Friday, 30 November 2012

Crate Brewery Hackney, Barrel and Horn Bromley

I've never been the most trendiest bloke. I've managed to avoid going to any warehouse raves, I've got no idea what a fixie bike is, I still think global hypercolour t-shirts deserve to make a comeback and I had to ask the Lovely Jemma how to spell "fixie". So when I was invited to a friends party at the new Crate brewery in "up and coming Hackney," my first thought was "what the hell is the Crate Brewery?" My second thought was that the only thing up and coming in Hackney is the blood spurting out of hapless saps as they've either been stabbed or shot. For both of these reasons I was a little nervous attending.

Obiligatory blurry shot of a bar.
It turns out I didn't need to be. Despite the walk from Hackney Wick station to the Crate looking like a prime way to get stabbed, the Crate is a bustling, friendly craft ale house with a good selection of beers brewed onsite. It did feel a little bit warehousey, which is now a real word as I've added it to the Google dictionary, but I'll forgive it. Four taps serve beers from the onsite brewery. I sampled the IPA which was a fine example, flowery, hoppy, all the good things you'd expect from a decent IPA. The Best Bitter was also excellent, refreshing and comforting, with a lovely bitter finish. The IPA was the clear winner of the evening and was selling like hotcakes - it was gone before the night was through. All the ales were reasonably priced, and there was a decent bottle selection as well.

Crate also offers a tempting pizza menu. The Lovely Jemma and myself went for the spicy salami pizza and it was excellent. Nice, thin crispy base, decent toppings, not too greasy. A good accompanier with the beer. The atmosphere throughout the evening was pleasant and I'm pleased to report that the hipster quotient was low. I had a great night here and would be eager to return if it wasn't for the fact that's in Hackney Wick.

Another hipster-type pub I've started to grown fond of is the Barrel & Horn in Bromley. There's vintage wallpaper and "kooky" trinkets scattered about but it has a shambling charm rather than being grating. It's like someone who doesn't quite know what they're doing has had a bit of a go at recreating a Shoreditch bar. Because it's a hipster pub in a town which has no hipsters the atmosphere is a bit odd but good.  An eclectic mix of families, "trendies" and workers all come together to enjoy the wide range of beer and decent food. Their ale selection is pretty good but when I was last there only two of the four pumps were on. I hope this was just a off night and not a sign of things to come. I opted for a pint of Hairy Dog by Late Knights, a newly started London microbrewery. This Black IPA was great with a really good coffee and chocolate taste. Barrel & Horn is probably the best pub in a town that has the pleasure of two Wetherspoons and is well worth stopping by. And if it looks a bit too trendy for you there's always The Partridge next door.

Two hipster pubs in as many weeks. Maybe I'm starting to mellow in my old age. In my next update expect the blog to be renamed "An Ironically Bitter Bloke" and a picture of me wearing my skinniest skinny jeans. See you then!

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Counting House, City of London and Red Lion, Bromley

I'm not a huge fan of drinking in London's Square Mile. For readers not familiar, the Square Mile is the financial centre of London, where greed driven looneys come together to wear seizure inducing stripy suits and piss away other peoples money. The last time I went for a drink in a bar near Moorgate, they had the cheek to charge £5 for a pint of Peroni, and £4 for a pint of so-so Doom Bar. I was surrounded by braying gents who had a better relationship with their Blackberry than the colleagues around them. What did people do in awkward social situations before smartphones came along? All across London bars are filled with co-workers desperately eeking out small talk before eventually giving up and retreating to the comforting glow of their iPhone screen. Did co-workers just use to stand around looking so awkward that one of them would eventually expire, giving the others something to talk about?

If you look hard enough you will find some pubs in the square mile that aren't filled with punters with more money than they know what to do with paying ludicrous amounts of money for swill and piss (or San Miguel to use its trading name.) The Counting House near Bank station is one of them. This is a large two floor and rather grandiose Fullers pub which used to be a branch of Natwest. It's an impressive space with an imposing domed roof. Rammed with the more down to earth city workers it has a good pubby atmosphere. Ale wise the large bar serves the full Fullers selection and not much else, I couldn't see any guest ales. I went for a couple of pints of Chiswick, a solid best bitter which always manages to hit the spot, thanks to its subtle fruity flavour which flourishes in the finish.

The striking interior of the Counting House. Photo from the Fullers website. I could never
take a photo this good.

As an Ale and Pie house I thought I may as well have a pie, and I tried the house pie which was very good and packed full of steak with a good portion of mash. Although the large space and high ceiling makes for a noisy pub, there's no blaring music which makes it fine to hold a conversation. The noise level is high enough that you don't have to listen to the absolute nonsense the suited and booted clan are no doubt wittering on about as they slowly bankrupt our country into the ground. There are a coupler of quiet nooks and crannies as well, especially on the upper level.

I have been house hunting the past few months. House hunting would be a great experience if it didn't involve estate agents. It amazes me just how much of a chancer occupation being an estate agent is. There is no qualification or entry requirement for being one, these people are just winging it and pulling selling prices for a pile of second hand bricks out of thin air. It's getting depressing on how many unkempt, unloved houses which are supposedly a "the perfect first time buyer home" I've viewed, where the agent has convinced the poor seller that the hole they're living in is worth a grossly overestimated sum of money. Anything in reasonable condition and sensibly priced is off the market in a matter of days. I know I'm not saying anything new but it is depressing trying to buy a house in London.

