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.


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.


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!