Sunday, 12 October 2014

Liverpool Street

I first visited the Williams Ale & Cider House near Liverpool Street station a few months ago, but sadly the visit was short lived as they weren't serving food on a Saturday lunch time and I was absolutely starving. At the time I couldn't understand why they would open at 12pm and not serve food. I'd heard good things about the place though and wanted to try it out, so a few weeks later I visited again on a Saturday lunchtime to pop in for a drink. They must have listened to my griping as the pub was now closed until 4pm, so again I missed out on a having a drink there. It was third time lucky though as yesterday I popped in at 4pm, the place was open, and I enjoyed a fine half of Spitalfields Bitter, served by a friendly barman who was more than happy to help me out with what beer to have by offering a few samples. Even though they had just opened there was a buzzy but relaxed atmosphere about the place, and it was a very pleasant visit all round.

There are other boozers around Liverpool Street that are worth popping in to. First up is the Woodin Shades, yer standard Nicholson's boozer across the road from the station. On my last visit I enjoyed a half of By The Horns The Saint, a very suppable stout. A smattering of customers, mainly tourists were in the pub enjoying a drink - there didn't seem to be much food being served, even though it was approaching 12pm. Service was functional. It's not a pub to make a special trip to but for commuters waiting for their train it makes a nice change to the Wetherspoons next door to the station. More on that later.

Next up is another Nicholson's, The Lord Aberconway, tucked down a side street near the front entrance of the station. This is a very pleasant pub inside, split over two levels with charming wooden booths down one side. Last time I was there I had a half of Trumans Runner and unfortunately the pub let itself down a little.  The ale was watery and insipid, and having had decent pints of it before I knew this was the fault of the pub and not the brewery. It need a little more time and conditioning and unfortunately tasted like it had been served too early. Still I quite like the pub and the service overall, although it is quite a small and I imagine it gets very busy on weekend evenings.

The useful Craft Beer London mobile app also recommends a pub in nearby Shoreditch, and I had a wander down there. I don't really like visiting the Shoreditch area as I always see something that throws me into an irrational rage - usually a ridiculous hipster beard or someone wearing cardboard shoes. This time it was a Bitcoin ATM which funnily enough I didn't see anybody using, because Bitcoin is an absolute waste of everybody's time. If you've never heard of Bitcoin, it's a virtual currency adored by idiots, who think they're sticking it to the man but who are actually wasting real life money on junk. The "value" of Bitcoins fluctuates widely and it's nearly impossible to actually spend the things - unless you live in a fad bubble like Shoreditch. They're useless as an investment as well, you may as well visit a casino, go to the roulette table and dump your money on red or black - you probably have a much better chance to make some money back.

The Crown and Shuttle is a former brothel turned into a craft beer establishment across the road from Shoreditch High Street station. It looks small from the outside but is surprisingly large inside. I could make a lazy Doctor Who reference here but I'm going to refrain. A very long bar down the right hand side has handpumps and keg dispensaries with all the latest and greatest craft beer offerings. Halfway down is a massive drum offering "brewery fresh" Meantime Pale Ale - I didn't get the chance to try it. My half pints of London Fields Hackney Hopster and Late Knights The Great Exhibition were both in great form and went down a treat. There is a lovely beer garden as well, with a mobile unit dishing out food being eaten by happy punters sitting on bric and brac furniture. This place is a bit hipstery but on a Saturday afternoon it was pretty nice, and well worth a visit if you're in the area.

The final pub in the Liverpool Street area worth popping into is the Hamilton Hall, a Wetherspoons inside the station that offers a little taste of Essex in Central London. Bronzed punters can choose from the decent selection of ales, and my Eton Boatman from Windsor & Eton was in fine shape when I last paid a visit. The interior is rather grand, with a sweeping staircase leading up to a balcony which overlooks the regal decor. All very posh for a Spoons and it's worth venturing in for the interior alone.

Well hopefully this long ramble will help somebody looking for a drink in Liverpool Street. I'm giving to leave you with one piece of advice: don't venture into Dirty Dicks, no matter how humorous you find the name. This tourist pack den of mediocre beer isn't worth the effort.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Leeds Walkabout

I was recently "oop North" as us Londoners patronisingly say when going anywhere past Watford, to celebrate the wedding of two good friends. The ceremony took place in the model village of Saltaire, upstairs in the Victoria Hall which had a great view of the rolling hills and fabulous scenery. I had a lovely time, partly because of the fun company and also because Saltaire Blonde was on tap and even though it was being served too warm it was still tasty and it was great to drink it in the village where the brewery is based. Things got even better when some bottles of Saltaire Triple Chocoholic showed up, one of my favourite chocolate stouts - a rich, delicious treat. With a buffet of cheeses and amazing pork pie on offer, I'm amazed I managed to leave the venue without a serious case of gout.

The next day me and The Lovely Jemma had a look around Leeds, fifteen minutes away by train. I'd never visited the city before and I was excited to visit the city pubs mentioned in the Good Beer Guide. First up was Whitelocks Ale House, a small traditional pub nestled down a side alley off the main shopping drag. This place oozed character with ornate mirrors, shiny brass tables and a intricately tiled bar. The serving staff are on a higher level, and the young well bearded barman loomed down while I chose a drink. I went for another Saltaire brew, the Pride, and enjoyed its classic bitter flavours in this welcoming pub. A group of Americans were tucking in to what looked like a very decent Sunday lunch, but sadly I didn't get the chance to eat there. A charming pub to start with.

