Sunday, 27 July 2014

The Miller, London Bridge

London Bridge isn't my favourite area in London. It has always been a grotty little corner of the capital, dominated by the railway station which is surrounded by office buildings full of depressed workers who look longingly across the river at the City, thinking about the money they could be making if they were only a bit more smarter and/or cutthroat. The restaurants and bars in the area have always tended to be soulless food and drink dispensary's catering to people who don't really care what they're eating and drinking, just as long as they are consuming something. Things got even worse a couple of years ago when The Shard opened, a building devoid of any joy which dominates the skyline and looks like it's waiting for the Eye of Sauron to be installed. Some people say the £25 admission to see the view from the top of the Shard is expensive, but I'd happily pay that much to have a view of London without the bloody Shard in it.

However no matter how bad an area is I usually find there's a slight glimmer of hope somewhere. For London Bridge the shining gem used to be Borough Market, but sadly it is now a pale shadow of its former self, and is now mainly for tourists and monied office workers who want to spaff their money on artisan brownies. But inbetween Borough High Street and London Bridge sits The Miller, providing a much needed pub with a laid back atmosphere and plenty of decent ales - both traditional and craft. From the outside this place looks nothing special, a bog standard council estate pub sitting in the shadow of Guys hospital. Inside things are relaxed with shabby chic furniture and decoration.

On the handpumps is an ample selection of ales and ciders. The ales tend to be on the more traditional side, with Titanic, Skinners and Castle Rock seen in the past. In the fridges behind the bar is a decent selection of craft beers, including craft darlings Weird Beard, Siren and Beavertown. The ales are good value but the craft is expensive, especially considering it's usually in 330ml bottles - or cans. I struck lucky on my latest visit though as they had Weird Bear K*ntish Town beer in adult sized 500ml bottles! Even better it was an exceptional wheat beer, never sickly and going down very easily.

Titanic They Think It's Ale Over was a solid bitter from the ever reliable Titanic boys. Castle Rock Harvest Pale, which I've only had in bottle before and wasn't particularly impressed with, was better on cask but still not a knock-out considering the many awards it has won. I enjoyed the beers in a small, concrete beer garden to the side of the building. I tried the food as well, a meat and cheese plate plus deep fried risotto balls which I've completely forgotten the name of. The food was splendid, if again a bit expensive.

The Miller is a much needed respite from the humdrum pubs in the London Bridge area and well worth a visit if in the area. There's usually plenty of comedy and drama on in the large room upstairs as well. In fact I performed myself there a couple of times - I think I managed to make a couple of people laugh although it might just have been the sound of my own nervous laughter. Considering my best joke was "I found some chocolate in my belly button - ironically it was Lindt" I was lucky to make it off the stage alive. See you next week!

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Kings Stores, Spitalfields London

This blog post was originally going to be about Williams Ale & Cider House, a pub near Spitalfields Market in London that specialises in craft beer and that terrible alcoholic apple drink. I'd heard good things about the place and was looking forward to it. Walking in on a Saturday lunchtime it looked like a cosy little boozer, with comfortable booths lining up one side of the bare brick walls, and a large bar with a goodly amount of hand pumps offering a varied selection of ales. Not many customers in but that is to be expected of a City pub at 12pm on a Saturday. So far so good, and I was looking forward to a nice meal from the tempting menu and a tasty ale. Walking up to the bar I asked if any food available. "We don't serve food until 4pm" came the reply. Ah.

I'm fond of the craft beer scene but one drawback, especially in London, is the odd hours craft pubs can sometimes keep. To open the pub at 12pm but not serve food until 4pm was baffling to me, especially in Central London on a Saturday. The barman could see the dejected look on my face and mentioned that their sister pub around the corner should be serving food. As me and The Lovely Jemma were ravenous and on a schedule we sadly had to leave the Williams and head to the aforementioned sister pub Kings Stores. After confirming with the friendly barman that they were indeed serving food we took a seat.

This pub has been recently done up and it looked good, if a bit generic. There is a separate restaurant area but unlike some other places you wouldn't feel left out just having a drink here. I went up to pursue the beer selection - as it's a sister pub to the Williams I was expecting a solid selection of ales. There were a couple of crafty offerings from Signature Brew and Trumans. Alongside were more traditional brewers - Triple fff and also Greene King IPA. That's odd, I thought, why is IPA being sold in a pub that is clearly trying to appeal to the younger, trendier drinker? I ordered a pint of the Triple fff Citra Sonic and a Fish and Chips and sat back down to do some investigating.

