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!