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BITE user comments - TWG

Comments by TWG

The Royal Oak, Rusper

A quick addendum as regards the Oak's addition of B 'n' B facilities: during 2012 three double bedrooms were opened for business and, having stayed overnight in one two Saturdays ago, I'm happy to report that they are most-satisfactory. On the bijou side, but more than enough especially for single occupancy, the room had an en-suite shower and the bed was very comfortable. On a winter's morning there was considerable pleasure in waking up in a cosy room in Friday Street, topped-off by a superb (and generous) breakfast cooked by Sara and served by Clive. All in all, not bad for £45 a night.

For those of us who don't live nearby but want to enjoy the Oak's ongoing ale fest, the accommodation is an absolute boon and neatly side-steps the awkward drinking 'n' driving issue. I shall certainly be availing myself again in 2013.

Oh, and the other individual in the anti-Oak camp of N Sussex CamRA is apparently one Rex Gibbons. I'm advised that he may be stepping down soon - perhaps a case of good riddance if he does; maybe they'll get someone more sensible and less vindictive replace him?....

1 Jan 2013 16:35

The Red Lion, Lenham

My first drop-in was made here yesterday, on the recommendation of a fellow qhaffer and deciding to leave the smarter but somehow more corporate-looking Dog & Bear nearby. A picturesque, seemingly timeless Kent village such as this needs a more traditional, community-focused pub at its disposal, and happily the Red Lion fits that bill. A warm welcome is found here, alongside sound service in general. A pleasant hubbub of conversation emanates from each of the four sides of what is effectively an island bar area, with more intimate seating areas and a function room away from it. This, coupled with the civil clientele and traditional Victorian country pub decor make for a happy hostelry (yes, it is "dated" but rather appropriately and deliberately so surely - and it is not in bad condition).

The usual array of non-cask beer and other beverages aside, the cask ale offerings were disappointingly generic (Harvey's Best, Sharp's Doom Bar, Tim Taylor's Landlord and Fuller's London Pride), which may suit less-adventurous beer drinkers but in a county now bestrewn with brilliant breweries the more-informed types will feel underwhelmed. Nevtheless, our Harvey's halves were all conditioned properly.

Food-wise, I've little to say as we didn't decide to eat here. I believe a reasonable mix of meals were chalked up on the board though which may be worth investigating.

Certainly a fine pub to visit in winter-time, for a cosy bit o' banter with friends. My only suggestion would be to perhaps supply some more local beers if the conditions of your tie allows any workable leeway for it.

29 Dec 2012 15:38

Farriers Arms, Mersham

A welcoming pub which now has a smart modern edge while still retaining a countryish, cosy feel to it once inside. Plainly, much investment has been ploughed in to the Farriers recently, and by and large one must agree that it has been worthwhile. Besides the bar and interior design, there is the small but surprisingly prolific Farriers micro-brewery. I'm happy to say I have a visit lined up for late January 2013, but havein the meantime at least enjoyed their Christmas Ale at 4.8% - a real charmer and rather more sessionable than most winter seasonal offerings.

Four cask ales were on and all those we sampled were nicely-kept and very Kentish. Food was not needed nor served, though the menu sounded appealing at a glance; I do hope the quality and value issues mentioned on here previously are being attended to as there's no point spoiling this ship for a ha'porth of tar.

Excellent work overall folks - should be back soon.

29 Dec 2012 15:21

The Nutley Hall, Reigate

Looks like the writing's on the wall folks: the pub went up for auction on 21 November as John the licensee is duie to retire next May. I don't know who purchased it, but apparently, the chances of it remaining as a pub are next to anorexically-slim. Another bland and entirely avoidable pub-to-flats conversion ahead, had the right people come along at the right time with the right money and determination to rejuvenate what was arguably the last local in Reigate centre.

19 Dec 2012 17:58

The Market Hotel, Reigate

Tee-hee! I love chatting with myself; it's often the only way I can be sure of intelligent conversation. Though, sometimes, I do go on a bit........

19 Dec 2012 17:55

The Garland, Redhill

Given the recent relaxation of licensing law, which allows live music to be put on for venues up to a certain capacity without the need for a licence, Stuart and Lesley have embraced the idea, and 2 local acts (Jinn House and Clarence Walk & The Hardwicks) have appeared since 1 December. Both reportedly went down very well with punters.

I believe the next act is due on 26 January, though impromptu 'jam' sessions can appear at various times over the weekends.

19 Dec 2012 17:48

The Elm Shades, Redhill

Alas, closed, after a variety of licensee changes - some good, some bad, but ultimately not appealing. This, combined with the obvious high land value and being on the fringes of Shephers Neame's estate, seem to have conspired against the Shades, which closed a few months ago.

We are reliably advised former restauranteurs from the old Westerly in Reigate are now at the helm and are seeking to re-open the premises as a high-end eaterie. However, word on the local streets has it that it will not remain in 'pub' format, so its days as a worthwhile boozer look like they're numbered.

Trade for Christmas was mooted, but to date it remains closed with no interior or exterior work having begun.....

19 Dec 2012 17:41

The Dragon, Redhill

That was utter folly but thankfully this former pub is now an expanded version of Everest Spice - a superb curry house with a diverse menu. I expect nobody will look at reviews for ex-pubs on BITE, but if you have, and fancy a curry, and are local, then give it a go!

19 Dec 2012 17:38

The Royal Oak, Rusper

Okay (or should that be 'ok' - it is shorter, so must be better: clearly some seem determined that all reviews on this site must be like tweets - no more than 140 characters!). Here's a more short-winded review for you (for me at any rate): if you do happen to agree with me and others about the injustice of this pub's exclusion from a major national beer/pub guide, the person to aim your vitriol at is one Allan Bartram, of North Sussex CamRA. I am reliably advised that he - and another acolyte of his whose name I do not have as yet - is at the root of the pettiness and petulence. He can be contacted on email via North Sussex CamRA (who I might add are not by any means all anti-Royal Oak - I believe Bartram is the protagonist).

PS: To my detractors - apologies if you find my posts so appalling, but variety of opinion and writing style surely has to be expected on sites like this?
PPS: To my supporters - thank you as ever for your kind words (thank God you kept your posts BRIEF!).

19 Dec 2012 17:33

The Fountain, Cambridge

This pub was an obvious starter-of-ten for our crawl as it was bang opposite our hotel (University Arms). Our first pints (City of Cambridge Hobson's Choice and Cambridge Bitter) were kept well enough, though probably could've done with a top-up - unlike the previous reviewer we didn't bother asking so can't say if the requests would have been well-received. Service from the staff was in general efficient though.

The pub has a traditional face with a very modern heart now - quite stark, uber-contemporary interior design which arguably jarred with one's exterior expectations. However, it was distinct from many more traditionally-leaning Cambridge pubs and so I suppose sets itself apart to appeal more to those with more modern tastes. This gamble became more of an obvious choice when we realised the Fountain opens until 3AM - and being one of the latest venues on a Saturday, the place was crammed with youngsters in its final hours who clearly were regarding the pub as a club-substitute. Fusty alcoves and horsebrasses would hardly have been fitting in that context.

Not a bad pub, though maybe more mature pub lovers will be drawn to the many other options available in this charming city. A quick one before moving on maybe?

13 Dec 2012 18:22

The Maypole, Cambridge

The cask ale selection as adverstised in the latest Good Beer Guide made the Maypole a must on a recent pub crawl which was created as a centrepiece for a stag event. It was I believe the final venue visited after doorstepping some 12 other beerhouses, so memories may be somewhat restricted! That said, most were still on keen if not sharp form, and the general gist was that it was a cracking boozer, tucked away in an appealing little side street in the midst of the most picturesque and well-preserved parts of the city centre.

Beer-wise, a splendid array was available and every example sampled was found to be on form. There was a well-to-do, and arguably youngish accent to the predominant population, but this made for no less a pleasant and civilised environment in which to start drawing our proceedings to a close. There is plenty of outside scope here in addition to a fairly generous bar area, which I would imagine makes the Maypole a favourite in all seasons.

The downside? Well, the ludicrous prices of some beers! Whilst some were available for a more competitive £3.30 or so, there was a 5% ale offered for a whopping £4+, which would be high for a cask ale even in London. If this has been in excess of say 7% or even 6, then I could have countenanced this, but 5? Cambridge is an affluent city, but most pubs came in at perfectly acceptable price ranges; the Maypole I felt was punching above its weight in this respect. I don't know who owns it and what the economics are - I don't blame the licensee necessarily as conditions can be such that to sell a broader spread of beer, prices sometimes have to be set higher to make it profitable. I commented on this to the bar man, who looked at me rather dismissively, I assume to say one or both of two things: (i) don't blame me, I don't set the prices, and (ii) I've heard it all before, so just either pay up or leave! I compromised by steering away from the four-quid-plus options and sticking with the weaker, but no-less-appealing or flavoursome, beers.

I'm sorry I seem to have focused on this so heavily; really this is unfair as overall the pub was found to be excellent and there's no question that me and my chums would return given the opportunity. The positives vastly outweigh the negative.

13 Dec 2012 17:57

The Mitre, Cambridge

This is a Nicholson's establishment which ticks the usual boxes one comes to expect if one frequents the capital - broad range of quality cask ales, engaging menu of classic pub grub, traditional Victorian-leaning fixtures and fittings, and an efficient yet not-too-branded feel. Any Londoner would probably say this is something of a by-numbers formula which has nothing to set it apart, but for a city where Nicholson's venues do not proliferate, perhaps there is a little more novelty about the Mitre. Saying that, it is hardly the first pub in Cambridge to excel in providing a decent array of handpumped beer or sound meals - indeed, competition on these fronts is strong here, and because of it, the Mitre might not be the initial port of call for maiden pub crawlers keen to sample the wares of the city.

Nevertheless, it certainly has a firm berth on a decent crawl, and given that many of the better pubs in Cambridge lie out of the centre towards the Mill Road end of things, if one is needing to stay more central, this is a must if good beer and cheer is on the list of preferences.

Busy on a Saturday night, with a mixed but congennial crowd, this pub has far more to commend it all-told than its neighbour, the Baron of Beef, and shows GK up against a more free-of-tie model.

13 Dec 2012 17:47

The Live and Let Live, Cambridge

Indeed a decent corner local ale house on a characterful and well-preserved side-street off Mill Road. Wooden beams do indeed prevail once inside this pub, though not I thought inappropriately. There was a comfortable cosiness about the place which was very welcoming on a cold Saturday afternoon. Various punters were positioned around the bar and seating areas, all enjoying a mellow and civilised pint or more.

Ale-wise, the Live & Let Live comes with a good recommendation; a similar range was on offer when we visited as that described by the last reviewer - the Oakham Citra was kept very nicely and nobody who sampled the various wares suggested they were not in good nick.

I imagine this is a treasure for many local residents; there are, alas, innumerate similar streets across the country who once enjoyed the convenience of a pub such as this, but have since lost it and are the worse-off because of it. This place seemed lively enough but nevertheless I would still implore locals to use it as much as they can to ensure future enjoyment of such a valuable local resource, which can so easily be taken for granted.

13 Dec 2012 17:41

The Pickerel Inn, Cambridge

A decent range of cask beer on pumpage still on here - actually quite a busy and seemingly thriving city centre pub. Friendly vibes seemed to pervade the atmosphere. We attended as part of an extensive pub crawl for a stag do; this was one of the latest venues visited, and so memories beyond this somewhat basic coverage are probably too hazy to provide further detailed coverage. But all-told, this pub held its own and would be recommended.

Apparently I was here 6 years ago but I can't recall much of that either.

13 Dec 2012 17:34

The Kingston Arms, Cambridge

Nothing much new to add to my last review other than to say me and a bunch of stag-do crawlers made a bee-line for the Kingston on Sat 1 Dec, and I found exactly what I hoped after a 6-year hiatus - still a corking, thriving little local with a broad array of ales and plenty of good cheer to match. I'm glad nothing had altered here. Still in the Top 5 for Cambridge, surely.

All my accompanying chums were newcomers to the pub and concurred that it was a worthy choice. If only we hadn't had so many to visit, we'd have doubtless tarried for longer. Keep it up folks.

12 Dec 2012 17:58

The Free Press, Cambridge

Finally dropped back in after a 6-year hiatus as part of a carefully-wrought stag do crawl that ensured the best of Cambridge boozery was fully-absorbed. The Press is still a classic pub; the city's equivalent to Oxford's Turf Tavern - arguably not as broad on beer selection but saying that not as spoiled. Greene King have happily kept their usual desire to wreck 'n' ruin for so-called progress in check here. Some guest ales are allowed, but amazingly, I opted for a GK beer - the rarely-seen XX Mild. And it was still on song.

Friendly and hearty - an excellent pub to call into on a cold winter's evening - this remains one of the best in town. If we hadn't had a restaurant booked, we would have stayed for another without question.

Keep on not changing...

12 Dec 2012 17:54

The Devonshire Arms, Cambridge

This was a new find for me a couple of Saturdays back, having planned an extensive pub crawl by way of a passable stag-do for a beer-loving friend of mine. And what a find it was! Can't believe I overlooked the Devonshire last time I was here, though that being 6 years ago, I suspect it perhaps wasn't quite the pub one finds thriving today.

Milton have presumably taken over relatively recently, and I must say they seem to have pulled off a fine job. An impressive array of around 10 pumps proudly proclaims the Milton brand, and allows one to sample beers in their portfolio which one rarely sees in free houses that stock Milton's offerings. The Tiki, Sparta, and of course the respect-commanding Marcus Aurelius were all found by me to be in splendid condition; really moreish and just as one would hope. My compadres found similar quality in their choices - the whole range was pretty much covered after a few rounds including a couple of guest ales added for good measure. Service was with a smile as well as efficient, and the local punters seemed to be on friendly form.

The pub was booming, largely thanks to an extra injection of passing (well, nearby) trade from the Mill Road Fair taking place that day. All kinds of everyone could be found popping in and out here, and clearly this is a pub for all in the community to enjoy, which was heartening to see. The obligatory Morris men and women found there way here unsurprisingly - where there is good beer the Morris isn't far away!

We had a punishing schedule to fulfil, but at least grabbed a few extra ales here owing to stopping for lunch - really sound home-cooked classic pub grub options on the menu, and all for £6! The steak and ale pie and sausage and mash were big hits for us; value and quality so rarely come hand-in-hand in pubs nowadays but mercifully the Devonshire was not obsessed with becoming a gastropub, for there is no need: I would estimate that wet sales remain a significant - if not dominant - element of the overall sales here.

A cracking little boozer with much character and cheer to commend it; well done folks. I'll be back. You know what, I think this scrapes a '10'.

12 Dec 2012 17:49

The Cambridge Blue, Cambridge

Despite vowing a re-visit within months back in November 2006 when I last reviewed this pub, sadly it was to be another six years before I got to come back. Never mind; worth the wait. Still a fabulously-broad (and clearly very-well-received by customers) selection of cask beer available - I see I noted 7 pumps last time; now try twice that. Either I was seriously sauced first time round, or there has been a major expansion somewhere along the line...

Service was swift given the swelling crowd, and there was a fast-paced efficiency about proceedings which I hadn't recollected from before. The joint was jumping and joyous, fuelled by a relentless raft of real and filtered beer from pump and tap.

Despite the passage of time, I mightn't have bothered to re-review the Cambridge Blue, as the key worthy features noted in 2006 remain steadfast, and it is still a top destination for pub and beer enthusiasts, amidst a cornucopia of credible competition too. But I felt there'd been a significant shift in atmosphere since last we met - okay it was a busy Saturday evening (1st December) and the pub was thronging with a diverse bunch of happy people - I'd last been here on a quieter, more relaxed Sunday lunchtime. But still, it seemed a lot larger than I remembered it, and I barely-recognised the interior decor. Has there been a big overhaul in the intervening years, or am I just mis-remembering things? The whole place seemed to have been ramped-up or 'fully-loaded' as it were, and was no longer to my mind a quaint, steady backstreet boozer.

Did I prefer it now to then? Well, in truth, personally I didn't. But I could not argue it was not a success, or was so inappropriate that it had altered the pub's appeal beyond reasonable boundaries. All my mates were first-time visitors (we were on a civilised stag do away from our usual manor) and seemed to fall in love with it. Damn it, whatever has changed and whatever the merits, it's still got to be a 10!

I can't let another 6 years pass before getting back!

12 Dec 2012 17:34

The Crown Inn, Churchill

It is with immense regret that I must report the untimely death of landlord Tim Rogers on 25th October, following a relatively short recurrence of the illness that looked set to get the better of him 7 years ago, but he beat off thanks to pioneering treatment. Sadly, this affliction rarely gives up, and this time round he did not beat the odds. Reportage from local CamRA publication 'Pints West' is as follows:

"Tim Rogers, landlord of the Crown Inn at Churchill, passed away on October 25 at the age of 65. His loss will be mourned by anyone who enjoyed a pint at one of the West Country’s most idiosyncratic pubs. Married to his wife Judith for 27 years, Tim signed a deal to buy the Crown on his wedding day – just three hours after the couple had tied the knot.

Tucked away up a muddy lane and with no pub sign outside, the Crown excelled at being exactly what it was, which was essentially an unspoiled old cottage that sold drink and food. With the support of his staff and a distinctive management style, Tim ran one of the most traditional yet quirky country pubs in the region. Log fires, excellent pub grub and up to nine cask ales made it a hostelry that was always high on the CAMRA list.

When Tim was behind the bar, he played the role of mine host and would always ask how you were. Tim had a passion for Austin Healey cars and won his class at Brands Hatch, qualifying him to race at Le Mans. He used to attend Le Mans with a group from the pub, taking with him English beers and roast beef – typifying the image of an English eccentric abroad. One local once visited the Crown and asked for a glass of Rioja. “Would you like Spanish Rioja?” Tim enquired, to the amusement of all.

On the Sunday before Christmas, the pub – currently being run by manager Russell on behalf of Judith – holds a sloe gin contest and this year a cup will be awarded in Tim’s memory. He is survived by Judith, his daughter Amy, step-children Andrew and Sally and grandchildren Sophie, Daisy, Liam, Matty and Lexie. A service of celebration was held at St Mary’s Church, Wedmore on November 8th and was understandably packed out."

RIP to a splendid chap, whose departure will be deeply-felt not just by the trade and local community alike, but also by those of us who could only pop in and enjoy the entertaining banter once every few months. We can only trust that his widow Judith and right-hand man Russell are able and willing to keep the Crown going. At the risk of a cliche too far, it really would be what Tim would've wanted, and what better legacy than a pub like this?

5 Dec 2012 16:59

Kings Arms, Offham

A cracking little boozer which on my first visit last Saturday appeared to be very much thriving; presumably the change in management is broadly being well-received (cotton wool sarnies and vinegar dressing notwithstanding).

I can't comment on food as that was markedly not the reason for our attendance; the brewer at Kent Brewery (where we were visiting that afternoon) advised us of a beer festival here, and inevitably we coached it over to see what the fuss was about. What we found was worthwhile - a range of about 6 diverse and quite often local ales on the pumps at the bar, augmented for the 3-day festival event by a series of at least 10 on stillage situated on the left-hand side, on a sort of 'mini-bar'. This worked quite well and whilst a few fizz-quaffers were dotted around, observation suggested most punters were enjoying the cask wares. The quality of those beers I sampled was splendid, and if that represents the usual run of things at the Kings Arms, I'd have to say it should be commended.

The atmosphere was very convivial, and all locals I spoke to seemed friendly types, who didn't have to engage but made it all the more pleasant for bothering to do so. Bar staff were sound too, which goes a long way.

A charming double-fronted cottage exterior awaits you on arrival, and the interior is similarly traditional, with the bar as focal point but various rooms and alcoves to the left, right and rear which make it conducive to singles, couples or larger groups.

I didn't want to leave, and only did so with such good grace because of the guaranteed promise of equally good beer at other onward destinations en route home! I don't know about meals - it would be a shame if they spoiled their ship for a ha'porth of tar by not providing good grub - but if you're in the market for good beer and cheer, this place should more than suffice.

19 Nov 2012 14:33

The Old Star, Westminster

Bizarrely, given my personal familiarity with this general area, I'd never ventured into the Star before a few days ago, probably because of a fairly-ingrained Greene King prejudice. Convenience and desire for difference suggested that I try it, en route between other Westminster pubs.

What I found was, well, nice. But as someone who believes his vocabulary to be capacious enough to conjure up a rather more descriptive adjective, that is I'm afraid slightly damning; certainbly the place seemed clean, ordered, efficient, and offered what one might legitimately expect from a reasonable pub - i.e a selection of drink and food. But there was nothing about it - either in terms of what it served, or the environment in which it served it - that stood out for me.

GK have an unfortunate habit of running innumerate bland pubs across the south of England, which despite any distinctive features outside could really be anywhere. The Old Star rather falls into that category. A pleasing enough corner building near to St James's station, but once inside it is by-numbers all the way. The food menu, though not sampled on my visit, looked by modern standards pretty predictable; one can only hope the quality is such that it sets it somewhere above its competitors, but something tells me hope shouldn't be high on that front.

As to drink - the usual barrage of spirits, wines, and keg beers were available and I daresay they satisfy many palates of passers-by. But I can't think there's anything other than sheer convenience which would bring any of them back here as opposed to the myriad other pubs in London which currently offer a pleasant and safe, but predictable and sterile, experience. Cask-wise, a portion of GK ales were offered including IPA, Abbot and the slightly-less-ubiquitous and slightly-more-interesting London Glory were on pump. The LG was actually well-conditioned, though it will never be an excitement on my palate. Service was quick although it was not a busy shift, and pleasant enough, though the pints (my cousin was with me and had ordered a pint of Fosters) were both well-shy on measure.

I said nothing was especially memorable here - that at least means it was not markedly awful. I would come back to the Star if convenience and occasion demanded it. But I would never go out of my way to do so. When in this vicinity most of the other tied houses (the Sanctuary, the Buckingham) and the pubco houses (the Feathers, the Adam & Eve), will probably make that bit more of a worthy impression. Full marks for not getting it wrong as such, but none for not doing - or not being allowed to do - anything especially right!

9 Nov 2012 16:36

The Market Hotel, Reigate

As regards the question of ownership of this pub by a local authority, I was always under the impression it was previously owned by Market Taverns, who operate (amongst others) the excellent Market Porter in Borough, London, but who sadly seemed to allow this branch of their mini-empire to fall well under the radar, to the extent that quality was severely under-represented towards the end of their tenure.

In any case, Fuller's purchased this pub at the start of the year and took many months to address the need for a significant re-furbishment - it didn't require drastic alterations; just a refreshing of the decor and bar equipment which had become so shabby in the 18 years since its last major overhaul. Happily, on my maiden visit yesterday, I found that the essential atmosphere and layout of the Market had been retained, and what had been altered was arguably an asset to the establishment. The circular downstairs bar was as intact, but the pumps (and most importantly lines) had obviously been replaced, delivering far superior - chemical-free - ale to what passed before. The decor was a little more contemporary but without losing the inherent traditional feel of the place (i.e. plenty of mahogany still abounds). The rear had been opened out with doors to "the tunnels", suggesting actual access to the nearby underground caverns, though is this a clever marketing trick?! Only further enquiries will determine that. In any case though, it was refreshed, and seemed fittingly smart for a pub in the very centre of what is renowned for being an affluent provincial Surrey town (as to the upstairs, I can't comment as I didn't venture upwards).

