London – April 2015 – Long Time No See

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.

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.

Yup.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.
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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!
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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
Lamb bar
(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.
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(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.
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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!
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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 SmokeFive 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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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 :
  • HopHeadDarkStar – Predictable excellence. Pale hoppy and bitter. A refresher.
  • ConquerorWindsor & Eton – The epitome of a Black IPA for me. Bitter, roasted coffee and big citrus bite.
  • Slovenian DreamDownton 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 WoodsTwickenham 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….

Slainte!

A Thirst & A Fresh Oyster(card) – A Wandering Week in London – March 2014


” I had entered into a marriage in the summer of my 21st year and the bells rang for our wedding,

Only now do I remember it clear, alright, alright, alright.

No more a rake and no more a bachelor, I was wedded and it whetted my thirst,

Until her womb started spilling out babies, only then did I reckon my curse,

Alright, alright, alright!”

(“The Rake Song” – The Decemberists)

(Video courtesy of http://www.decemberists.com/)

As I mentioned in my last post, I fell in love with music again having discovered the online store / club E-Music. This website led me to discover a whole wealth of bands that I would probably never had otherwise heard. Chief among these bands was The Decemberists from Portland in Oregon.

From the moment that I heard the jangly entry notes of “The Crane Wife 3” I was hooked and fell in love with the lyrical worlds spun by Colin Meloy and this fabulous band. Tracks like “Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect”, “We Both Go Down Together”, “Yankee Bayonet” the list goes on….I can just wallow for hours in lyrical beauty backed by expert musicianship that straddles between folk and almost Prog Rock (One track was described to me as “Steeleye Span meets Black Sabbath”!). Meloy has a way with words and sometimes writes in an antiquated verbal manner using words that you’d never hear elsewhere.

With topics ranging from unrequited love “Angel Won’t You Call Me” through bloody murder ballads “Shankil Butchers” (sic) to infanticide (“The Rake Song” see above), you’ll never be bored!

Suffice to say, The Decemberists are my favourite band with never a slack track in their 6 full-length albums (+ several EPs) so far. They may be recording a new album as I type and – should they hit the UK on tour, I will certainly fill the gaping hole in my music CV and see them live. Given what I have seen online, their performances are never less than enthralling!

With the end of this musical revelry, I shall get on with the matter in hand. Beer and great places to drink it!

2 weeks ago today (Wednesday), “The Boss” asked for volunteers to work in London for a week with odd shifts being the order of the week. Now, I am a bit of a home bird – having missed nearly the first 18 months of my youngest so due to living and working away –  I’m not all that keen to spend time away. The bait on this hook for me was to visit pubs and bars that I have regularly read others like Nate, Chris Hall & Tandleman write about and make me drool. So, with a (forced) smile on my face and beer in my heart, I was on the train to Euston one drizzly Sunday.

Let’s Begin!

Arriving at approx 7pm on a Sunday evening, with a London Transport Travelcard in hand, I unpacked my considerable luggage and pondered my first move. Only then did I consider the erratic opening hours of London pubs of a weekend! Fortunately, a well placed tweet revealed that – if I was quick – A certain mighty (yet mini) hostelry might be open!

TheRake_005_1(pic courtesy – http://boroughmarket.org.uk/)

The Rake – (Winchester Walk, Borough Market)

I don’t get down to Capital City much these days, but the last time I came, I popped in The Rake and it made a big impression for such a small bar, great cask ales, brilliant keg range and a bewildering array of bottles beers too from far and er…. wide.

I went twice during the week once on the Sunday, then on the Wednesday. The Sunday visit was quiet as it was virtually closing time when I got there. The guys working the bar and cellar were good as gold and twice as friendly as I was served with a Chockwork Orange Stout from Brecon Brewery (Welsh Beer Festival that weekend). Not hugely orangey, but a fine full-bodied Stout.

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This was, perforce, a flying visit, but I just had to have a read of the Wall of Fame. This is an enormous white wall where brewers sign and comment about the bar, a quirky but unique feature, then again, this small single room bar (the beer garden is larger!) is unique and quirky itself!

I called in again on the Wednesday. My original idea was to drag a colleague all the way from Vauxhall to Leyton for some Brodies at their tap The King William IV. However, the mighty Dave let me know that there was a Rake “Tap Takeover” by Brodies that night. Bit of a no brainer really!

