Sunday, 11 January 2015

The Long Pond Micropub, Eltham

One of the benefits of living in South London is that there's so much change going on compared to the North. Most of North London has already been built up, gentrified, and is now catering for older types who can afford the ludicrously overpriced houses there, or got in years ago when there was a slim chance of affording them, and these oldies don't particularly like change. Well that's my (most likely rubbish) opinion anyway. Meanwhile everybody else is moving to the South, and new stuff is cropping up all the time. I've only been in SE London for two years and much has changed pub wise. When I first moved to the Mottingham area there was a chronic lack of decent boozers, apart from the excellent Park Tavern in Eltham town centre. The closest pub to me, The Prince of Wales, doesn't serve real ale and judging by the clientele standing outside happily puffing away in their tracksuits, next to a giant van labelled the "mobile tattoo parlor" it doesn't look like the kind of place a middle class Times reader like myself would want a drink.

Over the two years things have got better, with the reopened and excellent Baring Hall Hotel only a 25 minute walk (or five minute bus ride) away, serving all my real ale and decent food needs. The Old Post Office, a grubby booze barn that used to cater to pissed up underage drinkers looking for a reliable source of Blue WKD, closed down and became the Eltham GPO, another decent ale and food pub. Both the Baring Hall and Eltham GPO are owned by Antic, who are opening up respectable pubs all over South London but they do follow a (reliable) formula - distressed chic interiors, vintage furniture, reliable ales and good food. It's good but it all starts feeling a little formulaic after the fifth Antic pub visited.

I've also been lucky to have an excellent micropub open "sort of" near me - well thirty minutes on the bus. One Inn The Wood is a superb little boozer in the leafy suburb of Petts Wood. Now I'm even luckier with another micropub opening a little bit closer to me. The Long Pond is a 10 minute walk from Eltham High Street, in a quaint little parade of shops. The frontage is unassuming, with frosted glass making it difficult to see what is inside. But venture in and you're greeted by a surprisingly big room, with wooden benches and tables down each side, and a small serving area at the back. Unusually for a micropub there is even enough room for a second, snug like room with comfortable tables and chairs. To be honest the size of the place is stretching the definition of a "micro" pub.

Despite the large size the place does adhere to other micropub ideals. There are no fruit machines, no music, in fact nothing to distract you from the beer and real life conversation - speaking on mobile phones is also forbidden. Like One Inn The Wood, The Long Pond sells only local ales from the Kent and London areas, along with a small selection of real cider and soft drinks. There's also a small food offering of sausage rolls, pork pies and ploughmans. The ale is served from a small room behind the bar, and all the ones I tried were in good condition. Mildly Rockin from Rockin Robin was a straightforward and tasty mild, and Powder Burn from the Musket Brewery was a solid porter, although it looked like it was called Powder Bum on the chalkboard advertising the beers. The highlight was Good Sheppard from Goody Ales, an excellent and very tasty best bitter, expertly hopped and a pleasure to drink.

Micros are designed to encourage conversation among strangers but when me and The Lovely Jemma visited in the week between Christmas and New Years Day the place was full of mates of the landlord, presumably in town for the Christmas break. This made the atmosphere slightly awkward as we felt we were gatecrashing a party that we hadn't been invited too. However this didn't detract from the quality of ale and the excellent ploughmans lunch we enjoyed, and I look forward to returning. I was speaking to one punter at the bar who lives across the road from the place and he couldn't believe his luck that a quality pub like this had opened so close to him. Let's hope the quality continues and this place builds up a friendly, welcoming atmosphere.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Keeping it local in the London Borough of Bromley

After the fun and frolics of exploring the pubs and bars of Hong Kong, a couple of days ago I had the day off work and took the opportunity to visit some pubs that I haven't been to before in my local area, the London Borough of Bromley. The weather was on my side and I spent a glorious, crisp winters day walking and enjoying the wintery scenery inbetween sipping some warming ales.