Cask ale-wise, a portion of the standard Fuller's range was featured - a novelty perhaps for this vicinity where Fuller pubs are rare, but to a seasoned Greater London drinker, hardly unusual. Quality was ostensibly reasonable; I enjoyed a tasty and well-kept pint of Gale's Seafarers. I also noticed a cask cider was offered (although off last night) - Trad Scrumpy - so that side of the market is being modestly catered for. There were a whole new range of keg products available, via a regimented array of taps either side of the pumps; much of this was ubiquitous and in my opinion of limited value, though the presence of Brooklyn and Veltins will be a draw to the more-discerning keggist. Otherwise, the usual gamut of wines and spirits abounded, and observation suggested these are especially popular with the female contingent (they did feature, though my experience suggested a more male-driven clientele).

Food-wise, I can't comment as I wasn't in need of victuals; however, Fuller's are known to be reliable on this front and there seemed to be a diversity of dishes that would have an appeal to the mixed (but predominantly well-heeled) clientele to whom this kind of pub clearly is pitching.

The exterior of the pub is barely altered and I found that strangely comforting, as someone who once upon a time used to frequent it. It exudes a smart, townie kind of charm, which Fuller's do know how to pull off from years of successful experience in more urbanised environments than Reigate. However, the 'corporate' nature of the pub will turn many a more traditional lover of the organic 'boozer' away. It has more than a whiff of a city haunt about it, and the inevitable focus on dry sales over wet (i.e. food more than drink) creates a sort of sterile bistro quality to the atmosphere. The clientele on my visit were from observation largely Reigatian work-force - dare I say it more style over substance and money over sense - who fitted in perfectly, but do not make for everyone's ideal counterparts. I sensed the Stores is even more a place for groups and couples than it ever was - if you're on your own then good luck - you'll never feel more alone in a crowded room during a busy session. Saying that, the service from the staff was speedy and seemed pleasant, and all-told proceedings appeared to be managed efficiently.

As to price - more than alluded to in previous reviews - yes, it is expensive and higher than the current average. Unfortunately Fuller's strategy is to fix 'em high - based I daresay on affluent London clientele who are both able and willing to foot the bills. Granted, they create a smart venue for urbanites who want to escape any unruly elements found in more grass-roots pubs, but whether the prices they charge for that supposed 'privilege' is very much a matter for debate. I visit Fuller's pubs regularly, but never as much as I might like - partly because I find other beer more pleasing to my palate, but also the welly on the wallet sometimes makes it an experience that just isn't justified.

So, the Market is a good stop-off if on a crawl of the area; indeed the beer here will yield far more joy than some of the other establishments in a town so worryingly bereft of brilliant boozers. It is very much from a template applied by its owner, though arguably that works well in this town. But it's up to individuals as to whether they feel the outlay is commensurate with their enjoyment of it. It is a venue of quality, but I fear it'll be the severe shortage of serious competitors at a more appealing price locally that will keep business booming at the Market, perhaps artificially beyond its worth.

9 Nov 2012 16:14

Bull, Barming

All change please all change at the Bull at Barming, judging by the last review of over a year ago. The Bull appears to have undergone something of a serious maekover and is now not only serving a decent range of quality options on its extensive food menu, but also dishing up 5 cask ales for your delectation.

Taking the beer first, we enjoyed a spread of options; 2 being more ubiquitous and familiar brands (Sharp's Doom Bar and Wells Courage Director's) for the less-adventurous drinker, and 3 being a little more select and unusual (Ramsgate Gadd's No 7, Adnams Lighthouse and a third which escapes my memory just now). The No 7 and Lighthouse were sampled and hugely enjoyed by all. If this is the usual run of things then they've certainly committed to providing a competitive range of ale which I hope will help bring customers back in. There is a large board outside which says nothing of food but simply declares that "real ale is available here" - an encouraging sign.

As to food, we all ate here and found the food to be most acceptable. A vast menu sometimes can be a little overfacing, and can create concerns as to whether the kitchen specialises in quantity but not necessarily quality. Apparently there is a new chef here and he appears to be managing both. 2 of us took starters (whitebait and scotch egg - delicious), and all 4 had mains - mushroom and olive omelette, lamb shank, sausage egg and chips and liver and bacon. All agreed these were cooked well and certainly did justice to the concept of good old British pub grub. As a small criticism I'd say my lamb was ever so slightly lacking in flavour; a little more careful seasoning would really lift it. However, we all left feeling replete with meals and drinks.

The feature that struck us most was the successful balance they've achieved here between a drinkers' and eaters' hostelry. The bar area at the front and to the left was clearly dominated by regular drinkers, which is as a local pub should be, while the right-hand side and rear of the extensive building were devoted to tables and diners. The two blended quite nicely and although one would be forgiven from the exterior for assuming this is now foodies only, happily that appears not to be so.

Clientele was consequently varied - plainly there were one or two more 'hardened' liquor enthusiasts in there, but there was no unpleasantness during our lunchtime visit on Saturday. Certainly fellow boozers and victuallers were not perturbed. Service from the bar staff (both at the bar and from the kitchen) was also exemplary.

Perhaps not the most atmospheric of places, but I wouldn't hesitate to recommend that people give this one a go if in the area, whether it be a pint and/or a pie you're after.

22 Oct 2012 10:37

The Mall, Clifton

I didn't intend on revisiting the Mall last weekend (hadn't been in for many a year and hadn't frequented it since its Firkin days in the '90s), but it kind of had to happen, as it was apparently on a Friday night the best beer pub open after 11PM in Clifton! We'd tried at the Portcullis at just after the hour but were politely turned away.

So we had some beer. And it was pleasant - as it was the close of proceedings I can't remember what the hell it was, but it was in decent order. Selection wasn't outstanding but reasonable enough, and no less of a beer-monster's haven now than in the Firkin era, though arguably has reverted back to the wine-bar style and mature sophistication that it exuded before its conversion to an outlet of said defunct chain.

We did get some odious lads being awfully obnoxious - one actually used the line "you've forgotten where you are: Clifton"! But then again my mate had just randomly called one "a c**t" and told another to "f**k off" without any real provocation other than the amount of ale he'd absorbed, so, in fairness these chaps had a fair complaint, and some would've swung for us. But when riposting to errant fellow-boozers, I can only implore student types to try not to be quite so arrogantly abrasive about it - with people like them about there's little chance of forgetting where one is!

Chalked up as a decent enough pub, which at least realised there's still ale to be drunk even after 11PM. Though given the wider competition, neither the Mall, nor Clifton itself, can really compete in the field of excellent ale houses.

8 Oct 2012 17:54

Tobacco Factory, Southville

Visited for the first time proper in September having last been in and out after it first opened 8 years ago assuming it had no cask beer available. Looks like I might've been a little hasty in that judgement for it still appears that way today, but Bristol Beer Factory's excellent head brewer, Mr Simon Bartlett, put me straight and assured me that some - though not all - is real beer but dispensed by electric pump as opposed to a handpulled beer engine. So it's not all kegged then?! Oh well better late than never. We (a large assembly of around 10 people) all tucked ourselves in to a couple of splendid pints of BBF beer ranging from the Sunrise through to the No 7, via possibly the most innovative beer-du-jour, the floral and lip-smackingly-satisfying Acer.

The Tobacco Factory was indeed the project that spearheaded the regeneration of the North Street area (not quite "South Bristol" as George Ferguson, its entrepreneurial creator with the Midas Touch who just happens to be running as independent mayor for the city), and is clearly set up to be much more than just a pub: the large revitalised industrial building hosts a restaurant, theatre and is essentially a well-loved community centre for the mixed local clientele. Happily, Mr Ferguson was the one who approached Mr Bartlett in 2004 about starting a brewery there, so whatever your views on him, those who enjoy BBF wares owe a debt to his foresight.

Perhaps not the most characterful or memorable of pub experiences, as the main area is like a large canteen or school assembly hall with little features to distinguish the indoors, though outside has much to commend it. But that's irrelevant really, as I'm confident that the whole facility is much more that just a boozer to the locals.

Not perhaps a regular drop-in for the pure pubgoer (my rating reflects that and isn't a measure of the whole project per se), especially as BBF beer can be supped in far more engrossing and intimate surroundings (stand up the Grain Barge and Barley Mow), but a worthy venture and certainly deserving of a visit.

8 Oct 2012 17:43

The Cooler, Bristol

Cor blimey I remember this from my student era as being a decidedly average yet inexplicably popular niterie called 'Wedgies' in the 1990s, which has since been through a variety of incarnations (like all nightclubs they are inherently transitory), and settled for a while on 'The Cooler'. I haven't been in for donkey's so no substantive comment to make here other than to mention that last weekend while strolling down Park Street I noticed it had changed its name yet again - this time to '48th Street'.

8 Oct 2012 17:30

Graze Bar and Chophouse, Bristol

I can appreciate the previous reviewers' comments centring on this retaining a certain pubby quality to it notwithstanding its keen focus on food. It is billed as a restaurant, yet the range and quality of Bath Ales' cask (and keg for those who enjoy that) can be enjoyed in a convivial, bustling environment.

But I cannot be so positive with my experience of food - which you can feel free to ignore as it does date back a year or so but for some reason the original review has bitten the dust - but be wary, in case it was more than must teething troubles.

We sat outdoors on a fine evening, having waited some while to place orders. The food did not come. It continued not to come, and despite more-than-timely reminders to various staff members, it still didn't materialise. When it finally did (verging on 90 minutes later) it was as I recall pleasant enough, but hardly world-beating. Perhaps expectations had been allowed to climb unrealistically high in the intervening hunger-ridden hiatus, but really, neither me nor my partner-in-palate-mongering felt that the wait had been justified by the standard of the food. It was a real shame because we had led to be believed that Graze was not only a hip 'n' happenin' venue, but one which excelled in terms of its dishes. It was frankly a poor, provincial punt at a format which has been successful elsewhere, but also aped by those who have yet to quite master it.

As I say, the ale was great, and priced sensibly which was a surprise. I just really hope that the above 2011 experience is now wiped clean by numerous more recent reviews regaling us with tales of fabulous food and splendid service. But for me, it has probably blotted its copybook indefinitely and I don't plan a return visit.

8 Oct 2012 17:25

The Royal Oak, Yattendon

Decided to pop in here on the say-so of the new Good Beer Guide, last Friday after enjoying a fine luncheon at the nearby Pot Kiln - which sadly ruled food out here, though from what I observed it looked worthy of attention.

The Royal Oak is a light and airy contemporary-styled bar and restaurant, with a clear emphasis on the grub side, though the grog was not underplayed, with a well-stocked bar including a range of cask ales - mostly though not all from local delight the West Berks brewery. What we sampled (Good Old Boy and Pale) were found on form.

Clearly this is a stylish place, that contrary to some earlier comments I think successfully marries the pub and restaurant concept (very few do), as it isn't too minimalist in decor, and coming in for drinks alone was not in any way frowned upon by the chap in charge, who seemed a very jolly cove. Granted, dry sales may now be king, but wet are not ignored. Clientele were predominantly well-heeled - well what do you expect in this neck of the woods?! I didn't feel an undue air of superiority or snootiness, though during a busier period (lunchtime was all but over) that might be less valid a statement.

There is a garden which would have been gorgeous on a sunny day; as it was it was chucking it down so we remained bar-bound.

In short, I rather liked the Royal Oak, and will certainly try to visit again if in the vicinity. It is an antidote in a way to the more traditional rusticity of the Pot Kiln nearby, though if it's a down 'n' dirty boozer you're after that favours food less than beer/cider, then you probably need to be somewhere other than Yattendon!

8 Oct 2012 16:46

The Pot Kiln, Frilsham

It's intriguing to read the previous review, because it seems to be a considered and articulate account of what clearly was a genuine and quite possibly representative experience of the the Pot Kiln, particularly in respect of a businessperson-heavy clientele, and variable food quality. Yet, my recent experience of the pub was impeccable on all fronts, and so while I suspect the previous comments may have more traction in terms of busier periods and certainly evening restaurant activity, mine will hopefully still ring true for those who may find themselves here of a quieter lunchtime.

I hadn't visited the Kiln since 2000, when it was a solid, classic rural pub in an unspoilt and wooded fold of Berkshire. The Robinson family apparently took over in '05, and have clearly carved out a firm niche in the regional food/restaurant trade by specialising in fine dining, with an emphasis on game, shot by Mike himself locally. Given my experience with the menu last Friday lunchtime, I can only endorse the levels of quality it purports to offer. The bar menu is far more limited than the restaurant evening version, but the options were nevertheless tempting, and not too overfacing, which is sensible at lunchtime. I began with possibly the tastiest butternut squash soup I've enjoyed, served with warm bread. That delicious course was gleefully followed by a venison steak sandwich - a set of perfectly-prepared strips of muntjac set on a simple but hearty ciabatta, alongside a rocquet salad. At 5.95 the soup was arguably quite dear, but at 7.95 the venison was I think competitive for its quality. My mate tucked into a game pie with a kind of deconstructed pickle salad - cheffy presentation but extremely moreish - with effortlessly-edible garlic potatoes. By my book these were some of the best pub lunches I'd seen for a while, so I can only speak as I found and declare the Pot Kiln to be a must-visit, at least earlier in the day.

Beer-wise (can't remember taking this long to get to ale in a review before - food must be good!), there were 3 excellently-kept West Berkshire cask options (always a haven for WB even 12 years back). The Mr Chubb's Lunchtime and Headlock were splendid - the latter possibly new beer of the season for me. A Growler (i.e. Nethergate) option also featured though it was underwhelming in the company of the WB beers; the walls betray a rich diversity of ales though (some from quite obscure breweries) which is to their credit, so there is always a chance something will be tapped which tantalises your tastebuds.

I should make mention of the service here - we were kept company almost throughout (as it was uncharactertistically quiet) by a charmingly engaging young lady who not only knew how to serve but also appear genuinely interested in proper conversation with customers. An old regular (Good Old Boy?!) was in and also benefited from the bonhomie. All the staff seemed efficient albeit that they were hardly being tested, but this girl stood out. Well done - though you're clearly too good to be confined to working in a pub!

The place was as delightful as I'd remembered it; a genuine traditional and unspoiled country cottage feel pervades the atmosphere, and matches the chocolate-box double-fronted exterior perfectly. On a more clement day we would doubtless have enjoyed the front garden overlooking the woodland where Mike apparently does his thing with a shotgun.

So, all in all, if you can find the Pot Kiln, I would urge you to give it a try, and even though it may not be representative across the piece, it's a 10 from me. Perhaps though you should read reviews more widely as to the kind of experience you might find of an evening before committing yourself to a booking with your hearts set on fine dining and ambience.

8 Oct 2012 16:36

The Hope, Carshalton

Because of an invitation from a friend who lives nearby, and after I read that it had won London POTY 2012, a visit to this pub was an essential item on the calendar. I left harbouring some doubts as to whether it is true POTY material, especially in such a competitive field, but by and large it certainly fared well in my measure and it's definitely one to recommend.

Cask-wise, a range of I think 7 ales featured last week (which is the norm I understand). There were 2 of us, and over Firday afternoon 3 rounds apiece were purchased, each time with a different beer. Every one was found in splendid condition and was really flavoursome flagons were quaffed. The Marble Pint and Vale Bitter were stand-outs for me but all were on form. There were 3 cask ciders too though neither time nor appetite allowed me to sample these.

Keg-wise, a further range of maybe 6 beers were offered (I rarely give much airtime to keg as I maintain a fundamental opinion that most British beers are best-kept and served via cask, and that some cynical UK brewers are jumping on the 'craft' bandwagon to make some beer more cheaply while getting away with daylight robbery). I didn't get round to trying any of these on this visit, though temptation was there; the Brodie's stout at 10% was a curio though having tried most of their delicious offerings off cask in the King William I wondered if it was necessary. One of the reasons for not sampling any keg wasn't just my pro-cask prejudice but the prices: sure enough, like all 'craft' bars currently, a pint of something keggy will set you back over 4 and I can't have that. In the case of genuine rare imported offerings I can to an extent understand this strategy, but for a British-brewed product? No way. If I were you punters I'd consider long and hard whether it is worth the wonga.

Food however was very competitively-priced, with some hearty pub grub in healthy (or not so) portions being dished up all around us (didn't dip in as had already eaten but wouldn't have rejected the idea otherwise). Some meals were under a fiver and for what was brought forth I'd say that was pretty good. The lunchtime spell was plainly popular with young and old alike, and the bar staff tucked in to the chef's good work too.

Service-wise, the barmaids were brilliant; knew how to change a barrel when required, and were efficient in pulling beer through and serving it. They weren't over-effusive, but were pleasant enough. As to the chap who appeared to be overseeing things, I have to say I was less-keen. He didn't offend me personally, but I just got the distinct impression he thought he owned the place - he certainly swaggered around it as if he did, barking occasional orders at the staff who I suspected knew perfectly-well what they were doing without his intrusion. He gave off a slovenly image (trousers hanging woefully way below his waistline etc); sorry but just seemed a cocky upstart to us. Apologies if people disagree.

The cottagey exterior of this pub is charming as the photo above betrays, and the interior is cosy and traditional as one would hope to find. Lavatory found in reasonable order (always a relief). The atmopshere evoked was one of an authentic local, but with no parochial self-imposed limitations. A steady stream of customers kept appearing, who clearly appreciated all it was offering. I don't know if the Hope should've beaten all others to the local title this year, but I can understand why it was so obviously in the running.

Come here, drink beer, eat food, enjoy the mood.

3 Oct 2012 17:49

The Alehouse, Reading

Whilst I don't usually favour pub name changes, in this instance I consider it to be doing it more justice, for 'Hobgoblin' to my mind suggests a rather branded, Marston's-owned pub which perhaps isn't all it could be. The simply-but accurately-titled 'Ale House' implies a far broader church beer-wise, and one that is not laden with branded gimmickry filtered through an increasingly large and corporate brewing/pub-owning concern.

The licensee here has done a fabulous job in my opinion; she clearly commands a good awareness of what's brewing locally and beyond, and shows a good knowledge of cellaring. A good 6 cask ales were on offer when we (9 of us) pitched up for what turned out to be a splendidly-sunny afternoon's session, sat outside on the 2 tables. Between us nearly every beer was sampled and universally praised - if that's the standard here now then they can't go wrong with ale connoisseurs. The West Berkshire Magg's Mild and Exeter Darkness were especial favourites.

Cider and perry were not ignored either - I think a about 3 of the former and 2 of the latter featured and were found in equally-drinkable condition. Even mead was offered by the glass, which at 14% was an impressive way to crown what had already been a pretty high-strength and indulgent session. Our bachanalian banter-fest was only interrupted occasionally by the need to return to the bar, which always provided sound service and minimised intrusions into the old VDT.

Food is virtually non-existent beyond basic bar snacks, which may inconvenience some, but frankly, in a world where food is increasingly dominant as it is seen as a necessity for keeping pubs alive, it was refreshing not to be waylaid by it. Certainly the turnaround on bar transactions is rendered so much speedier by its exclusion.

The interior of the pub is rambling, with lots of lively wood-panelled alcoves in which one can enjoy a certain intimacy if required. The decor is traditional yet quite minimal, with a Bohemian sort of touch. I must say I really approved of this and I know my co-boozers did too. One describes this rather boldly as "one of the Top 10 pubs in Britain". I dismissed this as one hell of an overstatement initially, but on reflection, given the experience we all shared, perhaps my mate's not far off the mark?

I think this is so much better than it is Hobgoblin heyday; if you haven't been here since those days then for goodness' sake make a date to do so soon. If you love simplicity, and a hardcore focus on superb beer, you will not regret the effort.

24 Sep 2012 09:56

The Cross Guns, Avoncliff

A truly charming pub dating back to the 15th century nestling in the lush wooded valleys in between the River Avon and Kennt & Avon Canal, upon which I was fortunate enough to be taking a narrowboat holday a coupel of weeks back, enabling me to finally visit the Cross Guns, which somehow had gone under my radar when visiting this vicinity on previous occasions.

It was well worth the short walk from moorings just before the nearby aqueduct, for t he Guns is trying - and by and large succeeding - to be all things to all people. JD Wetherspoons attempt this but of course can't really be anything much beyond a jack of all trades; somehow this independently owned and cannily-run establishment manages it whilst retaining a unique character all of its own.

It is a haven for excellent fresh food - a strong, almost overbearingly comprehensive, menu shows dishes not only traditional to Britain but from worldwide, with both fish and meat options offering many possibilities for whatever one's palate desires. Our part of 14 ate heartily and essentially opinions of the dishes were positive; my steak and ale pie was the first where I've actually managed to taste the ale (Box Steam Tunnel Vision apparently)!. The Guns certainly has its place as a sound local restaurant, and yet does retain a sense of being a local pub, with a lavishly-tooled bar through which one can obtain most types of beverage - though arguably all tables in each part of the pub being set with cutlery could potentially put off drinkers with no intention to dine.

Said bar is graced with I think 6 handpumps, dispensing the full range of cask Box Steam beers (the licensee and his family bought the brewery in 2006 along with this pub and the Freshford Inn, and have clearly worked tirelessly to create an increasingly viable business that covers many bases). Sometimes guest ales appear though on our visit it was BS all the way. The Chuffin Ale, Porter, Tunnel Vision and Ghost Train were all sampled and all found in impeccable condition. Mention should also be made of the cask cider: 3 were offered (dry, medium and sweet) with the Bristol being taken back to our boat for consumption there - and mighty fine it was too. Keg beer and cider is available of course for those who use it.

The character of the place could well be construed as somewhat falsely-assembled, but the vast array of bric-a-brac, puberiana, breweriana, and numerous other antique and traditional items does suit the pub's cosy and cavernous stone interior, and even if it has been carefully-crafted, it has enough of an authentic feel to satisfy the many visitors who pitched up during our visit. Postcards, sweets, coffee, and all manner of extraneous items are available for purchase. There is a priest's hole which has been decked out with flowers and other accoutrements - clearly the local vicar has no current need of it.

Externally there is a tiered patio and decking area with plenty of seating for days blessed with clement weather. It is family-friendly and provides a convenient alternative when the tables indoors are full up and room at the bar is limited. It leads down to the river which is a delightful setting.

Service-wise, we received friendly and efficient attention from the landlord, his daughter, and other barmaids. There was much boasting about how many large-number parties were booked in for meals, and the B and B facility is apparently booming to boot. If in need of these, the obvious advice is to book up as early as possible.

It is hard to fault this pub. If it were a little more drinker-friendly and a little less foodie-favoured, it would be a 100% surefire success. That is a relatively minor setback in the overall scheme of things, and I think they've still done enough to merit a 10 on this site. If decimal places were allowed perhaps I'd give it a 9.3!

