Sunday, 28 June 2015

Old Red Cow, Farringdon

I work in the Farringdon, an area in London which is bereft with decent pubs. I've visited several in the past and you can read my thoughts in the blog archive. Last Wednesday I popped into a pub in the area that I hadn't visited previously which was highly recommended by the Craft Beer London app. The Old Red Cow is near Smithfields market, a two floor pub with a small area downstairs and a dining area upstairs. Walking in on a Wednesday evening the place had a smattering of punters in, and the cosiness of the room made it feel busier than it was. Similar to the Euston Tap there are ten keg beers dispensed from taps on the back wall, plus four beers on handpump. I was pleased to see a strong selection of beers available, with plenty of bottles to choose from as well.

All was looking good and there was even a tempting food menu. I was ready to settle in for the evening with a friend of mine who was due to join me and I ordered a pint of Blond from Nene Valley brewery, a refreshing session pale ale at 3.8%. Sadly the night hit a snag when I was charged £4.50 for the pint. Now I don't mind paying a premium for a craft beer especially if it has a high ABV, but £4.50 for a 3.8% cask session ale is, in my opinion, taking the piss. Even worse was that I couldn't see this price advertised anywhere, only the keg beers appeared to have their prices listed on a blackboard to the side of the bar. They were also very highly priced, averaging around £6 a pint for beers in the 5-6% ABV range.

Maybe I'm out of touch and this pricing is normal, but these were the highest prices I'd ever seen in a pub as far as I could remember, and I've had plenty of experience getting stung in Central London pubs. My friend arrived and although we reasoned that we could just stick to halves the prices were just too unpalatable to spend a lot of time in the Cow. Additionally, and although it's not the fault of the pub, a group of braying City boys hogging the bar were getting loud and spoiling the atmosphere. One of them bleated about ordering "the most expensive beer the pub had.' I hate to think how much he paid for it.

My friend and I ended up going down to the Wetherspoons near Farringdon station (The Sir John Oldcastle) which was as gloomy and sticky as usual, but at least I could enjoy a can of SixPoint for £2.98. We then moved on to Smiths of Smithfields for dinner, where I enjoyed a burger along with a pint of their house beer, a refreshing pale lager that went down a treat. Even though Smiths is a restaurant for those on expense accounts it still felt more reasonable than the Red Cow. It's a real shame that the Cow was so expensive, as it could be a lovely cosy respite away from the hustle and bustle of Farringdon, but the prices were bordering on exploitative. With so many other decent pubs nearby I'm a little bit surprised they're getting away with it.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Blackpool

Last weekend I was up in Blackpool or the "Vegas of the North" as it's known by absolutely nobody. My nan lives in nearby Cleveleys so I have had many visits to Blackpool over the years. Three or four years ago things were not looking good for the town - they missed out on the "Super Casino" bid, development plans had stopped and the tourist attractions were outdated and slowly crumbling away. But in the past few years it has gone through a bit of a renaissance - Merlin (who own Alton Towers and Thorpe Park) have come in and bought up the Blackpool Tower and the hilarious Louis Tussauds, whose waxworks were so bad that I once had to ask a friend why Paul Merton was on the Titanic, and they had to point out it was actually Leonardo DiCaprio. It's now an official Madame Tussauds and both it and the Tower are looking much better for themselves.

With Merlin throwing money at the resort and the council also starting to wise up and continue developing the town, the town centre is now looking much better, although the area around the Blackpool Pleasure Beach is looking a bit forlorn and forgotten. Hopefully the cash will start to make its way there. Along with Merlin another company making its way into Blackpool is Wetherspoons, who now have three blockbuster pubs in the town. In a way Spoons are a perfect fit for Blackpool, as their giant pubs serving cheap booze and food make it perfect for hungry families and the thirsty stag and hen do's.


The first Spoons of the weekend was The Velvet Coaster, a short walk away from the Pleasure  Beach. This is by far the biggest Spoons I've ever visited, spread over three floors and featuring a roof terrace and a glass lift. Each floor has a bar and they were serving different ales at different bars, which got a bit confusing. The location used to be an amusement arcade, and the decor is designed to evoke memories of fun at the seaside fair. For my first beer I went for the local offering of
Lytham Gold from the Lytham brewery which is only a 15 minute drive from the pub. It was a solid pint once it had time to settle. While ordering my second beer I noticed that New Zealand craft beer superstars Yeastie Boys had a beer on cask. I was initially excited but a little bit of research revealed that the beer was actually made at the Wadworth brewery in not so exotic Wiltshire, although the pump clip didn't indicate this. Bit disappointing but it's nice to see Spoons continuing to try and cater for the craft crowd, although I didn't see anybody order it.

My second drink was the Gold from the Ramsbury brewery which was a very refreshing and hoppy sup. On a Saturday afternoon the pub was in full swing with an eclectic mix of couples, parties and families and the barn like acoustics meant the downstairs was very noisy, although things were a bit quieter upstairs. Staff were friendly and serving as quickly as they could, the toilets were clean, the atmosphere was typical Spoons and quite frankly I liked the place. It's a great option for families who want a decent value lunch away from the expensive Pleasure Beach eateries.

Next up was the Spoons outlet in the centre of town, the Layton Rakes. Not as big as the Velvet Coaster, but still boasting a roof terrace, this was a more traditional Spoons experience, with slightly worn carpet and somewhat sticky table and chairs. Music was being played on a Saturday night which was unusual but actually welcome in this Spoons, as otherwise the atmosphere would have been pretty dead. The place was rather quiet punters wise, and I thought more would be coming in for a cheap drink before hitting the clubs. Although to be fair Blackpool clubs tend to be quite reasonable with their drinks prices, probably because there's so much competition.

