Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Norwich catch up

I was recently on holiday with the in-laws in the pleasant seaside village of Winterton-On-Sea in Norfolk. It's a lovely area but not exactly overflowing with pubs or decent real ale. Luckily I had bought a stash of Bishop Nick beers with me but a midweek day trip to nearby Norwich was also on the cards. I last visited the pubs of Norwich a couple of years ago, and as always in the fast moving world of the Good Beer Guide a whole new batch of new pubs have made it in, so a revisit was required.

On a damp and dreary Wednesday afternoon the first pub on the agenda was the Coach and Horses, a Greene King house. I'm not even sure if I saw GK IPA among the decent selection of ales on offer. The welcoming pub is split into three areas, and me and The Lovely Jemma snuck into a cosy, tight curved booth. I enjoyed a Tipsy Fisherman by Steamin' Billy which was a delicately hopped and very refreshing session pale, and a good way to start the afternoon. The PA was blaring out a selection of classic rock, and although busy when we walked in it was nearly empty once the lunch rush was over. The pub is conveniently located near the market and shops and is well worth popping in if near by.

Our next stop was meant to be Take 5, located across the road from the cathedral. After walking back and forth several times convinced that Google Maps was lying to us, it turns out the pub had actually closed several weeks earlier, taken over by new owners and reverting back to the original name of Louis Marchesi. Peering through the window I could see the place was empty and the ales on offer not particularly inspiring, so we moved straight on to the Wig & Pen. This large one room pub with a timber beamed ceiling advertised a well chosen selection of ales on the small bar. The place was quiet as lunch time was well and truly over - a menu was snatched away from our table while we enjoyed our drinks. My Moon Gazer Pacific Ale from the Norfolk Brewhouse was another solid session ale, with a pleasing hoppy hit.

After a pleasant stroll down the river behind the pub, we headed inside the Ribs of Beef, one of the more unique pub names I have come across. For some reason the name conjured an image in my head of  a modern, trendy bar but I was instead greeted with probably the most traditional pub interior of our Norwich visit. Split into two levels, with a small downstairs room, the pub has a lovely location on the river. Sadly the drizzle meant there wasn't much boat activity to watch. I settled for another session ale - the Golden Jackal from the local Wolf Brewery, which was very easy drinking.

We carried on up the road to the Kings Head. This two room pub looks like it hasn't changed much since it opened - simply decorated, pale yellow walls in one room with the bar serving both rooms and a billiards table in one corner. The beer selection here was the best of the day, some choice real ales, nice list of Belgium beers and a couple of craft options as well. The pub was quiet but comfortable, with a few regulars propping up the bar reading the papers. I was not surprised at all to learn it was the local CAMRA branch pub of the year. My pint of Nasha, a boozy, malty five percenter from S&P Brewery was a delicious treat.

The last pub on our trip was the Playhouse Bar. With no shows on at the adjoining theatre I expected a quiet sup to finish the trip, but instead was greeted with the busiest bar of the trip, with a mainly student crowd enjoying the fine selection of ales, craft beer, cider and fizzy lagers on offer. I enjoyed two drinks in the spacious garden - Woild Moild from Wolf was one of the better milds I have enjoyed, and Skiffle from Shortts Farm was a straightforward bitter. Reflecting on all the pubs I would choose the Kings Head as my favourite, although it would be nice to revisit it when it's a bit livelier. To be fair all the pubs were well worth a visit, and I had barely scratched the surface of Norwich pubs in the Good Beer Guide - it certainly lives up to its claim of being the City of Ales.

The rest of my Norfolk holiday consisting of a lot of walking, a lot of board games and a lot of middling ales. I did enjoy my time at the Kings Head in Martham, with its pleasing location across the road from the village green, and a decent sized beer garden, although sadly those with dogs are restricted to a tiny decked area of the garden. The ale was decent and the food was good - well worth stopping by if you happen to be rambling through the area.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Gravesend Runaround

Despite my fondness for seaside towns no matter how dreary and a well reviewed micropub I'd never made the half hour journey from my house down to Gravesend. I rectified this a few weeks ago with a visit to the town and the pubs that feature in the Good Beer Guide 2017.  After a strangely scenic journey through the industrial heart of Kent, and passing through Crayford station reminding me that I really need to visit the Penny Farthing micropub at some point, I arrived at Gravesend on a grey, drizzly day ready for a pint.