24 Sep 2012 09:39

The Barge Inn, Bradford on Avon

A pleasant canal-side pub which rather demands to be investigated when one arrives and (eventually) moors at Bradford with a view to an overnight stay. We discovered, if we didn't already know, that there are far more engrossing offerings elsewhere in town that the Barge, but nevertheless it served its purpose for providing a quick starter-of-ten at the evening's outset.

A traditional-looking building from the outside, once indoors one is led through a series of large white-washed rooms with various configurations of seating witj a peculiarly contemporary feel. It doesn't jar as such, though the wisdom of adopting the modern minimal route is questionable. In any event, it clearly had an appeal - and not just amongst itinerant boating types - there seemed to be a variety of locals who observations suggested were regulars, so the pub would appear to enjoy a consistent trade from town and needn't rely on water-borne passers-through.

We didn't try the food, nor did I see any of it being delivered to others, so no comment there. Beer-wise, what I had was passable (EPA - the entire range was Marston's which may suit some but far from all who love the diversity of modern cask beer), though I was warned by a frined of mine who'd arrived earlier to "avoid the Crag Rat" - it seems the most interesting guest ale had been found in appalling condition, and all the more worryingly, the clip was still facing outwards when I arrived to make my choice. I fear only inside prior knowledge led me to eschew opting for it and having the awkwardness of returning it. If something's off, folks, it's OFF - don't allow denial to creep in and keep it on (and the clip facing customer-wards) until 10 people correct the error of your ways!

Saying that, this was a perfectly pleasant little venue on a late summer evening, and I should say that whilst it wasn't the most engaged, the service I received from the young lady (wo)manning the bar was efficient.

I'd have to visit more frequently to know whether complacency is an issue here - so often it can be with canalside locations where there is a perceived captive audience (Bradford is immensely popular as an overnight mooring site). I do hope it isn't. Other more-informed reviewers may eventually enlighten us.

21 Sep 2012 17:43

The Rising Sun, Bradford on Avon

Haven't dropped in here for over 6 years, until a week last Friday when I had fortuitous cause to make a return.

I recalled the Rising Sun as a cracking little local, almost like a community centre, that happened to serve a respectable range of cask beer (hence it's inclusion in the Beer Guide). Happily, it appears that little if anything has altered since then, with the same atmosphere, clientele and ale variety still being firmly in place. We queued up (this was a busy night as Bath were palying Northampton and the big screens had been fired up) to procure our ale and sat back for a while to enjoy the tos and fros of said match with the local punters, who presumably were all rooting for Bath.

Despite being in a gang of 14, as far as I could perceive nobody was antagonistic on that basis; indeed we were made to feel perfectly-welcome. The beers on offer were varied and mostly local; I think I opted for Yeovil offering though I must confess after a week of solid quaffage my memory can't be that relied-upon. In any case, I had no objections and found the quality to be good.

To be honest, of the 6 or so pubs our party managed to get into during our brief overnight stay, this one rings the most true as a solid, authentic local, and I imagine it is fiercely-defended by its regulars. If it isn't, it should be. There are too few pubs like this remaining nowadays - genuinely free of pretense but still retaining a focal point for the immediate community - and I really hope it continues to go from strength to strength.

21 Sep 2012 17:32

The Castle, Bradford on Avon

I can only echo the comments about steepness of gradients, especially as some of our crowd had managed to go a very long way round to this pub from the bottom of town, thanks to an errant map on a mobile-based Good Beer Guide app! We were always going to have a hill to surmount, but if technology had delivered what it should we'd have been rewarded with beer a lot sooner. Sometimes a paper map and GBG is the better bet folks when in an unfamiliar area.

I'd like to say it was worth the extra effort - by and large, I think it was. The Castle has apparently been refurbished recently to a contemporary but high standard; I'm not sure it entirely fitted the grandiose nature of the late Goergian/early Victorian building, but it certainly conveyed a certain cachet - i.e. middle-class, well-heeled, family-friendly yet still at home to non-eaters. Being a clement evening we opted for outdoor seating in the charming garden, which was a suitable location in which to enjoy some steady cask ales and ciders (I forget the number available but plenty of sound local fare in both camps), with commanding views beyond the high hedging as far as the White Horse (as in Vale). Balloons were scooping overhead which seemed fascinate some of my counterparts, who apparently had never seen one before.

Having spent hardly any time indoors, it is hard to make a judgement as to atmosphere and vibrancy of this pub. I suspect it was restrained, not because of an inherent snobbiness which some might infer from the exterior, but perhaps because it is geared towards larger groups and so is that bit less-conducive to bar-propers or smaller groups? Despite the range of cask product, I somehow can't imagine getting dug in at the Castle for a decent sesh, but maybe I'm misled.

A pub not for all seasons or occasions perhaps, but another string to Bradford's surprisingly-broad bow pub-wise.

21 Sep 2012 17:20

The Three Horseshoes, Bradford on Avon

Popped in here as a few of our party were keen to get stuck in to the live music being put on here (signage outside didn't really betray much about the pub in terms of drink or food, but a steady line-up of live acts were listed, so we assumed it must be the premier venue locally for that kind of thing).

A characterful old pub, which was more than saved from being in any way crusty or dull (of a Friday evening at least) by the live and loud band who were palying in the back room, apparently to the intense pleasure of many of the locals. It was to my ears pretty predictable trite rhythm 'n' blues which I am bound to say I have heard executed far better elsewhere, but the relative musical merits are of limited importance, because they were the main attraction that night, and helped gel everybody together in a semi-inebriated but well-intentioned celebration of all that can be earthy and exciting about a good solid boozer. Certainly a number of my more senior chums were gettin' on down and if any of them drop a review on here, you would have nothing but praise. Saying that, a number of youngsters turned up and also seemed to be making the most of things - there aren't many alternatives for them I'm guessing, but still it was nice to have a broader mix enjoying the simple but effective wares here.

Ale-wise, I think around 3 were available that evening, including a nicely-conditioned and rich pint of Stonehenge Danish Dynamite, which went down steadily despite the abdomen-full I'd taken on board across the preceding 24 hours (7 days, actually).

Plenty of seating, both at the bar and in the various rooms, and all-told, the Shoes seemed to be a pretty lively affair. Rough round the edges, and maybe skewed towards the over 50s, but nevertheless a sound antidote to some of the banal boozers further into town, and the very worthy but still 'safe' pubs in the area.

21 Sep 2012 17:08

The Canal Tavern, Bradford on Avon

Unlike some previous commentators, I have nothing to compare this pub's current performance to, as the first time I visited was only last Friday. I suppose I made up for lost time as I actually stepped in here twice; once for a quick refreshing pint having walked ahead of our boat on the adjacent Canal (tasty pint of Waddie's Horizon - 1 of 3 ales offered), and again as a last hurrah following an evening out on 'the town' (if Bradford qualifies - is it a large village?!). Our second visit was less-attractive, as despite the first having been at 4PM with hardly any other punters present, the promise of the evening's entertainment on a Friday was not realised.

Service was efficient. Ale was kept well. The pub itself boasted a variety of different seating/drinking/eating areas which potentially render it very amenable to a variety of different clientele, both local and those passing through by boat. However, late-doors, it was something of a damp squib, for the pack-jammed party atmospshere promised by the placards outside simply was not in evidence when we fetched up at 10:30PM. Okay, dance music and karaoke and so on are tawdry and I must say guilty pleasures, but for once we really had hoped they'd be offered, as a suitable fillip for our final pub visit on our boating holiday. But all we found was some quiet, civilised quaffing - fine normally but we couldn't help but agree a little reserved for a Fri eve. Maybe expectations need to be managed a little more realistically by the management?!

Anyway, hardly an exceptional, but nonetheless perfectly acceptable boozer which I'm sure holds plenty of allure for a versatile crowd. Just a shame we left the raucous but buzzing vibes of the nearby Three Horseshoes for it!

21 Sep 2012 16:57

Dandy Lion, Bradford on Avon

Intriguing that someone has suggested this pub is empty and not what is once was, given that during my last (and I should say first - I'm not a B-on-A local and so the previous writer may have greater insight) visit last Friday evening, things appeared to be buzzing at a very brisk pace, and while the pub cannot be commended on every level, it seemed to be doing a pretty efficient job.

We stopped in en route back towards the Canal where we (and it seemed the world and his wife) were moored for our final night on the Kennet & Avon). It could so easily have been pretentious and irrelevant in a place like Bradford, but by and large we agreed it neatly side-stepped that quagmire and actually trades on genuine merit.

The cask ales were inevitably Wadworth's as it is one of their houses, but each one sampled was kept properly and served well. Food, which we had already partaken of and so didn't require, was apparently a major draw amongst other punters; the majority were civil, well-heeled groups and couples who clearly saw this pub as a destination for dining out. What was being dished up from the kitchens looked extremely palatable as did the menu decriptions; I only hope looks weren't deceiving.

The pub was busy but not so much so that positions at the bar weren't available; as drinkers we settled in very comfortably and didn't feel any the less-relevant or welcome in that role. The Dandy Lion may prize its victuals first and foremost, but it still retains a pubby element, if skewed towards a jacketed, well-heeled milieu who see it as an accessible but still more upmarket option than most other local hostelries.

The stylish decor suited the building without being achingly contemporary and losing touch with its character. The service - provided by a range of excellently-presented barmaids - was impeccable and credit is due to them for maintaining a smile while keeping pace with an obviously-hectic shift.

Not everybody's idea of a 'proper' pub, but enough slack is cut here for drinkers to ensure it isn't just a worthy destination for foodies alone. I quite liked it, and I suspect if I lived here, I'd probably spend quite some time in this establishment. More 'Dandy' than 'Lion', but sometimes that's not a bad thing.

21 Sep 2012 16:45

The Jolly Sailor, Saltford

Made my maiden visit to this canal-side pub opportunistically last Thursday lunchtime, en route back from Bristol with 2 narrowboats' full of punters. We moored up at Saltford Lock and trusted that overlooking (or not being close enough to) some other classic pubs (the Crown at Kelston, the Swan at Swineford et al), we hadn't made a poor choice.

Certainly on such a fine sunny day the pub was a sure-fire winner; a charming soft-stone double-fronted exterior was complemented by a well-tended front garden with plenty of sun-trap seating. Business was booming and it was little wonder given its prime pitch. The question was, is the pub allowing itself to complacently coast along with a guaranteed audience, or is it pulling out all the stops?

I suspect the opinion amongst my compadres was mixed. But for my part, by and large I was not disappointed - at least not with the quality of the food, which was plainly king. My grilled plaice topped with cheesy prawns and a variety of veg went down very nicely, and whilst was perhaps pushing it at over 11, it was an antidote to the triumvirate of burgers, pies and ham egg 'n' chips. Saying that others enjoyed the gammon, mussels and other dishes. It's no gastro-pub, but then I didn't sense any pretensions to being so. I don't think you'd be troubled by the food quality.

However, ale-wise, I must tell a slightly less-encouraging story. The initial pints of Butcombe Best and Wadworth's 'Sailors' (a rebadge of one of their regulars though we weren't sure which) were satisfactory but they soon turned, to the point where the 6X was the only cask option remaining. It wasn't THAT busy, and the ale wasn't THAT good! We left slightly deflated by both the range and cellaring of the beers, which was a shame and would undoubtledly influence any of us if deciding whether to return in future.

I should make mention of service standards. Ostensibly, they were terrible: we waited 45 minutes at least for our meals, which is unacceptable even when cooked from scratch, and it was fortunate we had plenty of time to while away. Expectations could've been managed better as regards the backlog and likely waiting time. However, I suspect this failing lies with the kitchen staff; it was a bustling shift and clearly they'd become a victim of their own success. I shan't have a word said against any of the 3 barmaids, whose service was polite and efficient, and whose presence actually made the wait all the more charming. Well done for having to cope with what clearly was a difficult predicament.

So, some good things, some bad here. I'd implore the licensees to just raise their game a little and iron out the rough spots here. Yes, you have a great pub in a cracking location, but that doesn't afford complacency.

20 Sep 2012 18:03

The Bag O' Nails, Bristol

Time for a renewed review of the Bag o' as it has been taken over yet again but this time by a young chap who seems to know what it takes to get it back on the beer map. I spoke to Luke in May not long after he'd settled in, and he demonstrated a confident and articulate local knowledge, and a keen awareness of what this pub needed to return to former glories. Happily, on revisiting last week, I believe he's made good on his plans, for the Bag o' was back to form with a vengeance!

Perhaps not the greatest number of cask ales on offer, but whether that is representative I don't know; in any case all those sampled were found to be in good nick (so I'm hoping the last reviewer was indeed "unlicky"). Most offered were 'LocAles' which is heartening to see given the plethora of high-performing brewers in the wider region. It seems that the pub has again become a focus for showcasing such product, which is great. Granted, it now has seriously strong competition from the Three Tuns down the road, but the 2 places present the punter with such contrasting experiences, they should continue to coexist peacefully with mutual levels of success.

That 1940s feel is still present in the dimly-lit and woody little bar area. Some of my older friends with whom I was travelling (we were moored up down on the Harbourside having completed the western half of the Kennet & Avon Canal/River Avon navigation) really loved the Bag as it yielded an authentically trad vibe, which of course they remember first-time round (almost!).

For too long, the Bag was the Elephant in the Room, having been so consicuously-closed with an uncertain future, but it is now firmly back in business and Bristol pubgoers are all the better-off for it. Well done guys; don't change a thing and you'll be fine.

20 Sep 2012 17:49

The Ship Inn, Keynsham

We (a group comprising myself and 13 other boaters who'd moored in Keynsham for the night) were directed here by 2 helpful chaps in the nearby Old Bank, who clearly followed their own advice as we caught up with them here. The Ship is not presently Good Beer Guide endorsed, but as the savvier beer lover will know, that does not necessarily indicate a poor pub experience, or indeed bad beer. As it was, we found a pub thronging with locals - a far busier affair than the OB albeit both were showing the England match that evening, and immediately this presented a warm (literal and figurative) and inviting atmosphere into which we willingly immersed ourselves. Some found seating in the left-hand bar, while a smaller number squeezed ourselves conspicuously into the one on the right, where the real action was.

A ladies' darts match was in full swing, alongside those viewing the TV which I didn't feel was over-intrusive. Bar staff were hurriedly but efficiently busying themselves attending to a steady torrent of orders. An impressive array of 10 handpumps stretched on before us, but as the previous writer so rightly observes, only 5 beers are actually featured, and all of those are from the rather ubiquitous (and not always the most engrossing) Marston's stable (most pumps were occupied but many doubled-up). I sampled a Wychwood seasonal called Jesterjack, which I must confess was kept perfectly and was surprisingly flavoursome - the best beer I've tasted from a Marston's-affiliated brewery for some years. It was quite a floral ale and whilst not up there with the heavenly Acer by Bristol Beer Factory, it was a young pretender of that style.

My mate was keen to stock up on fodder for a boat-based blow-out and so purchased 4 large pork pies at only 2.50 apiece. Having initially questioned the wisdom of this, once I tried one I realised it was sound - they were some of the best PPs I've ever had. Delicious, crumbly, local pork in a light pastry case - none of that processed stodge! If that is a marker for the food quality here overall then I can only hope to dine here properly some day.

The whole experience was very jolly and one which certainly would bear repeating if in the area again. We were fortunate to get here - they were starting to seal off the High Street in order to film an explosive scene for EastEnders of all things! A car was to crash into a derelict shopfront and blow up - no harm done as the 1960s shopping parade is slated for demolition anyway so we're told. No doubt fans will reap the benefits of this in a couple of months' time.

Well done, folks. We like. Just a slight shame about the enforced limitations of your beer tie. Those pumps are just begging for more variety....

20 Sep 2012 17:37

Old Bank, Keynsham

Recommended to me by word of mouth by Bristolians in the past, and currently the Good Beer Guide 2013, as we'd stopped for an overnight mooring on the nearby Kennet & Avon Canal at Keynsham, it would've been rude not to have sampled what the town has to offer pub and ale-wise. This was the first port-of-call in the actual place itself (we'd dropped in to the Lock Keeper but that's a little but further out).

This was a basic, earthy but friendly and enduring experience when we visited last week. The pub appears to be located in what I presume was an 'old bank', although its barrack-room layout and large windows suggest more of an ex-post office. In any case, it doesn't have the greatest of natural comforts and without many customers atmosphere can be hard to build. We pitched up in the leather sofas in order for some of our number to 'enjoy' the England footer match being shown. For all my indifference to the game it did help build something of a bond with a few locals, who also took the trouble to recommend and direct us to our next stop (the Ship - see separate review!).

Not only were the regulars affable, but so were the bar staff. The barmaid gladly served up several pints - 3 cask ales were offered including Cotleigh Barn Owl, and after a quick barrel-swap, the rather tasty Plain Ales Arty Farty. At only 2.90 a pint this was good value boozing indeed.

On a more lively night, perhaps the Old Bank would've kept us interested enough for another; as it was we moved on so as to get a broader measure of the area, but if in these parts again (usually I'll be in either Bristol or Bath but you never know), I'd certainly drop in here for a pint or two. There isn't much competition locally for ale lovers, so with repeated visits, I imagine this could be a grower.

20 Sep 2012 17:24

The King of Wessex, Bath

In all my 15 years of pretty regular drop-ins to Bath, I have never even considered seeking out the local JD Wetherspoon's outlet. Quite besides the fact that I'm not even sure there was one until relatively recently, the obvious reason is because with the plethora of pub paragons in this vicinity, there should simply be no need to bother. It will almost inevitably be inferior by comparison! Other than genericism of expectation (which can be a blessing in an area poorly-stocked with decent ale or food houses), particularly on pricing (which let's be honest is only a contraint that troubles a minority of punters in Bath), there really is little point in seeking this out.

Having finally had cause to visit the local Wethy here - the appropriately-titled King of Wessex - I can only confirm that I was correct in adopting this view. Let's consider this pub's merits standing alone without comparisons with its more individual counterparts. It harbours all that one comes to expect from a standard JDW pub experience - highly-competitive prices across the board, a reasonable spread and quality of beers (cask is mostly local), an acceptable quality of food across a range of menu options, and clean, tidy and efficient interior design. One doesn't find an impressively-converted old building as it's a brand new construction. But one does find a surprisingly well-heeled mixed clientele (the difference I suppose between Bath and branches in, say, Croydon!). It is all perfectly comfortable and amenable.

But as the previous reviewer made clear: it is characterless, anodyne, and most damningly, decidedly un-Bath! Neither the pub chain nor its customers can avoid that; a Wetherspoons can sometimes mark the zenith of character in some towns, and they do try. But in a stark, functional, bland glass goldfish bowl like this, there is no chance of it developing any authentic patina, irrespective of inherent quality of service and wares. One really could be anywhere in Britain once inside. A less brutally-modern and more charmingly-traditional setting would at least have given this wing of the T Martin empire a leg-up, even though it could never really aspire to becoming one of Bath's top destination boozers. As it is, it is one of the most forgettable experiences one can have locally. There are WORSE pubs here by far, but even they are at least memorable, if only for the wrong reasons!

My chilli con carne was actually very tasty, as was my pint of Box Steam Rail Ale (3 BS beers were on that day and all were well-kept). And I paid no more than around 6 for them. But it was only the need for speed passing through which negated tempting oneself to get entangled with the many old favourites that brought me here, and other than being in that predicament again, I doubt I'll return. It's not the push factor of this place, so much as the magnetic pull of others.

20 Sep 2012 17:12

The Lock Keeper, Keynsham

Given Blackthorn's thorough appraisal of most of the important aspects of this particular pub, I shan't seek to rehearse them too heavily herein, as much of his description would seem to remain current despite the passage of time. I imagine that as one of Young's (finest real estate!) outlets there is a predictable but comfortable consistency in what the Lock Keeper offers its punters, and I cannot suggest that that formula wasn't working, for on our visit a week ago Tuesday evening, numerous people of all ages and genders were steadily packing themselves in. Inevitably perhaps they erred on the well-heeled and middle-class side of life, because with a Young's pricing strategy nowadays there's far fewer from less-affluent walks of life who can justify or afford the cost. But it was nonetheless civil and pleasant for that. Clearly the Keeper is an alternative meeting place for the slightly more upmarket local folk who choose to reject the rather more earthy licensed premises in the centre of Keynsham.

Ale-wise, Bath Gem was found in decent nick, although some of the Wells & Young's options were disappointing. Besides the Gold which did need changing (and duly was changed), these beers just don't seem to travel well; i have had many an uninspiring pint in Young's houses in the West and frankly I can't believe locals ever quaff it in preference to their own more locally-produced options. But then in a pub like this, let's face it: it's more about food. The menu was extensive and those who ate seemed satisfied enough with the quality and portions offered. Clearly the custom for grub implied it was regarded locally as a destination for a meal out. Grog is a mere bystander to that kind of market now.

The pub is a delight to behold, dating back 5 centuries, and inside adorned with numerous photos of days of yore. It has many seating areas and alcoves to enjoy, be it solo, as a couple, or a group of over 10 like us. There was a cosy warmth to it - all too literally in the greenhouse conservatory area - and service from the mainly young staff was fault-free.

I'm glad Young's policy of the early 2000s to muscle its way into the West was short-lived; I'd hate them to have gained any greater foothold here than they did. But once in a while it's a safe bet, especially in an area where excellent pubs do not abound. Safe, if uninspiring.

19 Sep 2012 18:25

The Southgate, Devizes

Ignoring the seemingly infamous large male chicken next door, which was worryingly uncaged at the time of our visit, we pressed on in good faith as the Good Beer Guide had promised that the Southgate was now back on form after some years in the doldrums. All 14 of us co-boaters pitched up, with something of a keen thirst to slake given the considerable walk from the top of town along the charming but lengthy main street. I can only report that not only did we find all beverages in sound condition, but we also were fortunate enough to experience a genuine warm welcome, and much hearty humour was had over the next 2 hours we embedded ourselves here, not finding it possible to leave!

3 cask ales featured on our visit (2 Sundays back); 2 hailed from the Hop Back brewery (the ever-reliable GFB and the less-seen but novel lemongrass-infused Taiphoon), alongside an alluringly complex and spicy brew from Devilfish, a local Somerset brewery, entitled Devil's Best. Between us, many pints of each were supped during our stay and at no stage did I overhear any complains about condition.

A similarly positive picture can be painted of the cider too; a pin of excellent stuff called Moonshine sat temptingly on the bar, and with much help from the extremely friendly and engaging landlord, we must've caned most of it (2 free flagons were filled for us to take away on the house - a rare gesture of generosity indeed!). Not bad given its 7% strength! On enquiring as to its origins, the landlord confirmed the small print on the label as stating the content was "made somewhere in the West Country". Terrible self-promotion but I suppose a spot of secrecy adds a certain frisson to proceedings.

We all crammed ourselves in to the comfortable and traditionally-decked-out room at the west end of the pub, which allows direct access bar-side, proving very handy indeed. We universally agreed that from the outset, the atmosphere and vibe of this pub hit the proverbial metal pin right on its bonce. The conviviality of the licensee - possibly licensees as I suspect the charming lady assisting on bar duty was the landlady - really helped oil the wheels and we all did very nicely out of it. Not only did we enjoy free cider but also plenty of bar snacks, handed out on regular intervals. Meanwhile, his till didn't stop ringing, so everyone's happy.