Myself & my buddy Phil settled down to pints of really light, pale gold, refreshing and citrussy London Fields Pale Ale which, at 3.9% abv, were just the ticket after a rather longer than expected walk from Vauxhall. With tart grapefruit and a hint of lemon, a superb sharp pint.

Bethnal Green Bitter was next at 4% and was again a cracking pint. Amber coloured and full-bodied for the strength, biscuity malt and gentle grapefruit making for an excellent sessionable beer.

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This small single room bar was getting really busy, so we were lucky to grab a table in the outside area / beer garden on this beautiful bright late afternoon. A couple of halves of fruity, sharp and roasty dark Dalston Black followed and were consumed with resinous relish!

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(Hackney Red IPA)

Chatted for quite a while with a couple who shared our table. Demien a Colombian tattoo artist with a fabulous orchid on his neck (national flower of Colombia dontcha know!), the evening just flowed as we chatted about anything and everything with Demien and Sara (his Dallas based girlfriend), a lovely way to spend a couple of hours in great company and with Brodies excellent beers. Having had a sniff of Sara’s Hackney Red IPA, I just had to have one! Spicy and citrus tart. Gorgeous.

Rolling back to Sunday, chanced my luck by trying the Market Porter which I thought was about to close. A stunningly good pint of gloriously roasty Harveys Porter was had. Dark and delicious as was the fabulous tuneage, with some early Black Keys and some Nick Cave. Sunday Bonus!!!

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Pelt Trader (Dowgate Hill, just at side of Cannon Street station)

A couple of hours on Monday saw me venture into the City. I’d heard many great things about this bar from luminaries such as Nate Dawg, Chris Hall and Tandleman, so it would have been remiss not to give it a spin!

Nice, cool and spacious railway arch built into the underside of Cannon Street Station. Fairly quiet at the time I went in, but got steadily busier. Being owned/run by the people behind the excellent Euston Tap (and given the excellent things that I’d been hearing), I had no fear for the beer quality. This was borne out by stunningly good pints of Oakham Citra and Quantum American Light. (Can’t escape Jay’s beers…even in London it would seem!)

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(Looks suspiciously like a pelt!)

As with The Rake, Pelt Trader has all the elements in place for me. Nice building (lots of exposed brickwork, broken up with artifacts here & there – a Kayak?), with REALLY friendly staff (had a chat with a guy I presumed was a bar manager) and – most importantly – damn fine beer.

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Draft House (Seething Lane, nr Tower Hill tube)

Just a quick one in here. A quick taste of a Purity Black Ale was less than sound, so plumped for a rather nice and refreshing Outlandish Pale Ale by Offbeat Brewery (Crewe, Cheshire). Pale gold, light and refreshing and nice and hoppy. Bargain of the week at £2.70 a pint!

The neon may be attractive to some, but was harsh on my eyes. Nice big open room with (probably) a bit of an accent on food. Loads of tables and a nice attractive exterior. can’t escape that neon though! 6 handpumps though meant quite a bit of choice with Sambrooks, Marble & Twickenham breweries also represented.

Stretching my legs a bit, headed up to Shoreditch to a bar that had been recommended. So, on a hunt for some Five Points on cask, I headed to The Crown & Shuttle on Shoreditch High Street.

Crown and shuttle

(pic – crownandshuttle.co.uk)

Again, loads of exposed brick in this bar that was so long, it had the feeling of a tunnel. Busy for a Monday evening. Large choice of beer both cask and keg, with no Five Points to be found, yours truly settled for a Galaxy Burst by Alechemy on cask.

Lovely friendly staff, they could even understand my dialect! The Alechemy was lovely, full of spring grass on the nose, full-bodied with lashings of tangerine and orange an d a nice piney finish with a gentle bitterness. Top tunes too! Sly Stone, Marvelettes, Detroit Spinners. My boxes were all ticked! Cracking bar.

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(Tuesday? – Must be Hackney then!)

