Sunday, 31 December 2006

Christmas Pudding

When we went on one of the last Young's Brewery tours in Wandsworth, the guide mentioned their Christmas Pudding beer. This, he told us, would be one of a handful of casualties in their move to Bedford.

So when Al and I noticed some bottles (albeit a tad past their sell-by date) in the, er, mighty fine Only Fine Beer emporium in the Glamorous West End Of Chelmsford, we snapped them up. And I've exercised considerable will-power to leave the bottles in the cupboard all the way through to the festive season.

The label suggests its "warming, dark ruby character and the splendid luscious flavour of dried fruit... is an inspirational addition to any traditional Christmas feast or fireside gathering." More importantly, we were told that if you add it to the Youngs Chocolate beer (which is still available) it tastes of Bounty Bars. And on tasting, you could see why - TCMJ and I agreed that the main flavour was coconut - and I don't remember that being the key ingredient of my Xmas pud.
Anyway, here's a Christmas treat: ITV Digital Monkey (Retd.) and the last bottle in captivity of Youngs Xmas Pud Ale.

(Note: Actually, their website, suggests it may still be available...)

Saturday, 23 December 2006

I'm in the club!

I have previously thought lots about the merits of joining a members club. I rather see myself sitting in an elegant wood panelled lounge, sipping whiskey served by a waiter from a silver platter, while discussing the finer points of politics. Much of this fantasy was fuelled by a visit to the National Liberal Club for a wedding - it looked like this:

... and therefore fitted the bill perfectly. Unfortunately, the need to be nominated by an existing member and the £490 fee somewhat dampened my enthusiasm; plus it's at Charing Cross, which while not exactly far from Regulator Towers, is in the opposite direction to my journey home. Otherwise, there are trendy West End clubs - I've been to places like Milk and Honey which are very nice for a cool night out, but not really somewhere I feel I could sit and have a pint with a mate.

So I was very excited to learn of a comparatively new and somewhat secret bar at London Bridge, which came very highly recommended by those in the know. I popped along to investigate on its last day of free entry, and was so blown away I joined on the spot. Other than being an exceptionally impressive venue in its own right (albeit in completely the opposite way from either the NLC or mlkhny), it has its own garden shed:

And that was the point I knew it would be worth the money, despite what Groucho Marx said about not wanting to join any club that would have someone like me for a member. So I've splashed the cash for a three-month trial, and am able to bring one friend along for free (more will cost £5). I'm not going to go into any more detail about the place in the meantime, as you are hereby invited to join me at my club any Wednesday, Thursday or Friday from 1800 til late, when you can see it for yourself!

Sunday, 26 November 2006

Eddie Large and a ten and a half ton pie

Thursday was the Radio Academy's "Radio at the Edge" conference. I'm sure you'll be able to make your own gags about what radio might be at the edge of, but while you ponder that, you can read about the conference proceedings on John Plunkett's fine live blog of the occasion.

It was held at one of Mayfair's poshest hotels; so showbiz in fact that as well as the likes of myself and Giacomo Shimmings, Sarah Harding, out of the Girls Aloud (and the new face of Ultimo undies, so I'm told!) was at the hotel bar. Dragging ourselves away, we ended up in The Guinea, one of Mayfair's poshest pubs. But little did I know what awaited me in the toilets... Eddie Large and a ten and a half ton pie (click the pic to enlarge...)!

Sunday, 19 November 2006

Will & Neil Go To Glasgae

Work took Li'l Garders and I to Glasgow the week before last, and given the choice between getting up at 0400 to fly up on the day, or going up and spending the night, ahem, "familiarising ourselves with the town", we opted for the latter.

The city has three CAMRA National Inventory listed pubs, one of which is in the City Centre, so we thought we should make this our first stop. CAMRA says The Horseshoe (Drury Street) is an 1885-87 interior with impressive mirrors; claims the longest continuous bar counter in the UK. (If I recall correctly, this may also be claimed by The Falcon at Clapham Junction.) And the description is spot on - its an incredibly impressive place, other than the incredible number of TVs they've felt it necessary to crowbar onto the walls.

The natives are friendly: Neil was detained by one at the bar; the ale is good: I had a pint of their guest Ossian golden ale from Inveralmond, which as it turns out is Champion Beer of Scotland. And best of all, being Scotland, it's all non-smoking! It did seem a bit odd, as this was precisely the sort of place you'd expect to be in a cloud of nicotene, and there were some yellow-fingered old men looking a bit twitchy - but it made a pleasant change from the smoke-filled bars of London.

We moved on to a nearby Weatherspoons for some solids. The Counting House (St Vincent Place) falls into their giant bank conversion category, and it's exactly what you expect: a large ornate room, big central bar and high decorative ceilings, in a prestigious city centre location. The only downside was the long single queue to order food, shunted to one side to allow the drinkers easy access to the main bar. But other than that, the food arrived quickly and went down well accompanied by another Ossian.

