So a little diversion from pubs and beer as man cannot live by beer alone. A shocking revelation I know. He or she (we’re all for the sisters here at Pub Diaries) also needs sustenance and what better than Pizza. It’s much abused in the UK whether you are talking about the local kebab-come-burger-come-chippy-come pizzeria or High Street chains, churning out doughy monstrosities that would have the most macho Italian weeping. There are the exceptions and wherever I go I have one benchmark. Brixton institution Franco Manca. It’s a simple formula. Sourdough base, great ingredients and great service. They have a swankier Chiswick outpost but for me sitting in a Brixton indoor market is how it’s beat served.
The pizza is available as takeaway and opening seems to be dictated by the market times, so Thursday evenings and daytimes are your opportunity to get your fix.
Pub Diaries Q&A again travels to Australia for the lowdown from Melbourne blogger, poet and viola de gamba player (we beer drinkers have many talents), Gem Mahadeo. Gem is a contributor at Eat, Drink and Stagger, a blog that should not be read if thirsty or hungry.
What’s most likely to be heard down the pub or when writing?
At a pub… lots of good cheer and the sound of folks enjoying a drink or two with good mates over some good pub grub. When writing… the clatter of keys on what is my apparently very loud laptop keyboard, music on in the background with me occasionally ejaculating the odd expletive due to my own writing-related idiocy.
Favourite place to enjoy a beer?
I can’t really narrow it down locally but here’s a few places I really love to visit for some of the good amber (and its brethren) ale – Biero Bar in Melbourne’s CBD, The Local Taphouse in St Kilda and The Terminus in Clifton Hill.
Further afield, one of my favourite breweries to visit would be Red Hill Brewery in the Mornington Peninsula – I love Karen who’s extremely social media savvy and loves to chat to patrons on and offline and it’s the first place I went to that really made me fall in love with craft beer. It’s relaxed and the food and beer are both worth the travel and hoping to get down there really soon.
If I weren’t writing i’d be…
…still very miserable about writing poetry and cajoling the few friends I know who could put up with it to read them, knowing all the while that they would only really be reading out of the kindness of their non-poet-wanker hearts. I don’t know many folks who really love to read poetry, let alone write it so it’s not conducive to writing more. Blogging about food and beer has been different – a lot more folks can identify with having to eat, or wanting to enjoy a good drop, and so read willingly, which encourages me to write more about it.
I also wouldn’t be learning as much about beer and food as I am now, though of course have still so damn much to learn. Blogging has put me in touch with a lot of others who help me learn more through their own writing or their comments on the blog posts.
The perfect pub?
Ooh, possibly contentious, but I think a perfect pub still has to have some of the brews on tap that I won’t necessarily drink (by which I mean the macros). At least one or two local microbrews on tap, a sizeable bottled beer and cider selection and some great food – the pub staples like a parma, risotto, good gourmet pizza or steak but higher end dishes on offer too. Ideally to have the noise balance where it’s not deathly quiet but noisy enough and still be able to hear your companion when you’re having a conversation. Lots of tables and chairs so that when you enter, you can still get a table. Comfy couches and armchairs an absolute bonus! It’s also got to be dim enough so you can’t see how haggard the day’s made me.
Beer / Pub hell?
Still running into it – usually having to interact with a man who isn’t at all open to the possibility that I might actually know stuff about beer and then will talk over the top of me forcing me to be tight-lipped, looking for an exit. I don’t generally volunteer information when conversing with folks about beer unless they are good friends of mine (read: epic beer wankers I know and love) so I kind of hate it when guys try to ‘educate’ me and won’t let me get a word in about what little I do know, or discount it altogether due to my having boobs. The irony being that most of the ‘educators’ are the ones who don’t know anywhere near as much as they think they do…it’s like the universe’s idea of a joke!
What was the last thing you got excited about – beer or otherwise?
Good Beer Week in Melbourne. It worked. So many people came, saw, conquered, got conquered. Had a terrific time attending all the events I went to and it got me all excited not just about the state of beer and its acceptance as a beverage of fine enjoyment as opposed to one you binge drink on and regret the next day but I also just found it personally inspiring; writing up nearly every event I went to and posted about it on the blog.
Unrelated, I am also excited about poetry again. I’ve been writing a lot of poetry this year as a lot of the blog writing’s enjoyment is starting to fuel that and am very slowly starting to have poems accepted in publications.
Again, a lot of the blog and the enthusiasm I feel for it is starting to fuel other things. While ideally, I’d love blogging lead to some related paid writing but that might not end up happening as writing means visiting and visiting means spending and I’ve taken the year off work due to some long-term health issues, so yeah, that’s going to be a very long-term dream…
So oddly enough, I’ve decided to hit up my backburner goals which include trying to get more poetry published and start taking my musical instrument, the viola da gamba, seriously. With the gamba, I’d love to get to the stage again where I can be considered a professional consort player (read: perpetual second violin, figuratively speaking) and while I’m getting well, that leaves me with lots of time to practise and play.