First up was the Shortlands Tavern. I've passed this pub many times while on the train to Bromley South station, as the pub nestles in the shadow of Shortlands station. Until recently from the outside it looked like a grubby and not particularly appealing place to have a drink, but it is now under new management who've done such a good job it's now in the latest Good Beer Guide, so I decided to pay a visit. The pub now looks much more welcoming from the outside, and there's also a charming garden with quirky decoration as well. Inside the good first impression continues, with a tasteful renovation clearly taken place. The owners have gone for a comfortable, nostalgic look and it works well, with antiques scattered around the pub and warm furnishings. So far so good, and I was pleased to see a decent selection of ales available.

On a Friday lunchtime the place was pretty quiet. I asked the friendly barman what he would recommend and he poured me a half of Thwaites Yule Love It. As I'd given him no indication on what beers I liked this was a fairly safe choice, nothing offensive and a perfectly suppable bitter. Can't say I loved it but it went down easy. I then tried a Santa's Slavo from the Nelson Brewery, and this was better - well hopped with a bit of spice in there as well to warm the cockles. Food was available and it all sounded tasty if a bit expensive. I didn't try the food but I'd be happy to go back and give it a go. With the pub situated next to the railway viaduct the room plunged into darkness every time a train shot past, which oddly contributed nicely to the atmosphere! This pub was a happy surprise and as its only a pleasant ten minute walk from Bromley town centre I might have to make some more visits when shopping in Bromley has just got too much for me.

After an enjoyable time at the Tavern I hopped on a bus to Beckenham to try out the Jolly Woodman. This is a Good Beer Guide stalwart and walking in I could sense why - it's a very traditional pub experience. Simple furnishings, a small bar area right by the entrance and a friendly collection of regulars were all present and correct. This is a drinkers pub and on a Friday lunchtime a few punters were coming in for a quick liquid refreshment. A small selection of sandwiches and toasties were also being served. I had a pint of Timothy Taylor Boltmaker which I rather enjoyed - a fine example of a best bitter but I wouldn't say it was "Champion Beer of Britain" material, as CAMRA deemed it to be this year. My pint was in good form but the next customer wasn't happy with theirs as it was looking a bit cloudy. The landlord was happy to change it with no fuss at all, and after a quick trip to the cellar the Boltmaker was back on and being served in fine form. Good work from the landlord there. I'd be very happy to have this place as a local.

The next stop was the Bricklayers Arms, located in Beckenham Town Centre and handily located across the road from the cinema. Walking in at 2p.m the place was doing a brisk trade, filled with workers most likely enjoying a early finish from work for their Christmas break. I didn't notice any food being served, so it was nice to see a drinks led pub so busy on a weekday afternoon. The ale selection was nothing outstanding but my pint of St Austell Proper Stuff was in good nick, and even better I got 50p off a pint for being a CAMRA member. Most of the punters appeared to be regulars, sitting around the large U shaped bar. A decent pub and it would make a great place to stop before or after seeing a film or hitting the Beckenham shops.

That was it for the Bromley area pubs. I hopped on a bus to join The Lovely Jemma at her works Christmas party in Croydon. Normally I'd try to stay out of Croydon but the do was being held at The Glamorgan, a fine pub and one I'm always happy to pop in to. They had Cronx Happy Cronxmas on, a locally brewed Christmas ale that was very tasty indeed, with lovely spice and plummy flavours. I also had a Bacon and Cheese burger that was absolutely delicious. You know a burger is going to be good when they ask how you'd like it cooked - I went for Medium and it was spot on. A lovely boozer and again one I'd be happy to call a local.

The Shortlands, Jolly Woodman and Glamorgan are all fine examples of a top quality locals pub -serving good ale and conversation to a wide range of punters. It's great to have little local treasures like these floating about. If you ever find yourself near any of them pop in for a pint - you won't regret it.

