Friday 28 October 2016

Restaurant or Pub?

Pub Curmudgeon is often banging on about pubs behaving like restaurants and instead of treating food as a supplement to drinking, they reserve all the tables to the detriment of customers who just fancy a pint or two. Mainly his complaints centre around questions such as "Are you dining with us today?" It's a fair point and it can be dispiriting if all the tables are set out for diners, with cutlery, menus and whatnot and have reserved signs on them, especially if the tables aren't occupied. Rightly, the German system of saying when a table is available until is recommended, but rarely seen in the UK.

A pub I used to frequent rather a lot is Lees Horton Arms, set under the motorway bridge in Chadderton and in quite a rural looking setting. It was always a really good, slightly upmarket, wet led pub and, when I first knew it, a Lees managed house with a legendary landlord, ex policeman Peter O'Neill though for many years after his time, a tenancy. I got to know a lot of the locals there and for quite a while, a gaggle of them used to come up to the Tavern for a drink on a Sunday, cementing relationships even more.  Two or three years ago, the pub was renovated, with a much loved side room becoming a dining area and a lovely new set of toilets built, replacing the somewhat tired ones.  The pub was given a modern look from its previous horsebrass forward incarnation, developed over years no doubt. New chairs and tables and various modern pictures and bric-a-brac together with a renovated kitchens, with proper home cooked food as opposed to Lees standard managed house menu, complete the picture. It's done rather well, if impersonally though a row of poseur tables in front of the bar creates a somewhat crowded look in front of the bar and jars somewhat.  Mudgie will be gratified to know bench seating mixes with other types and it seems to work well.

Knowing the place gets very busy and fancying having my tea out, last night I booked a table for me and E.  At six o'clock the pub was mobbed, with some of my old acquaintances still there, though relegated to a small corner of the bar, not spread out as they used to be. By far most of the customers were dining. This isn't the first time we have eaten here and the place was pretty full and everyone seemed to be having a great time. What of the beer? Fantastic quality Lees including on cask, that rarest of beasts cask Lees Mild in the shape of Brewer's Dark.  The Horton was always a bastion of cask mild and thankfully still is.  Four Lees beers in total, as well as Bohemia Regent. This was always a pub with plenty of locals and even though they have a little less space nowadays, they are still there and I dare say as it gets quieter later, many will still be coming in just for a drink. The food too, in generous portions, was delicious and the landlady, who I know from both here and the Tavern came over for a friendly natter, as did a few of my old drinking pals. I enjoyed myself immensely, for a great atmosphere, tip top beer and smashing food.

This seemed to me the best of both worlds in many ways and no doubt makes a lot more money than it did before and yes, I miss the place how it was, but this was really rather good and you can still buy a pint at the bar without the dreaded question.

It can work.

Tuesday 25 October 2016

When in Rome

Don't drink beer essentially. Apart from the fact that it is cripplingly expensive, it is piss poor. Rome is the home of Peroni and that's what you get everywhere near enough, except in these places that charge just as much for it as Peroni places, but give you something generic for the same price. And it isn't Nastro Azzuri, the premium stuff, but the weaker and poorer Rosso, a red label beer, not red in colour, but as poor a lager as you are likely to come across.  How much then? Generally for 0.2l, around €4 and upwards of €6 for 0.4 - and more if in a nice square. I was soon cured of it, even when offered in our hotel, in the happy hour, for half price. This is a "not worth it at any price" beer.  What about craft? Well, there was some, with un-named bottles sold at loony prices here and there. Far better to drink local wine and watch the world go by.

But that was old Rome. Tourist Rome in spades if you will. A walk across the river to the area of Trastevere does not bring any relief at all from the prices and it is still touristy, but you do find a little variety in mass produced lager.  You can safely ignore this though.  Why drink Morretti or Porretti when you can drink craft from the many little craft beer bars lurking in the pretty streets and on a sunny day, I was in the mood for a beer.  We repaired to the two bars which everyone tells you are a must.  Our first port of call was Bir&Fud, one of two bars in a quiet square in the back streets. Narrow and thin with three little tables at the front, this offers a veritable cornucopia of Italian brewed craft beers. The narrowness of the pub is offset by bigger rooms behind, but we sat outside in  the front while a gaggle of voluble Italian lads and a solitary lass scoffed beers and laughed a lot. My Hammer Brewery Saison was as good a beer as I'd had in a while - spicy, hoppy and very moreish - so good I had two - while Eileen liked her Italian lager, though muttered a bit about its haze.  The pub was quiet though and I reckon it might get a bit frantic there when busy, but we were greeted warmly enough, the beer was bloody good and, by Rome standards, cheap. Beers were mostly €6 depending on strength and it seemed you just got smaller glasses as the strength went up. Not a bad system at all.  

