Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Micropubs - The Door Hinge and The Broken Drum

The Micropub - a small licensed premises selling real ale and not much else, with no music or fruit machines to be seen or heard. They are basically a CAMRA members wet dream come to life. The micropub movement has been moving along quite happily now over the past few years. I've managed to visit a few of them. I have always enjoyed my time at them, even if the small rooms means they usually feel very busy, filled with men of a certain age (old.)

I recently had the pleasure of visiting two micropubs in Welling, a suburb in South East London where the most noticeable feature is that there is a Tesco's and a Morrisons directly across the road from each other, like two cowboys having a show down to see who's going to leave town first. A few minutes walk away from the superstores is The Door Hinge, the first micropub of my visit. It fit the micropub template to a tee - a very small room with cosy bench furnishings and plenty of random tat plastered all over the walls, with a well chosen selection of ales on offer. The clientele was older and it turned out a fair few of them were CAMRA members. Unsurprising as micropubs may as well have signs plastered on the front saying "CAMRA members come drink in here - it's all your pub dreams come to life!"

I realise I'm sounding a bit snarky about CAMRA but I do quite like them, and I'm even a member. They still seem to be struggling a bit with this whole craft beer thing though. Some want to dismiss it, some want to embrace, personally I don't mind if bearded hipsters are making the beer as long as it is tasty. The Door Hinge certainly serves a decent pint and the friendly landlord handed me a half of Iceberg from the Titanic brewery, a hoppy treat that I always enjoy. Perching on the end of a bench I had a chat with other punters about the (rather good) Wetherspoons up the road and what local real ale festivals were coming up. Soon it was time to move on to the next micro.

The Broken Drum hasn't been around as long as the Door Hinge, and it's in a rather awkward location off a main road and near to a very popular local pub (The George Staples.) With it also being a Tuesday afternoon it was very quiet when I walked in, with a young couple and child being the only other customer. The beer selection was tempting though and I settled on another bench with a tasty pint of Goachers Best Dark Ale which went down very well.

Despite the lack of customers it was nice having a drink in here, and I had a second drink, the excellent Blue Top from the Old Diary brewery, whose beers are well made and very enjoyable. I had a pleasant chat with the landlord about the do's and dont's of opening a micropub, as it's something I'd be interested in doing once I have the funds. He was more than happy to have a chat. I think that's what I like best about micros, it's nice just sitting down among strangers and having a chat. Beer is a social lubricant after all. It may not be for everyone, but I enjoy it.

Friday, 11 March 2016

BrewDog Clerkenwell

Another day, another BrewDog opening in London, this time in trendy Clerkenwell. The area has long been a hotbed for new media and graphic design firms, packed full of young employees ready to enjoy a crafty drink. The nearby Dovetail has done well catering to this market with an excellent selection of Belgium ales, back when Belguim beer was considered exotic before the craft beer movement got into full swing. I'm surprised it has taken BrewDog this long to open a pub in the area as there are plenty of potential customers although I have heard they had a go at opening a place before but the plans fell through.

BrewDog venues never seem to be big enough for the amount of punters they attract and sadly the Clerkenwell venue is no different. The two storey layout somehow feels very cramped and claustrophobic. The second floor suffers from narrow gangways making it difficult to navigate while holding your drink, and downstairs tables and chairs are crammed in next to the bar, making it difficult to squeeze past the mixed customer base of hipsters and City boys and order a drink. Once you make it to the bar you'll find an excellent selection of beer on offer - all keg of course. Cask beardies will have to seek what they want elsewhere - luckily the Jerusalem Tavern and the Craft Beer Co are a short walk away.

I was there for the Brew By Numbers (BBNo) tap takeover, which meant all of the guest taps (around 15 of them) were dispensing BBNo beer. They did not disappoint with a wide selection of beers and styles on offer. I went for a four beer sampler. The 01/03 Saison Mosiac was a good start to the evening, a well made saison with a welcome hoppy twang.The 09/05 Brown Ale - Chinook and Centinneal was another decent sup - a boisterous American style brown ale, very rich and boozy. 05/13 India Pale Ale Rakau was the booziest beer I had at 7.1% but it tasted much lighter than that, an easy drinking pale ale clearly made with skill. The samples were all 1/3 pints and it came to £9.60 - about the going rate for a drink round these parts.

The best of the bunch was the 03/05 Porter - Willamette and Cenennial. Brew by Numbers usually make excellent porters and this was no exception - plenty of malty flavours and a good bit of bite to it. After trying and failing to blag a free BBNo T-Shirt I called it a evening. I enjoyed my visit to BrewDog Clerkenwell and would be happy to return. It's a decent bar with friendly staff and good beer - if only the place was a little bigger.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Lucky Chip Burgers and Wine

If there's one thing every Londoner will tell you it's "there are a lot of burger restaurants around here." They'll then carry on telling you that London is an expensive, lonely, sometimes slightly smelly city but the main thing is that there are hundreds of places to buy a burger. You can get dirty burgers, honest burgers, scotch egg burgers and crappy burgers that make my guts hurt thirty minutes after consuming them (sold by a hip burger chain called "McDonalds.") I've been to most of these places but one that has slipped me by is Lucky Chip, who have taken up residency in several pubs across London. They have recently opened their own proper restaurant called Burgers and Wine and I paid a visit last weekend.

I was pleased to see that unlike every other trendy restaurant in the capital Burgers & Wine are happy to take reservations. It turns out the reservation I made for a Saturday afternoon wasn't really needed as we were the only customers when we walked in. Located in the deeply unglamorous Ridley Road market in hipster haven Dalston, this is more a place for people in the know - I'm not sure how many potential customers would just happen to walk by. The market is known for selling all variety of animal parts and walking past piles of pig trotters and sheep heads didn't really get me in the mood for a tasty burger.

The restaurant is fitted out in dark wood tones and plush booths and I put the thought of entrails and pigs with no legs behind me while sliding into a booth with The Lovely Jemma. A long bar and open kitchen is along the back of the room. Their website claims the place is meant to evoke a 80's American steakhouse vibe, and if you don't look out the large ceiling to floor windows at the distinctly British market outside you could almost believe you were in a steakhouse in Miami gorging on meat and snorting up coke.

The menu is small and to the point - a smattering of starters, a couple of "counter dishes" including a tempting Chicken Parmesan, and of course the main event - burgers. The Lovely Jemma and I both went for the "No. 4 El Chappo" burger which contains a meat patty, blue cheese, roasted jalapenoes and Ailoi. It sounded yummy and I'm pleased to say it tasted delicious as well - the garlic flavours of ailoi were not overpowering and complemented the meat perfectly, and the jalapenoes gave it a tasty zing. The meat and bun were top quality and overall it was an excellent burger.

Now I know what you're thinking. "This is a beer blog Dave, and you've gone to a restaurant that sells burgers and wine. What about the beer?!" The drinks list is definitely focussed on the wine, with around 100 bottles available and a few wines available by the glass. But there is a well curated beer selection as well. A couple of selections from the Butternuts brewery based in the U.S of A were available, and I tried their Moo Thunder Milk Stout.  It was very good - sweet and malty, it was like having a boozy milkshake with my burger dinner.

We finished with a baked cheesecake which was very tasty indeed. With the retro music playing and a small collection of punters enjoying their lunch the atmosphere was relaxed and comfortable, although I imagine this place gets pretty busy and possibly cramped on a weekend evening. If you want to try out, or already enjoy Lucky Chips burgers it is well worth making a trip out here, and with the excellent Three Compasses and Railway Tavern nearby, you could enjoy some delicious ales afterwards as well.