It probably wouldn’t occur to you that popping into your local Michelin starred restaurant for a pint and a bite to eat is both possible and affordable; but at St John – the home of nose to tail eating – it is. Everything about St John appeals to my tastes from the whitewashed simplicity of the bar and dining room, the stripped down unpretentious service to the menu on the plate and behind the bar.
Take a seat in the restaurant for a 3 course meal with wine and yes you’ll pay the prices that you’d expect for such a feed – and not begrudge a penny – but sit in the bar with a pint of Redemption, Black Sheep or Meantime and you can enjoy a starter or two that makes for the most glorious bar menu you’d ever find. For between £7 and £10 you find yourself with an ever changing choice which may include rarebit, octopus, lamb tongue, brawn, sweetbreads – as I said this is nose to tail. A favourite never failing to satisfy is roast bone marrow – the hot bones served with a parsley salad and toast – you scoop the marrow and spread across the toast. I’m taken back to early drinking memories with my Dad when the landlady would bring out plates of bread and dripping. Yes, this is somewhat more refined but plays to that same appetite for more than just fine cuts. The plate then as now would be eagerly cleared.
As Sunday afternoon stops go they don’t get much better; unless of course they’re finished off with a freshly baked bag of Madeleine and a wander through the streets of Clerkenwell.
St. John Bar and Restaurant, 26 St. John Street, EC1M 4AY
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
The votes are counted and the Pub Diaries Returning Officer (me) can reveal how polling panned out on the North of the River v. South of the River v. Beer Without Boundaries question.
Tied with 5 votes a piece (yes, voter turnout mirrored actual electoral apathy) were North of the River and South of the River. Beer Without Boundaries, the middle of the road compromise pulled in just short of 3 way split of the votes with 4 votes. So those results in full:
North of the River 35.71%
South of the River 35.71%
Beer Without Boundaries 28.57%
What does this result tell us? Debatably not much with about 75% of people abstaining to cast a vote (perhaps polls are not for Punks). Jeff at the Gunmakers did point out that it’s a flawed split with most of Central London being on the North side of the river. I agree, but splitting along grid references doesn’t have the same ring to it, unless I was to redraw the boundary and reframe this as an East v. West debate, but to be honest, as much as i’d like to paint a picture of a Beer Cold War, I think the comrades in the East would have it hands down. What it does perhaps show is that in the Capital, being Central doesn’t necessarily equate to having the greatest pubs. Lots of pubs yes. Lots of pubs like the Southampton Arms (as billed as LamBert Hymnal’s sanctuary) probably not. So plucky old South London was able to hold its own against the North.
Will this unresolved question be keeping me up at night? Probably not. I’m in the Beer Without Boundaries camp. And that doesn’t just go for which side of the river is best to drink. It goes for which side of the Watford Gap, which side of the Pennines, which side of the Atlantic. Good beer is good beer and a good pub is a good pub, no matter where it is and where it’s from.
Having recently written a Crafty Pint feature on the London beer scene, it brought me back to previous posts hailing SE1, and indeed the South, as the place for all things beer. I’m now left pondering whether North of the River is actually out in front. It’s keeping me up at nights and no end of counting sheep seems to help.
While the Dean Swift, Rake, Draft House et al are as ever excellent, recent visits to Katzenjammers were dismal. I won’t waste too much time on this, but table service should have an element of well service in it and eye contact in some form shows that you’re still awake. I may have to get my fix of proper Pretzel and Paulaner elsewhere from now on. Any suggestions on the proper Pretzel front appreciated. Now it’s not really that the South on declining. It’s just that the case for the North seems to be getting stronger.
In addition to all the usual suspects of the Euston Tap, Mason & Taylor, Jolly Butchers and Cask I seemed to have blanked EC1 out of my mind. Strange as it’s a place I lived, worked and drunk in throughout my formative London years. It counts amongst it’s great pubs, The Gunmakers with an always excellent beer selection and menu, The Peasant, Jerusalem Tavern, Three Kings, of course the Ye Olde Mitre. The Castle (just inside EC4) tucked away on Furnival Street has consistently good Ale on offer and recently the odd keg of Anchor. This would all be compelling enough in itself. The killer blow has to be the soon to open Craft Beer Co. on Leather Lane. Although sad to see the Clockhouse, a decent enough market pub, close its doors, the fact it will be reopened by the team behind Cask is enough to raise a cheer.
Now can you see my dilemna? In the interests of me getting some sleep I throw it open to you. North of the River v. South of the River… vote, discuss, let me get some sleep!