Across the road is Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fà, beloved  of luminaries such as Stonch who praised it to the heavens years ago. Again it was fairly quiet and again, the beer was bloody good. E enjoyed her imported German Pilsner - can't remember which - but, to her immense satisfaction, clear as a bell, while my Rurale 5 Seta Special was a Belgian style wit with bergamot, which again called for two. Same as its sister place across the road, I wouldn't fancy my chances later in the evening, but it was sure charming enough and the same prices applied.

So when in Rome and you fancy a beer, go to these two places. Pretty smashing really.

We should really have stayed for more, but we fancied something to eat where there sun shone.  Both these pubs were in the shade and sadly the sun did not shine all the time for us and we didn't want to miss it while it was there.

Unwisely, I didn't take Jeffers advice for other venues. I should have, but E will be glad I didn't. She was in wine mode.  Mind you it was ten years ago.


Saturday 22 October 2016

Two Good Brewpubs

I'm not quite finished with Amsterdam. I'd always wanted to go to Brouwerij 't IJ after an abortive attempt to do so many years ago, thus it was that on a warm sunny day, E and I hopped on a tram from Dam - we did - honest -and headed out there to meet that rarest of beasts, a Stockport person that knows everything there is to know about Dutch beer - or so he tells me.  Yes, it was the one and only John Clarke, en route to yet another Dutch Beer Festival.  He was already getting stuck in when we joined him on the outside terrace and enjoyed nipping inside from time to time to refill the generously sized glasses of relatively cheap (for Amsterdam) beer. It really was rather pleasant and the place was comfortable busy, in and out, with non real sign of the supposed gruff service that some commentators remark on.  I do wonder why so many foreign brewers make somewhat inferior versions of IPAs, Double IPAs. etc, but hey, that's what sells folks.  All the beers were pretty tasty actually and jolly good value.  It was a pleasant afternoon and it's always gratifying to go to a place you've always wanted to visit and find out you like it.

Now I haven't always wanted to go to De Prael, but had looked in the door of the bottle shop while heading for the Hidden Catholic Church, more or less next door. I mentioned this to Mineer Clarke who soon set me right. The pub was just a few streets down from the shop, hidden in a somewhat austere alley near a canal. Now everything is near a canal in Amsterdam, so I know that doesn't help, so just look it up.  This is a brewery with not only a mission to brew good beer, but to help those with psychiatric problems and it is worth a read here to see what this is all about. Suffice to say it is a great place to visit in its own right and its social conscience does it credit as a bonus.  We enjoyed several beers here from a somewhat baffling menu which seemed to have as much missing from it as included, but it had some lovely beers, again at decent prices. The venue is fantastic really, with the bonus of really interesting customers to gawp at and the staff here seemed no more  confused or confusing than any Dutch bar. The Dutch are a rather nonplussing lot in my experience and always seem to keep a bit of information back from those that aren't their compatriots, which is rather charming I find.  I like to be mildly disoriented when in a foreign bar. Adds to the overall experience I find.

Well that's it for Amsterdam.  Jolly good place, but take plenty of dosh. It isn't cheap.

I love the little bar snacks in Dutch boozers. A few cubes of cheese, the odd sausage. Perfect. 

If you didn't get the message in previous posts, avoid Heineken and its pubs. Rotten beer and high prices.

Wednesday 19 October 2016

Belated Thoughts on IndyMan

I've been away, so haven't got round to writing this up. I went along to IndymanBeerCon on the trade day and had rather a good time. I spent a tenner.  A tenner you say? How could this be at the most expensive festival around?  Arriving around two thirty I was unsure who I'd know, so just bought a tenner's worth to keep me going until I decided how long to stay. First of all I spent a bit of time wandering around trying to get to grips with the place, or rather, get to grips with what beers were on sale. It was harder than you might think as the eclectic collection of bars were rather small and hard to get to, most being surrounded by festival goers, but that was part of the fun.  Of course I was delayed too by chatting to various people I knew and that was definitely part of the fun.

The first guidance was given to me by an eager beaver who had clearly been there since opening and who had also, clearly followed his own advice with some determination. "Buy the rarest and strongest" slurred my beaming sage, pointing me to a particular American beer, which I was assured was as scarce as hen's teeth.  It seems his advice had been taken up with abandon, as there was none left.  I suppose that kind of figures.