We probably would've irritated locals after a while with our jolly japery, but there weren't many in being a Sunday evening, and hopefully we didn't offend anyone too deeply with our ever-increasing volume and dominance of the bar staff! We really did struggle to leave (wanted to get some in at the much-vaunted British Lion, which while very different to this establishment was nevertheless heartily-endorsed by the landlord) and even then only managed it in two separate, reluctant shifts.

All-told, this isn't the ultimate box-ticker's pub. It's not quite a 10. But perfection in every key element is not necessary if the attitude, ale and resultant atmosphere are all in check. The licensees were due on holiday around now, so if you drop in this week don't judge the place by the stand-in, but hopefully he will keep up the splendid work this couple have done to revive this pub's flagging fortunes, with a canny mix of ace ale, classic cider, engaging entertainment and preferential pricetags. It really was an enjoyable experience folks, and rest assured that if you continue in this vein, you surely cannot go wrong. Will I go back? Well, I don't know when I'll next be in town, but to paraphrase the old Pet Shop Boys number, "Left to my own Devizes, I probably would"!

19 Sep 2012 18:11

The Crown, Devizes

One rather expects the beer quality at this hostelry to be in fine form, given its immediate proximity to the brewery which owns it (the shadow of Wadworths looms large over much of Wiltshire but there really is no escape as close as this). I had visited this pub with some friends from university some 16 years since, as one chap came from Potterne just outside of Devizes. I remembered various aspects of the place - the Waddie's beer was nicely-served and condtiioned (4 featured on cask - Horizon was had by some while others went for Red White & Brew, or the new keg stout, Guinness-apeing Corvus), and there was a pleasant air about the place emanating from a mixed, though predominantly younger, clientele.

What had altered in those intervening years was the style of interior design and decor, which, as the last reviewer more than alludes to, is somewhat bland and by-numbers, especially for what would appear externally to be a pretty trad tavern. Okay, endless faux beams, horsebrasses, mahogany bar fittings and other Victoriana isn't always welcome, or indeed original. However, in the Crown I couldn't help but feel it would've been better to retain something of that style for its interior. It all came across as a bit, well, youth club-ish, with lots of flashy games machines, large leather sofas, similarly large TVs, and other pared-down (and suspiciously-cheap-looking) minimalist touches. It wasn't hard to see why the younger folk were keen on it, and if that's the market they wish to focus on and it keeps their tills ringing as the Jaegerbombs explode, then fair dos.

We on the other hand, as a group of 14 that ranged from age 35 to 74, opted for the large (everything at the Crown is large!) and nicely-laid-out rear courtyard, which was pretty much as I'd remembered it from the mid-'90s when I last ventured here. This suited us better as it extricated us from the rather dull and characterless bar area.

Not a bad boozer - indeed the main factors at play (beer quality, efficiency and pleasantness of service, cleanliness, behaviour of clientele etc) were all in good order. I suppose it's just not a pub that necessarily suits all tastes, and the lack of character indoors does rather belie its more homely exterior image.

19 Sep 2012 17:45

The British Lion, Devizes

Certainly a true tonic if one is after a public house that is less about food, middle-of-the-road middle-class decor and sensibility, and polite conversation amongst steady punters, and more about getting back to basics. For the British Lion may appear to be a traditional 'nice' old pub from the outside but once within, one finds it is a pared-down, no-frills, rough n' ready kind of boozer where good beer and cheer is most certainly placed in the forefront, at least of an evening at any rate.

Myself and a large entourage of chums pitched up in Devizes overnight 2 Sundays ago as we moored up on the Canal. Inevitably its finder ale houses were sought out and this one came highly recommended, but only by the Good Beer Guide but also local licensees and customers. We visited it last, which on reflection was probably a wise move as by the time we arrived the jukebox was in full effect, the pumps were sloshing up plenty of good local beer and everyone inside and out was in high spirits. This isn't to suggest that the Lion is populated by reckless folk; that wasn't my observation anyway. Rather, it is down-to-earth and pretense-free, without straying into unpleasantness or violence. We were made most welcome by locals, who actively engaged in conversation with us in the rear garden without being pushy.

Cask-wise, I recall 5 were available that night, and on particular form was the Vale Ale (3 Castles). I can't remember all the other offerings, but trust that they were worth seeking out, particularly for those like the last reviewer who have grown tired of the stranglehold the sound but safe Wadworths have on the town and its environs. Everyone commented that what they'd been served was well-kept and so it deserved its place in the current beer-lover's lexicon of local pubs in Devizes. We left in very good spirits, dampened only by the rather indifferent takeaway curry which we unwaisely purchased en route back to the boats!

Clearly it won't suit everybody on every occasion, and some may even actively reject the Lion for its down 'n' dirty directness and lack of refinement. Yet for others, it retains enough edge and character to be interesting, whilst still supporting the values of good local beer and community engagement as twin foundations for a robust pub experience that should never be bland. I hadn't visited Devizes for 16 years, but even if it takes as long again to return, I'll be making my way over here at some stage.

19 Sep 2012 17:33

The Black Horse, Devizes

I have to say I'm slightly surprised by the last comment; perhaps his is based on far greater and less-fortunate experience, but given my visit to the Black Horse a couple of Sundays ago, I can't agree that the food was all "fried", the beer "flat", the service "indifferent" or that staff were all "ugly".

The pub is a convenient stop-off for boaters on their way up or down the Kennet & Avon (which indeed me and 13 others were), and is an attractive enough Victorian red-bricked building with a patio and long canalside garden with plenty of outdoor seating for clement conditions. One would imagine it would be something of a little goldmine, though the landlady confided in me that it wasn't; perhaps people decide at that juncture to punt onwards to Devizes proper for a grog 'n' grub, or have just left it and are already adequately fed and watered (I do hope it's not because most have experienced what whelklocator suffered below).

In any case, it was busy enough during our visit that most of us had to 'decamp' indoors. Well, held off extra sunburn for a bit anyway. Bar service was I am afraid to say somewhat slow, though it was a challengingly busy period - none more so than for the serving girls (who were decidedly non-ugly!) who seemed a little rushed in keepin pace with a burgeoning backlog of food orders. They got there in the end and expectations were managed sensibly by the landlady/lord who advised food would be something of a wait. In the meantime we all began choosing our weapons from the predictable but pleasant enough Waddie's armoury of ales - 4 on tap including the now weak and insipid Bishop's Tipple (not what it once was!). All were kept well enough though (suspect the "flat" reference relates to lagers and other inferior beer formats?!).

When food did finally emerge from the kitchen (after a spot of minor confusion but nothing to get your knickers in a knot about), I though it was perfectly decent pub grub served to an acceptable standard. Many had the Sunday roasts (choice of beef, pork or nut) which looked far better than many I've suffered in pubs previously. The cod and chips was of course an essentially packeted affair but was tasty and filling. Portion sizes certainly weren't ungenerous - my mate's sausage baguette was a foot long, + salad and crisps! All dishes were served with good grace and courtesy by the waitresses.

I can't really say this was an exceptional pub experience, but then to expect that will nearly always lead one into disappointment. Most pubs offer a reasonable average and where that's exceeded it must always be seen as a bonus rather than a God-given right. I don't think the Blak Horse was bad at all; perhaps it is variable and of course there is room for enhancement. But, I'd say give it a chance before you decide whose assessment (mine or whelklocator's) is more accurate here.

18 Sep 2012 17:58

Somerset Arms, Semington

A very charming, almost Cotswold-style old pub on the outside, though once inside a more modern feel is apparent; comfy seating and stained wood floors etc abound. Nevertheless, this doesn't render the Somerset any less cosy or characterful.

Indeed they do specialise in LocAles, which in this part of the world is a real boon, for there are many to tempt the palate. Plain Ales offerings went down especially well, although all were enjoyed across a range of maybe 5 on(?).

It was a quiet period as lunch had been and gone, and Semington was pretty dead - presumably now a commuter village and on weekdays the pub may not attract much custom?). However, on busy shifts (I trust there are some in the evenings and weekends), I imagine this pub would be a great meeting place and I hope it throngs to a jolly and satisfied clientele. We certainly found it useful en route via the canal, and certainly I for one would consider dropping back in if ever back in this vicinity.

Keep up the good work.

17 Sep 2012 18:01

The Brewery Inn, Seend

Visited out of natural curiosity having moored up in Seend Cleeve for the night, and also because we'd found the Barge on the canal lovely but simply too overcrowded to enjoy. What we found at this pub was a stark contrast - not crowded (in fact worryingly empty for a Saturday night), and not as charming. But still oozing with character all of its own, and a proper boozer rather than eaterie, which clearly was a bit of a respite after the brisk restauranteuring that dominated its nearby competitor.

I say competitor - actually I can't imagine many folk who like the Barge bothering with the Brewery, or vice-versa, as the audiences to which they both pitch are quite distinct. For whilst things are decidedly proper and homely safe middle-class at the former, here one finds a grittier, more honest and rough n' ready kind of atmosphere, which frankly on a Saturday night looking for some bachanalian boozy bantering, one isn't averse to.

We settled in one by one (there was 14 of us so probably the biggest night they'd had for a while?!), and made our way t hrough the beers - such as they were. There were a couple of cask options on; the Bath Gem didn't last long but in fairness the landlady put a replacement (Ringwood Best) on ASAP and so there was no signnificant gap in proceedings. Quality was variable, but I suppose the jollity of the place and generally welcoming atmos which gradually developed overtook any concerns on that front. Some moved on to keg cider, while others took on some Scotch (Highland Park went down well late-doors - and I mean late!).

One of our number is something of a character in her own right and something of a one-woman show - she seemed to capture the attention of some young locals to great effect, and after an hour had them eating from the palm of her hand with the funnies! Never before have I witnessed someone become a local institution in 1 night but that's what happened here - and it takes a certain kind of pub and pub-user to allow that to occur. At the Brewery, there was no pretense, no ceremony, just good old raucous merry-making, and as our first night aboard our boats it was just the tonic we needed. The landlady, staff and locals were all conducive to the fun and were very accommodating.

So, not a perfect example of a pub and certainly not one that suits everybody in every occasion. But in the right context, with the right company, this place can really be a hoot - thanks folks for providing such good cheer. Whilst my overall score I've attributed seems low, it is largely based on beer range etc as that's my personal primary concern - but if ranked as a pub or on atmos this could be an 8.

17 Sep 2012 17:54

The Barge Inn, Seend Cleeve

Our first canal-side stop-off during a recent week's narrowboating up and down the Kennet and Avon. The Barge was an evidently charming waterside venue, which was plainly picking up signnificant business not only from boating types but also locals - it was especially brisk Saturday night (8th) mainly owing to an old girl's 80th birthday party. The endless trestle tables lining the interior might've put some casual visitors off; we persisted as we were keen to sample the quality and range of the Wadworth's beers and agreed it was a lovely location on a late summer night. However, after having to sit out in a chilly area as it was simply too overheated indoors, we had to cut and run after 1 pint and move on to the neaby Brewery Inn, which was far more rustic but more comfortable as it wasn't over-run with eaters.

Still, I can't knock this pub for finding a financially-rewarding formula and sticking to it; evidently food was popular and it's a shame we didn't sample it. Ale-wise, 6 Waddie's were offered on cask - my Red White & Brew was tasty and well-kept and reports from others in my party suggested good cellarmanship, even if Waddie's didn't excite everybody that much. The keg brew, Corvus stout (mentioned below) was available but I can't see why it is necessary when it would be so much better in cask - other than to act as a direct replacement for Guinness of course, which is no longer sold. Corvus is clearly targeted at it, described as an Irish stout, and is now widely-installed in Wadworth outlets.

If ever in this vicinity again, I'd come back, but it would have to be on a less-busy night. Also, hopefully by then the barman will have got the hang of the job - it was his first night and I can't help but imagine it was a baptism of fire for the lad!

17 Sep 2012 17:43

The Stallards, Trowbridge

All very well I'm sure, but closed at Saturday lunchtime when we wanted to drop in and sample the ales and probably eat too. They lost 14 people's worth of custom there! Also, when we passed by well after 2PM when it was meant to open (nearer 3 actually) there was still no sign of life.

Get your act together folks - I probably won't be in Trowbridge again so won't know what I've missed, but others won't tolerate such inconsistency in trading hours. If you're supposed to be open, open - if it's not possible due to an emergency then let people know! Otherwise, stay closed and reflect the limited session times on the door correctly!

17 Sep 2012 17:35

The Rose and Crown, Trowbridge

Hadn't planned to make this pub a particular destination, but it proved to be convenient for lunch when passing through the town via the station en route to Hilperton Marina to pick up a narrowboat, especially given that nearby Stallard's seemed to be the victim of 'silly' opening hours (doors closed till 2PM on a Saturday - and later when we re-checked it it was still closed at nearly 3?!).

What we found was not exceptional or unusual, but by and large our party (of no small number at 14) generally considered the Rose and Crown to be a decent outlet which combined restaurant and pub facets in equal measure. The cask ale range wasn't wide but quality was reasonable (4 on offer and all local and seemed to be selling nicely), while food range was broad and served at pub grub standard (food was popular; we all ate and once I'd partaken of a lasagne and chips I was suitably replete).

Service was found to be excellent; both barmaids who appeared on shift during our stay seemed polite and efficient in both taking orders, and serving grub 'n' grog. Nobody was made to wait long despite things becoming reasonably busy during the lunchtime slot, and while one should be able to legitimately expect this everywhere one goes, sadly it can't always be taken for granted. They proved helpful when we needed a local taxi firm too.

In terms of decor, clearly the pub's exterior had been carefully-maintained in essentially Victorian character, though the interior presented as a rather more contemporary, light and airy space which was well-executed and finished, though arguably jarring when looked at from outside. I suppose it seeks to favour the foodie brigade rather more than the boozie one, but still there was a comfortable bar area which hosted a range of clientele in both age and gender.

All in all, chalked this one up as a decent average; not perhaps a pub to recommend friends to seek out if in Trowbridge, but nevertheless a good option if in need of a quick feed and water.

17 Sep 2012 17:32

The Surrey Oaks, Newdigate

Just doing a little local round-up of pubs that have secured a berth in the 2013 CamRA Good Beer Guide - not the be all and end all by any stretch, but a reasonable indication that all is fairing well at least beer-wise - and noting this on their BITE entry. Given the unerring support of the cask ale scene and the apparent ongoing lack of any serious competition in the immediate vicinity, the S-Oaks' dominance as E & Mid-Surrey CamRA POTY continues unabated, so of course it's in the Guide!

Excellent work Ken as always. If you win any more awards you'll need to start using ceiling space!

PS: At the beer fest last Friday evening; cracking selection to work through. Don't usually make it on the Fri - really enjoyed it.

30 Aug 2012 17:21

Royal Oak Inn, Staffhurst Wood

Just doing a little local round-up of pubs that have secured a berth in the 2013 CamRA Good Beer Guide - not the be all and end all by any stretch, but a reasonable indication that all is fairing well at least beer-wise - and noting this on their BITE entry. Probably needless to say given its recent CamRA-bestowed accolades for Cider POTY, the Oak is in with a bullet.

Well done Julian, Denise and team. Will be back when I next get the chance. Might even risk some roast lamb.....!

30 Aug 2012 17:17

Three Horseshoes Inn, Sidlow Bridge

Just doing a little local round-up of pubs that have secured a berth in the 2013 CamRA Good Beer Guide - not the be all and end all by any stretch, but a reasonable indication that all is fairing well at least beer-wise - and noting this on their BITE entry. The Shoes has managed it.

Congratulations Rob on continuing to learn and focus on your beer (contrary to the last review many of us realise you do work hard on that and it's certainly not all about food for you). Mind you, you might wish to get some of those raucous regulars in check; they sound like a right pain in the posterior...!

30 Aug 2012 17:15

The Well House Inn, Mugswell

Just doing a little local round-up of pubs that have secured a berth in the 2013 CamRA Good Beer Guide - not the be all and end all by any stretch, but a reasonable indication that all is fairing well at least beer-wise - and noting this on their BITE entry. With little surprise I can report that the Well House has made it.

Always a pleasant pint and a sound selection - keep up the good work folks.

30 Aug 2012 17:12

The Jolly Brickmakers, Redhill

Just doing a little local round-up of pubs that have secured a berth in the 2013 CamRA Good Beer Guide - not the be all and end all by any stretch, but a reasonable indication that all is fairing well at least beer-wise - and noting this on their BITE entry. Happily, the work's paid off and suree enough, the Jolly Bricks has cracked it; one of four pubs in town to do so this year.

Good work Dick - your persistence and determination in the ale department has done you proud - keep it up. (Oh and you can stop buying that Colin W drinks now!!).

30 Aug 2012 17:10

The Home Cottage, Redhill

Just doing a little local round-up of pubs that have secured a berth in the 2013 CamRA Good Beer Guide - not the be all and end all by any stretch, but a reasonable indication that all is fairing well at least beer-wise - and noting this on their BITE entry. The Home Cottage has apparently come back to form and is now back in - I am slightly surprised as sadly my last couple of pints here were less-than-perfect - I do hope they've not stepped off the accelerator since the Guide's survey period?

Anyway well done to all. Must get back to check up on that beer - or at least have some food as it is splendid.

30 Aug 2012 17:08

The Hatch, Shaws Corner

Just doing a little local round-up of pubs that have secured a berth in the 2013 CamRA Good Beer Guide - not the be all and end all by any stretch, but a reasonable indication that all is fairing well at least beer-wise - and noting this on their BITE entry. The Hatch has got in, and is one of four pubs in Redhill to manage it this time round.

Well done Roy - must come and check up on your beer soon to be absolutely sure the Guide has got its facts straight....!

30 Aug 2012 17:05

The Garland, Redhill

Just doing a little local round-up of pubs that have secured a berth in the 2013 CamRA Good Beer Guide - not the be all and end all by any stretch, but a reasonable indication that all is fairing well at least beer-wise - and noting this on their BITE entry. The Garland is, inevitably, one of FOUR pubs which were deemed fit enough for entry this year.

Keep up the good work Stuart, Lesley and team (don't bother with the bribes to CamRA committee members next year; you're perfectly good enough without them!!)

30 Aug 2012 17:02

The George, Croydon

On a less personal note, the manager advised me last week that the "Meet the brewer" event at the George is to be held on Thursday 25th October (not the 26th). May be worth double-checking but I'm pretty confident in this so anyone who is interested should take note.

30 Aug 2012 16:53

The Royal Oak, Rusper

It is with regret that I can confirm the content of the review of 6 May: North Sussex CamRA appear to have carried out their threats not to include the Royal Oak in the forthcoming 2013 edition of the Good Beer Guide - mine arrived yesterday (nice and early) and sure enough, it is conspicuous by its absence, while other lesser entrants retain a berth.

I have the utmost respect for CamRA, and as a relatively inactive member, I don't purport to know how to do the work of local branch committee members better than those who actually take the time and effort to do it. And I should say I have only officially heard the pub's side of the story on this issue.

Nevertheless, I am bound to say that if what I am led to believe is correct, this is a truly shocking indictment on the way that politics and personality can get the better of certain individuals in some branches of CamRA, to the point where it actually skews their outlook and obfiscates what should be their core activity: to ensure great pubs with excellent cask ale in their local area are given due recognition, whether that be through inclusion in the national Guide, and/or other means.

I understand that Sara has not always been an easy licensee to get along with, and that she is known to be vocal - sometimes vehemently so - when she has a difference of opinion about certain matters. But whether or not the local branch approve or concur with either her views or her behaviour towards them is immaterial to an objective measurement of whether her pub and cask quality and range is sufficient to qualify for GBG entry. There must be numerous publicans who don't always see eye-to-eye with their local CamRA aficionados, but if their standards of cellarmanship and licenseeship generally are sound, they will not be barred from recognition in CamRA-related literature.

The gross disproportionality about this apparently spiteful manoeuvre is that the Royal Oak is - my own bias aside - manifestly one of the strongest (if not best) cask ale outlets in the North Sussex vicinity. A constant changing selection of 7 ales (mostly Sussex/Surrey/Kent/Hampshire with a few from further afield), 2 ciders and 1 perry - and always well-kept. Indeed the pub devotes itself solely to cask product to the exclusion of other decidedly CamRA-unfriendly beverages. It has won numerous awards (or did before the big freeze set in), and is not surrounded by such stromg local competition that it could lose its GBG placing on grounds of the 'rotation' system which is often applied in areas saturated with top taverns. And yet, it is deprived recognition in a publication which purports to promote the best beer pubs. I don't see how that can be defensible, regardless of how hostile local CamRA officials have found the landlady.

And furthermore, I understand LocAle status is being withdrawn too? Surely that is a clear-cut measure - a pub either qualifies under its criteria or it doesn't. I'd like to know how the Oak has faltered in this regard, other than its licensee having the audacity to be critical of some of the Campaign's members.

There are two key worries for pub and ale lovers here: I'm okay; I know this pub and that it's worth visiting. But people outside the area may not, and they'll rely on the likes of the GBG to direct them to the best beerhouses. Given Friday Street's isolated location there's limited scope to come across the Oak by chance, and so promotion in the GBG is crucial. Withdrawal would seem to be a petty pice of childish power-play, by officious and narrow-minded people (regrettably, CamRA does attract more than its fair share of such characters).
Secondly, it makes me wonder how many other corking boozers are being barred from GBG recognition for no other reason than personal disputes between the licensee and local branch committee members? All GBG users could be missing out on an untold number of great pubs if all branches behave like N Sussex?!

This probably wasn't appropriate for this forum, but I feel it's worth alerting other serious beer and pub lovers who use BITE to what can happen when politics supplant palate. Don't trust CamRA or the GBG to always yield even the best of outlets when this sort of thing gets in the way. Word on the street has it that the local CamRA Stasi has turned its steely authoritarian attentions to the Sussex Oak in Warnham... Another great pub which outperforms most in the area in beer terms, but presumably still unsafe from exclusion in the 2014 Guide if too much bad blood develops between CamRA and its landlord?

Anyway, keep up the good work Sara and Clive - some of us appreciate it even if some in N Sussex branch do not. I hope removal from the Guide doesn't affect your fortunes too adversely.

30 Aug 2012 16:48

Ye Olde London, St Pauls

Second visit here but only just bothering to review as nothing really stuck out in my memory on my last appearance.

On the last visit on Sunday afternoon, my mates and I delved a little deeper into what this obvious tourist trap has to offer the more discerning and more local punter. Whilst the overall impression was one of a pub-by-numbers with no great departures from a tried 'n' tested formula, it was not as naff and medicore as one might expect.

Ale-wise, there is a choice of only 2 on the top bar, but lurking downstairs is a rather larger affair with a bigger bar, which accommodates a third cask ale, along with additional other tapped/kegged fodder. The Young's London Gold was well-kept despite the humidity of the day, and it was served reasonably well by the barman, who was pleasant enough.