First stop was the micropub Compass Alehouse. I'm still a big fan of the micropub concept, enjoying all the ones I have visited. They may follow the same basic formula but it's a good one - communal (usually bench) seating, no music, no gamblers, good selection of well kept local ales and a knowledgeable and friendly owner. The Compass didn't stray far from this formula at all, although there was a fridge of craft beers available as an alternative to the ale. I enjoyed a half of Hackney Kapow! and Tonbridge Rustic which were both in good nick, and enjoyed a chat with the owner about the trials and tribulations of opening a micropub as I'm hoping to open my own one day. At 1pm on a Friday there were only two other customers in so there wasn't much atmosphere, but I'm sure it's much more exciting on a busy evening. Overall I really enjoyed my visit and can thoroughly recommend a visit.

The next pub up was The Jolly Drayman. With its low beams and cosy corners it had the feel of a country pub but plonked into the middle of a busy town. It was livelier than the micropub with a large group of regulars hogging the bar - always annoying when you have to barge through the middle of their group to order a drink. After perusing a selection of reliable if dull brown bitters I took my Black Sheep Riggwelter and retreated to a quiet corner. The beer was in good condition if unexciting. I'd be happy enough to have this pub as a local as it does everything a pub should do with no fuss, but I don't think it's worth a special trip.

I made my way down to the waterfront to the Three Daws, which has a excellent location right on the water overlooking the two historic piers. Sadly the weather wasn't nice enough to sit outdoors so I took a seat inside the slightly shabby but charming pub. Plenty of ales were on offer but unfortunately I ended up choosing a bit of a duffer with the Guinea Guzzler. I completed missed it was from the Millius brewery, had I known I wouldn't of ordered it as I'm not too impressed with their beers. The beer may have been underwhelming but the burger I ordered for lunch was excellent, well cooked and seasoned and served with plenty of chips. It more than made up for the below average pint.  The pub was heaving with other punters enjoying the food, which hopefully indicates a consistent kitchen here. Well worth a visit for a pint and some grub.

I popped next door into the Rum Puncheon, which was deserted. The staff seemed surprised to see me there, and despite the seven or so hand-pumps, only one ale was on. Sadly it wasn't a particularly inspiring ale, in fact I can't even remember what it was! I ended up having a half of Lagunitas IPA, an always reliable fruity IPA. It may be a mass produced macro beer and lost all its trendiness but I still enjoy the hoppy goodness that won me over when I first tried it years ago. The pub was going for a more classy feel than the others I'd visited in Gravesend, but as I was the only punter the atmosphere felt a bit cold. I'd like to revisit when things are busier - and when there is more ale on!

Inevitably a Wetherspoons had been recommended in the GBG so my last pub was the The Robert Pocock. A large pub spread over two levels, it's yer average Wetherspoons furnishing and punters wise. The beer festival was on and I tried a Mild The Gap, a rather good mild brewed by Hook Norton in collaboration with an Italian brewery. It hit the spot. Overall I enjoyed my time in Gravesend, although I was there on a Friday afternoon, I hear things can sometimes get a little unsavoury on a Friday or Saturday night! I won't be rushing back to find out.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Cambridge City Centre pubs

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Cambridge with The Lovely Jemma and friends. We had a great day despite the throngs of tourists and the annoyingly long walk from the train station to the town centre. Sadly the wet weather meant we weren't able to enjoy a punt down the River Cam, but we did meet our tourist obligations by paying a visit to the impressive Kings College before succumbing to the lure of the many excellent pubs. I've written about the pubs on the outskirts of the city centre before, but on this visit we managed to visit a few boozers in the middle of all the action.

