1 Lovat Lane, London, EC3R 8DT) served to prove that not even free drinks can save a drinking experience. It was a slow Friday afternoon when Vernon suggested a few after work drinks and a catch up. Knowing little about Clause other than its name and location I soon formed a picture of what to expect: something on a par with a posh Slug and Lettuce. I wasn't far wrong. Checking a review site the most I could derive apart from slow service, lack of draught and a wealth of "Essex totty" was that it was "a turd floating in the sewer of city bars". Having always thought of myself as having an open mind I thought how bad could it be?

I arrived at Clause to find Vernon and another friend already settled at the bottom of the stairs with a bottle of cheap white wine. Ready for a quick exit (I hoped). Apparently the wine was free, which explained Vernon's insistence on the venue. With the alternative overpriced bottled beer I poured a large glass. Immediate thoughts were that it would blend into the image of many bars that I have reluctantly agreed to meet friends in over the years (while dreaming of a decent pub). I'll however have no trouble remembering it. Within an hour we had witnessed the same person fall from his chair three times, attempt a Haka, grab a female member of staff and finally exchange words with Vernon for repeatedly kicking his chair. At 6:30pm this is never a good sign, nor is the apparent blindness of the staff to his state.

Another bottle of now half priced wine followed as did the obligatory silver plate. Providing a £1 tip for a £7 bottle of wine was enough to turn a forced smile into a scowl. Ending the evening with a free jug of cocktails from the Essex girls on the next table ("we asked for Sex on the Beach but we got Tequila Sunrise"... A joke here would be just too easy) was enough to make me oblivious to the speaker above my head pumping out light RnB at a volume akin to standing next to an air raid siren.

The next morning I awoke with a thumping headache and ringing in my ears; not surprising when you think about mixing cheap white with even cheaper Tequila. There was a time when some free drinks were something to be applauded. In fact there has never be a substitute for good service, choice, music, clientelle... i could go on but I think the point is made. Would I describe it as "a turd floating in the sewer of city bars"? Not at all, I'd describe it as a City bar. I knew exactly what I was going to get. And I got it. If only I'd remember to get the aspirin as well.


photo.jpgAs a wintry blizzard descended on Borough I headed down the stairs into Katzenjammers. To date my reference for Bier Kellers has been through the likes of the Bavarian Beerhouse on City Road which while a great night out has the feel of a theme night with traditional headgear for sale and Jagermeister shots touted round the tables.I found Captain English already well into a Paulaner Original Munchner Dunkel (5.0%), a dark rich starter and finding amusement in the precison of the reserved sign on a nearby table: "this table is reserved from 5.46". Not to be accused of simply copying, which seems often to be the case, I opted for the Paulaner Hefe-Weissbier (5.5%), a step above the Weissbier that seems to be the latest trend. Having a barmaid on hand just as you drain the last drops certainly goes some way to ensure that the beer flows and inevitably thoughts turn to food. Having been on a near vegetarian diet for a number of weeks the baked Pretzel with sea salt while satisfying just wasn't enough. Looking at the menu I could have easily sat for an hour salavating but in the interests of efficiency I opt for the sauerkraut, sausage and frites. Perefct to soak up the beer servings are well sized while not belt or wallet busting.

By 10pm a quick after work drink has turned into more of a mission of beer and sauerkraut. Debating whether to have another pint is futile and there reaches a point when a Cats Misery is inevitable. Yes you read correctly, Cats Misery. The literal translation of, yes you guessed correctly: Katzenjammers. Captain English (a former resident) tells me that this is in fact the German term for a hangover. The choice of name and the reserved sign leads me to think that I may have just witnessed an example of Germanic wit. The only question remaining as I make my way to street level is how miserable the cat will be in the morning.