It had been over a year since the last time I had been drinking in the The Big City. Last March in fact (getting tipsy on boats doesn’t QUITE count!), so when the opportunity arose for a 3 day stay, I grabbed it – though somewhat reluctantly.
I guess I am a “home bird”. I am also becoming a bit of a professional Northerner, in that – especially where beer is concerned – I don’t feel that we need to doff the cap any more. Some Northern breweries (in my humble…..) easily brew beers that can match – if not better – their Southern brewing brothers and sisters. Yes, I am biased, something which I freely admit.
However, what London DOES have, is some outstanding pubs, the like of which that Manchester (for instance) simply doesn’t have. So what’s an aging boy to do eh? With a couple of evenings to kill. And an Oystercard.
The Cock Tavern (Mare Street, Hackney – approx 100 Yds from Hackney Central Overground Stn)
According to various sources, there may have been a pub on this site since the early 18th century. However, the current premises was rebuilt by Truman’s Brewery in the 1930s. Now though, it is the brewery (and tap) of Howling Hops Brewery, a brewery whose beers are bloody hard to find Oop North. Which is a shame. Because they are superb.
This interior of this pub is best summed up as….wood. The pace is stripped back and basic. And it is all the better for it. Stripped back floorboards, old wooden tables, chairs and bench seating and a lovely L shaped bar with a LOT of hand pumps dispensing Howling Hops own beers. It feels like a place to drink beer. And chat. Which is what I and my buddy did.
I paid little mind to the ciders (though there were a few) and bypassed the craft keg (7 I think) and focused on the 8 hand pulls featuring 7 of the brewery’s own beers – brewed downstairs. I had 3. Well….It was an early start!
XX Pale 5% – A fruity pale ale hopped with Columbus, Citra, Centennial & Mosaic with predictably lip smacking results.
Mild 3.3% – A Dark Mild. Because I like Mild. OK? A nice Mild can be a thing of beauty and not the preserve of the 1950s and the beclothed of cap, whippet toting Northerners of old. Again, 4 hopped (Centennial, Columbus, Cascade & Citra), this was reminiscent of another of my favourites (All Black by Allgates) but was (an oxymoron for a Mild) slightly more assertive – and it’s a relative term. Either way, a highlight for me. You might say “a Mild for non-Mild drinkers” and I wouldn’t argue.
American Brown Ale 4% – Brown. A dose of rye and licorice on the nose and a crackling dry pint. A corker.
And then I looked in the fridge and noticed some of their own bottles. Up North, these are as rare as the droppings of that legendary wooden steed. So I had to. Didn’t I? And if I’m going to bring one back, it might as well be big.
And it is.
Now then. For those semi-pro Northerners who aren’t in the know. An Oystercard is a godsend. Especially now that TfL have WANGED up the price for a day Travelcard to £12 or more! So, with that in my pocket, I was off back to Hackney Central, change at Highbury & Islington, Victoria Line to Kings X, Northern Line to Kentish Town, then a C2 bus. In reality, only approx 20 or so minutes. And the bus drops you DIRECTLY outside the door of the next premises.
Was it worth it? Oh yes.
The Southampton Arms (139, Highgate Road, Kentish Town)
This pub just speaks to my soul. Wooden floors, wooden benches, wooden settles. A mahogany bar. A turntable rather than a CD player or streaming service! 12 hand pumps for beer. Several more for real cider. And proper pub grub. By which I mean, Pork Pies. More on that later.
A place that looks like it’s been here forever, this was apparently reborn in about 2009 and was stripped back to reveal all of that lovely wood. Long, but not particularly wide, the bar is long and festooned with all of those lovely handpulls featuring beers from micro breweries far and wide. A gents with access from outside too, an unusual feature. As is the rather lovely old mirror advertising the wares of the original Lacons Brewery.
It was busy, but we grabbed a table. I reached the bar and started to scan. But my eyes froze and my back leg rose like the tail of a Pointer.
Hobsons Mild. I drink it wherever I find it. It’s quite simply the best brown Mild that I’ve ever had. Refreshing and nutty. And light, at 3.2%. And utterly delicious. As was the 1/2 of Pork, Chicken & Stuffing pie. A steal at £3.60
Now, the Hobsons aside, I am (by nature) a kind of “When in Rome” kind of fella. Therefore, with my predilection for dark beers, the next choice was fairly simple.
Dissident Porter from Gipsy Hill Brewing (West Norwood, SW London) was 4.8%. And Dark. And so damn moreish. First beer from this brewery. Roasted, chocolatey, smooth and Oh. So. Drinkable. I’ll be looking out for this brewery again. excellent beer.
Food was necessary at this point. So we headed back into the city and Holborn via Northern Line to Kings X and Piccadilly Line to Holborn.
Fish, chips & peas with bread & butter and a mug of tea for £10. In London? The joy that is The Fryers Delight on Theobalds Road. A basic caff with excellent grub. And close to the next pub!
The Lamb (94, Lambs Conduit Street, Bloomsbury)
The Lamb. A Young’s pub. Yet not as it was.
Last time I came in was 10 years ago. The day after the tube bombings. I still have the memory of walking past the destroyed bus at Tavistock Square. Some things never leave you.
Happier times though. The last time I came in, they only sold Young’s beers. So it was a nice surprise to see 2 from Sambrook and a beer (apparently brewed for the pub) from Redemption. Which I had to try. The Bloomsbury Blend was a bit of a surprise, in that it was a nicely flavoured mid-strength bitter, but lacked the assertiveness of some of their other beers that I have had. Nice enough though
(Nicked from the Young’s Website)
The Lamb is one of those pubs that just HAVE to be visited. It is a Victorian symphony in wood. A beautiful – almost circular – bar with the snob screens being a unique feature to my eyes (those little windows open above the bar – top left of pic) – designed so that bar staff needn’t meet the gaze of Victorian customers.