The bottom bar yields much more seating both indoors and out, with patio doors leading to a somewhat cramped and gloomy garden, but in this district any al fresco option can be welcome so they'd done their best with limited space. We chose not to seat ourselves outside however as the air conditioned atmosphere inside was far cooler and on a sweat-plagueing day this was most appreciated. We whiled away an hour quite happily.

Few people arrived during our visit to help create a bit of a buzz; an older couple were enjoying lunches (food looked passable) and tht was about it, but then maybe Sunday is not the best time. Fortunately we weren't over-run with tedious tourists, so that was a blessing.

All in all, I'd chalk this up as a convenient possibility when in the Cathedral area and in need of a quick drink to enliven the spirits. Otherwise, I wouldn't say Ye Olde London is a destination pub, as it just could be anywhere in the capital and lacks any real 'edge'. It is of greater relevance to foreign visitors who probably swallow all the (mostly contrived) history they've dug up for the place. But in my book. this is often preferable to what passes for "Ye Newe London".

20 Aug 2012 14:31

Doggetts Coat and Badge, Southwark

Made my first visit here for donkey's years on Sunday afternoon, as it seemed the perfect place to stop off and enjoy the world going by on a hot sunny day.

I don't recall it being a Nicholson's - clearly the multi-level designed and grotesque grey concrete facade suggests a 1970s pub/restaurant origin, and frankly I was much re-assured by the Nicholson's paraphernalia as it not only implies a bit more homeliness and character (even if it is faux) and a reliable food and drinks range.

I wasn't disappointed on any of these fronts. Let's get the negatives out of the way: the cask ale selection wasn't as broad as many of the chain's counterparts, but as I was on a Pimm's tip I didn't fret about that - as to quality I can only rely on others to comment but I imagine it is good. Secondly - yes the prices can be somewhat prohibitive as sadly one comes to expect from prime riverside London locations. But we didn't think a large pitcher of aforesaid concoction at 18 these days was too awful - I've known worse!

We eschewed the bottom bar's outside seating area as it is very shaded and buried at the bottom of Blackfriars Bridge - on a sunny day I'd recommend you head up to the top floor bar and try to secure seating on the terrace, which has commanding views up and down river. It is a glorious sun-trap so be mindful not to turn pink as you while away what will almost certainly be too long chatting, quaffing, viewing and sun-soaking. To our mutual amazement, as a fivesome we still managed to grab a table with no tussles. Perhaps the reviews on price here are putting punters off?!

I should make mention of service standards, given that they didn't always reach the expected level by previous reviewer's reckonings. Can't speak for the first 3 levels, but the 2 youngsters covering the top bar were perfectly pleasant - it took a while to mix up the jugs of Pimms but only because half the ingredients were downstairs so fair play.

Doggett's may not suit everybody's idea of a classic pub experience, nor may it suit if you're not able or willing to enjoy some al fresco socialising. But on the right day and with the right people, and in the right mood, it could just hit the rignt spot.

20 Aug 2012 14:21

The Cock and Lion, Bond Street

A reasonable, though unexceptional, traditionally-themed boozer just down the road from the excellent Pontefract Castle. Whilst it doesn't compete with them on ale range, 4 were offered and the pint of T Taylor's Landlord was in reasonable nick.

The most noteworthy feature of this pub during my visit last night was the friendliness of the barmaid - while some might say that should be as given and all part of the service, as we know it is not to be taken for granted, especially in the capital. She was engaging, chatty and served the beer with a smile. My cousin suspected she was from more northerly climes, which might explain her more outgoing nature?!

Clientele were after-work types, and fairly mixed. Nothing out of the ordinary really - which sort of summed the Cock & Lion up for me - I would not go out of my way to return, but wouldn't object if the opportunity presented itself as convenient.

15 Aug 2012 18:23

The Angel in the Fields, Bond Street

The usual Sam Smith's selection yes, but sadly nothing handpulled. Even a pint of easy-drinking OBB is better than nothing! I'm surprised in an increasingly cask-aware beer drinking market that a pub can still offer no real ale and think that's acceptable. I didn't stay once I twigged as I don't particualrly favour Smith's keg or lager offerings.

Saying that, we were chased by a very eager landlady who wanted to know why we'd walked out. She was very decent about it and seemed keen to engage in feedback as to how she could improve, as she'd only taken over very recently. She admitted the ale problem was poor and was keen to get something in - it'll be OBB of course but that's good enough. We had a nice chat and parted company, but I at least sensed that she had a genuine desire to listen, act and improve - especially because the Angel is actually a fine pub that isn't lacking in character and other worthy features.

Best of luck - watch this space.

15 Aug 2012 18:19

The Golden Eagle, Bond Street

Now here is a what even the least-seasoned of pub visitors would call a 'proper' pub! Having suffered the faint air of snobbery and shallowness of the crowd at the Coach Makers down the lane, my cousin and I were after a drink in a more earthy, honest kind of a venue. We couldn't have stumbled upon a finer example of those traits, for the Eagle was something of an authentic London gem - despite being in the heart of an increasingly modern and moneyed neighbourhood.

The place was gently thronging when we arived yesterday evening, still with bar space but some punters had taken themselves outside - it was a warm night. The service we received from both ladies at the bar (apparently the landlady's young daughter and another helper of more mature years but equally comely) was splendid - chatty and informal yet efficient and correct.

The cousin and I proceeded to enjoy a good old chin-wag propped at the bar, as someone struck up a tune on the old Joanna - I know, sounds like a terrible tourist-trap cliche, but from what we could ascertain it is just how it normally is here! It didn't feel or look staged, and we were assured that it's very much a local where people have stuck to the more traditional way of a London lounge-room than most. It really exuded a feel-good factor.

The clientele was far more mixed - and by definition more interesting and less-insular - than that found at the Coach. One really could have been in a different district.

There was only one fly in the ointment. And for me, it is a rather large bluebottle of a fly. I hadn't mentioned the ale yet - sadly because I can't report anything good about it, other than the range, in principle, was reasonable. My first attempt - a guest ale whose name escapes me - was found in a decidedly tepid and frankly on-the-turn condition. I struggled amnfully onwards as I didn't want to cause embarrassment and was rather enjoying everything else, but after a half I had to give in. The barmaid was very gracious and pulled me a pint of the Marston's as an alternative, at no charge (though sadly the landlady was consulted and didn't accept there was anything wrong - clearly her staff disagreed but clearly her word was law - not a good sign). It is with regret that I must report that the second beer was not much better - not turning but still very warm. I didn't have the heart to return it so stuck it out, but it was such a disappointment given the other obvious attractions of this house. A half of Pride was sampled - yes - still overheated and in weak condition! I can only assume the remaining option - Tribute - was likewise. Maybe it is a cellar very susceptible to climate and the weather had done for the casks, as the last commentator below seems to have found them in good nick in April. But really, it was not good enough. If the turnover isn't sufficient to keep 4 on, stick to 3 or even 2 and ensure they're in the finest form you can muster.

With beer as the leading criterion, I'd have to score this a 5, but with everything else in thoroughly decent order, it raises to a 6. Maybe even 7 if I allow benefit of considerable doubt on the cellarage front! But the character is enough to merit further visits. This place, and maybe the Seven Stars in Carey Street, are about the only London pubs left that still offer something beyond the bland or identikit. Don't ever change that.

15 Aug 2012 18:13

The Coach Makers, Marylebone

A wonderfully-preserved Victorian exterior greets the eye as one crosses Bentinck Street to the front entrance of this pub. However, arguably, that aesthetic has not been observed indoors; clearly a recent refubishment has seen to it that the Coach Makers is far from traditional, and aims fairly and squarely at the restaurant and wine bar fraternity/sorority. It isn't unpleasant, like some stark and antiseptic contemporary bars can be, but it just didn't seem quite the right fit somehow, and I have to say I left feeling no real sense of depth or character, other than it was expensive, and plainly designed to attract the moneyed classes of Marylebone.

The service was okay though hardly welcoming. The usual London crap really. My pint of ale was served acceptably though weirdly my cousin's lager was severely lacking in measure - when he asked politely for a top-up one was given but it was so half-hearted that it barely made any difference. Not good at the best of times, but when in the realms of the 4+ pint....

The people weren't objectionably obnoxious or loud (although one might have expected that they would be); the conversation around the various tables was measured and created a pleasant enough backgroun burr. But there was more than a whiff of underlying snootiness about the place, and nothing about it made me want to outstay the limited welcome I'd received. After a single drink cuz and I decided to bat on for somewhere a little less-refined, but with more depth and feeling. We ended up at the Golden Eagle, and found just that!

15 Aug 2012 17:57

Ye Olde One Bull, Bury St Edmunds

Sadly the last of only 4 pubs I had to check into during a visit last weekend - but a wise choice. Although perhaps the interior of the Bull jars somewhat with one's expectations of it from the outside, it was smart, and despite its clear orientation towards the modern and the wine-bar aesthetic, the beer is what it's all about.

Cask-wise there is an excellent spread of ale, including rare Brewshed offerings (the Pale here was simply excellent - refreshing on a hot afternoon without being anodyne). All drinnks were served efficiently and with a smile by the barmaid.

I should make mention of food too, as although I didn't take any lunch here (already stuffed myself with chicken and chips elsewhere), what I observed from both the menu and the dishes as they emerged from the kitchen looked positive. I wouldn't mind coming back some day to try it out for size.

I think there was a garden to the rear which was busy with sun-seekers, though we stayed at the front, making usage of the comfy leather seating. A great place to get 'intimate' with someone over a glass of wine or beer I'd say.

Have a care with the two floor-to-ceiling glass panels set in the wall separating the bar from the seating area though - one of our number mistook the crystal-clear glass for an open doorway and walked straight into it, happily not shattering the pane or incurring any injury (other than to his pride perhaps), but spilling lots of his beer down the glass! The barmaid swiftly attended to it as if to suggest that it might not have been the first time it had happened.

All in all, perhaps a little antiseptic for those who prefer their pubs more trad, but otherwise, a bit of a mecca for beer and grub lovers.

15 Aug 2012 17:47

The Nutshell, Bury St Edmunds

Perhaps a "must-do" but only if one can actually get in to the building! The obvious charms of the Nutshell seemed to ensure that on a busy Saturday afternoon it remained permanently-packed with punters - i.e. about 6 people! Even outdoors it was over-run.

The quaintness of the place and the character it exudes are natural draws, but not enough to make me hang around and wait for a space - particularly as I was told by the few that made it to the bar that the only cask beer on offer is oh-so-predictable Greene King. If you want a better drink in a more capacious environment, go elsewhere.

As I never got in, I can't really rate this pub. Good luck to those who do have the patience to manage it!

15 Aug 2012 17:39

The Old Cannon Brewery, Bury St Edmunds

Arrived here for a booked visit of the rather cute little brewery last Saturday. As we were somewhat earlier than planned, we got stuck in to the OCB beers - 3 featured (Best, Gunner's Daughter and Rusty Gun) although we were reliably informed that many more are made, depending on seasonal availability. The cask beers were largely kept very well; cool but not too chilled, clean and crisp in body. The Rusty Gun was in very fine form; perhaps not ideally to my personal taste but clearly a sound beer. The Gunner's was well-received by others in our party as was the Best - though that had to be changed early-on as the first couple pf pints were absolutely chock-full of sediment! Bad luck maybe, though expecting one of us to pay for a replacement when the original beer was undrinkable seemed a mean touch (I managed to exchange mine without any money being asked for so maybe it was just a misunderstanding).

That brings me to service and so on. The young chap who gave us the tour was informative and well-presented. All aspects of the small but eminently capable operation were explained. However, the service at the bar was I must say poor. 2 young girls of foreign extraction (not necessarily relevant but language seemed limited - barely a word spoken to any of us), who seemed to have little awareness or respect for the drinks they were pouring; at one stage 1 of them was attempting to transfer some beer into a take-out and ended up spilling most of it on the work surface! It was hardly a jolly and hearty welcome in that respect.

The pub itself has apparently been given a considerable makeover in recent years; the brewery dates back to 1999 but clearly the current arrangement with the immaculate (but still used) silver tuns tucked away in the corner is a much fresher development. There is a contemporary twist to the place, which is light and fresh in feel, though for my tastes lacking in a genuine sense of character, especially given the pub's age. I fear that any patina the place had was torn away when the upgrades were embarked upon. Still, a smart venue to eat and drink which I'm sure is very successful.

The food looked tempting, though we didn't indulge as our visit actually didn't last long - regrettably the brewery were comparatively ungenerous with the samples given to us after the tour (only 1 pint per person - usually we're used to several - sorry!). We decided we'd make the most of our Bury experience and headed off to the nearby (and excellent) Beerhouse, and thence into town.

A cracking little enterprise, and one which I hope continues to prosper. But as a pub, I left feeling somewhat deflated. I'd come back if up in Bury again, but maybe I'd visit their nearby brew-pub competitors at the Beerhouse first...

15 Aug 2012 17:33

The Beerhouse, Bury St Edmunds

We were up in Bury en masse primarily to visit the Old Cannon Brewery nearby. However, despite having received an informative tour of the premises, we received a very modest sample of their wares, so as a hastily-formulated Plan B we repaired to the Beerhouse, where we hoped we might get a better brew-pub experience. We didn't get into the brewery itself, but we did receive a hearty welcome from the barmaid (a girlfriend of the brewer at Cannon!), who was not only charming but increasingly tolerant of our high jinx as we bedded in all too comfortably at the bar.

She furnished us with samples (not free but at 2.85 who's complaining!) from the Brewshed - the Pale was excellent, and the Best was interesting too. There was a stout I believe too which went down well with others in our party. We even got round to discussing the merits of the various Scotches available. Otherwise, one could've been forgiven for thinking this is a Nethergate house, as all but 2 of the pumps were occupied by their offerings. Apparently there'd been something of a Nethergate fest over the recent days so it was a hangover from that - not the only hangover in town I'm sure as some of those beers can be pretty rich!

The pub was empty upon arrival early afternoon but steadily began to fill with seemingly like-minded quaffers, in single, group and couple configurations. The Beerhouse appears traditional from without but within, it is a light, airy and quite contemporary space which doesn't always suit a pub, but it did seem to gel well for this operation. If the welcome and the wares are sound, the decor matters less and less anyway.

Really, this was a very jolly experience and I'm now rather grateful that Cannon didn't offer more of themselves as it allowed us plenty of time to get acquainted with the Brewshed instead! If ever I'm up here again, this is where I'd head for immediately if in need of liquid refreshment.

15 Aug 2012 17:17

The Railway Tavern, Chelmsford

The barmaid who served me here last Saturday evening for a quick pint smiled - though unless she'd dyed her hair blonde she wasn't the one referred to below.

This is a corking little pub, which suggests genuine character from the appealing exterior, and whilst it perhaps delivers a less-than-authentic experience once inside, there is a solidity about the bar area, and there was a certain comfiness to the place.

Ale-wise, a selection of worthy options was presented, and that which was sampled was clean and crisp, and pulled properly by the blonde lady.

There was a steady hubbub which was gradually building as various Brits were about to compete in the day's Olympic events - things were getting more excitable as we left, just as Mo Farah's ultimately-successful 5,000 metre bid began.

I can't say much more on the Railway, owing to the all-too-brief time I spent there. However, what I found I liked and I really wished we had more time to while away there. Definitely a bit of a gem and if you're local to Chelmsford and value I'd recommend you make yourself available to come here - if you don't already.

15 Aug 2012 17:04

The Original Plough, Chelmsford

Stopped in here for the briefest of halves during a 45-minute stop in Chelmsford en route back from a trip to some brew-pubs in Bury St Edmunds.

Pretty standard Nicholson's fixtures and fittings - and nothing too shabby in that as the traditional robust-looking interior suited the building, and of course there was fine ale and food to be found. Cask-wise the choice was wide, and the quick sample I tried (sorry, forget what it was) seemed in decent nick and I only hope it was representative of the overall quality (beer's usually not a problem in a Nicholson's house).

Maybe not ground-breaking but outside of the usual London context a Nicholson's pub has more of a novelty value around it.

15 Aug 2012 16:57

The Mitre, Greenwich

Popped in here for a final ale after an afternoon of them, topped out by a rather generously-portioned Chinese dish up the road.

The pub was decent enough, along traditionally-organised and decorated lines, and actually is deceptively spacious, reaching back quite a way and with the advantage of a small covered garden area to the rear of the rather fine early Victorian(?) building. It was moderately busy last Saturday evening, with a mix of local Greenwichers, and Olympically-affiliated staff, and tourists, though the latter group appeared to be represented least with the former in the ascendant. The local boy amongst our number was of the opinion the Mitre was more of a locals' pub nowadays, it being by-passed by most visitors en route into the more central locations.

Four ales featured on the handpumps which was a surprising but welcome sign. I had a pint of Old Hooky, but besides not really being up for it following a massive amount of food and drink earlier on, it wasn't the most enjoyable of experiences as the beer was a little too warm and rather flat. That is exactly the kind of condition that anti-cask and pro-keg drinkers always assume real ale is to be found in - perhaps once upon a time it was a commonplace problem - but fortunately most ale is kept in far-better nick, so to have a decent range of beer and be serving it in a lukewarm past-its-best state seemed to be letting the side down, as one would imagine there is an interest in providing good cask on the part of the licensees. Saying that, perhaps their interest outstrips that of the local market; I noticed the majority of punters were on the lager, which I'm sure was ice-cold and super-fizzy. A lack of turnover could be the problem?

Otherwise, this was a pleasant enough little diversion before hitting the trains. Whilst my first visit didn't inspire me to make a definite date to return in the future, if in the vicinity on a pub crawl in future I wouldn't necessarily write this off - I'd like to give the beer another chance if nothing else.

7 Aug 2012 12:25

Trafalgar Tavern, Greenwich

Yes indeed folks, I was stung for a round here last Saturday like so many have been before me, but then again it wasn't as if I didn't know it would be ludicrously over-priced; a pub like this given its heritage and location would always find the temptation to ramp up pricetags for willing tourists irrestistible.

The Trafalgar isn't without merit - it's history is evident in and outside and the building itself is an excellent example of Georgian riverside architecture. It does reflect the once rich history of trade and shipping on the adjacent Thames, and commands worthwhile views across the waterway even today. Though I have to say - to coin an apt phrase - the ship is spoiled for a hap'orth o' tar as the building is plainly in need of a serious uprgade. Given the excessive prices charged and paid here, one would hope some of that would be syphoned into giving the building's fabric a bit of TLC.

As a pub, it doesn't excel; even without the pricing issues it doesn't feel particularly welcoming, though the basic boxes are ticked - bar, beer, seating, toilet etc. Beer was well-kept enough but not outstanding especially for the price. Food was popular but only among a certain type of tourist with more money than sense who has made the classic error of valuing a 'riverside location' and 'richness of heritage' over the quality of the actual venue and its wares. Yes, there is a statue of Nelson. But to more educated and open of eyes that does not excuse or justify the weaknesses about the actual pub!

I did enjoy a pleasant time whilst here, because we sat outside on the nearby bench and watched the world go by, engaging in some witty banter with some tourists along the way, on a sunny Saturday afternoon. But without the clemency of the weather and the locational advantage, there would've been little of interest to keep us there.

Once in a while on the right day the Trafalgar may hold enough for you to justify paying the price and overlooking its faults. But any greater frequency would I think be a frustrating experience seeing how much better it could be, and an exasperating one as the drain on funds to pay what seems to be a kind of riverside seating tax becomes too much to bear.

7 Aug 2012 11:43

King's Arms, Greenwich

An arguably rather dull and unmemorable establishment, though one which seemed to fundamentally deliver on all the main areas of concern - most cask ales were inevitably from the GK stable but 1 guest featured and was served and conditioned well enough. Staff on the bar were pleasant and efficient (business was reasonably brisk being a dry Saturday afternoon during the Olympic Games period). The interior was smart with plenty of seating (aimed partly I think at eaters though we weren't hungry). The exterior is notable at the rear as there is a capacious garden which was home to a mix of punters from American tourists to locals. Toilets were as I recall in reasonable order.

No detailed or indulgent review possible here because the above paragraph just about sums the Kings Arms up; not especially great but certainly not bad. A reasonable inclusion for a Greenwich-wide pub crawl, but I'd guess you'd be quite bored if you outstayed your welcome here.

7 Aug 2012 11:30

The Gate Clock, Greenwich

After some deliberation amongst us, it was decided we'd pay a visit to this Wetherspoon's last Saturday as part of a wider crawl around the area. I must confess to being suspicious at first, not least because I thought my mate had said "let's go to the Gay Cock". Realising the actual name of the establishment provided me with some reassurance, though I remain unclear on what it alludes to. Something shipping-orientated I expect, this being Greenwich.

Anyway, a by-numbers, atmosphere-less modern pub which can only be of a very recent vintage, the Gate Clock was nevertheless busy with a mixed though arguably slightly less-high-end element of local trade. There were markedly fewer Olympic tourist types here though some had sniffed it out presumably less-concerned with traditional English pub character and more bound up with cheap food and drink.

Bar staff all looked about 17 but seemed efficient enough - a hat-trick of well-poured pints were brought forth (incidentally of well-kept Adnams Gunhill - the cask range was relatively limited for a JDW but what was available was decent). Locals were quite chatty and forthcoming, although we did little to encourage their attentions.

Decided to move upstairs which may initially appear just to be toilet facilities but our local connection advised there was a bar there. The upper bar was far more restricted in choice than the lower but could be useful if things got really rammed. There is plenty of comfy seating, and large TVs displaying the latest British glory in the Games. Large windows - mercifully open as it was boiling hot up there - have a view out to the older part of the street which has somehow remained standing amidst a swathe of modern development.

I wouldn't come out of my way to get back here, mainly because although it was fine in some respects, it was just so bland. But like so many of its kind, it serves a purpose if up for a quick drink/meal turn-around at excellent prices, and one knows what to expect.

7 Aug 2012 11:05

The Spanish Galleon, Greenwich

Haven't been in here for many a year. A return visit as part of a local crawl on Saturday showed me that very little appears to have altered. The Galleon remains a pretty standard Sheps' pub, featuring 3 of their usual cask beers on pump - Kent's Best, Spitfire and - perhaps unseasonally - Bishop's Finger. All 3 were sampled by me and my partners-on-the-piss and they were acceptably-conditioned, though we all agreed a little warm to be as enjoyable as they could be - I always think Neame beers can take a touch more chilling than some ales and indeed can improve the experience when arriving on the palate.

Although not tried by us, I should make mention of the availability of some bottled Sheps offerings - including the usually-splendid Whitstable Bay which can provide a viable alternative to the cask selection if none of that appeals.

The place was busy, primarily I think with visitors rather than locals, but then given the time of year and the Olympic context this was inevitable. Certainly business was a-boomin', with plenty of food orders rolling in (the fish and chips is apparently excellent here). Passing trade is presumably what keeps the Galleon going.

Interior-wise, it's pretty trad, with mahogany fixtures and fittings and I assume other faux Victorian touches, but all works well and provides a welcoming backdrop for a few drinks and a meal.