Of course though, with only a tenner's worth - four thirds in this gaff - I did follow the proffered advice, in part at least. The beers were all rare to me, so I just decided to have the darkest and strongest. This wasn't a bad decision at all, as I'm partial to an imperial stout or two. I was also offered and accepted a few tasters, both by servers and friends and this did help make my mind up.  Frankly I didn't have a bad beer - well the odd bad taster - though some were better than others. On my smallish samples, I enjoyed the clearer ones more than the muddy ones and as always at these events, I enjoyed the crack.  It is fair to say that the one price fits all way of doing things divided opinion more than somewhat, with quite a few going for the strongest purely on a VFM basis, while others weren't that bothered. Many seem to regard this event as one to be saved up for, like a concert or the like. I don't recall prices being a point of discussion last few times though, so clearly it had struck a chord with some. Beer for the people? Maybe not.

The crowd was the usual collection of trade types, hipsters, CAMRA types and Joe Public. I got the feeling that this session was likely to contain the oldest average age crowd of the event.  It was jolly enough for me though and being bought a couple of thirds by brewers (tokens used) helped me have a good time.  Has IndyManBeerCon gone wrong? I don't think so, but I'm not counting up all the kegs of weak beers left at the end.   I left after a couple of hours, slightly buzzed as our American friends might say, but that wore off on the bus. I'd had enough strong beer really and if I'm honest, wasn't keen to pay £7.50 a pint equivalent for the weaker stuff.

Of course I went for a drink when I got off the bus. Supping beer or sipping beer? You pays your money and you takes your choice, but if they are the same price, go sipping.

Others have written how the do was a good as ever. That's good news, but I seemed to know a lot less people than I usually do and some didn't stay long, but it was fine for a couple of hours. A few bemoaned the lack of cask (none on sale as far as I know at the session I attended.)  The servers were all pretty pleasant which is great. I didn't bother about food.

I had free entry as trade. That's quite a saving.  I took no notes and one photo (above).

Tuesday 4 October 2016

Two Local Bars

It is always good to try the local bars when abroad.  It is there you get the feel for a place, though if course it can be a matter of pot luck as to what you come across.  Near our hotel in Amsterdam there were a couple of bars our group of ten met up at for a couple of pre-dinner drinks, having gone our own way during the day.  Both were friendly and accommodating, rushing to make tables up so we could all sit together and generally being friendly and welcoming. But the beers were a bit shall we say, pedestrian?  Nonetheless they gave a great impression of the city as being a place that you'll be treated well. That's just what you need when away.

Now one of the things that you really must do in Amsterdam is going for a "Rijsttafel" in an Indonesian restaurant. These restaurants are a relic of the Dutch colonial past, much as Indian restaurants are of ours.We chose one carefully and bloody good it was too. It was outside the inner city and thus less touristy.  We walked back to our hotel, the night being lovely and of course fancied a beer on the way. We knew by now to avoid these at all costs, any Heineken sign boozers. The choice is pretty poor and the prices rather high for what you get. This meant a bit more walking, Heineken being everywhere.  We eventually came across a nice little boozer that was worryingly empty at around nine thirty in the evening, but the the Gulpener sign assured us we'd find a beer or two that we'd like. Our host, a young laid back Dutchman, was happy to see us. He explained what beers he had available, insisting on us trying a taste of each before we made our choices. Perfect. In typical British fashion, us men sat outside drinking beer and watching the cyclists whizz by, while the ladies sat inside drinking wine.  Our host kept us up to date, by helpfully advising us when the women ordered another round, knowing full well that we'd follow.  This arrangement suited us very well. We left after three or four beers as the bar started to fill up. Great stuff and again the welcome and care was outstanding.  Well done Café Cees.

We had though noticed another bar near the hotel. Again signed for Gulpener, it was tucked away behind the Concertgebouw. On our last night, we were eating in the area, so we called in for pre-dinner drinks.  Our host here was of the more taciturn type, but us ten filled a round table and got on with things.  On the wall was a poster advertising Van Vollenhoven's Stout.  Sounded good and a squint at the price list showed it to be on sale. At the bar, we ordered two from our less than talkative barperson.  He rummaged silently. He had none after all it turned out, but recommended a bokbier from the tap.  Now it wasn't what we wanted, so I asked for a taste. After all he had recommended it. He answered in authoritative style. "No."  One word, that's all. Hmm. Ah well, it might have been the best beer in the world, but bugger him, his recommendation and his lousy attitude, so we ordered Orval and carried on. I reflected we'd brought ten people, along for a drink and we all had two or three, so a taste wouldn't have hurt. In case you are wondering, it is Café Welling

So what does all this prove? Well, when you have a choice, go where the welcome is warmest of course.
 This advice of course is only good if you go to a place more than once, but I offer it up nonetheless. Would I advise you not to go to Café Welling? Actually no.  It is a nice place with pleasant customers and seats outside. Just don't ask for a taste of the beer, or depend on affable chit-chat.

Annoyingly it is a Dutch habit to lose a bit of beer on pouring. They sort of pour a bit down the drain before applying the glass. That bit would have done me as a taster.