Finally, onto what looks like a small boozer, but is actually just as good as the other two: The Pot Still on Hope Street is a pretty straightforward pub - but with a vast library of whiskies (click here to see the full list of 483). While we stuck to the beer, its actually incredibly impressive just to see the range available, lined up on the shelves above the bar, and with one of those ladders on wheels to get the staff up to them. Anyway, three great pubs in a city that I previously hadn't been that impressed with. While it has been either wet and/or very cold every time I've been here, it does seem that its up-and-coming reputation is borne out by the pubs we visited...

No, this is not Neil and I...

Sunday, 12 November 2006

Will and Al Do Docklands

TCMJ is away at some sci-fi geekfest, so I am home alone for the weekend. This presents the opportunity for using what Al calls our Royster-doister cards, so I call him to see if he's allowed out to play. The next question therefore is what to do: we have the whole of The World's Greatest City and all its artistic offerings to choose from - perhaps the Velazquez exhibition at the National Gallery? Or the historic pomp and pagentry of the Lord Mayors Show?

Nope. We go to the pub. Pubs in a different part of London though...

I've only been to Docklands once before, to meet Garders Off The Telly at Canary Wharf - and that had the usual chain bars for the City Boys: Slug & Lettuce, Pitcher'n'Piano etc... so I wasn't that impressed. This time, I wanted to tick off a couple of Good Pub Guide main entries along the river, in Wapping and Limehouse.

So we started at the Prospect of Whitby. It's one million years old (FACTOID! England's first fuschia was exchanged for a noggin of rum here in 1780!), has a noose outside and is very touristy. That's all you need to know, really. There's nothing wrong with it - it just ain't all that, and you expect something a bit better from a GPG listing that you've travelled an hour to get to.

We moved on along the river - a nice bracing walk past converted warehouses that are now all loft apartments - to the Narrow Street Pub and Restaurant. And the problem is in the name: it's neither one nor the other. The Time Out Bar Guide said "We've never entirely warmed to the Narrow Street..." - and we agreed. You'll see the problem - it's all shiny chrome and clearly geared towards food - at one point they burned some food and had to open all the windows in the place to let the smoke out. But there were also plenty of relaxed drinkers there too - mostly Nathan Barleys that hadn't made the effort to go back to the country at the weekend. They've clearly spotted this though, as there signs all round shouting about a major refurbishment in January 2007.

We made our excuses and left, but were foiled by the opening of the swingbridge outside - this is the eastern end of the Regents Canal, and is still used - meaning this sign is outside the pub - perhaps they mean the clientele?

Next stop was the other GPG main entry - The Grapes also on Narrow Street. And this was the real deal. A proper authentic old (1720) pub, right on the river. All the awards on the door as you go in are deserved; this is something special, with a nice crowd, friendly staff and an over-excited pub dog looking for his dinner. There's a small terrace out the back of the bar that looks on to the river, and a restaurant (which was closed when we visited) upstairs. But it is just modern enough to have sign asking for mobiles to be switched off, and to have a no-smoking area at the back. I'd like to come back here in the summer.

At this point, the beer was kicking in, and we had the excellent idea: let's go to Greenwich! So back on to the Docklands Light Railway, and we headed off to see the Meantime Brewery's pub, The Greenwich Union, on Royal Hill. I think Al liked this one more than I did - but I will give them ten out of ten for service: Al asked for an IPA and the barman pointed out that it was unusually strong at 7.4%; then offered us tasters of a couple of the other beers. I think I was a bit put off by the uninspiring long rectangular room - Time Out nails it when it says "A similar venture in Clapham might have been unbearable; here... it works." But you can't fault the draught and bottled beers: I also had a rather good Australian Coopers Best Extra Stout.

And with that - after a look at the Cutty Sark (fenced off for repairs), the giant ships on the Thames and the twinkly lights of Docklands - it was back onto the DLR for home...

Sunday, 5 November 2006

More of the last few weeks...

And here's another pub catch-up. Like Al's trip to Berlin, there have been some fine and not-so-fine watering holes.

We'll start with a good 'un. It was "Dirty" Simon Thompson's birthday recently, so we hauled ourselves out to the end of the Northern line (because of engineering works) at East Finchley, where there is a fine sturdy old pub just under the railway bridge from the station. It's been given the usual mahogany and leather makeover but is none the worse for it, and we passed a very pleasant afternoon there. As well as fish finger sandwiches, they also have TCMJ's tipple de jour there on draught, Sleeman's Brown Honey Lager - you guessed it - from Canada. Not surprisingly, it's quite sweet, and it divided the people that took up my recommendation. Anyway, this one is worth knowing if you're stranded at the northern end of the Northern Line and Al made a new friend too...

Here's Al again, this time sampling one of many fine beers at Borough Market's latest pub, The Rake on Winchester Walk. This one remains recommended for its extensive (and expensive) beer list which runs to several pages, and is divided by style rather than name. So if you know you like a wheat beer, for example, you can see the others available to try... A cunning plan! Despite being *very* small, it doesn't seem to have become too crowded, at least on the occasions I've been there. And after our last visit there, sadly we didn't make it into the Time Out review...