In short: good, and worth a visit, especially as part of a wider exploration of Greenwich pubbery. Though maybe a little drab if one were to pitch up there for too long.

7 Aug 2012 10:38

The Gipsy Moth, Greenwich

Visited this pub for the first time with a mate who knows it well, on his recommendation. Whilst it obviously occupies a prime location in town close to all the obvious tourist lures (most notably the ever-impressive Cutty Sark), the Gipsy Moth actually surprised me by being a rather good pub in its own right, which didn't seem to be relying wholesale on a lazy by-numbers formula just to please an endless stream of visited who don't know any better. Granted, the pub is hardly great value, with cask ales starting at around 3.80 a pint, but sadly one must expect that in this district, particularly with all the Olympic fuss at the present time. Otherwise though, all indications were that it's worth a return visit.

The pub is traditionally-laid out but with some more contemporary touches; the conservatory and garden areas are perfect in dry weather to take in the buzzy nature of the nearby attractions. The decor suits the building and is both clean and stylish.

Service was excellent - sufficient staff had been deployed to cover the busy bar on a Saturday morning and they seemed friendly enough. Most importantly, they seemed to know how to pull a pint properly - though I would warn them to ensure they always fill glasses to the top (especially when 2 pints comes in at 7.70!).

The cask beer quality was splendid - a lovely crisp pint of Purity Mad Goose opened play, followed by Pale Horse. I was reliably informed by my compadres that the Roosters Yankee was in fine fettle too. During our stay another 2 ales were put on, which was an even more encouraging sign. I don't know if this is currently GBG-rated, but if not, it surely should be considered for entry.

Food seemed to be doing a brisk trade - again, not cheap, but observations suggested it looked like decent enough fare.

All in all a very pleasant session here and certainly one of Greenwich's better pub options. Recommended.

7 Aug 2012 10:23

The Two Brewers, Whitstable

Quick addendum to my 2011 comment: I did come back in here, late-doors for some hardly-needed but still much-wanted quaffage on Saturday 21st July. Beer was stilldecent enough. Big karaoke-led party at the rear. Tawdry though that was, it is a rare guilty pleasure of TWG's, and I tried to get into the spirit by putting myself down for a tune. Bloody DJ was obviously either being paid or receiving sexual favours by locals (mostly girls), as after waiting over an hour, the show ended at midnight, with some people having had three goes, yet I never got a look-in! And I so was looking forward to wowing the world with my rendition of "What Is Love" by Howard Jones....

They dunno what they missed!

1 Aug 2012 17:32

The Royal Naval Reserve, Whitstable

Ultimately, not a pub I had any predetermined plan to visit while in Whitstable for the wonderful oyster festival a couple of weekends back, but having left the beach and all its delights behind in the evening and taken a quick bite at a nearby Italian restaurant, I needed to walk myself back to my accommodation, which was conveniently situated at the south end of the main street. A few pub options present themselves on that lively and vibrant route - the Ship Centurion probably being my preference, but I'd already been in the morning - so I walked on having vowed to sample somewhere different. Having rejected the predictable if usually-sound Wetherspoon option, I discovered what appeared to be a traditional, cosy little local, and despite it being a Shepherd Neame house which inevitably narrows the cask beer field, I gave it a chance.

That pub was the Royal Naval Reserve. And by and large, I wasn't too far wrong in my estimation of the venue from its outward appearance. Once indoors one is presented with a traditional, seafaring (well what a novelty in Whitstable) sort of feel, which was small, but its limited floorspace encouraged a hearty intimacy amongst its customers - who numbered many as it was a busy Saturday night and everyone was in festival spirit. Whether it's always that well patronised remains to be seen, but the atmosphere was infectious that night. There were as many ladies as gents in attendance, although arguavly accented towards the 40+ demongraphic. Albeit that youthful vigour might have been lacking, music was playing and everyone was locked in lively conversations, suggesting a good old time was being had by all - an encouraging sign in a local.

The service at the small bar area was noteworthy - getting served quite promptly as an unknown face amongst a sea of locals with only one person on the bar was impressive. A well-poured pint of Sheps' was delivered by what I assumed was the landlady - and it was not your run of the mill offering; some sort of stout whose name I forget now without researching, but I do recall it went down a treat. A couple of other more routine SN beers featured for the less-adventurous, alongside the usual raft of mass-produced keg and bottled products for those not converted to cask.

I can't pass judgement on food, as it wasn't being served that late on, but from the previous review I'd be tempted to give it a try in future.

A very friendly and jolly establishment when busy, and I'd imagine a quiet and cosy haven when it isn't. Maybe not an outstanding pub but certainly not to be dismissed without trying, at least not by the pubgoer who favours tradition and community in their boozers.

1 Aug 2012 13:52

Queens Head, Ramsgate

Not exactly an obvious choice for discerning ale drinkers to opt for, as it plainly seemed to be more of a pub with clubby leanings; loud music (which I'm sure was coming from the radio?!), doormen in tight suits, and lots of young folk (and actually on closer observation not so young) all dolled up ready for an evening on the Jagerbombs.

But, it was relatively late in the day and it looked lively enough to keep our flagging bodies awake for a tad longer, so as an antidote to all the serious beer dens we'd visited in town earlier, we unbuttoned our jackets, puffed our chests out, and ventured forth into the rather palatial Victorian entrance of the Queens Head.

What we found was not entirely unexpected, but some aspects of it were. Perfectly-acceptable pints of good ale were served, efficiently, by the barmaid and a reasonable price was paid. There was no obvious indication of excess drunkenness or rowdy behaviour, and despite the din the rather mixed clientele did seem to be more focused on conversation than gyration. So far so good.

We found seats out front in the commodious but ever-so-slightly twee garden area which one might not have expected to find at a niterie such as this. Still, comfort was assured and as things inevitably got busier - probably not much competition for nightlifers in Ramsgate - we felt we'd opted for the most sensible position in which to quietly quaff our ales.

It didn't endear enough to embolden us to order a second drink. But it wouldn't have been the worst case scenario to endure had we stayed.

Not a patch on some of the area's other pubs, but it serves a useful purpose, and does add to the gaiety and vibrancy of the harbour area.

27 Jul 2012 13:35

Conqueror, Ramsgate

One of east Kent's emergent micropubs which happily seem to be proliferating hereabouts, presumably keen to follow the successful blueprint set down by Martyn at the Butchers in Herne a few years ago. The Conqueror was set up recently by a local CamRA official, Colin Aris, who is a very jolly and convivial host, who has all the right qualities to dictate a steady and civilised pace in the 'front room' atmosphere that a micropub must master if it is to succeed. I'd have to say that he is a little less brisk than Martyn and he has a kind of cuddly compere quality about him. He seemed to revel in moving amongst us and holding court - but not in a pompous or theatrical way - with the cluster of like-minded ale enthusiasts who have all experienced that same epiphany that me and my mate did in that we rediscovered the notion that a pub sometimes just needs to be simple and no-nonsense, focusing solely on excellent local beer and good civil conversation that should flow from that, with some basic cold food an optional extra.

Granted, that model won't suit every pubgoer, least of those whose palates have yet to discover the delights of cask ale! But for those of us who do, and have perhaps started to tire of the gathering inclinations towards gastro-ism, expensive foreign imports, or at the other end of the scale cheap identikit bars, large TV screens and so on, this sort of venue is manna from heaven.

The ale choice was of course, local as can be - or at least it was until Colin had to replace a rather nasty barrel of Goody's Good Heavens (not to my personal taste anyway but sadly he'd been sold a real duffer - some of the most disgusting beer I've ever tasted!) with one of, er, Castle Rock! Well, it was kept to perfection and I'm not one who insists on every beer having to be brewed within 10 miles. This was an unfortunate occurrence as it is clear that bad beer in the Conqueror is extremely rare - I suspect Colin will have been on the phone to Martyn about that the next day! Otherwise, needless to say, all was well on the stillage.

There was a gentle hubbub of chat, punctuated by the odd visit to the tap room for the toilet. Cheese was provided in what looked like a worryingly processed piece of plastic wrapping - but you know what? It was bloody cheddar gorgeous! Really went so well with our ales. Later on, someone went out on landlord's orders to fetch some fish and chips, which were generously shared around and went well when washed down with the beer.

I must say that besides the inherently-space limiting nature of the format, I find micros to be predominantly male-orientated pubs. Certainly that seemed so on the night we visited the Conqueror, and previously at the Butchers. However, it isn't a 'laddish' or 'working men's club' environment here; women are just as welcome, and usually some kind of wines or spirits are provided if ale or cider doesn't float their alcoholic boat. Other micros at Westgate and Deal certainly had a decent influx of the fairer sex on my recent drop-ins, so don't ever think if you're female this kind of place won't do for you. The main bond between all patrons is the mutual love of good beer - plain and simple. If you fit that mould, you'll love this and its nearby counterparts irrespective of age, gender, sexual orientation, politics or wealth.

Come ale ye faithful!

This promises so little from without - as the photo above testifies - yet once within it yields so much albeit in an arguably narrow field. Apparently this premises was leased and set-up for around 10K - amazing what a relatively small sum can do eh?

A genuine classic-in-the-making; I'll be back.

27 Jul 2012 11:10

The Foy Boat, Ramsgate

A mate and me stayed here overnight last weekend at a very competitive rate - a twin room for one night (standard no en suite but bathroom only round the corner) for 60. Ramsgate is not generally an expensive place and I'd always recommend it for a break that won't break your bank. The accommodation was clean, tidy, and sufficiently spacious, at least for our basic needs (we simply need bed and board whilst pitching up for a piss-up!).

I can't comment legitimately on the usual qualities I look for in a boozer - ale range and quality, bar service, atmosphere, food, as the Foy merely provided us with a roof over our heads for the night and breakfast in the morning; we never actually visited the bar proper. However, I can affirm that the quality of the brekkie was sound (top bacon in particular!), and that the landlord was a very welcoming and easy-going sort of fellow who seemed to know how best to run the business.

With regards to the decrying by some of the Foy's ale choice, we sounded the landlord out over this, and I'm afraid it boils down to that familiar old chestnut, excessive pubco costs to their tenants/managers. Enterprise own it (they seem to own so many even now), and although they now sign up to the SIBA direct delivery scheme and offer better beer choice, they take a massive cut and so by the time it hits the cellar, to make any money the licensee often has to charge above the market rate. Apparently, he has tried out a broader cask selection here and it was welcomed in principle, but there wasn't enough support for it locally to justify maintaining it - and that was essentially because customers weren't prepared to pay the 3.80 price that he had to put on irregular ales to make any kind of profit from it. In some markets that'd be excessive but not unusual, and more affluent (or careless!) punters would dig deeper to cover it, but give that Ramsgate is a peculiarly cheap haven for beer (many pubs especially the Conqueror micropub serve at 2.60-3), clearly any pint however worthwhile being sold for even 3.50 would seem unacceptably steep. So, for now at least, this licensee concentrates on keeping his regular - if predictable and ubiquitous - ales in good order. Fair enough says I.

Finally I should make some mention of the rather unusual architecture - the Foy is a classic 1930s/40s building of the art deco inclination, which admittedly may jar wiuth the nearby Victorian terraces, but does sit suitably in its harbourside setting, with a wonderful vista across the water. It was a splendid sunny morning last Saturday and the landlord let us out on to the balcony for a while which was a delight. The interior has maintained its character and all told it's a nicely-kept homage to the period of its construction.

My score is given mostly on location, value, accommodation standards and service from the licensee - if I ever get to try the bar and beer it may justify more.

27 Jul 2012 10:32

The Churchill Tavern, Ramsgate

Not sure about all this "out the back" business mentioned below; I was in here last Friday evening late doors and a range of about 5 perfectly-acceptable cask beers were featuring, large as life, on the pumps at the main bar. Perhaps I arrived at the back entrance (steady!)? In any event, what I found here was good cheer and beer, with a clearly experienced landlord keeping an eye on everything and ensuiring the smooth running of the bar whilst chipping in and serving/clearing too. The ale - please don't expect me to recall exactly what it was; it had been a long day - was I do remember on good form and certainly had it not been so late we'd have stayed for more.

Staff were chatty and I asked why there seemed to be noisy club music coming from the basement. Apparently, the Churchill has student accommodation in its rooms above, and as it was the end of term, a party was being held. I wouldn't let this bother any of you - there was no ostensible signs of silliness or trouble, and the event ended abruptly bang on midnight when the music was stopped. I got the impression that the pub and the student sides of the business can and do operate quite exclusively of each other. As to the social make-up of the other punters at other more civilised times of the day, I couldn't say, but given the interior suggested quite a smart, well-managed venue, I'd guess this is at the upper end of the pub spectrum.

All told this was a decent place in a nice area of town, and I'd be likely to pop in again when next in the area.

27 Jul 2012 10:20

The Artillery Arms, Ramsgate

It could well qualify as my favourite ale house too - if I were local that is, which I'm not. But nevertheless I did my level best to become an honorary local during a brief overnight stay in Rammers last weekend with a mate of mine, which took in a thorough exploration of (nearly) all the town's finer hostelries, for research purposes... Well, if I'm ever staying here in future I'll need to know where to come!

The Artillery was immediately appealing to me - even from the kerbside - as it exudes all the classic signs of a corking, authentic and unfussy corner local, occupied by customers of a similar description. Never just a boozer by its cover of course, but in this case, you can, for once inside we were hit by a gentle hubbub of local chit-chat emanating from a mixed array of keen drinkers, mostly enjoying the pub's excellent cask ale variety. The decor was traditional but tidy and entirely suited the character of the place.

Crouch Vale Brewers Gold amongst maybe 4 others (from more local sources) was sampled and found to be tip-top. We were served by what can only be described as a comely barmaid who was efficient in pulling a pair of fine pints.

Standing towards the entrance porch I was somewhat alarmed to see a large supporting joist holding the left-hand side up; we were later advised by those in the know that the pub has had notoriously bad luck for bad drivers crashing into its entrance, with 3 such incidents in the last 8 years apparently. The latest one sustained the current damage though we're assured those marvellous insurance people will pay up and get the place back to former glory soon...!

This is an out-and-out gem and I can't believe it took me all these years to get here. All being well it won't take long before I return.

24 Jul 2012 18:24

The Lifeboat, Margate

I shan't bang on as I sometimes feel obliged to in these reviews about interior and exterior character and decor, as the Lifeboat's is plainly described in accurate detail by previous commentators. Suffice to say it oozes character for a 2-year-old pub (though in a much older building) without being obviously faux, and its raw yet somehow stylish design does much to beguile a quaffer such as myself. I was immediately impressed.

The 'Boat isn't quite a qualifier in the all-the-rage-in-east-Kent 'micropub' revolution, for it does harbour a small bar area to the left (usually no bar), which hosts a range of bottled spirits etc (usually no spirits), and the casks are racked on stillages in the same room (not an ante-room as seems to be the drill with the true micro blueprint). However this is nit-picking, as it is not far off in size and scope, with very limited room, benches for seating inside and out and a keen focus on predominantly local cask beers, ciders and other delights. It inevitably ecnourages conviviality and it seems only those who don't feel awkward about conversing with fellow punters at close quarters bother with pubs like this - which suits me.

My partner-in-booze for the weekend, Dr C Griffin and I were doing the rounds of the Kent coastal area and popped-in on a hot Saturday morning only just in time for doors to be opening (12 noon). Also, owing to silliness with car parking charges we couldn't stay long, but what we gleaned in that brief window suggested this is an absolute bloody corker!! Hell if I lived in Margate I don't think my shagpile at home would be troubled much (I mean my carpet of course...) as I'd effectively be living it up (and down) here with the undoubtedly like-minded caskophiles, enjoying both beer and cheer in equally-generous measure.

We were welcomed by a couple of charming bar staff who served efficiently and pleasantly - sorry; can't agree about them not being friendly. One had had dreadful difficulty in opening the front door so thanks for the perseverence - and the other was jauntily jolly and regaled us with tales of her forthcoming holiday in Cuba. Cultural cornucopia though Havana and Holguin are, I'd rather be here ta very much! Landlord Julian was present and correct and seemed to be a solid, business-like sort of chap who was keeping a close eye without being oppressive.

Ale-wise, Farriers 1606 was enjoyed - despite what I now don't deny was a mini-hangover from Friday night - and my friend boldly went where few men should go that early - the 6% Westerham Audit Ale. Both in terrific nick, and we emerged all the better for it too. Other beers featured of course but go see for yourself if you want to know more!

More like this please, preferably in towns nearer to where I reside!

24 Jul 2012 18:11

Duke of Wellington, Ryarsh

Now this would appear from its external facade to be a pleasant, traditional, comfortable and solid sort of a village local. And that is indeed exactly what it appears to be once one is inside too. A friendly welcome was received from the licensee (I'm guessing she was the landlady; she had a quiet air of authority suggesting she was more than just a regular barmaid), who proceeded to pull us a couple of halves (had to be I'm afriad as we had many pubs to fry that day) of the entirely pleasant, and very well-conditioned, Westerham Spirit XXX Pale. Not reinventing the genre with blinding originality but that's an unfair benchmark of most beers; just a decent sessionable and clean drink for the sunnier months and touch more subtle than some of Wicks's other offerings. Speaking of which, another Westerham beer was offered, alongside a couple more from other brewers - the exact choice escapes me now as so many pub visits followed but rest assured the spread was a wise and balanced one. One could easily pitch up here for a sizeable sesh and not ever feel over-faced by hopping from one beer to another.

Can't comment on the food side as it wasn't quite time for luncheon during our drop-in, though I observed a number of people (primarily younger family types, some with children - who were well behaved I'm amazed to report) who were ordering with gusto from the menu and one can only assume they'd been before and knew they would be satisfied with what they would get!

A small but pleasant little fenced-off garden is available to the rear with good seating for pleasanter days.

I might not be in the vicinity for some time, but when I am I shall be sure to pop in to the Duke for one - a proper pint hopefully - as it was well worthwhile.

24 Jul 2012 17:53

Berry, Walmer

Errantly I'd omitted to recollect the name of this pub when I passed through here in 2010, which was a shame if only because I couldn't do it justice via a glowing BITE review - often the most appropriate way of paying due homage to a pub that has impressed. Upon a 2nd appearance last week, I can say I remained as awestruck by what this little sidestreet local is doing now as I was 2 years ago.

The landlord must be immensely committed, and it just goes to show what can be achieved with that sort of passion, plus - I presume without any prior knowledge - a freehold or at least free-of-tie arrangement which allows pretty free reign on what beer can be offered at the bar. I think 8 were featured, many from Kent and the south though not exclusively. Too numerous to list here and in any case they're ever-changing; observation suggested a fair number of locals were quaffing the fizz, but plainly enough real stuff is shifted here to justify the turnover. Redemption Porter was just one of the beers tried and it was truly splendid. Hop Fuzz was also on form. The man's got this on the money, because he also stocks Harvey's Best, which whilst is slightly off its local patch, is generic enough to appeal to the less-adventurous drinker who just wants a solid traditional best bitter to quaff every visit.

There is a slightly dated - early '80s - front-room feel to the Berry (should that be the "Beery"?!) which somehow doesn't jar as it exudes that kind of working man's club ethos; the pub does authentically feel like more of a social club for the community than anything, with a sports room at the rear, and it caters for a wide spectrum of folk, not soelely the beer enthusiast. One could so easily be snobbish about its humble approach but a visit will see to it that that would be churlish - the welcome from the landlord, the quality and range of his ales, and the jollity and conviviality I encountered when at the bar, all serve to bring one back to what should be valued most in a local: good beer and good cheer.

I hope to be back, whenever I next pass through Walmer.

23 Jul 2012 18:25

The Bohemian, Deal

Apparently closed owing to a rather unfortunate fire - cause not reported to me but clearly with it being boarded up and no sign of work being undertaken it could be a while before the Bohemian is back on song. A local chap told me that the insurance money's the glitch and he thought it'd only just come through, so patience may yet be rewarded.

23 Jul 2012 18:15

The Louis Armstrong, Dover

I so wanted to be grovellingly grateful for having schlepped all the way up the Maison Dieu Road in the pouring rain last Friday to get to this pub. I was expecting to be wowed by a decent range of quality beers, good lively banter and a bit of character. Sadly, partly to do with the mid-afternoon arrival time, poor weather and I hope bad luck on the beer front, I ended up leaving somewhat deflated.

The (usually) trusty GBG got me here and I can't altogether say it shouldn't qualify. While only 2 ales featured on that particular occasion, they looked to be excellent choices - if you like Hopdaemon brewery - as they were Golden Braid and Skrimshander IPA which personally I have much fondness for. However, my Braid was tepid and rather sweet; plainly it had had its day and if I'm honest, only the tight time schedule and the uncertainty as to whether the same problem would have befallen the Skrim stopped me from returning it. I can only pray that I was unlucky because the Louis holds much promise, and clearly the licensees care enough about beer (and presumably usually sell enough) to bother putting something more local and interesting on in the first place?

As to the service - the barmaid - I assume the landlady - was perfectly charming and we felt entirely welcome. Again, this made me feel somewhat guilty in seeking to return the ale! Character-wise, I wasn't disappointed - although it's clearly a very different pub to how it started life as the Grapes - live music would seem to be the dominant feature here and I can only imagine that it would be well worth one's while to get up here and see some good old rock 'n' roll action of a Saturday night. There was an unpretentious, earthy quality about the pub, which - 'tis true - technically needs a little TLC, but then the slightly faded feel of the place does actually add something to it. So many pubs are done up to the nines nowadays but in the process lose that unique patina which was their defining signature. I suspect the Louis is one such venue, so personally I'd say don't ever change - at least not until the peeling picture of old Satchmo on the pub sign outside falls off!

I'd not rule out another visit, but please - don't spoil your ship for a hap'orth of tar by allowing less-than-perfect ale to pass through your pumps. In a pub where the majority drink regular lagers and few ales you can get away with it, but if your GBG place and ale-drinkers' respect are to be secure, strive for perfection wherever possible.

23 Jul 2012 18:11

The White Horse, Dover

This is a bit of a gem in my view. I'd attempted to visit a year ago but was thwarted by closure. Fortunately last week I found it with doors open wide and was able to get inside and see if it was worth the hype.

The pub is cosy and -in the main - traditional in its core decor, with numerous little alcoves and areas in which one can closet oneself and either be merry with a group or intimate with a loved one. The pine wood-led space is complimented - or marred depending on your view - by numerous dawbings all over the ceiling and some walls presumably from various visitors who have passed through the port en route to virtually any location you can imagine worldwide. The signatures date back to the '90s so it's clearly a long-standing tradition here. Me and my mate hadn't come far, weren't going far, and didn't have a black marker pen to hand so didn't contribute; moreover it is tough to find any wallspace remaining on which to write now.

Anyway - to business: 4 good solid cask beers to try here. Loddon's Ferrymans Gold, Hook Norton Old Hooky, I think Sharp's Doom Bar and a guest from Yorksire called Cromwell's Pale - which was sampled and found to be refreshing and well-conditioned. We were about the only punters punting at that point so we had the undivided attention of the barmaid whose service was efficient. If she is the 'ladette' referred to by Stucky66 in his 2010 review I'd be amazed as both she and the 'lad' (presumably the other half) both seemed civil and enough - rare qualities in ones so young - although maybe in livelier sessions they are more boisterous?!