This is my last update for 2014, I hope you have a great Christmas and a very happy new year. In January I'll be aiming to visit two micropubs near to me, The Long Pond in Eltham and The Door Hinge in Welling, which has recently won pub of the year. I'll also be off to Paris towards the end of January and I will be trying my best to visit a couple of bars after failing dismally last time. See you in 2015!

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Hong Kong Part 2 - Craft beer and sliders

Hong Kong is a great city to visit, especially for timid Brits who have never been to Asia before like myself. It feels exotic and comfortable at the same time. The remnants of its British past means traffic drives on the left, so I don't almost get run down every time I cross the road because I'm looking the wrong way. The transport system is similar to London, complete with an Oyster card system called "Octopus." But Hong Kong take their card system even further by letting you use the Octopus in convenience stores, tourist attractions and even McDonald’s. It's incredibly convenient and oddly satisfying to use your travelcard to purchase an ice cream sundae. I wish they would do something similar in London. Sadly the Octopus card isn't accepted in pubs - although this might be a good thing otherwise I'd spend all day touching in for a pint.

But I'm not here to tell you about public transport smart cards. I'm here to bore you about pubs and beer. After The Lovely Jemma and I had completed a successful afternoon of pubbing as detailed in my previous post, in the evening we visited the bustling Lan Kwai Fong district in Central. This is the nightlife centre of Hong Kong, packed full of bars and clubs, mostly populated with liquored up ex-pats. We visited Rockabilly, recommended by Time Out for its craft beer and sliders. For those who don't know what a slider is it is what used to be known as a "mini hamburger" until hipsters decided they needed a cooler name. The beer list was pretty good, mainly geared towards English brews but there were some Australian and US beers avialable as well.

I tried the Little Creatures IPA and it was an solid IPA, full of the fruity goodness you'd expect from an American style IPA. As it was Tuesday we took advantage of the "slider for a dollar" offer. As a Hong Kong dollar is about 10p we couldn't really pass it up. The sliders we tried were pretty good - well seasoned meat and tasty toppings. We also tried the poutine, a Canadian post drinks classic consisting of a bowl piled high with chips, cheese curds and gravy. Rockabillys version wasn't very authentic but it was pretty tasty. Sport was playing on the two large televisions in the bar and the music was a jolly collection of classic rock. We enjoyed our time here.

To finish the evening we went to Honi Honi, Hong Kongs only tiki bar. Situated on the third floor of an office block, not an unusual thing in Hong Kong where everything is built upwards, exiting the lift you're greeted with an atmospheric and delightfully stereotypical tiki bar. I didn't try the beer but the cocktails were excellent if expensive, served in gaudy animal shaped containers - monkeys, tigers and the like. Plenty of them involved fire and the bartenders were happy to show off their flame throwing skills while preparing the drinks. The crowd consisted of moneyed, hip and boisterous ex-pats, with the occasional local popping in. Great for a spot of people watching, but only those with fat wallets could enjoy a long session here.

On our last day we popped into the Trafalgar Brewing Co, a microbrewery pub in the busy Wan Chai area. This pub is situated in a block with two other beer temples nearby, Frites which had a large Belgium beer list, and Hop Shack which had a heavy English slant to the beer list. Sadly we didn't get to try them but this is clearly a destination for thirsty office workers surrounding the area. The Trafalgar is marketed as a English pub but inside it felt more like an American Sports Bar - high backed leather benched seating, dark lighting, and plenty of TV's showing different sports. I tried the in-house Hops and Glory, a splendid English IPA reminiscent of Fullers Bengal Lancer. At nearly £6 a pint, even at happy hour, this is not a cheap place but the beer was good and the atmosphere jolly.

It was great to see the beer scene being so embraced in Hong Kong, and me and The Lovely Jemma enjoyed our time in all the bars we visited. Of course there are hundreds of things to do in Hong Kong apart from drinking yourself silly, but it's nice to know there are some decent boozers around after you've filled yourself with dim sum and noodles. I loved the city and can't wait to go back!