Tuesday was dedicated to seeing an old friend that I hadn’t seen for nigh on 25 years! Living (as she does) in Leyton, we arranged to meet in the Pembury Tavern

Located on Amhurst Road, this angular pub was reasonably quiet as I entered. A plethora of hand pumps, most from the Milton Brewery of Cambridge

Pembury bar-panorama

(pic : https://www.individualpubs.co.uk/pembury/)

Settling down a a lovely fruity and refreshing pint of Milton Tiki at 3.8%, I took in the view. My kind of pub. Leaving aside the single roomed aspect, loads of space close to and in front of the bar, plenty of tables to the sides with seats and benches, there was just such a relaxed vibe here. Then my friend Andrea arrived and all considerations of decor etc went right out the window! Catching up with her (and spilling a few stories to her cute daughter – doing her homework!) was utterly precious. Transpires that she knew the regulars and staff ever so well.

This pub just FEELS welcoming and friendly. Certainly family and (well-behaved) pet friendly. Great pizzas (according to my lovely friend) and well….it just felt right. Certainly right enough to have another pint of Tiki! Unfortunately, I had to move on as I was due to meet Dave from The Rake at the next pub (cue Keystone Cops like farce!)

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A swift Twitter poll decided my next move after a number of people (including the redoubtable Connor “Beer Battered” Murphy) suggested The Cock Tavern on Mare Street in Hackney.

This is the brewery tap for Howling Hops Brewery. Haven’t had much by them, so was really looking forward to a pint or 2. That plan was rodgered when my colleague I was expecting on Wednesday, arrived on Tuesday and expected me for company. This left me with one pint worth of time. After a number of tweets to Dave, I realised that I made one almighty balls up. He was in The Pembury!!!

Being a Northern chap and therefore of good grace (Well, a fellow Lancastrian and all!) he hauled himself down to the Cock for a swift pint! Top bloke who took my apologies in good heart and with the aforementioned good grace. The Milk Stout it was for both of us and it was absolutely LUSH! Gorgeously roasted and with that hint of lactose sweet/sour, it was a lovely pint. I will have to see if my good buddy The Ale Man has some stashed away!

The Cock deserved a longer stay. Felt like a proper local, but on the edge of the big city. Dark inside with wood panelled walls, lots of dark wood seating on the exposed wood floor, it really is a lovely pub. Next time I’m down, I’ll make a bee-line! However, I had my colleague waiting in Pelt Trader……Oops

More Keystone Cops stuff here as my buddy needed to eat. So I suggested Cask on Charlwood Street, but by the time I stood outside Pimlico Tube station, he’d give up and headed back to t’hotel! Not to be discouraged, I just got a step on. I was a tad peckish too by this point!

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(Cask was busy!)

Much to my chagrin, I don’t bump into too much cask ale by Mallinsons in Manchester. To my delight, there were THREE on at Cask! Unfortunately, I had a monstrously early start so couldn’t do all three to go with my scrummy Stilton & Bacon burger….Citra & Alias were more than fine enough The Citra brought out the best in that hop with lovely tart grapefruit clearing that Stilton palate. The Alias had plenty of fruit along with a pronounced bitterness which, if anything, lifted it above the lovely Citra! 2 Single hopped pales by one of my favourite breweries! Beer Heaven!

Really friendly & helpful staff here – could have stayed ’til closing…..damn that early start!

Thursday saw me (via little advanced St Patrick’s Night drink with some swanky Irish associates!) at The Southampton Arms in Gospel Oak. I love this long bar and it was really busy this evening. Fortunately we managed to grab a table so I could enjoy a lovely slightly bitter and gorgeously roasted pint of Long Nines Stout by Hopcraft. I didn’t care that it was 6% abv. It was lush! The only shame tonight, was that I couldn’t hear the Jimmy Cliff album being played on the turntable! Great bar, friendly staff and locals. (Didn’t realise that it was the same people who owned The Cock Tavern in Hackney!)

A damned long week. Would’ve liked to have visited more bars/pubs, but you know what they say “Work is the curse of the drinking classes!”

In summary though, the thing that made this week the undoubted pleasure it was, was meeting new people, both from the other side of the bar (unfailingly friendly), or chance encounters. This beer malarkey is all about the people. They were lovely! (Now. where IS that Shadwell based tattooist…..just fancy a chalice glass on my arm…..)

Well…..that’s it with London for a while I suppose…

On that note….’til next time….

Slainte!