Sunday 15 December 2013

Lady Ottoline and The Shakespeares Head, London

As unbelievable as it sounds, my life doesn't only consist of complaining about pubs and being disappointed by the condition of beer. In my life away from the adrenaline rush of beer blogging, I am a IT manager at a law firm, which is about as exciting as it sounds. One downside of being a manager is that I feel obliged to take my team out for a Christmas dinner. This is a problem because although my team do work hard and they more than deserve a delicious dinner in lovely surroundings, I don't really like spending money. This is not good when living in London as nearly everything is twice as expensive as you'd expect it to be. Even the Evening Standard newspaper at the low price of free is too expensive, as they should be paying me to read that toss. So finding places to eat that serves really good food, has a lovely atmosphere but is also reasonable is a bit of a nightmare.

After much indecision searching through the SquareMeal website trying to find a restaurant where the prices didn't make me fall off my chair in shock and awe, and convincing myself that I probably wouldn't get away with treating the team to a KFC family bucket, I took my team to a gastropub in Farringdon called The Lady OttolineI'd been here previously with a vendor who treated me to a pretty decent lunch. I remembered the food being very good, but I wasn't paying and everything tastes better when it's free. Would I enjoy it as much when at the end of the meal I would have to pry apart my dusty wallet and hand over my Visa debit card while desperately resisting the urge to weep?

The short answer is yes. We had a lovely meal at the Ottoline. I'm going to avoid going into much detail about the food because I can barely talk about beer coherently let alone pretend I can string together sentences describing dinner. But all the dishes, in particular my pork belly main, were well prepared, looked great and tasted delicious. Best of all the bill didn't cause me to have a heart attack, just maybe a bit of mild angina.

"Gastro" wise the Ottoline is a success. But for the "pub" side, I think outside of the Christmas season this would be a nice place to pop in for just a drink, which is unusual for a gastro. Although food is the focus there is a area set for drinkers in the atmospheric ground floor room and it doesn't make you feel isolated. But during December, with all the Christmas parties piling in, this place is pretty much just a restaurant. It's a shame it's not really possible to stop in for just a drink at the moment as  they do have a nice selection of ales, and my Dark Star Winter Meltdown and Purity Mad Goose were both in good condition. I did find the Winter Meltdown to be a little bland, but it seemed to be kept OK. Maybe it's just the way the beer is.

One place that is definitely catering to drinkers this Christmas season is The Shakespeares Head in Holborn. I came in here for the first time in a long time on Friday. This massive Wetherspoons outlet was absolutely heaving. I was fearing the worse as past experience has proved that 'Spoons staff in their Central London pubs seem to have trouble coping with pressure (e.g more than three customers waiting at the bar.) However I have to give credit to the team here, they were absolutely spot on. Despite a busy bar they were keeping things going smoothly. They even managed to smile and be polite, I had to pinch myself that I was actually in a London 'Spoons on a busy Friday night.

The beer was also in very good form. Apache IPA from Portobello was a hoppy, boozy treat and it sold out deservedly quickly. A half of India Pale Ale by Devils Backbone, a US brewer, sadly wasn't as good with a watery, limp flavour. Greene King's Abbot Reserve was on, and as I'd never tried this I gave it a go. I found it quite good, and I enjoyed its warming, fruity richness. Santa's Darkside from Naylor's Brewery was a standard dark ale but pretty tasty, and JHB from Oakham Brewery was a solid brown bitter to finish with. It's a credit to the staff that I was able to enjoy these beers served quickly. Food wise this is light years away from the classy Ottoline but my Wethernachos were edible.

Sadly the general atmosphere was the usual 'Spoons, bland, joyless and overlit. The crowd seemed to be even louder and annoying than the usual Friday night 'Spoons punter, probably because the Christmas season is in full swing. It wasn't really a place I'd want to spend a long time in. But if you're nearby and looking for a place to kill time with a pint or two, you could do worse than pop in.

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