Obviously, I do hope to keep drinking more ace beer and eating as much ace food as my budget will allow – that is totally a given!
As my previous post revealed I am a man of lists. Unfulfilled lists that dwell in drawers, on the fridge or in my iPhone. My mid year resolution to refine and cross through the pub list starts with , The Marksman on Hackney Road.
Close to Columbia Road and just down Hackney Road is The Marksman. You can file this one under proper pub. That much is obvious as you step in through the front doors. Wood panelled walls, faded decor and unusually a skylight in the front bar for some reason give me the thought of being in a ships bar. I’m not talking the QE2, but add pipe smoke and a foghorn and I could have been on a Hebridean steamer (pre smoking ban of course). I promise you I had not been drinking at this point but it was my initial thought and i’m going with it.
The clientelle is a good mix of older locals and younger Shoreditch newcomers. For me this is always a good sign that a pub is working; where two groups that often rub abrasively against each other can co-exist in the name a pint, a bit of banter and even a barter. It’s a first on me to see a pub with a barter list on their website. If this took off my days of eBaying could be over, as I trade drill bits for beer.
Lou is already settled with a beer when I arrive and I find a cold pint of Meantime Pale Ale waiting. A selection of Sharps’ is also on the bar with the ubiquitous Doombar as well as Cornish Coaster and Atlantic IPA; which i’ve been growing to particularly like lately. Service is friendly and the atmosphere is lively without being too in your face. It’s a relatively quick visit but as we leave the goodbye is as warm as the hello. A definite addition to another list, the Pub Diaries top 20.
I am a man of lists. Written lists in Moleskins, post it notes and the back of envelopes. Typed lists on the iPhone and in emails. Sent to myself and others as reminders. They get rewritten and points don’t get crossed off. A list unachieved is a little depressing, so I’ve resolved mid year to refine and cross through the pub list. So this is the first 5 to be crossed off by the end of July. It’s a mixed bunch which should take me into some new territory. If you’ve got suggestions for pubs close by to the 5 don’t be backward about coming forward.
Recently the point was made to me that as you become more interested in beer, blog about pubs and generally spend more time contemplating these things than is perhaps healthy, you become increasingly hard to please. You effectively become a pub snob or worse still a pub bore. You can dress it up as being discerning but you constantly skirt a line which too far one and you become insufferable. Taken to its extreme you end up drinking alone in a hand full of pubs and then even they don’t meet your standards. You forget that even the most dismal of pubs may have one redeeming feature; a killer jukebox, an unexpected beer or just a smile from a barmaid that makes it worth a visit.
I don’t think i’m quite at snobbish bore stage yet but i am showing definite signs. So i’ve set myself a challenge. And I set you a challenge. I will be venturing out of my comfort zone, heading into the pub wilderness to endure (see this is the snob emerging) what the pub snob abhors. And this is where you come in. Within the confines of Zones 1 to 6 I need to know what a pub snob abhors whether it be a pub, beer, food or otherwise. Over to you and let the challenge begin.
I’ve always been one for the little man (or woman) sticking up for themselves and for that reason I’m well behind The Engineer in Primrose Hill. Their landlord Mitchells & Butlers, recently served notice upon Tamsin and Abi, who over the last 17 years have built a business that locals love. In their hour of need those locals, famous and otherwise have stepped up to say no to the actions of M&B. Harry Enfield has joined with local businesswomen Jane Robbins to campaign under the banner ‘Engineered Out’.
I’ll put my hands up and say that I’ve never been to The Engineer. It’s on the list but i’ve not got to it yet. I certainly won’t be making the trip to Primrose Hill if its a wolf in sheeps clothing. Yes, legally M&B are entitled to make a commercial decision to not renew a lease, but in this case it seems to be just that. A commercial decision devoid of any thought about what a pub means to a community and with no recognition of the graft involved in making it loved.
It wouldn’t be a truly British protest without a petition. You can show support online here
There’ll be a photocall on Tuesday 7th June where regulars will give M&B a clear message. I for one hoping that the message is Harry dressed as Kevin (no not those Kevin’s, Boggle) saying it’s so unfair, I HATE YOU!
I stuck another pin in the London craft beer map on Friday. Heading to Farringdon via Barbican I stopped by the Old Red Cow on Long Lane. It’s been a while since I’ve last been in and the first since it joined the Dean Swift as a Local Beer House.
Smithfield and the surrounding area has always been one of my favourite places in London. As I’ve alluded to in past posts it’s where I spent my first years in London and still somewhere I can wile away a few hours at the Barbican or just a walk through the old neighbourhood. I usually head up St John Street to the Peasant or across to Clerkenwell Green. With 3 handpumps on the bar and 10 wall mounted taps behind the bar the old haunts have definite competition.