The ole American jazz on the stereo helped add a certain Bohemian element to the White Horse, which may seem very trad from the initial impression, but clearly within it beats a young heart. If I lived here, I imagine I'd make my way over on a fairly regular basis. As it is, it'll have to wait until my next appearance. Tentative after only 1 visit, but this is pretty much an 8.

23 Jul 2012 17:58

Cullins Yard, Dover

Very much what Dover needs really; a seaside and seafaring-orientated restaurant on the marina offering an attractive array of fish and meat-based dishes, and 3 cask beers. Interestingly, 1 of these 3 is now none other than the new brew from the microbrewery now installed at the Yard - the rather end-of-the-pier-inspired Jimmy's Riddle. Not a bad drop, having sampled it both here and a day earlier at the Kent Beer Festival just outside Canterbury. It was priced reasonably, too, which is encouraging as this place surely has a captive audience who could pay handsomely for their wares (at least when the weather's a little more clement than it was on Friday when I popped in - actually it must be simply gorgeous on a day like today!).

Saying that, the food isn't cheap - expect to pay over a tenner for most decent meals on offer. All the same, the quality seemed to be excellent - my chum stuffed a lamb shank down his gullet while I polished off a filleted sea bream with Lyonnais spuds and veggies with little trouble. Service was speedy and efficient, and the food was suitably washed down with the Jimmy's - though I daresay some would prefer a bottle of vino to accompany.

Those interested in brewing might have a quick look at the micro, which is visible through a window on the Cambridge Road. It really is tiny, which doesn't mean they can't produce good beer, but they certainly can't make much of it, so it'll be intriguing in coming months to see if any 2nd beer emerges from the new equipment.

As for keeping the riff-raff out, I suspect that unwritten policy continues to hold, as Cullins is clearly a place populated and preferred by the more civilised customer. Expect as many foreign tourists as locals, mind.

A caveat on the score here: as a restaurant, this would be an 8, but as a pub maybe 7's as high as I could do - and that's primarily because of the new beer.

23 Jul 2012 17:48

The Eight Bells, Dover

So, another Wetherspoon. And clearly one of the 1990s vintage, judging by the external and internal fixtures and fittings. Though nothing essentially awry with that in my opinion; there is a certain predictability but a certain comfort about their more traditional pubs which some might say is lacking in their more adventurous and contemporary of recent conversions.

I am bound to say we didn't expect much, as it would be an obvious venue of preference for shall we say the more mixed punterage in Dover. But despite any silly snobberies, we found it rather enjoyable. Besides the possibility of a bit o' banter between customer and staff - certainly not to be assumed in a JDW - there was a cracking array of 8 cask beers to choose from. This included 3 of the really rather rare Kent Brewery's offerings - KGB, Zingiber and Black Gold. All were flying off the bar, apparently. Wantsum More's Head was available and that went down well alongside the Kent. Others were there if these don't tickle your fancy - if you're in town go along and see. Only 2 a pint which can't be sniffed at after all, if the ale's in good nick, which it was.

Perhaps not a pub one would instinctively wish to remain in for an entire afternoon or evening, but as a part of the patchwork of preferred pubs in Dover, the Eight Bells surely should have a worthy place. You could do worse, here and elsewhere.

23 Jul 2012 17:37

Blakes, Dover

Worth dropping a fresh review for Blakes as I'm advised that the previous incumbents, Peter and Catherine, have moved on - reportedly to retirement rather than another place in the pub trade. A shame, for they knew what they were doing with beer, albeit perhaps with a faint air of knowing superiority which I think one of the earlier reviewers objected to.

I didn't stay long and only indulged in a wee half, so my judgement wasn't so much impaired as ill-informed. But my take on it was that in essence, the good features of the old Blakes were in check: a range of 3 cask beers (all pumped though - no casks now) from a diverse array of sources were served; well-heeled but not overly-snooty locals occupying the cavernous and characterful bar area; a range of decidedly un-snooty meals (chips 'n' gravy for 2.50!), and a nice tucked-away beer garden for when weather is more clement than it was on Friday when I last turned up.

We were served by a friendly and homely-looking sort of lady whom one can only assume was the licencee although I've no evidence for it. She was perhaps less-business-like than Catherine, and certainly less-intimidating than Peter, so perhaps that might help draw some doubting Thomases back to Blakes (hell, if you live here and love good beer I doubt you can afford to be that choosy!).

Saying that though, it somehow lacked a certain vim and vigour of its past. Maybe it was to do with the lunchtime lull - it always was more vibey of an evening in my recollection. But besides being a little quiet, the ales lacked a certain summat too; my Adnams Lighthouse was, well, okay but hardly sock-knocking. My mate's Canterbury Ales (damn can't recall which one) was rather lifeless and flat. I'd say that while choice was gratifying enough, conditioning was lacking a little and there is room for improvement here. The Peter touch was all-too-evidently amiss in this regard - he had the presence of a sergeant-major, but he applied a military discipline to keeping his beer which was worth the salute every time!

Don't know when next I'll be back in Dover but I'll be interested to see how things progress. I'd say don't be lackadaisical; be brisk in business and the customers will briskly follow. A subterranean venue like this needs that bit extra to draw people below as its appeal cannot be displayed from the kerb.

23 Jul 2012 17:29

The Chequers, Farningham

Something of a corker here, which for whatever reason I hadn't visited since about 2006, but managed to drop into on Sunday. Not much had changed - which was to the good - and the place was literally crammed with customers. This was partially down to the recently-returned hot weather I'm sure, but then the Chequers is essentially an indoor venue, so this could be the way one finds it every Sunday afternoon. If so, it is doing very nicely for itself. It did come with a glowing recommendation from some local people I'd got chatting to at the nearby Bull at Horton Kirby.

A charming cottagey street-corner exterior leads you in to a traditionally-decked out and comfortable bar area, which is graced by - amongst other largely irrelevant things - a series of about 7(?) handpumps which I think were all occupied on my visit. Took a pint of Crouch Vale Golden Duck, which was new to me but tasted superb on a hot July afternoon. Various other worthy ales offered - go for yourself to discover more. Service was speedy enough given the sheer number of punters braying for beer, though I am bound to say a little off-hand. Smiles had deserted the young girl who served me sadly. Also, if I'm to nitpick further (others do so why not I?!) the measure was well-short, and the chances of getting the barmaid's attention again for a top-up were somewhere between 'fat' and 'no'. All that being said though, none of it would preclude me from going back ASAP for another sup on their splendid beers, and to mingle with the seemingly friendly and jolly bunch who presumably are lucky enough to fetch up here more than once in 6 years.

If in the delightful village of Farningham for a decent drink, forget all other options - they're pretty by-numbers - and head for the Chequers instead. You may struggle for a seat at busy times, but if you're anything like me standing is a small price to pay for quality beer and cheer.

23 Jul 2012 17:17

The Bull, Horton Kirby

I must say that having visited the Bull for the first time yesterday in the glorious (and until lately much-missed) Summer sunshine, I can confirm that the first photo on the images above is 100% accurate - a charming, tidy and capacious pub garden overlooking a field. And that's just one positive element of this pub.

The atmopshere indoors is convivial, with various locals all enjoying some banter, in an unpretentious yet well-kept interior, presided over by a very welcoming and homely landlady. A mix of people could be found here from older couples to young families, which suggests a wide appeal to the place.

Cask-wise, one had an intriguing range available: Fyne Ales Jarl all the way from Scotland, Oakham Scarlet Macaw from East Anglia, Kent Spring Wheat (clue's in the brewery title as to location), and an "unnamed house bitter". Didn't enquire as to the identity of the latter as the others were more than enough for a quick lunchtime visit. The Kent and Oakham offerings were kept perfectly and clearly things are back on track beer-wise here. Granted, 3 pumps remained dormant, but it'd be churlish to complain about that given the range and quality of what was on.

I was surprised to find the Bull had been rejected from the Good Beer Guide, but happily I didn't inspect it before getting there - this is a lesson in not always assuing the GBG's advice is current, as clearly things are well on the up again at the Bull. Having discussed the ups and downs with some local folks it appears that that old nemesis of publicanism is at fault - excessive rent increases by the (non-publican) owners, which drove the previous award-winning cellarman away. Those that followed tried manfully but apparently failed to keep up. However, the latest incumbent appears to be bearing the rent charges and delivering quality beer and food, so one can only hope the community gives it another chance (many decamped to the Fighting Cocks I'm told when things turned sour for a while).

Food-wise, technically roasts only were on, but despite that a very tasty lasagne with salad and fresh bread was rustled up for 7 and jolly satisfying it was too. It was relatively late doors (3PM) but I got the impression that sort of flexibility would be found even in busier periods.

I must say I liked what I found here all told, and I sincerely hope the current upturn in fortunes continues; if it does, I suspect it'll largely be thanks to the diligence of the landlady, and discernment of the local custom.

23 Jul 2012 17:05

The Black Horse Inn, Lewes

Visited on spec last Friday morning with keen interest, as besides having heard rumours of this pub's dramatic turnaround in fortunes, I am acquainted with the new licensee who also runs a pub in my home town of Redhill, so I was intrigued to see what he'd achieved with the somewhat freer hand he's got with this project.

Let's start by affirming that I wasn't disappointed. I don't have a comparison point as I never made it to the Black Horse in its previous incarnation; Lewes locals elsewhere did advise me the previous incumbent was well-liked and will be missed, but that people were generally pleased with the changes made since his departure.
A range of up to 9 cask ales now feature. Some remain Greene King-affiliated, and despite John's claim to be entirely free of ties, I'm not entirely persuaded, as there remains an accent on their output. Nevertheless, more local offerings feature frequently, with 1648, King and Dark Star all having prominence on the bar. The DS Hophead was fresh from cask and was simply superb; better condition even than the pumped ales I tried.
Mention must be made of cider too; alongside keg offerings we now have a cask - Biddenden's Bushels on handpump last week and it was on song. A series of more mass-produced and ubiquitous lagers are also available, which despite the accent clearly focusing on ale (and it being somewhat cheaper!), still retain popularity with many punters. The most interesting of these is probably Estrella Damm.
Food-wise, things appear to have got off to a flying start, with a broad menu and surprisingly competitive pricing - many mains are in the 7-9 bracket with few items reaching into double figures. Naturally I was advised that it was good quality, though I observed for myself as meals began to appear from the kitchen that they looked inviting and certainly would try it if hunger strikes on my next visit.
Punter-wise, we had a very jolly mix of folk - bar staff were approachable and chatty and freely conversed with customers, which helped create a healthy buzz about the bar atmopshere which I loved. Convivial banter was struck up within minutes of the doors being flung open at 12. People of different ages and backgrounds emerged, though being Lewes everyone was civil; no sign of anti-social leanings here.

All told, I think John has clearly achieved what he set out to do, and it looks like locals are catching on. There is multiple competition here but so far it appears that he has found an edge to keep the pub on the radar of discerning drinkers and eaters. Early days, but best of luck and I hope the momentum is sustained.

9 Jul 2012 18:14

The Ship of Fools, Croydon

Probably about time for a renewal of my 2006 review. Unfortunately, I am bound to say that in my humble opinion, things have not improved here overall. It's been up and down a couple of times in terms of both people and beer quality, but presently I fear it's in the latter phase. It's certainly now weaker than its nearby peer, the George.

The position of the pub in what was briefly a riot-ravaged area in 2011 does give a broad indication of the socio-economic situation locally, and inevitably that influences the pub's customer base and the way it operates - the less-demanding the locals are the less they have to offer perhaps. It's mixed, and earthy - up to you how you interpret this.

Saying that, it's melodramatic to suggest that one will likely succumb to some kind of violence or unpleasantness - indeed stepping into the Ship can be something of a relief from the rougher elements that lurk around on the streets of the immediate vicinity. No obvious evidence on my latest visit today of the now-typical anti-social attitude in town.

Turning to the raw material available here - it's typical Wetherspoon fare really. Haven't eaten for years so who knows about food; it's probably passable for its price. Ale-wise, choice remains broad and quite localised - my quick half of Westerham 1965 was actually perfectly presented, and served with a smile by the barmaid. No substantive comment on anything else.

Ultimately, not an obvious destination pub, but on balance it'll do if in the area and need a quick drink or meal. Just don't outstay your welcome?!

29 Jun 2012 17:12

The Devonshire Arms, Piccadilly

Been to the Devonshire for a quick 'alf on a few occasions over the years but never bothered to rate in on this site. I suspect that wasn't because I had bad things to say about it (I prefer to try and be positive when reviewing pubs), but more because there wasn't anything especially memorable about the place.

It is a firmly traditional pub along the classic blueprint that many pubs in the city now follow, which satisfies the tourist throughput and also does enough to appeal to the local passer-by too, though not perhaps distinct enough to stand-out as somewhere you'd deliberately go out of your way to come back to.

The owners are Taylor Walker who are similar in their traditional, realtively unbranded approach to Nicholson's but in my view not as ambitious; TWs are a little more pedestrian with their food and ale choices for example, although I'd say the quality of each is very similar.

I didn't eat although various punters were revelling in their 'traditional' fish 'n' chip dinners (weird as it was only 4:30 in the afternoon but maybe they'd not adjusted to the time zone yet?!). I enjoyed a reasonable half of Young's London Gold (1 of 3 cask ales available from a maximum of 4 pumps). Service was smiley and efficient.

I quite like the Devonshire in its own way; it has the edge over many similar pubs in the area because it is more tucked-away, and considerably smaller than many. It manages to evoke a little more individuality and intimacy than say the St James Tavern up the road. Will come here again at some point though this will probably be born of convenience rather than deliberate intention.

28 Jun 2012 18:21

St James Tavern, Piccadilly

A fairly typical large Victorian-evoking city pub just off the main drag of Piccadilly. Its pleasant exterior gives way to a similarly-well-preserved interior, following the faithful dark brown wood and heritage decor that is so beloved of large pub-owning companies who know the target market is the tourist.

Clearly there were various tourists in tow on my last (and first) visit here on Tuesday. But there was in fact a mix of people and probably as many locals in taking a punt on the place, because of its sheer convenience if nothing else. A pleasant buzz ran throughout the place and I sensed no minority interests or troublesome behaviour.

Service was from the now-customary East European staff, who were efficient in keeping up with the steady flow of trade. 3 cask beers were available; nothing especially adventurous as presumably this pubco is tied to limited options, but reasonable enough - Brain's SA Gold sampled and was in good order despite unnecessary usage of a sparkler.

Food menus were inevitably much in evidence, and a number of customers were enjoying their wares. As I had no need of solid sustenance myself I can't comment any further, but observations suggested the usual 'traditional' pub fare was on offer (sausage and mash, fish and chips et al). Nothing unusual, but as with the ale, passable enough.

Not a destination pub as it's simply too identikit and innumerate examples of this kind of pub can now be found across central London. But it's not bad and worth popping in if it suits you - certainly preferable to negotiating the constant hurly-burly of shoppers on the streets outside.

28 Jun 2012 18:12

The Edgar Wallace, Temple

Unlike the last reviewer's experience, it sadly was not a lovely sunny day when me and a couple of work friends popped in last Friday evening. Mind you it was dark by the time we arrived, and the pub offered much to charm us once inside, so it hardly mattered.

A series of I believe 8 rather shiny chrome handpumps adorn the bar of the Edgar Wallace, which is significant because most of the accoutrements accompanying them are historical artefacts. The pumps are surely the newest addition to the pub's interior. Much is made of old memorabilia here; a lot of it breweriana but as mentioned below some intriguing old domestic adverts and, naturally, Wallace-related material. Whilst one could criticise for trying too hard, it would be somewhat churlish as there is a distinctive definable atmosphere evoked here, which many London pubs simply fail to muster regardless of how many pieces of history hang on walls, or for that matter how many beers they sell.

Returning to the cask ales, saldy 'only' 5 pumps were active on our visit, but again one would be a churl to be critical of that, as the 5 that were on were highly unusual brews to find in London, and the one I sampled was on strong form. I tried so hard to make a mental note of them all but alas just 3 days later my memory has failed me - the Edgar was preceded by 6 other pubs and a pint was enjoyed in each, so you'll forgive me for the lapse. Be assured the beers were noteworthy though, and varied: certainly one to sniff out if you're a cask aficionado - I couldn't believe I hadn't been here before (well, at least not in recent years anyway).

Not much more to say really - no food served as it was late-doors and don't know about clientele as there weren't many punters left, but previous reports suggest it can be busy, albeit convivial. It's got the perfect combination of being close-at-hand for many central city locations, and yet tucked-away enough to retain some individuality.

I rather think I'll have to get back here.

11 Jun 2012 16:58

The Volunteer, Bristol

Another reinvention for a local boozer in these parts, and one which I approved of - not that I recall having ever visited in its previous life so in fairness I have little to compare - but in all obvious aspects surely it has to have been a big improvement.

Small, intimate, atmospheric and woody best describes the interior, which was built around a goodly number of mostly local ales. Arbor Mild West was sampled and found in a superb state. If I hadn't had further fish to fry I'd surely have spent longer trying some of the others. Service was with a friendly smile from the bar staff. I could smell the kitchen had been recently active but can't say any more on provision of grub other than there is some - sadly there pretty much has to be in the days when it's assumed wet sales lose and food triumphs.

Tucked away, one fears that similarly to the equally-fringe Phoenix down the road, that the Volunteer may not get the attention it now deserves. But if that does transpire - and I hope locals and non-locals alike ensure it doesn't - it shouldn't be down to the people who've obviously worked hard to get this pub back on the drinker's map. So many round the area have gone recently, and so those which keep a toehold should be patronised wherever possible.

Keep up the good work boys and girls - I think I'll be back.

29 May 2012 18:03

The Phoenix, Bristol

Happily, that rather run-down image that greets you above on this site needs to be updated, as the Phoenix has at last lived up to its name and risen from the ashes.

It won't please everybody. It is now a far more modern, contemporary venue indoors, despite its fine Georgian exterior having been sensitively-restored. There are blue lights, 'comfy' furniture, spartan decor generally, and the suspicion of a makeshift dancefloor area at the rear. However, this presumably is what is considered to appeal most keenly to the nearby neighbours, and any passing trade the pub might get, such as it is. Perhaps if its future as an off-beat city centre pub is to endure this is the correct way to go. And let's face it there'd have been little point in trying to recreate its rustic rough 'n' ready heyday as a local real ale mecca.

But that's not to say the new owners have turned their backs on cask beer altogether. A couple still feature, and although one was a little lively, the other sampled was in perfectly good form. Very quiet as it was Sunday afternoon, but a few customers dribbled in during my short visit. The bar was presided over by a very engaging young woman who was more than comofortable to chat with a stranger like me. Last time I was in this pub she was probably only about 5! Oh well, can't dwell on the past forever.

She happily pointed me in the way of the Volunteer, where I was originally headed, but I'm glad I had a chance to stop off at the 'New' Phoenix. I'm pleased it has been reinvented, and despite the plainly challenging location and economic climate, I hope it prospers.

29 May 2012 17:55

Start the Bus, Bristol

The Webel MC has not misappropriated his praise here - this pub should by usual measures be truly ghastly to many of us more traditional, older pub aficionados - yet somehow it just about gets away with it and has enough redeeming elements to make it one to watch, if not a permanent fixture on your Bristolian beer-trails.

Okay. It used to be a Bass-owned 'Edwards' outlet - one of the '90s most uninspiring 'concept' brands that even lacked the vaguely laughable faux paraphernalia of more obvious themed venues such as O'Neill's et al. It was kitted out around 1999 as that kind of bar, and frankly even long after Edwards had its day, it appeared that it would always remain that kind of establishment, lest it be turned into a chain restaurant of course. It catered for the young, but specifically the student, the pseud, the lager-lout, and the mostly unimaginative who were too wet behind the ears to consider anything less predictable.

And by many people's measure, it still is! There's little doubt that while of a higher-end concept than its predecessor, Start The Bus still panders to the youthful market, and my recent visit on the offchance did reveal a number of pseudish punters who were hell-bent on 'hanging out' in that sort of inverted snobbish kind of way that the modern middle class's offspring do so well.

But. But but but. It is populated certainly by a more discerning and less-self-conscious type too. For all the arty adornments, charity clobber and other props that occupy the premises, there was a greater focus on localism, quality and diversity in both the food and drink aspects. Being Sunday, generous roasts were flying out of the kitchen, alongside other similarly appealing-looking fare. Numerous waitresses were whizzing around keeping on top of the hefty demand, mostly from younger customers but also a few older ones. Tables were full - I had to stand and survey the scene.

Both ends of the age spectrum had clearly cottoned-on to the improvements cask-wise too. 4 solid beers were offered - locales in the shape of 2 Butcombe, 1 Moor (Somerland Gold - marvellous) and 1 Copper Dragon from Northern climes. Also 2 cask ciders were on. There was a kind of pleasant hubbub presided over by a live DJ spinning some eclectic but fitting tunes, which weren't offensively obstrusive. Things are looking up indeed, I thought...

Having enjoyed 2.5 pints and a hearty portion of chips, I decided that although it's not 'my kind of venue' as such, it had much to commend it, and even the clientele weren't annoying me. In fact, with the sheer surfeit of young ladies dotted around the place it was hard to know where to look... It may be achingly arty, tryingly trendy, but somehow Start The Bus pulls it off in a similar way to its many counterparts all the way over in Brighton, on which it could well be modelled.

It SHOULDN'T work. But I think it does. See what you think...

29 May 2012 17:45

The Swan Inn, Rowberrow

Perhaps not my first ever appearance here, but certainly one of only two in many years, was made last Monday while taking a leisurely and not-at-all well-earned trawl through some of North Somerset's finest. Sadly I didn't have the time to explore the hidden delights of the local area as hinted at by the previous reviewer, but I did manage a quick 'alf at the Swan. An old pub although one which has been extensively modernised, it is a rambling interior which yields plenty of space for what I imagine would be a raft of families wishing to dine here on a busier shift (I didn't arrive till after 2 and things had definitely quietened down). I daresay food is worthwhile; menus looked enticing enough but alas I'd already filled up beyond what was required at the nearby Plume of Feathers in Rickford. Maybe another time.

Beer-wise, it's Butcombe-tastic, as one might expect. A nicely-conditioned, if ever-so-slightly warm (it was an unexpectedly hot day) half of Gold came my way, with efficient service from the barmaid, and slipped down easily. I sat outdoors owing to the clement weather and noted the extra car capacity across the road, which somehow manages not to totally ruin the rather pleasant patch of green space and adjacent pond. If this weather persists it will be full and the pub empty!

Chalk this up as perhaps not as essential a stop-off as some of its competitors (e.g. the Hunters Lodge at Priddy, the Plume at Rickford, Ring 'o Bells at Hinton Blewitt and of course the exquisite Crown at Churchill), but certainly one to add to the list of possibles when the opportunity next arises.