I initially ordered a Bengali Tiger from SixPoint, but after the confused barman bought me back a bottle of the Singapore Tiger beer I had to point out in the cabinet what I wanted. Turns out they were all out of Bengali anyway, so I settled for SixPoint The Crisp at a wallet satisfying £1.99. Curiously the "premium" lagers such as Heineken were priced at around £3.40 which I found a bit high for a Spoons - maybe that's why there weren't many punters in. I find The Crisp to be the weakest of the SixPoint offerings but it's still a well made and very tasty pilsner. After a drink me and The Lovely Jemma headed on down to Funny Girls, an amusing drag cabaret and Blackpool classic that has to be experienced at least once by every visitor. I stayed away from the beer their though - I wasn't in the mood for a fizzy lager or Worthington Creamflow.

It's great to see Blackpool doing a bit better for itself and I hope the regeneration continues. The town centre is looking much smarter and they've even got a Pizza Express and a Nando's - things are truly on the up! If you find yourself there it's well worth a visit to the Coaster or the Rakes - to be honest there's precious little else you can go in town to get a decent pint of ale. On the way back home we stopped in Preston to enjoy lunch at The Continental, a fabulous pub nestled on the banks of the River Ribble. The food was excellent and my pint of Brewers Gold from Pictish was a superbly refreshing session pale. An excellent pub and a very pleasant end to an entertaining weekend.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Helsinki Part 3

After a very entertaining evening at the Helsinki Beer Festival, I woke up on Sunday morning surprisingly refreshed. I'm not sure if it was the fresh Helsinki air or the top quality of the beers I had been drinking but my head was clear and I barely felt any regret whatsoever unlike most other mornings after I've been on the lash. I was terrifically hungry though due to the lack of decent food options at the festival, but the hotels outstanding breakfast buffet soon filled that gap. Even though I wasn't flying back until Monday, I checked out of the hotel as I moving to one nearer the town centre, the functional and slightly quirky Hotel Finn. It was a great base for the centre of town, and was surprisingly reasonably priced as well. Another bonus was that it was directly across the way from Villi Wäinö, a bar I would be visiting later in the evening.

But first off I met with my friends to visit Bryggeri Helsinki for lunch. As well as brewing their own beer on site, they also have a very tempting BBQ menu. Sadly on arrival the place was firmly shut, presumably the staff were sleeping off their beer festival antics. We ended up eating in the fancy Kappeli which is nestled in a regal park that cuts through the middle of Helsinki. Although it looks very posh from the outside, it serves very reasonably priced meals. I stayed away from the beer here to give my body a rest before the night of drinking, but the Gravlax was very good indeed. After a obligatory visit to the Moomin shop up the road it was back to the hotel for a nap and watching YouTube videos on the free wi-fi. The beer blogging life is an exciting one.

As the evening rolled on I ventured out for a nights drinking on my lonesome. First stop was a return to Oluthuone Kaisla, which I've already written about in Part 1 so go back there and read it if you're interested. Next was St Urhos. The guide I was using described this as a "Fullers style" pub but it turned out to be an actual full blown Fullers. It was an odd  feeling stumbling into a traditional Fullers in Helsinki but I'm glad I did as it was excellent. ESB was available on cask and other Fullers ales were available on keg. The real stars were the bottled beers, an eclectic and well chosen selection from all over the world. I ended up with an Australian ale, Single Hop IPA Galaxy from Bridge Road Brewers. Sadly I paid the price for choosing something so exotic as it cost a wallet melting ten euros for a 330ml bottle. Thankfully it was very tasty.

A food menu was available and the offerings were similar to the Fullers pubs back in England. I went for the Liver and Mash, but as a concession to Finland it was served with some lingonberries. Pretty much everything in Helsinki is served with a side of lingonberries. It's a good job I love 'em. The food was good, the atmosphere was jovial, the service friendly and efficient and overall this was an excellent pub. Well worth visiting.

I returned back to the hotel for a quick lie down and digestion afrer the hefty portion of mash, before popping across the way to Villi Wäinö. This large bar in muted black decor has more of a clubby feel, but on a Sunday evening it was quiet and rather pleasant. Villi is one of the few places in town that serves "Sahti" beer, a traditional Finnish style. I went for the Lammin Sahti  by Lammin Sahti Oyand and it certainly was an experience. It felt like I was drinking the contents of a herb garden, and although it's a strong beer the boozy flavours weren't too overpowering. It was surprisingly good but the half I had was enough to be honest. There was a nice mix of punters in, with a couple of large groups of students, some older  gentlemen enjoying a drink, and even a few single drinkers - it was nice to not be the only weirdo sitting on a table on their own. Nice place although apparently it gets very busy on a Friday and Saturday night, with drinkers spilling on to the street outside.

The next day was my flight back to the UK. We did manage to make it back to the Bryggeri Helsinki but sadly they don't serve the BBQ menu at lunch time, and instead serve a rather dreary looking buffet consisting of Finnish home cooking - fish soup, meatballs etc. To avoid a wasted trip I felt obliged to have a drink there, and the Citra was a very good example of this tasty style. That turned out to be my last beer of a trip that involved a huge amount of very tasty beer. It was like being a student again. I flew back to London tired but happy- and looking forward to returning to Helsiinki again once I've saved up another few hundred quid so I can afford the beer there!