14 July 2008

Bloomsbury set

My belief that London is always more than a day's work is something of a bone of contention between me and my employers. Even with the miracle of the Heathrow Express, I do not believe it's possible to get from the southside of Dublin to central London in time for a 9.30am event and have any attention span left by wrap-up at 4.30 and the always-delayed evening flight home. My protestations will continue but I think my most recent trip to the big smoke, just over a week ago, may well be the last to involve an overnighter for a one-day event.

As a result, I made the most of it. My travelling companion was up for a few pints of the decent but probably wouldn't have appreciated any seriously-long crosstown beer pilgrimages, so I kept it simple.

First stop after checking in to our Bloomsbury hotel was The Lamb. I had been meaning to have a nosy at this jewel of Victoriana for quite a while (I didn't take any photos, so thanks to Flickr user Ewan_M for the image right). The décor is surprisingly understated: calming green leather and brasswork instead of the eye-watering stained-glass-and-mosaics I was half expecting. Nothing I fancied was on tap so I opted for a bottle of Kew Gold, the green and white label making it the most distinctive occupant of the fridge. It's a golden ale and I enjoyed it: lovely refreshing citrus notes, zingy like good light Czech lager, and in the same vein as Theakston's excellent Golden Sheep.

It was getting on for 10pm at this point and pub kitchens had mostly closed, as far as I could see. Wandering down to Holborn I reckoned the Wetherspoon's there -- Penderel's Oak -- offered the best opportunity for quick and easy eats. Stonch would have loved it: cavernous, clueless staff and, yes, a group of gamers guffawing loudly over spacecraft weaponry at the next table.

From the guest ales on offer I started with a pint of Black Bear, Beartown Brewery's mild. It opened with some lovely milk chocolate notes -- just what I'm after in a mild. This was overtaken shortly afterwards by a sugary sour note which left me wondering if this was deliberate or if the beer was slightly off. By the end of the pint, however, it had gone and the chocolate came back. I'd give this another go, should the opportunity arise, but the jury's out for the moment.

(Side-note: behind the Black Bear pump above you can see two flicked switches at bar level belonging to this tap and the next one. I've noticed these in a few cask ale outlets, generally the dodgier ones. Some places have them on only some of the taps. What are they?)

Last pint of the evening was a pale ginger ale from Everards called Sly Fox. The thin and watery body was more than compensated for by the strong fiery ginger flavour. A bit more of a malty-hoppy-beery taste would be nice, but it's still a refreshing quaffer if consumed sufficiently cold.

The following day was work. Lunchtime afforded the opportunity for a rapid cheeky pint down at the Museum Tavern (left). Sadly, no Theakston's brews were on offer, so I picked the well-reputed Doom Bar from Sharp's. It's a fairly innocuous substance, amber-brown and full-bodied with a lovely big creamy head. The flavour I found somewhat lacking -- not much malt and just a tiny vegetal tang on the end to indicate the presence of hops, but still enjoyable on a textural basis.

My colleague and I parted company at clocking-out time. He went off for a peek at the Elgin marbles while I did some cultural tourism of my own. To get the best bang for the limited time available, and to check out one of the most controversial boozers among Stonch readers, I headed for The Bree Louise near Euston. Even before the after-work crowd filled it, it was loud and awkwardly laid out. Tables scattered in the middle of the floor make it resemble nothing so much as a mini paint-by-numbers chain pub or shabby business motel bar. Full credit for the beer selection, however.

I started with one from the gravity casks (my attempt to photograph same [left] engendered the pictured response from a friendly barman. I don't think you need focus to determine his customer-centred, service-driven reaction. Lovely). Eden Ale is another from Sharp's, and I was wholly unimpressed: a thin, musty, flat amber ale not worth the time spent writing about it, never mind drinking it. I stayed in the West Country for the next one -- Proper Job, from St Austell. This is a well-balanced pale ale with a nice sharp fruity bitterness to it, including a fleeting hint of grapefruit. It manages to have a full and satisfying body while remaining light and drinkable. One of the better summer beers around.

Cottage's summer seasonal You Cannot Be Serious came next, the tennis being on. It's an interesting pale, dry ale with a sharp fruity nose, reminding me of nothing so much as a Belgian framboise. The tartness continues in the flavour, and there's a creamy full body as well. Could it be that those aren't raspberries and they're going for strawberries and cream here? If so, I'm tickled. I enjoyed it anyway. Also from Cottage is Paws, a dark-coloured but light-textured amber ale. I got dark fruits and dark chocolate from it, putting me in mind of cherry liqueur chocolates. It's good and malty as well, in the style of Bishop's Finger, only with less weight and a more complex flavour.