While we're on the Borough area, a quick mention for the Lord Clyde on Clennam Street SE1. I first went to this gem probably ten years ago while working at what was then still called Metro Networks. Jag and Jim took me there for a legendary pub quiz - the trip down to SE1 was somewhat terrifying then; less so now. I went back there for the first time recently with The Anorak Stacey Harris in search of somewhere quiet to discuss jingles. I'm delighted to report it hasn't changed a bit. I used the word "gem" earlier, and I can't think of a better description - a beautiful tiled exterior, and an unspoiled inside that's a classy old man's boozer, if that's not a contradiction in terms. Better still, the gents was clearly refurbished around 1982 and also hasn't been touched since. I've not this mix of clean white and bright red angular patterns since a Nik Kershaw album cover.

Picture from

It's deservedly listed in the CAMRA London inventory (pub interiors of special historic interest) which notes the "impressive ceramic work outside" and that "the 1913 has a simplicity which contrasts with the ornateness of pubs a decade or so before and gives a hint of what would come after the Great War." Er, OK. I'll stick with "gem".

Work took me down to Surrey to visit one of our licencees, which just *happened* to coincide with the Redhill beer festival. It's not actually in Redhill, instead using the Village Hall of one of my old haunts, Merstham. Once again, this gives it a curiously 1930s feel - like there should be union jack bunting round the walls, and the Womens Institute having a cake sale. Instead, it's full of thirsty old men (many with beards, of course) supping fine local ales. And eating pork scratchings instead of cake.

Actually, it was very friendly. We chatted to the organiser, and a local publican (who couldn't remember what beers he'd had!). I try at beer festivals (to at least narrow down the choice) to sample the local beers, so I had some Pilgrim's Progress from Reigate, a lighter Crane Sundancer from Twickenham, and finished with the classic Expresso Stout from Haywards Heath's Dark Star brewery: "real coffee beans and late hops combine to produce this rich dark stout. Coffee heaven." The train journey back to London just flew by...

Sunday, 8 October 2006

The Priory Arms SW8 German Beer Festival

I've been lucky with my local pubs. The Priory Arms was just round the corner when I lived in Stockwell - and it's great.

The pub has a great range of beers already - so add these barrels behind the bar, put Bratwurst on the menu, and you've got a German Beer Festival!

Al enjoys another beer... but what's that over his shoulder?

Oh dear, those German beers are strong, aren't they?!

One railway, several pints

The few joys of the new commute are that (a) occasionally in the evening I can get a real InterCity type train with a nice buffet selling cans, and (b) if that fails, I can call Garders and meet him for a beer in Shenfield.

And (b) is what happened a couple of weeks ago. There are two bars and a kebab shop in Shenfield, which is essentially a row of shops, plus a mixture of bungalows for OAPs to retire to and HUGE houses for commuters who can afford to live there.
The kebab shop has recently been fined for what the local paper describes as a "cockroach shocker", so Garders had warned me to eat beforehand!

The first of the two bars is Lot 75. It's an odd one, as because there are only the two places to drink in town, they tend to have a wide clientele. I was sat between a very old lady drinking a sherry with her bar snack leftovers wrapped in silver foil to take home for her tea, and a city suit off the train necking an Asahi lager. Then the local vicar walked in, which was just wierd. This would be fine in a traditional pub in an Irish village, but felt somewhat incongrous in a trendy bar with premium lager at £3.30 a pint. (You did get free bowls of peanuts, which is always a bonus!).

Garders buying a drink, captured on film for the first time.
Vicar not pictured.

And so onto Hollands Wine Bar which is literally opposite the station. I'd been here once before - a very long time ago - and I recall this was owned by a former footballer. And true to form, the footy was on some big plasma screens, and the bar seemed to be populated by men in shiny grey suits who looked like football managers, and women who were probably once WAGs wearing more leopard-print (I know it's supposed to be trendy right now!) than was good for them.

The problem with these places is they are nothing more than shops with a bar stuck half way along one side; and while they've both made an effort (Lot 75 more so than Hollands) that's what you're stuck with, and a bit of chrome and mirrors won't hide it. But after a hard day's regulation, I'm really not that fussy...

And more recently, two former Chelmer FM colleagues and I met up in Chelmsford. On the way, I discovered Chelmsford has a giant Wetherspoons, which I didn't even know existed. My theory of Wetherspoons is that they are either fantastic bank conversions (e.g. The Knights Templar in Holborn or the one in Gracechurch Street) or really dangerous vertical drinking places inhabited by mad old men there for the cheap beer (Balham, Tooting). I suspect this is the latter, but we'll see!

Wetherpoon's, Chelmsford.
The no-entry signs are trying to tell me something...

I passed it by and headed for Baroosh, newly opened next to Chicago's. Again chrome and mirrors, but very well done, and more importantly, non-smoking. The point to note here is the toilets, which are very classy, and have THE MOST POWERFUL HAND-DRYERS KNOWN TO MAN. First, they actually get your hands dry, which I've never experienced before. Second, it is actually a struggle to keep your hands under them... I can only liken it to standing next to the propellor of a plane. Astonishing. Sadly, this overtook the evening and I can't remember whether the beer was any good...

Baroosh toilets, hand-dryers not pictured as someone came in at this point - and I really didn't want to have to try to explain that I was taking pictures in gents toilets for a blog I ran...