(All mine this one!)
The pub is, quite simply, a Grade 2 listed gem. Built (acc to Historic England) probably early 18th Century, it may lack the buzzy kudos od some of the craft bars locally, but it takes some beating as a simply beautiful pub.
All of that travelling, on tube, bus and train? £6.40. What’s the word? Bargain.
Next evening, a little less trekking was in order, Victoria line to Euston, then Northern Line to Old Street. Quality beer and food were sought. We were not to be disappointed.
The Old Fountain (Baldwin Street, EC1 – 3 mins from Old Street tube, City Rd Exit)
This has been a decent beer gaff as far back as I’ve been coming to London. A “cut” pub, in that there is another entrance on Peerless Street, Baldwin Street is directly off City Rd (A501) just to the north of Old Street.
Again, wood is the thing. Lots of it. Sources date this place to about the mid 18th century and it does have the feel of an old ale house about it. And it was bloody busy. With no tables available. And a lovely menu taunting us!
A slightly limp pint of Jarl was dealt with, then a table located, luckily. A zinging pint of Oakham Citra accompanied by a HUGE home-made (and slightly runny) Scotch Egg more than made up for the Jarl! The Citra was all that one of the best pale ales in the country should be. Sharp, clean and massively refreshing.
The house burger was huge and (after the Scotch Egg) just too much. The chips were excellent too.
The pub lists 18 constantly rotating beers on cask and keg. And it was a keg font that caught my eye. From my favourite London brewery. And a beer I hadn’t yet had.
London Smoke – Five Points Brew Co (Hackney) was SO unctuous! Smooth like an oil slick. Bitter chocolate, root licorice and just the right hint of smoke. Just a bloody superb beer. From a brewery that don’t muck about, take their time and just get the beers right. 7.8% abv was just about right.
Then. That rare thing in London. A walk.
The Jerusalem Tavern (Britton Street, off Clerkenwell Road)
Walking along Britton Street and entering The Jerusalem, you wouldn’t think that you were only 1 minute away from the recently redeveloped Farringdon tube station! It’s like stepping into the 19th century.
The building dates from the early 18th Century with its conversion to a pub probably a century later. The pub has a bit of history itself, best read here.
I’ve always felt that this place had the feel of a 17th century coffee-house, it feels unique and I, for one, have never been in a pub quite like it, And I have introduced many of my colleagues to its charms. All have adored it.
It. Is, Small. And can probably handle only about 60 people at most, with punters frequently spilling out from the front and side.
It is owned and run by St Peters Brewery of Bungay in Suffolk. I think that they only have two pubs and the other is a brewery tap. Whatever, it is one hell of a spot and gets busy with an after work city crowd. And rightly so.
In here, I could look no further than the Old Style Porter. Just a beautiful smooth, dark and lusciously roasted beer, with the merest hint of sweetness. It is, quite simply, one of the best porters that I’ve ever had. Moreish in the extreme. I had two. I should have picked up a bottle of Honey Porter too. But I have a memory like Emmental.
Going home the next evening after work, we had an hour or two to kill. Now then, I love the Euston Tap as much as anybody, but the range of breweries just….doesn’t really seem to change much. There never seems anything to excite me. Great beer, granted. But sometimes, I just want something that feels a little bit more, you know….pub like. So I went on a 90 second hike from the front of Euston Station.
The Bree Louise (Coburg Street, Euston)
If the planners for the HS2 rail link get their way, this pub will be vapourised, obliterated from the map. Some might say “meh”. Me? I like this place. A lot. It has a soul that some nearby places lack. We came here for food and a pint (or 4) and were disappointed by neither,
The pub itself is of the “street corner” type that is sadly missing from my home city. It isn’t huge. And has a chaotic feeling when full of commuters hunting a pint. But the staff are friendly and efficient (incident about a late delivered meal to my mate aside!) and there is a LOAD of cask ale, Probably about 18 on the go.
Now this amount of beer can lead to the odd dud. That is simply unavoidable, save reducing the number of beers. \But as long as they replace a lame pint, that is fine. I had one. And they replaced it without fuss. Brownie points.
COne of the endearing things about this place is the stillage dispense, a rarity in city centres (Yes, I DO know 57 Thomas Street, but that in itself is an oddity) and to look at the bar, you might struggle to make out what beers are on. Which is where the 42 inch screen comes in with a rotating view of beers separated into hand pulled, gravity and keg. A nice touch.
Now this particular evening was noted as a Tap Takeover by Hogs Back Brewery. Not a fan, so I focused on the other 60% of beers on offer. In order, these were :
- HopHead – DarkStar – Predictable excellence. Pale hoppy and bitter. A refresher.
- Conqueror – Windsor & Eton – The epitome of a Black IPA for me. Bitter, roasted coffee and big citrus bite.
- Slovenian Dream – Downton Brewery – Now this was so pale that I had it as a Pilsner with a nice gentle floral hop character. The brewery has it as a Pale Ale. Works either way. But a Pilsner for me.
- Wolf of the Woods – Twickenham Brewery – The pick of the bunch. Amber coloured with a chocolatey malt flavour and a good dose of bitterness. A fine beer.
And that was that. Other than a 45 minute delay at Euston. A further 45 minute delay on the train. The train for Bolton turning into a bus replacement service and the A666 turn off on the M61 being closed. I got home at midnight. Knackered.
London, you wore me out. With the admirable assistance of Virgin Rail & its Northern Rail counterpart. Renationalise the lot of them.
That’s all until next time….