It's a funny old place is Bethnall Green Road. You tend to think of it as the Krays and Cockney geezers, but you'd be far nearer the mark nowadays thinking of Karachi or some such, as the whole area seems to be one long tatty shop after another, so the whole feels like one long foreign market. It isn't pretty. Trust me on that one. Be that as it may, there are pubs to be found, though often more in the sense of signs for former boozers, or a few very run down looking places which could just as easily be in a poor area of Manchester, Leeds, Bradford or Liverpool rather than wealthy London. Emerging at the end of Bethnall Green Road, where we'd walked from our flat on a sunny Sunday afternoon, we were almost on our target. Immediate left under the railway bridge and into Paradise Row. A neat little row of terraces leads you to Mother Kelly's, in a railway arch, but not for once a brewery, but a bar.
It is a decent size with some benches out front, a stall selling fancified pig flesh of some sort, run by an incredibly hairy guy and two skinny women and inside a neat spacious place with more benches, fridges of exotic beers down the left wall and a long bar with keg taps at the back. A non bearded barman greets us with a smile and a hello. He offers tasters and good advice, all in a non condescending way. He is very amiable and friendly. We choose two two thirds. Me of wheat beer, E of lager, which shows clearly the limitations of this glass. On a hot day, two gulps and there is almost nothing left of my beer, but hey, maybe that's just me. We take seats inside, as outside the few patrons practice the usual British policy of spreading themselves out to keep a space for six the domain of two. But we don't mind - it's nice inside and we can look out through the wide open doors at the trees (look to the right for this, otherwise it is the back of a nondescript building). We note that mercifully the music, playing at a sensible volume, is not techno beat, but something equally modern, without that drilling bass sound that makes you want to kill yourself, or, better, the bastard that put it on. Most of the men aren't bearded, which endears the place to me even more. We like it.
Back to Bethnall Green Road and some history. We pass the sign for the Ship. A Watney's House, though there is no trace of the pub. I look with interest at the few open pubs. The Marquis of Cornwallis, the Star of Bethnall Green which I'd have liked to go in, rough though it looked, but E wouldn't. The Old George? No. Not this time. A new target for us was The King's Arms. It is disconcerting to turn a few yards off the main road with its distinct Asian feel into posh London with neat streets and that gentrified feel which is almost unique to London. The pub is majestic, with its long floor to ceiling windows and a good feel inside. The place though is more or less empty and the beer, ironically from Salford, is toasty warm. The cellarman is called. He apologises and pours a new one which is much better. He explains the beer lines aren't cooled to the point of dispense. He and I both shake our heads at this. Three casks, a few well chosen kegs, but it needed customers, though we did linger a while and one or two did wander in. We like it and again we'll be back. But I'll make sure I'm not the first customer for a while.
We finish up in the Carpenter's Arms - or rather outside it. Fairly good (but warmish) Adnams and with a nod to the East, a curry in Tayaabs which was, frankly disappointingly bland. It seems it isn't what it used be. A bit like Bethnall Green Road? Can I thank Matt Curtis for recommending both pubs, even if he thought I'd find cask free Mother Kelly's not to my taste. Mind you I wouldn't fancy it when it is heaving.
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink.
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