We started with The Mill, a small two room pub in a busy location right by the majority of the punt launches. The place was packed when we popped in at lunchtime. I started things local with a pint of the Cambridge Brewing Co King's Parade, which is brewed at their sister pub. After the first few sups The Lovely Jemma noticed there was something unusual at the bottom of my glass. On closer inspection it turned out to be a nail! I've found strange things in a beer glass before but never one of those. It was a good job Jemma noticed it or I probably would have drunk and choked on it without a second thought. I went through the typically British reaction of not wanting to cause a fuss and thinking maybe the nail should be there - perhaps it was a bizarre Cambridge initiation or maybe the brewer specifies a nail must be served with the beer which wouldn't surprise me these days. When getting the beer changed the staff could offer no explanation on how the nail ended up in the glass, so it will forever remain a unsavoury mystery. The nail might have added something to the beer though, as the replacement pint didn't taste as good as the first one. The experience was a bit off putting and eventually the crammed and noisy pub got a bit much for us so we moved on.

We next popped in to Pint Shop with the intention of getting lunch in the restaurant at the back. After being told there was a ninety minute wait for a table we decided to try our luck in the smart, modern "pub" area, which serves a selection of bar food rather than the full restaurant menu. There was a long list of beers displayed on a huge blackboard, with around 10 keg and 5 cask. To the shame of my CAMRA membership I stuck with keg as the selection on offer was so strong. I started with the Kiwi IPA from Summer Wine which was excellent, a super hoppy and fruity treat. After enjoying a tasty sausage roll and chips with curry sauce I had a very pleasant half of the Sleeping Lemons Export Gose from the Wild Beer Co which had an excellent balance of fruity flavours and didn't make my eyes water too much with the sourness. The food and beer were excellent, but the prices were a little too high even for this jaded Londoner. A small portion of chips and curry sauce for £4 is right on the edge of "rip off" territory. But I guess as long as mugs like me keep buying it, they'll keep selling it for those prices. Overall though this was an excellent pub, with a cosy and friendly atmosphere, good food and an excellent beer list chosen with care.

We finished off the day at The Maypole, a modern and bright pub with an appealing terrace about a ten minute walk from Kings College. I went back to cask here and enjoyed a Nene Valley Australian IPA, an easy drinking fruity brew. A good selection of American beers, and an excellent selection of Belgium beers were available in can and bottle. After a half of Grain Brewery Slate, an excellent smoked dark beer, it was time to call it a day. Feeling a bit tired and lazy we decided to get an Uber back to the station. I know they're a evil company but it's just so easy to use their app. I look forward to returning to Cambridge soon - and will hopefully get a punt ride in next time!

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Ramblers Rest, Chislehurst

Chislehurst is a pretty, well to do suburb right on the border of South East London and Kent. It's a deceptively large place, with the train station a good 20 minute walk from the main high street and shops. There is plenty of money in the area and there are always rumours around that Chislehurst is home to many a villain who made good. With many of the mansions blocked off behind large gates I do wonder if there is shifty business going on that the owners would like everybody to keep away from. Of course the more likely reason for the gates is that they just don't want plebs like me oohing and aahing at their impressive properties.

I've written about several pubs in Chislehurst before, and to be honest not much has changed since that write up. The Ramblers Rest, a quaint weather-boarded pub about halfway between the station and the high street, had eluded me and I managed to pay a visit a few weeks ago. The pub should be an easy 25 minute walk from my house, but unfortunately a detour is required as the direct route is blocked off by the scourge of the countryside - the golf course. I imagine before golf courses and private gated roads made themselves known in Chislehurst it was possible to have a nice ramble to the pub, but now the most direct route involves walking through a wooded area right next to a major road.

The pub is split into two rooms consisting of a large dining and drinking area on the lower level, and a smaller area geared towards drinkers on the upper level. The bar spreads over the two rooms. A couple of TV's show the sport (rugby when I visited.) A older, male regular was propping up the bar chatting to the young, female bar staff. The beer selection was fairly average, with four handpumps alongside the usual collection of lagers and fizzy ciders. The ale choice was mainly boring brown bitters, and I tried a pint of the "house ale," actually a mass produced brew by the Caledonian Brewery. It was fine, a little bit more malty than yer Doom Bars and London Pride. Service was friendly.

Overall the pub is a decent local, and with no shops or tourist attractions nearby I imagine it has to offer a consistent and reliable experience to keep the local residents dropping in. Despite being right in the middle of a wealthy area it was surprisingly down to earth, perhaps even a little shabby in some parts of the pub. This is not a place with lots to distract from conversation, and it looked like the other customers were happy with this. Although I wouldn't make a special effort to go back, this boozer is worth popping in if you happen to be walking (or rambling) in the area.