I looked up the pub online and found out that both this pub and the Williams are both owned by the "Metropolitan Pub Company" - which in turn is owned by Greene King. Mystery solved, and a canny move from GK to edge into the lucrative (in London at least) craft beer market. The pint of Citra was in good condition and I was getting a slightly fruity, pleasantly hoppy finish after every sip. The fish and chips were pretty good as well. TLJ went for the inevitable pulled pork,as this is a craft pub, and from the small taste I had it was pretty good if a little too sweet. The place is off the main drag inbetween Liverpool Street and Spitalfields so stayed quiet on the sunny Saturday afternoon we were there, but I imagine it gets busy at weekdays. Unfortunately due to its location between the City and Whitechapel I imagine it attracts a terrifying combination of suited wankers and bearded hipster tossers that would make me want to claw my eyes out in horror and despair. Worth a visit on a weekend afternoon though if you're in the area looking for a cosy bite to eat.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

One Inn The Wood, Petts Wood

"Micropubs" are an attempt to bring back the good old fashioned community boozer - no music, no fruit machines, no Fosters or Carling. Real ale is the focus, sometimes ciders as well. They are designed to encourage conversation amongst punters, rather than everybody sitting in their own groups on their mobile phones while the latest pop pap blasts out in the background. Micropubs are mainly in the South East, especially Kent, maybe because most of the pubs in the county are either chav infested booze barns or high end gastropubs, and places for a reasonable pint and a decent chat are getting thin on the ground. The movement doesn't seem to be making much impact in the North, maybe because their pubs aren't filled with insular southerners and a place were the punters are happy to have a chat with each other isn't such a hard thing to find.

One Inn The Wood is a new micropub that has opened in the quiet suburb of Petts Wood. The area already has two pubs - a Wetherspoons and The Daylight Inn. The Spoons is as average as they come, and The Daylight Inn is a cavernous pub which unfortunately attracts a slightly unsavoury crowd - there always seem to be an edge to the atmosphere when I visit. One Inn The Wood fills the gap between the two pubs quite nicely - less likely to get stabbed by the punters than in the The Daylight Inn, less grubby than the Spoons. Clearly a place like this was needed as it was busy on a Saturday night, punters overspilling on to the pavement. Of course the place is small so the crowds seem bigger - in the Spoons the crowd would barely be noticeable. I visited with a friend and we had to enjoy our first few drinks outside but later on in the evening we managed to grab a space on one of the comfortable benches that line the side of the pub.

The layout is clever, with seating along the sides and high chairs encouraging people to have a chat. A no mobile phone rule encourages mingling. A small selection of pub games were available and the manager bought out a Shove Ha'penny board for us to have a play on. I didn't win because I've got the dexterity of a drunk bat. A small selection of food is also available comprising of good old fashioned pub stodge - pork pies, sausage rolls and cheese. Perfect for sopping up the beers and getting a healthy dose of gout.

The beers were excellent. It's served from a cold room behind the bar, a glass door allows punters to see the booze being poured. Beers were being served quickly, efficiently and always with a smile. All the beers are from Kent breweries, and five were on offer. Four ciders were also available. I would mention that cider is a terrible drink that tastes like apple juice gone horribly wrong and is only suitable for schoolchildren hanging outside an off license asking grumpy punters to buy them a bottle of White Lightning, but the last time I insulted cider drinkers I got a response so vehement I was afraid I was going to get kidnapped and wake up in a filthy bathtub in Somerset missing my kidneys.

I tried every beer on offer - for research purposes of course. Genesis from Goody's was a good start, a refreshing, easy drinking bitter - the perfect session ale. Silver Top from Old Diary was an excellent stout which went down very smoothly indeed with lovely coffee flavours. Clarence & Fredericks IPA was the only disappointment of the night. I've enjoyed their beers in the past but this one was lifeless with no punch to it. I think it needed a little more conditioning. Pow Wow from Mad Cat Brewery was a return to form - excellent grassy, crisp flavours which got better with every sip.

I managed to get the last pint of Rockin Rio before it ran out, and I was glad I did as this was a slightly spicy treat. The Kentish Best from Millis which came on to replace the Rio was a fine, if unexciting, drop to finish the night on. The atmosphere was jovial throughout the night, and even at 10:30pm when we left the place still had a buzz to it. I really enjoyed my time at One Inn The Wood - my only wish is that it was a little bigger - but then it wouldn't be a micropub I suppose. Well worth a visit if you're in the Petts Wood area.