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!
I have eagerly awaited a visit to Mason & Taylor since hearing that the folks behind The Duke of Wellington were opening on Bethnal Green Road. The Duke in Dalston was at one time just around the corner and quickly became a firm favourite. It has it all. Great staff, great beer, great food. It is as you may have guessed Great.
I was willing Mason & Taylor to be on a par with the Duke as I don’t live around the corner from the latter anymore but I do work nearby Bethnal Green Road. A first attempted visit had been thwrated by their Christmas Party but undetered and in fact more eager I headed to Mason & Taylor the next day. I won’t leave you hanging. It is in fact also… Great. The décor is stripped back concrete and canteen chairs. It bucks the trend of filling the space with kitch which more often than not looks like an explosion in an Oxfam shop. The staff are, as with The Duke, efficient, friendly and knowledgeable. The food is small plates for sharing; a British tapas I suppose. The York ham with poached duck egg and parsley sauce and a rarebit were my particular favourites. As for the beer there is a wide choice with around 12 ales and beers on draught as well as a seasonal bottled list. I had my first pint of Brodies, Redemption and Wandle at The Duke and Mason & Taylor continue the trend with an introduction to the Camden Town Brewery and their American style, Camden Pale Ale and the helles style Camden Hells Lager. Judging by the empties which soon pile up you can say it went down well.
In my post on the Owl and the Pussycat I pondered if it would only ever be a fallback. On the form of Mason & Taylor I don’t see that a fallback would even be needed.
I must be getting on now as although Brick Lane is literally on the doorstep it’s less and less becoming a place where I chose to drink. Apart from the odd gig the only thing that draws me in is Rough Trade, Beigel Bake or Fika. The nearest I get these days is Redchurch Street. The imaginatively named Redchurch Bar is an old favourite with an extensive stock of liquor and a cocktail list running to over 10 pages; though its always a pint of Sierra Nevada which is my go to. When I want shades of a cook Williamsburg (Brooklyn) bar this is where I head. Change is afoot with new additions to the strip running between Bethnal Green Road to the East and Shoreditch High Street to the West (where strip can beused in the literal sense)with; Mason & Taylor (see imminent post), technically on BGR and The Owl and the Pussycat which having hung on for a number of years finally succumbed to the march of Shoreditch gentrification last year. In its previous life The Owl and the Pussycat was what some would term an Old School Boozer. Shabby but without the chic it had erratic opening hours and service which was comic; unless it was being inflicted on you when it became infuriating. I first heard of its refurb from Cheese and Biscuits and a post which seemed to polarise foodies in their comments and drew a direct and convincing defence from the management. There was more than a hint of the gentrification debate in that post which I will touch on only briefly. My view put simply is that things move on. People love to have someone to vilify when it comes to East London whether it’s the Nathan Barleys in the early and mid noughties or more recently the Suits as the City swells outward. Pubs need to continue to be relevant to theirchanging clientele and cannot be preserved in aspic. The Old School Boozer tag in itself can itself be an excuse for bad beer, service and décor; the latter of which I can forgive, the others I can’t.
As we arrive Edwyn Collins is playing, which is a tick on English’s mental checklist. The décor is the Shoreditch jumble sale chic which comes as no surprise. It’s relaxed with a comfortable bar area and more formal dining upstairs. Run by the team behind The Fellow in Kings Cross it’s sure to be a winner. First impressions were mixed with only 1 of the 4 ales on; the other draft choice being the likes of Becks and Heineken. That said the fruity Ringwood Boondoggle was on and sustained us through 2 rounds. Whether it becomes a regular haunt remains to be seen. Mason & Taylor was the intended destination (though closed due to their Christmas party) and my thoughts are that if half as good as their Duke of Wellington in Dalston, The Owl and the Pussycat may continue to be just a fallback.