2011: A Quick Salute

I can’t resist the temptation of wheeling out the old Blogger cliche of a roundup of the year. A quick salute to the great and the good of 2011.

I realised when cobbling this roll call together there is so much that i’ve done this year that hasn’t made it to these pages yet. Hopefully something that will be put right soon. These are my highlights, but I’d like to know yours. You know where the comments box is!

Best Pub… All roads lead to Leather Lane.  Craft Beer Co., has this one hands down. It’s the place I most eagerly anticipated visiting and to date have not been disappointed with. The ready availability of Mikkeller pushes it out front.

Best Beer (oh hell and Brewery)… Anything by Mikkeller. It was a close one. In another mood it would have been anything by The Kernel Brewery, but the Dane just pips this one.

Best Sunday LunchThe Cross Keys, in Leeds. I’d had a spate of mediocre London lunches which had left me underwhelmed. It took a trip North to restore my faith. If Craft Beer Co or Mikkeller did a Sunday lunch they’d have possibly bagged this one as well.


Best Bar SnackThe Pearsons Arms in Whitstable. Long strips of deep fried Pigs Ears. What more can I say?

Best BloggerBoggle About Beer. I’ll admit without shame that this is due to Boggle’s specific recommendations for San Francisco. More from Boggle in coming weeks with the return of the Pub Diaries Q&A.

Best Tweeter@HERMANOPRIMERO the Mild loving half of Dos Hermanos. Says it as he sees it. If you find pleasure in curmudgeonly outbursts, this is for you.

Best Barfly… well there were too many in 2011, to pin the title on one… more about theses characters in upcoming posts.

So that was my 2011… how about yours?

2011: A Quick Salute

The Black Dog, 112 Vauxhall Walk, SE11 5ER

I could be accused of taking this whole pub blogging thing to extremes, with lengthy and meticulous research trips. It’s a thankless task but if i’m going to offer a view then in the interests of fairness it must be done. I’m just about convincing myself! The research has paid dividends, in earned brownie points with ‘er indoors. Being Mothers Day and Lou’s mum being in the country I was charged with suggesting a venue. I settled on the The Black Dog in Vauxhall.

Overlooking railway lines and a barren looking park near Vauxhall Station the interior of the pub comes as a welcome surprise; with a mix of copper light shades, ornate stained glass centre piece above the bar and the odd theatre seat for good measure. On two previous visits I had seen the food coming out of the open kitchen and the praise of the punters. Lou and the family seemed pleased. It’s always good to hear that the research isn’t wasted. Service from the initial call to book was excellent, with the advice given that 20% discount is currently available on weekend internet bookings. The food was superb with hearty servings, crisp  and fluffy roast potato, homemade Yorkshire Pudding and horseradish with a real kick. I now need to get myself down for food to complete the research.

The Black Dog, 112 Vauxhall Walk, London, SE11 5ER

The Black Dog, 112 Vauxhall Walk, SE11 5ER

The Bear Freehouse, Camberwell New Road, SE5

Until now I’ve only seen Camberwell from the top deck; a view of pigeons picking at takeaway leftovers and pound shops. I will admit it wasn’t at the top of the list for a Sunday lunch but when given a Twitter recommendation by an aptly named Pub Geek (@thepubgeek) it would be bad form not to give it a go.

Arriving at 12:45 the pub was already close to full. The Bear don’t take bookings so it’s advisable to get in early to claim your table and mark your territory with the Sunday paper and a pint. While Lou and I wait for the others we take a menu and commence salivation. There’s a good choice of about 5 starters of soups, soused herring and game which although tempting make way for the Sunday classic, a Bloody Mary. A usual go to for a kickstart after a heavy Saturday night it delivers a good hit of spicy warmth, which prepares me for the main.

I find it very difficult to resist a roast on a Sunday menu and even more difficult to resist Pork Belly, whenever offered. This is no exception and I’m not disappointed. There’s the right balance of meat to fat and the long thin crackling is brittle with just the right amount of bite; without the tooth picking stickiness you sometimes encounter. The veg could be slightly warmer but the roast potato is perfectly crisp outside and fluffy within. A well balanced portion ensures that dessert is an option without unnotching the belt.

Service at The Bear is friendly and laid back.  The absence of a booking system means that you can take time to enjoy a leisurely lunch. Which is what Sunday lunch is about, is it not? A great find, thanks to the power of Twitter and the Pub Geek.

296a Camberwell New Road, London, SE5 0RP

The Bear Freehouse, Camberwell New Road, SE5

SE1: The Garrison, Bermondsey Street

After my high praise for SE1 as the pub destination I thought I was onto a sure-fire winner with the Garrison on Bermondsey Street. It’s been a few years since my last visit but it seemed like the perfect place for a December Supper Club (albeit Sunday lunch) and another tick for SE1. This unfortunately wasn’t to be the case with an experience that is truly frustrating. There are aspects that I would rave about and others that ultimately had us walking away disappointed.

So in the interest of fairness the positives. Firstly the food. We all agreed that it was very good. Cockles going as far rating as one of the beat roasts he’s had in years. Then there’s the little things; those nice touches that stick in the mind and ultimately should bring you back. The barman volunteering a small taster of the beer was a good start and the Garrison jam recipes with the bill should have bookended a great Sunday lunch experience.

Without even stepping through the door things had already taken a turn for the worst. Despite having booked a month previous a confirmation call the day before told us that our leisurely lunch would be curtailed with just 90 minutes available for our table. I fully understand the rationale in turning tables but to find out with less than 24 hours notice gives you little choices to change. Throw in Transport for London and Gio’s Italian time keeping and 90 minutes isn’t a great deal of time.  Add the service at a snails pace and things don’t look good.  On this occasion any hope of getting a drink at the bar without waving your arms was unlikely. Once seated with the clock ticking starters are off the menu and we move to the mains; a shame as we all have something in mind; and the point of the Supper Club is indulgence, when thoughts of cost and fat content are forgotten. The mains as said are great and as the plates are cleared the dessert menu is offered. At this point there may be enough time but it doesn’t materialise for 15 minutes at which point we are told to order quickly as the table is booked. To me, in fact to all of us, this was a final disappointing act which left the bill as four mains plus drinks. Service was excluded and when explaining why it hardly seemed to register. The website boasts Michelin recommended which for the main course stands up. I obviously cannot comment on starter or dessert, but service needs to take a huge leap forward. Perhaps Supper Club will next reconvene North of the river.

99-101 Bermondsey Street, SE1 3XB

SE1: The Garrison, Bermondsey Street