From the board we went for the Camden Town Pale Ale, a perfect start on a hot City day and already a firm favourite. The find of the day was the Redemption Trinity from the handpull. If there’s a beer for a Summer session this is it. Just 3% ABV, Golden in colour, I could just sit and watch the early evening light through it. That is if it wasn’t so damn tasty with its smack of Citrus and Hops. A lazy description perhaps but I’d just encourage you to taste it for yourself.
Old Red Cow, 71-73 Long Lane, Smithfield, EC1A 9EJ
Dare I say that Summer has arrived? It certainly felt like it today. As Londoners broke out the sandals and shades and I had my first sweaty train ride of the year, it seemed only right and proper that I break out the Gin & Tonic. I’d say that a G&T is a guilty pleasure but to be honest there’s not much guilt involved. Yes, it’s a bit WI but I love ‘em. The gin has to be quaity. Tanqueray, Hendricks et al, or in this case Bruichladdich. A gin from the isles of malts but a decent one at that. Packed with Islay Botanicals it’s great with an added touch of sliced cucumber or pear for those buying into the latest food scare. I prefer to pour the measure and leave the cucumber to soak for a while before adding the tonic and ice. This way you have gin soaked slices to finish the drink.
Last weekend was spent camping Thameside. Lou and I headed for Rushey Lock in Oxfordshire for a Bank Holiday of grey skies and occasional rain. Well it wouldn’t be proper camping otherwise, would it? The plan for the weekend was no plan. Just a few days of reading, wandering down the Thames and of course the odd pub. The Lock Keeper gave us the lay of the land which mainly consisted of his pub tips. Directions are easy on the river our choices being 4 miles one way and 1 mile the other.
First up was the Swan at Radcot. A large union flag flies riverside and the garden is taken up with ducks and geese. If the picture needed to be anymore British an E-Type Jag revs at the lights. The pub itself doesn’t live up to the promise. The interior lacks the warmth expected with prominent flatscreen tv, set dining tables and an uninspiring choice at the bar. Lou asks about the Rev. James. “It’s a strong dark ale.” There is a definite full stop. No more information will be shared, no further questions asked, just an unblinking stare that comes with years of practice.
Sat in the near empty garden we watch the boats pass and the geese chase the ducks. A YouTube classic in the making, but it only raises a brief smile. A group arrive and sit on the nearest table to us, despite there being an entire garden to choose from. As they salute and shout ahoy to each passing barge, guffawing each time, it’s a sure sign that there will be no second pint.
We make our way back towards Rushey Lock, saying hello to those who we pass. It raises barely a grunt from most. Lou reminds me we’re not up North and such things are not wise. She may be an Aussie, but she certainly understands the North / South divide. The Trout at Tadpole Bridge is our second attempt at capturing the perfect country pub, which when right delivers more than great beer. It’s about local character and a real sense of where you are. With roses around the door and a Chocolate Labrador stretched out on the stone floor this is immediately more appealing; as is the beer choice. Starting with Butts’ Barbus Barbus we settle into the small bar area. As with the Swan much of the pub Is taken up with the restaurant. Most country pubs wouldn’t survive without a strong food trade and in the case of the Trout this would seem to be it’s focus. The bar, as pleasant as it is, seems like a mere waiting area. Evening service starts at 7pm and at 6pm on a Bank Holiday Sunday we are among only a handful of punters. Service seems oddly schizophrenic with a warm welcome to some and the bare minimum for others.
The menu looks good but we have we food back at the Lock. What is required is something to soak up the beer. We ask for chips. The answer is firmly no. Chips are only served as a side. It is also 6.30pm and we are reminded the kitchen is closed until 7pm. A kind of no and even if we did the kitchens closed, so unlucky and unlucky again. We have a second round, this time of the Ramsbury Bitter which is the surprise of the day. With a smokey ashen taste it’s unexpected but more than welcome to take our minds off food. Orders start to be taken and we decide to go with the local cheese board. Now this would seem simple enough but I’m again told the kitchen opens at 7pm. Thoughts of Michael Douglas in Falling Down spring to mind but I keep the rage under wraps. It’s 6.50pm and orders are being taken in the restauarnt. Added to which it’s a cheese board. Hardly the most taxing of dishes to prepare. I persevere and with a sullen shrug I’m told to choose a selection of 3. There’s no mention on the board that the selection is limited and when raised I get a stare that says it all. A few years practice and it’ll be spot on. The Oxford Blue, Single Gloucester and Bath Soft are served on slate, the edges look like they’ve been cut well before ordering and it suffers as cheese boards always seem to from a severe lack of oatcake. That is unless you want to load half a wedge of blue onto each one.
We leave a little more satisfied than the Swan, thanks wholly to the beer, but still not having found the Country Pub I’ve been craving. It’s proof that bricks and mortar, roses around the door and an idyllic location don’t guarantee a great pub. So back to the Lock to singe some more grass and uncork a bottle of Lagavulin 16 year old, hoping that in the absence of TV we will be treated to more of the simple joy of watching a goose chase a duck.