I began to feel the clock was against me at this point and I left myself plenty of time for the journey to Paddington. Enough for a swift half in the Mad Bishop and Bear on arrival, as it turned out, and as well as the usual Fuller's range plus Tribute, they had a second St Austell beer on: Tinners. This was wonderfully mild and refreshing after the unpleasantness of rush hour Tube. There's a slight sharp, sulphurous dryness to it, making it interesting and light without being thin: the perfect railway station beer-in-a-hurry.

Having met my colleague again, the temptation for a last pint in the landside Terminal 1 bar was too great. The place was also markedly less jammed than I'm used to. Burton Bridge XL was the guest, but I wasn't terribly impressed with it. A bland amber bitter with a pleasant texture and a decent head, but not much to say for itself flavourwise. With that drained and forgotten, we were off through security and heading for the sheet-metal tunnels of gates 80-90 where flights for Ireland depart: an area unaffectionately known as The Paddyshack. They've done some remodelling on the airside part of Terminal 1, making the walk to the gate even longer. However, it does now pass through the main departure lounge, which means I have an outside chance of a final cask pint on the far side of security when I travel through Heathrow following the Great British Beer Festival next month. If I'm about to lose my fight on overnighters in London it'll be well worth my while.


  1. The Penderals Oak hey?
    I hear that there have been some stabbings there recently? Overall, its probably best to avoid this one!

  2. It's those gamers: lethal with a chib, every one of them.

  3. Anonymous10:01 pm

    Your assessment of Doom Bar was perhaps a little harsh in my opinion, I found it to be a great pint at a recent Cornish themed ale festival, possibly the oddest themed festival I've been to!

    I also tried the Proper Job there too and concur with your assessment, if you liked that brew keep yer peepers peeled for Admirals Ale it's in a similar vein.

  4. Yes, I was surprised, given the press Doom Bar gets, that I didn't like it more. But I calls 'em like I sees 'em and it's not for me.

  5. I went to the Penderel's Oak a few times for cheap, microwaved food when I was briefly a student across the road. Awful, awful place. Awful. Really bad.

    Doom Bar is nice and balanced - nothing exciting, but then not every beer wants to be.

  6. I'll have to get a lesson from you in this new sport of pub cramming. My Dad would happily nip back to the homeland for a swift few pints.

    I think I have tried the Admiral Ale John spoke of. It arrived in my Spring CAMRA delivery. I recall lovely Cascade with a very English malt backbone. Tasty stuff.

  7. I love that Admiral Ale. Doom Bar can be great in the right condition, but often isn't. I don't know why - Sharps seem to be popping up a lot in London, particularly in pubs that aren't that into their ale. From what I've tasted, the Eden does seem dull. Proper Job in bottles is totally different from on tap and is one of my favourite English IPAs.

    I'm curious. I know a couple of law librarians and they seem to travel around a lot. Is it a particularly sociable profession?

  8. It's all about planning, Thom. For London, Stonch's beer map is hard to beat. Check where you'll be and then plot the nearest worthwhile pubs.

    Yes it is, Boak. And many of us work for particularly deep-pocketed organisations. The travelling and meeting colleagues is all about adding further value to our existing knowledge management services. And a pint of mild with that when you're ready.

  9. I love it that you were able to capture the stellar customer service on camera.

    It's amazing to me the kind of abuse and neglect many servers dish out to people in London!

  10. Anonymous4:29 pm

    Bad customer service isn't just reserved for London. In my experience it is very similar up and down the country. Pretty crap. Unless you are a local somewhere barstaff often seem frosty. Pubs having large turnovers of staff are often poor in this department.

    Doom Bar is a lovely pint, very easy drinking without being an assault on your senses.

  11. My senses could do with a more regular assaulting than they get.

  12. "two flicked switches at bar level belonging to this tap and the next one. .... What are they?"

    To switch between barrels, for popular beers, so changing the barrel doesn't affect service?

    To offer a sparkled/unsparkled effect on northern ales?

    Dunno really. Proper geeks ask. I'm not a geek, but I'd ask. Though not if the barmaid ias pretty as I wouldn't want to appear geekish.

    1. Well now that we have more cask beer here in Dublin, I think I might have an answer: it seems to be a sort of safety catch, keeping lively beer from coming out of the tap under its own steam.

      And I suspect proper geeks don't even go into Wetherspoon, never mind ask technical questions of the surly late shift.