Monday, 29 May 2017

A Mixed Bag in London

Those of us who do their drinking in pubs, rather than bars or at home, have a cross to bear and it is one I am always banging on about. It is the quality "thing". My recent drinking - apart from my Sunday trip to the Tandle Hill Tavern where the beer is immaculately kept of course - has brought home to me the perils of straying far from the mother lode.  Still it has to be done and here's a few highs and lows from my recent outings.

First of all was a trip to London to the Houses of Parliament and subsequently, some boozing in Westminster environments.  As parliament is prorogued it wasn't possible for us to visit the Strangers Bar as intended, as this is closed presently, but I've been before and while I recall the beer being fine, it was more the thrill of sitting on the terrace overlooking the Thames that I recall most fondly. In fact we sat on an adjacent table to the late Charles Kennedy, but I digress.  This time, that pleasure being denied, for ease (there was 30 odd of us) we assembled at the St Stephen's Tavern, it being the nearest pub. Now I know my pubs through and through, but I have to admit to this being one of the most disconcerting visits to an English pub I have ever had.

You could say I'm not a fan of Hall and Woodhouse beers. Pretty grim stuff really, but needs must. I ordered a pint of Fursty Ferret - I know I must be insane - and a half of Amstel for E.  The barmaid who came from God knows where made no move to pour it, but after enquiring if I wanted anything else asked me how I wanted to pay. "Cash" quoth I, but nonetheless I was given a long lecture about charges if I wanted to pay by card. I interrupted this flow of superfluous information by saying I was paying by cash and she could pour my beer any time she liked. Instead she demanded payment for the as yet (as far as I knew) unpoured beer. I queried this, asking if I was expected to pay up front and was advised my beer was being poured elsewhere by someone else!  Now call me old fashioned but in an English pub,  I expect my beer to be poured in front of me by the person that serves me. I felt quite disoriented by this, but reluctantly paid and in time another barperson appeared from the back with my beer, which on later comparison with other supposed Fursty Ferrets was an entirely different colour. And it was bloody awful and well over £4 a pint. Above all this revisionist deconstruction and reassembling of the familiar pub scene is dystopian and an affront to the pub goer.  Just avoid this confusing tourist hell hole is my sound advice.

We abandoned ship and headed round the corner to Fullers Red Lion.  I thought I'd see if the Pride was drinking well.  My ordered pint seemed to be being poured oddly, so I peered over the bar to see a pint glass of spillage (or whatever) being topped up with fresh beer. I refused this and was served with an extremely indifferent but freshly poured pint of Pride. I advised one of our party of this practice and on ordering, he had the same experience with a different beer. He too refused the pint. When I worked in a pub we called this "slopping".  Bad form from a pub run by such a respectable brewery. An anonymous visit by Cellar Services might be a good thing here.

Still, not everything was bad by any means. In fact it was all very much uphill from here. We called into the Speaker on Great Peter St which had excellent and varied beer and a good atmosphere and again, very good beer and spot on friendly staff were found at Young's Buckingham Arms. In fact I can't recall a better run pub in the centre of London and while Young's beers are hardly challenging in taste, they were at least properly kept and served in a welcoming pubby atmosphere.  Top marks. We also called into the Waterloo Tap. This small, well run, pleasant bar has a good selection of cask and keg beers at very fair prices and we enjoyed a couple before a bus journey for some Harveys in the Royal Oak which is not only a great pub with a great following, but one that keeps its beer very well indeed.

That was the end of beer drinking for that day as we departed for very expensive tapas and Spanish plonk in Borough Market. My oddest drink of the day was found there in the guise of pink cava  while we waited for a table. This beverage was offered by a lovely posh lass I chatted to at the bar while she awaited her date.  It wasn't bad at all.

Her friend when he arrived didn't seem quite so pleased to see me, but this little interlude  certainly gave this old man a boost! She was a delight and very witty with it.

The weather was great which is always a bonus when pub crawling.  The sun shone on me in Kent too, so was that a better experience? I'll let you know.  Oh and a mention of Liverpool

Erlanger Nick was involved in both London and Kent crawls. He likes an hour out.


Nick said...

I joined up at the Speaker and heard tell of the topped-up slops. I hadn't registered that this had happened at a Fuller's pub though!

Close to beer of the day for me was my first one, a pint of the northern dark mild that was on there. UNsparkled. Have to dig through Twitter to recall which brewery it was...Wigan IIRC.

Sadly, my obligatory first pint at the Royal Oak, the Mild, was a bit dead. Never had that happen before, in my total of 3 or 4 prior visits. Excellent un-breaded white bait there too.

Jeff Frane said...

I admit to not reading all of your blog posts over time but I was struck by reading that the Tandle Hill Tavern was open. The last I'd heard was the very sad news that the owner has lost a lease or something and the pub was shuttered. I was only in the pub once but it was one of the more memorable evenings of my life. You and E need to come back to Oregon.

Liam K said...

I'm not a fan of Halls and Woodhouse either but I've been to St Stephen's Tavern a few times and never had my pint poured elsewhere, strange indeed.

The Red Lion is also quite a touristy pub like St Stephen's and the slop pouring doesn't surprise me too much, even for a Fullers.

Speaker is always excellent and busy and I was only there last week for a few. I haven't been Buckingham in a while but shall pop by next week based on your write up. I guess it's normally quite busy with the after work suited crowd for me. The tap and royal oak both offer excellent beer though for me the Royal Oak wins just due to the fact its Harvey's beer. Did you try their two new-ish keg beers at all?

Nick said...

Jeff, the lessees back then left for somewhere else but it's always been owned by the brewery. (What were their names again Tand? Did no one take on the lease right away? This idea of the place being shut a while rings a bell.) I think I've only been there twice, going on a decade ago now, shortly after your visit. One of the few places I've had northern beer sparkled and unsparkled side by side for comparison's sake.

(One could also say *you* need to go back to Blighty.)

Martin Taylor said...

The things you do for our benefit, Tand. I used to walk past the Red Lion on the way to Richmond Terrace and never felt the need to explore. The St Stephen WAS in the Beer Guide a few years back, but dropped out.

And there's the upside of your take. At leasr local CAMRA know a good pub for the GBG, and Speaker & Buckingham would be in Guide anywhere. Shame it takes a visitor to call out the bad practice, though.

SRUN POR said...

I admit to not reading all of your blog posts over time but I was struck by reading that the Tandle Hill Tavern was open.
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