Me and the Lovely Jemma viewed a house in Bromley North. I knew we'd never buy the place as it was the size of a postage stamp, but I really like the area. The fact that there are four good quality pubs and a Chinese takeaway had no influence on this decision at all. When we viewed the house I could barely fit inside. I felt like I was Alice in Wonderland and I'd taken a bite of the "Eat Me" cake. My head was touching the ceiling in all the rooms upstairs. It was a glorified dolls house. We didn't make an offer but it apparently sold. I've no idea if it went for the asking price of £220,000 but I've got a horrible feeling it wasn't far off.

No picture of the Red Lion so here's a picture of
"Spongebob  Squarepants" which
The Lovely Jemma put together at
Blackpool Pleasure Beach.
Out of the four pubs the Red Lion is probably the best. This is a friendly little boozer which is always a pleasure to visit. Although small it's got a good bit of character, with a large bookshelf against one wall bursting with books. The landlord knows how to keep an ale and I enjoyed a delicious pint of Caledonian Flying Scotsman. This was a pretty good specimen of a best bitter with a hearty hoppy flavour. The pub has won CAMRA awards in the past and it deserves them. A good place to stop by if you're in the area.

You may have noticed I've been reliable about what drinks I had at each pub. That's thanks to "Untappd" which I've recently downloaded for my Android phone. It allows you to record what you've drunk, where you had it, and see what other people thought of the ale. Well worth downloading!

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Mitchells and Butlers, Brewdog Shoreditch

I'm convinced that ordering food at an unknown pub is always one of the biggest gambles you can take in the UK. Forgot about the bookies or going to a casino, ordering a "Huntsman Chicken" and seeing if the chicken is (a) not as pink as my nose on a cold December day and (b) actually chicken and not "avian substitute product" is more risky than those ridiculous Ladbrokes football bets. The ones where you bet Rooney will score a goal at precisely 7:43pm off the backside of a passing goose. To be fair I've heard tales of what pub food was like in the dim and distant past, which seemed to consist of pickling anything that could fit into a human mouth and maybe a limp soggy bap if you were lucky, and I'm grateful we've moved on from those days. But sometimes it's better a pub serves no food rather than over-stretching themselves

Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) are a owner of chain pubs that have really taken on the pub food mantle. So much so that I would rarely go into if I just having a pint. I recently visited an M&B owned "Vintage Inn" pub near Biggin Hill, the Aperfield Inn. I'd be tempted to call this place a restaurant rather than a pub. There is a bar and a small seating area for drinkers but this was basically a Harvester in all but name. The small ale selection had London Pride and Youngs available. I opted for a pint of Youngs Bitter which was in good flavour, befitting of the Casque Mark the pub had been awarded. It's a shame the Aperfield isn't more welcoming to drinkers, as it's the only pub nearby in the area and it would make for a good community hub. To be fair the food I had was tasty (a Pork Belly Sunday Lunch) but this wasn't really a place you could go for a chat and a pint.

M&B also own the Ember Inn brand. I've generally thought of them to be more as food pubs like the Vintage Inn but my view was changed when I recently popped in to the Railway Hotel in West Wickham. As it's mentioned in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide and I just had to tick it off on their mobile app, I went in for just a quick pint. There was a mini ale festival on with a good selection of Great British Beer Festival winners, so I ended up staying for a couple. I enjoyed a pint of RCH Brewery P.G Steam, a solid best bitter with a pleasant hint of sweetness. The Leeds Brewery Leeds Pale Ale wasn't as good, but was still a tasty, floral and hoppy ale. The atmosphere was comfortable and overall I spent a perfectly pleasant evening there. It certainly exceeded my expectations, or perhaps misconceptions, of what appeared to be a nondescript, everyday chain pub.

Obligatory terrible camera phone shot of the interior of Brewdog Shoreditch
Aw shucks
I also had the pleasure recently of visiting the recently opened BrewDog Shoreditch. I've visited their Camden venue previously and while the Shoreditch outlet was similar it also felt a little different. It's a large space with a downstairs basement which will apparently be used for live gigs in the future. It has the same industrial interior with bare concrete ceiling and walls, metal grating and exposed wiring. This is fine at night when the bar is dimly lit but I imagine it could start feeling a little oppressive during the day. The beer selection is as impressive as ever with the usual BrewDog suspects on tap, along with rare guest beers and a wide selection of bottled beers. I enjoyed a half of the Punk IPA, its fruity flavours with a slight tangy edge coming through pleasantly as ever. I also sampled a couple of American guest beers. The first was the Rogue Hazlenut Brown which tasted suspiciously like a Cornetto but was oddly addictive. Second was the Double Jack from Firestone, a really rather good brown ale with a subtle hoppy taste. Most American beers have a overpowering flavour of fruity hops and can be reminiscent of drinking an alcoholic Um Bongo so this made a pleasant change.

The artists rendition  of Paddy is scarily
There is a small food menu, although the excellent burgers and pizza from the Camden branch are missing from here. The menu has a Japanese theme, with beef buns and chicken skewers. There's also JFC which apparently stands for Japanese Fried Chicken. I initially thought it was Jewish Fried Chicken and I expected a nice old lady to bring out a huge bucket of chicken because you're looking a bit thin these days don't they feed you at home? You're going to catch your death of cold! Sadly I didn't get the chance to try the food. Peeking at other tables the food looked pretty good and I'd like to give it a try next time I'm there.

Finally, considering the Shoreditch location, I'm pleased to report the bar was largely hipster free and I didn't feel the urge to punch anybody in the face. I can't guarantee that's the situation every night though.

I'm going to try and start doing more regular updates of this blog. In the future there will be a new post on the 15th and 30th of the month as a minimum. I do enjoy broadcasting my inane thoughts over the internet, and I hope you enjoy reading them!