At the top end of the high street was my next stop, the Victoria Hotel. This Nicholson's pub is very grand inside, with high edged booths, a spectacular fireplace and wood and brass fittings everywhere. I spied Tetleys on cask, which I never see down south so I tried a pint. I wasn't expecting much but to be honest it wasn't bad, and was a perfectly serviceable session ale. Tetley's is no longer brewed in Leeds but it was nice to enjoy a pint in the city anyway. We had some food as well and sadly it was a bit disappointing, with TLJ's roast dinner missing all the promised veg and my black pudding sausages not really tasting of much. I found myself wishing I'd eaten at Whitelocks.

Across the road from the Victoria is the Veritas Ale and Wine Bar. From the outside this looks like a smart cafe rather than a bar, and inside it had the same feel. We didn't feel unwelcome having just a drink there, but I would have felt more comfortable if I was having some food as well. We took a seat by the window overlooking the moody, gothic Leeds General Infirmary, a fantastic piece of architecture. My pint of Partners Brewery Shoddy Porter thankfully didn't live up to the name, and was a very tasty, chocolatey porter. This place probably had the best beer selection of all the pubs we visited, and generally the whole place was a nice surprise. I'd like to go back there for lunch.

Back down towards the station and we popped into the The Scarbrough. Another Nicholson's pub, this had less character than the Victoria but a better beer selection. I went for Dakota from Scottish brewers Stewart Brewing and it was absolutely fine, a solid if unexciting bitter. Tetleys was also on here - presumably Nicholson's have a deal going on. While supping my pint I thought about the pubs I'd been to so far, and although they had all served a decent pint none of them had that "wow" factor that makes you glad you sought the place out, except perhaps for Whitelocks. But I still had one pub to go - maybe it would be the one.

The Hop is located under the railway arches of Leeds Station. Recently opened it felt both modern and traditional inside, and it makes good use of the cavernous space. Split over two levels this place had a bit of charm to it. It's owned by the Ottley Brewery so it's mainly their beers on offer, but they do have guest ales on as well. Both the beers I tried were from Ottley, and the Pale Gold and Silver King were good examples of blonde session ales. Around the side of the bar is a hatch dishing out award winning pies, and the Steak and Treacle pie I tried was very good indeed, with creamy mash and possibly the best peas I've ever had. There was live music on and I was glad I'd finally visited a pub with a bit of character, friendliness and even feeling a little bit trendy. Well worth a visit.

I really enjoyed my visit to Leeds, and the city felt like a mix of Manchester and Liverpool architecture and people wise. I was a bit disappointed that I didn't get the chance to visit the lauded North Bar, but I can always go there if I visit Leeds again - and hopefully I will!

Sunday, 14 September 2014

The Railway, Bromley and The Library, Islington

Antic are a "collective" of pubs that have been rapidly multiplying across South East London. Since I moved to SE London last year three new Antic pubs have opened near me. I've previously written about the Baring Hall and the Eltham GPO, and out of the two I prefer the Baring Hall. I was surprised to see it wasn't in the latest Good Beer Guide as they always serve a decent pint.  The GPO isn't bad but it seems to be having trouble shaking off the clientèle who used to go to its previous incarnation, the grubby booze barn "Old Post Office." They also aren't being very adventurous with their beer selection, with Landlord, Adnams and Deuchers nearly always the only ales on. I usually end up going to the Park Tavern across the road with its more lively beer selection.

I recently visited the third Antic pub to open near me, the Railway Tavern in Bromley. This pub used to be a rock pub/venue, then closed for a while until Antic got their hands on it. The strict Antic formula has been applied -  shabby decorations, antique and "eclectic" furnishing, and a good selection of real ales behind the bar. Even the smell told me this was an Antic - an odd tinge of antiseptic in the air. The stage has disappeared so maybe live music won't be returning here. Beer wise I tried the Cronx Standard, an excellent session bitter from this talented brewery based in the uninspiring council estate sprawl of New Addington.  Brockley Brewery Red Ale is a good attempt at a style of beer I'm not a huge fan of, being malty and sharp on the finish. Both beers were in good condition and very suppable. The pub isn't serving food yet but I'm looking forward to returning when the kitchen opens - Antic pubs usually have a good menu. The service on a quiet Saturday lunchtime was a bit dozy but pleasant enough. Hopefully this pub will continue to improve.

The craft beer scene continues to rage throughout London, and more and more pubs are stocking beers from Beavertown, The Kernel and other craft superstars - at increasingly ludicrous prices. The Library in Islington is a pub/bar/music venue that has embraced craft beer - although I suspect it's to make a bit of extra dosh from "on trend" customers rather than because of a love of the scene. Bottles started at £4.95, with the majority of them at £5.95 and some even reaching £6.45. Now I enjoy brews from The Kernel and Bristol Beer Factory but these prices are just crazy. The pub itself is fine if a little soulless but it's no better or worse than the other middle class trendy bars dotted along Upper Street in dull Islington. I wouldn't visit the pub again.

I'm off to Leeds next weekend so I won't be updating next Sunday, but I'm hoping to visit a few pubs up there and can't wait to tell you all about them. See you soon!