24 May 2012 17:39

The Plume Of Feathers, Rickford

First drop-in here for me, courtesy of the usually-reliable Good Beer Guide. The times I've driven past this particular fold in the Mendips and never realised this pub was here; it's a real shame because it's absolutely worthy of attention, both in terms of its charming location and splendidly-kept cask ales.

Four local beers featured on my visit on Monday last; these included the evergreen Cheddar Ales Potholer and the equally-alluring Butcombe Mendip Spring which really was on song. The dismal clouds that have plagues the country lately had miraculously just cleared, and it was the perfect opportunity to lounge outside on one of the seats at the front, to enjoy these beers, and a decent portion of ham, egg and chips which filled a rather large hole internally. The menu I should say wasn't the most broad in scope, but I liked the options and there should be something available for most people despite diversity of tastes.

The pub building itself is a charmer, set back from the busy A368 in a green valley, and resembles a terrace of old rural workers' cottages. The interior more-or-less fits with what one would expect, and the bar area is generous, without the clutter of seating and tables which sit to the left and right of where one stands at the central bar. Toilets were in a reasonable state and can be found up the stairs to the left of the bar - don't assume it's a private area! I should also add that service was good, from both licensee/manager and the barmaid.

Clientele-wise, a mix of 30-something ramblers, couples and a couple of very well-heeled 'ladies wot lunch'. Dogs were ever-present but not intrusive, and frankly added some extra character on an otherwise relatively quiet lunch time session.

Definitely one to watch when next in the vicinity, and if you happen to live or work nearby and haven't sampled the Plume's Wares yet, then it's in your interests to do so at the soonest convenience. Granted, parking is tight, but then I tend to find that sort of thing usually works itelf out in the end, with a spot of perseverence!

24 May 2012 17:30

The Griffin Inn, Bath

Unlike one earlier poster here I haven't had the rich and varied experience of this pub dating back to the early '80s. I made my maiden visit on Saturday afternoon following a recommendation from a solid fellow pubgoer, who'd heard the Griffin was on the up.

One expects a damp-carpeted, faded and slightly grimy ex-Ushers kind of interior, but happily the complete opposite is the case - wooden floorboards, light and airy and yet still comfortable. Perhaps it is a little too pared-down, but nevertheless it shouldn't put anyone off at first glance.

Ale-wise, there were 3 out of 4 on I think (visited so many Bath boozers and drank so many brill beers it is a little hard to determine now 4 days hence), and those sampled were found in decent nick. Local too, if I recall. Staff served with a smile, and the old boys quaffing their fizzy cider seemed affable enough too - certainly didn't get any antipathy from locals here, although it was a quiet period.

I didn't - couldn't stay longer as I had many fish to fry, but I'd definitely come back to the Griffin. In a city with so much competition in its pub scene, it'll be interesting to see if it can hold its own now it has smartened itself up and brought in better beer. Perhaps it does lack the character of yesteryear, but not having known it previously, I can possibly appraise it more objectively for what it now is, without being shackled by what it once was.

Good work folks; keep it up.

23 May 2012 18:22

Royal Oak, Lewes

First visit made to this pub last Saturday, as it is about the only one in central Lewes that I've not got round to bothering over the years. Sadly, as I always suspected, it isn't one I shall be bothering with again in a hurry.

The exterior presents itself pleasantly-enough, and one would assume there is a fair-to-middling chance of it being a worthwhile drop-in - after all, few pubs on this manor are aesthetically-lacking, and most have enough kerb appeal to draw even the most wary of punters. The Greene King signage might be a put-off for some alemeisters, but even so it's worth giving some of their outlets a fair crack of your whip, just to be sure.

So one would perhaps expect a pleasant interior, but maybe rather uninspiring cask beer? Not a bit of either. I think (bear in mind the caveat that I was 8 pints down at this point!) there was a potential five ales on, albeit that on my visit only four were available. I had a seasonal Bateman's beer ('Spring Goddess?') which I found to be most palatable. There were three GK-related beers in stock, but clearly the management aren't obliged to stick slavishly to their beers alone. No, the beer didn't really disappoint and credit where it's due.

The interior decor and atmosphere however, decidedly did. The immediate impression was that of a dingy, subterranean pub-club venue (a shock given that that pub is very much above ground level). The smell of disinfectant noted by a reviewer on 3 July 2010 was sadly still in evidence (one has to wonder what it is they're covering up?!). All in all I did not find it appealing .

The Royal Oak just has to be kept by a younger manager; it clearly pitches itself towards the studenty market and occupies the kind of territory that the Snowdrop used to, before it was taken over and re-born in a far more appealing and mature idiom. The radio was blasting out Heart FM's Saturday stalwart 'Club Classics'. The only punter one would not expect to have been seen dead in here (maybe he was in fact dead?!) was an old bearded boy studiously reading some railway-related literature while quaffing ale from his own pewter tankard. The old Lewes though was outnumbered though by an increasing number of younger folk who I suspect had less-enriching activities in their sights than a spot of quiet reading. If there is a 'rough' element here, I'd have to guess that this would be a natural magnet for them, although in fairness I didn't stay long enough to see how things developed throughout the evening, so it could just be my dear old small-minded prejudices speaking again.

I did - ahem - have cause to use the toilet facilities here. I must say, the disinfectant had done its job and I found them to be in decent nick, despite having some trepidation given the rather dank experience I'd had in the bar area, so fair dos on that one folks. I should also make it clear that I don't recall the main bar area being dirty either.

I suppose this pub suffers all the more from being set in an affluent, well-to-do town which tends to major on civilised, smart, traditional and characterful boozers. Compared to some of its nearby neighbours the Oak just doesn't play in the same league, although I can see that it does offer an alternative experience for those who aren't seeking any of the above elements. I could also be persuaded that during lunchtime hours it might have a broader appeal?

Not my cup o' cha I'm afraid, but well done for doing something different in the local context, and for keeping what I found to be perfectly decent cask.

14 May 2012 17:07

The Red Lion, Bromley

Could've sworn I'd remembered to drop a review of this one shortly after I last paid it a visit (some 6 months ago now), but the register below suggests I didn't.

Anyway, it's intriguing to see the Red Lion of all pubs on the present daily BITE Top 10. Not because I considered it to be lacking - I recall a very healthy selection of cask beers, kept in decent condition, friendly and efficient service from the landlord and staff, a jolly hubbub of conservation from a lively mix of punters, and a pleasant traditional pub interior to match its charming exterior (with its unusual, if a little twee, picket fence). Rather, it's because there are surely so many pubs of a similar calibre that deliver well and consistently and receive positive comment and scores from BITE users, and I suppose I just wondered what is making this one stand out that little bit more from its many peers. Granted, it is good, but not by my reckoning at least 'excellent' in the way that some of the other current Top 10 blatantly are.

Perhaps the answer to that is simple and lies in the location: sadly Bromley is not overburdened with excellent ale houses, and so maybe when one does pull out a few more stops and nudges ahead of the lackluste competition, it sets itself apart from its counterparts so starkly that it means locals rate it all the higher in relative terms. Unfortunately, the Red Lion probably is by some distance the best pub in the vicinity, at least by the measure of the more discerning visitor. So on that basis, I hope its additional exposure on this site's daily rankings will help it catch on even more. If in Bromley, you might as well just cut the crap and come straight here!

11 May 2012 11:57

The Bear, Oxford

I am liking what Mcroyal said on 1 June last year as it pretty much encapsulates the situation one finds at this cosy, welcoming and actually much-improved backstreet boozer. Last time I bothered to step in here it was a nice enough experience, but not one which was especially worthy of repeating. That seems to have changed since Fuller's reign began.

The Bear does seem to attract a pleasing plethora of punters, especially at busy lunch and evening sessions and there is an authentic conviviality between bar staff and customers. They are well-informed about what's on offer (the ales in particular) and many a local and tourist leaves the bar safe in the knowledge they've been given a genuinely good pint of real English beer.

There is an olde-worlde vibe, not least because of the tight layout, but also the building has mercifully remained relatively untouched by modern intrusions, even after the Fuller's takeover. The club tie collection might sound a little pretentious to some but then in the Oxfordian context no-one could deny that it fits right in!

The standard Fuller's range is much in evidence but - hurrah - foresight has prevailed here and they allow a decent couple of guests to share bar space (given the nearby competition of the Turf where even GK allow numerous other beers to be sold, this is a wise move). I sampled the Shotover Prospect and found it to be in splendid shape - really enjoyed it.

I can't comment about grub; being a Fuller's house now I expect the Bear serves the usual roll-call of restaurant-sounding recipes as they all do. Mark you, the meals are unlikely to be the best value. Fuller's have a universal pricing strategy based on affluent middle-class London, and this outlet is no exception just because it's in Oxford. Then again I sensed that there's quite enough cash flowing around to sustain a good sesh here, steep though it may seem.

I must say I'm persuaded to add the Bear to the ever-lengthening list of must-visit pubs here, as provided one can secure a decent seat (ideally at the bar!) then there's nothing to not like. Might add that Prospect to the equally-expansive list of must-quaff beers too.

9 May 2012 16:49

The Grapes, Oxford

This was for me at least never a 'must' during a pub-facing visit to Oxford, as it was a pleasant and traditional boozer but part of the average Greene King estate. I hadn't been in for at least 3 years but having spotted a sign which read "Bath Ales presents The Grapes" outside I felt it would be worthwhile giving it another chance, as Bath Ales are well-known to me and rarely am I disappointed by their beer or pubs. Happily this decision paid off, for the Grapes has undergone quite a identity shift.

Whilst the outward appearance remains more-or-less unaltered, and even the interior shell of the place is essentially the same, the rather dark and arguably oppressive bar area has been given a considerable makeover in typical light and airy Bath Ales style. The upper shelving has been removed entirely and the lower bar has been refitted in pine, now boasting 4 handpumps offering a range of BA cask products, alongside some more unusual offerings from the both brewery and elsewhere on tap. The Summer Hare at 3.9% was my first pint of the day and it went down swimmingly, despite it feeling like a cold day in March and being muffled up in an overcoat! The ale was in top condition and very refreshing; i didn't get a chance to sample the rest but I'd hazard a guess that they're in similar form.

The food looked decent enough although I was not in need of any victuallage so left that for another occasion. Service was swift and courteous on my visit - the bar manager was a very convivial and jolly chap who did his best to make people feel welcome as they approached the bar. The crowd was faily typically Oxfordian - i.e. a mix of genders and nationalties, with a leaning towards the younger, student-ish and business-like types, whose tables were just as likely to be occupied by laptops and books as well as glassware and plates. Still, a pleasant hubbub pervaded the civilised drinking and eating area, and all seemed to be well with the world.

Certainly this one has been ratcheted up the priority list for future drop-ins, and the rating advanced in accordance with the improvements Bath have undoubtedly made.

9 May 2012 13:41

The Rock, Chiddingstone Hoath

"As for the selfish child-haters, they were once children themselves and someone had to put up with them!"

By and large, they didn't - at least not in a pub, as it simply wasn't the done thing to take younger kids into them until recently. I was born in the 1970s yet it still was very uncommon for pubs to allow younger children into the bar area even throughout the '80s. In 1980 my grandmother took me into a country pub near Bournemouth and politely enquired whether her grandson could sit quietly in the bar area and have an orange juice. I wasn't misbehaving (and no I wasn't quite into demanding decent beer at that stage!). The landlady politely but firmly replied "Sorry Madam; under no circumstances". This was accepted as par for the course and we moved on - to the garden if I recall! Looking back I think that was an entirely fair position to adopt and don't blame her at all, though I appreciate those with kids are likely to disagree.

It's only since the advent of pubs having to become less-drinker and more eater-orientated, and since parents insist on including their kids in every activity because they see so little of them during the working week, that it's gradually become more the norm. But even where food majors on an equal par with drink, it doesn't mean that every pub and its clientele must welcome large family groups with open arms, particularly as a vast amount of both anecdotal and observational evidence suggests that the majority of parents nowadays do not know how to ensure their offspring behave appropriately in a public environment - and that includes restaurants, shops, and other attractions. The times I've had to move or leave a pub because of noisy, careless, badly-disciplined children don't bear counting. Perhaps your family is a rare exception, but I don't blame some adult punters for being wary, at least until such time as it is manifestly proven that you and yours can behave unobtrusively.

I agree there should be no need for open hostility and personally I don't approve of that; I do give people a chance as after all pubs are now open to all and business is business. Maybe some older locals behaved poorly, but I'd be surprised if you were made to feel that unwelcome by the licensees? In any event however, some pubs are more willing to cater for children en masse and more suited to doing so. Those who want a more child-friendly approach can use one of the many alternatives (no need to resort to the depths of fast-food chains), while those who don't can relish the relative serenity of somewhere like the Rock. I don't think this pub should necessarily be reviewed so vitriolically just because it isn't a children-centric venue.

Still a 9/10 for me!

4 May 2012 16:47

The Nags Head, Covent Garden

For the more discerning pub-goer, and certainly ale-drinker, the Nags Head cannot compete with some of its more worthy nearby neighbours, and is highly unlikely to be a 'destination' venue for this kind of customer.

Saying that, it is also not a place which I imagine punters of any taste and preference would actively seek to avoid, as besides its obvious convenience of location bang in central Covent Garden, it does offer some redeeming if not exactly alluring features.

The building which houses the pub is charming, set in one of the nicely-preserved terraces which happily one still finds frequently in the neighbouring streets. The interior has seemingly been lovingly maintained by McMullen's brewery, and it is what one would hope for upon arrival - clean, traditional, comfortable, and suitably spacious for a pub which regardless of its perceived merits is bound to attract a vast number of passers-by eager for a drink and possibly a meal.

The atmosphere is not entirely moribund, if only because it is nearly always heavily-populated by the kind of mixed clientele that characterises modern CG - male, female, old, young, local, tourist, employed, jobless - you name it, you're likely to find a broad sweep in an average 24-hour period here. Nevertheless, arguably the Nags is a little too mixed, to the extent that it lacks any obvious discernable identity. Its hard to see it as anyone's hard and fact 'local' and so in that regard there is a passive, transient feel about it.

Beer-wise, the usual raft of tapped and gassed products are available from what I recall, and only a limited number of cask offerings on pump. Being a McMullen's house - a rare thing even though it's only a county further south of its heartland - the ales featured are from their portfolio, which is somewhat restrained and very traditional. Notwithstanding this, the regulars - AK and Country Bitter - aren't bad, and for the less-demanding palate they represent pretty sessionable options. The visits I've made to the Nags suggest they're usually well-kept here, though inevitably overpriced.

Food remains a mystery to me as I've yet to have cause to sample any - not because I've heard any adverse rumours of its quality but simply because the options in the area restaurant-wise usually tempt me in if I need sustenance, even if I have a drink in a pub before or after (popped into nearby Maxwells last Friday for example). So I can't say any more about the grub offered here. I do just hope it eschews the all-too-prevalent "high-price, indifferent quality" formula that so many CG outlets get away with.

All in all, an average but consistent boozer in a vibrant and bustling district. If you just want a quick pie or pint then it may do you, but the fussier and more adventurous the person, the greater the reward of walking on to a more rarefied venue.

3 May 2012 17:40

The King and Queen, Caterham

Been popping in here very infrequently for quite some years owing to having a couple of chums stashed away in Caterham (on the Hill, of course!). Last swung by on Saturday in between a wedding ceremony and reception, knowing the nearby Douglas Brunton Centre does no real ale. As per, nobody was disappointed: I only had a half on account of a slow recovery from food poisoning (no, not a bad pint amazingly) but it was quite simply in the best condition one could expect to find Chiswick ale. I gathered likewise for my friend's pint of ESB; fresh as a beer from a barrel that had just left the brewery. It looks like the K & Q's cellarman has really mastered the art and is richly deserving of the Fullers cellaring certificate which is ubiquitous in all their pubs but actual evidence of the craft can sometimes be hard to find. Not so here.

I should say that all drinks were served by a very amenable and chatty barmaid who was very efficient all round. She should be keenly-retained as sociable bar staff are not always easy to come by.

Have never eaten here so can't comment on grub, though if it's Fuller's it's usually fairly reliable within certain expected margins.

The pub appears demure from its exterior but actually heralds several different drinking/eating areas once inside, and all are comfortable - choose whatever space suits your primary purpose best (or if it's busy as it can be of an evening just pitch up where you can). The small garden at the rear is a sun-trap at the right time of a sunny day, albeit that it seems to be dwarfed by the generous car park opposite. I would surmise that both these features are envied by certain other pubs in the vicinity which lack the benefits of either.

Chalk this up as a good standard local Fuller's boozer - quite possibly now the best in Caterham, though alas it has little in the way of solid competition.

25 Apr 2012 17:35

The Rock, Chiddingstone Hoath

Didn't manage to re-emerge here since the pub changed hands (twice, apparently) until March 31st, when after a nice time supporting the last seasonal meet of the OS&B-WK Hunt (sorry to all you pro-Blairites and class-envyists, though no need for sorrow over the nearby fox population as all hunting is of course now within the Law) in Chiddingstone, lunch was called for and the Rock presented itself as the nearest and best option.

I'm happy to say - and this is notwithstanding Mr Warlock's commentary below - that the pub is certainly still well-on-track, and that the newbies seem to be bedding in pretty comfortably. I was welcomed by a very convivial lady (the lady of the land?) who was efficient and knew a thing or two about pulling a pint.

The menu was still broad in scope with good veg, fish and meat options represented - had me a corking venison burger which was perhaps the finest burger I've sampled in a decade (no exaggeration); perfectly-prepared with 'home-made' chips and well-dressed salad to match. Cask-wise, although no longer the official 'brewery tap' as it were, mercifully the Larkins still prevails - the Trad was in a superb state and I would've been likewise if I'd been without the car. Porter would've probably been sublime too but it was a peculiarly hot sunny day so dark ale was not on my wishlist.

The inherent character has not at all been altered - flagstones still down, wooden beams still up, bull still with ring. All trace of cobwebs and unkemptedness were removed long ago (including Dick the miserable manager) and when alive with the patter of well-heeled rural Kenitsh locals, I think the Rock remains hard-to-beat. It needs Harris tweed; it needs labradors. Doesn't mean it's pretentious - just down to earth chatter with an undercurrent of a little extra cash! I just wish someone would volunteer to drive me here one day instead of doing the honours myself.

Sweariness and anti-family sentiment is not a mark of a civilised pubgoing clientele, though frankly I never encountered this on my last visit and I'm sorry if some have found this previously. But - and if only in the name of honest personal opinion I must say this - happily, neither did I encounter any large family groups with gaggles of tedious children cluttering up what is arguably a primarily ADULT public drinking and eating environment. There, I've said it. Each to their own.

11 Apr 2012 17:10

The White Lion, Redhill

Fortunately, in the last 2 years or so since I last reviewed this local pub, things have continued to improve and the licensees have shown that they know how to take a pub on and tap into improving exactly the right sort of aspects to ensure an overall appreciation by the regular and occasional punters, and, therefore, begin to properly-realise its potential that has always been obvious.

I'm a committed Garland-goer and it almost doesn't matter what the White Lion does to exponentially enhance its experience, because I'll always default to my own 'local' first and foremost (come on, it's at the bottom of a very steep hill whereas the WL is at the top!). Nevertheless, we all need variety in our lives and I frequently find myself popping in here nowadays as a welcome alternative to the G, because it is just as respectable a venue but offers a slightly distinct atmosphere and environment.

The Garland is an excellent community pub, and one which majors on proper conversation, fine ale, sit-down meals, and select music behind the bar. It is a touch more refined perhaps and while its appeal is plainly broadening, it is arguably orientated more towards the over-40s. The White Lion, by contrast, now offers a little more for those who favour a more 'party-time' atmos at least on a Saturday night; live acts can now be found here reasonably frequently, and the dual guilty-pleasures of both themed party evenings and karaoke are also offered (neither will ever be witnessed at the G which is to its credit, but for those who do prefer that kind of entertainment, the Lion is the one for you). I hasten to add that such events are always attended by a mix of level-headed locals who just enjoy themselves very naturally and without pretense; there is never any nastiness or Redhillian chavery. One or two punters can even sing!

In addition to the ents side of things, one does also have cask ale from more than just one brewer as the pub is now free-of-tie, although the accent remains on more Northerly beers and arguably they're never quite as well-conditioned as down the road (I do find many of them taste rather too similar and prices are at the higher-end, starting now at 3.40). Not quite 'GBG' material yet but things are steadily moving in the right direction and such recognition may not be far off.

There is also a Thai restaurant element ('Bai Pho') which I had doubts over but seems to gel very readily into the scene without dominating - the premises are sufficiently large to accommodate eaters quite separately from the bar area, so the Lion remains very much a pub first. Apparently the grub is highly-recommended although so far I remain a Bai Pho virgin so can't comment.

Those still reading this ramble may also wish to note the service is second-to-none here: John and his wife are always convivial and smartly-turned-out if they're in, and the two young barmaids they employ cope admirably even at the busiest sessions. Teri's earthy good humour in particular is clearly well-appreciated by punters.

Add to this the ongoing traditional charms of its interior and the often-overlooked spacious rear garden, and surely you'll agree that this pub has earned the accolade of most-improved in Redhill 2010-'12. Rumour has it that J & S are keen to work the same magic in a pub down in Lewes (while retaining the WL of course), so we may be looking at two good boozers for the price of 1?!

11 Apr 2012 13:04

The Craft Beer Co, City of London

It's been a torrid three months or so since I promised myself a visit to this hip 'n' happening (or maybe 'hyped 'n' happening'?!) pub du jour but fell by the waysie owing to indulgence elsewhere in the capital the night before. I kept hearing how worthwhile it would be, so when finally the opportunity came my way on Satuday afternoon I was pretty keen.

I realise how close I must've been to desolating disappintment - I mean somewhere so 'now' amongst the increasigly youthful beer cognoscenti can so easily fall short upon actual attendance (am I the only one who found Cask Pub & Kitchen to be very good but not the mecca it was made out?). Fortunately, I was did not leave wanting. For the range and quality fo cask beer (20 pumps in all) and similarly the keg (maybe 20 taps?) was mightily impressive. Whether it is unrivalled in London at present is a debatable point, but it must be up there with the best of them for lovers of all beer, draught and of course bottled (check the contents of the fridges and if what you like isn't there always ask).

I'm not a lover of keg in the main, even so-called 'craft' keg products often don't cut it unless they're very strong in flavour and strength terms. But most of Craft's are genuine imports and well-chosen at that - some of them really are worth trying provided you're of a stronger constitution yourself.

The cask selection needed no introduction and numerous halves of often unfamiliar UK brews (and brewers) were swiftly swilled. Each was served with efficiency and, that rarest of capital commodities, a smile by the obliging staff. A splendid balance of styles was on offer and I have no criticisms of it.

Food-wise, all I needed was one of their Scotch Eggs - possibly the best one I've ever eaten though, like the beer, prepare for a greater financial outlay than you might initially consider to be proportionate! Served - trendily - on a wooden platter with a rammikin of English mustard. Divine and great with strong ale!

The exterior appearance is welcoming to traditional pub-goers as it betrays its history as a corner local in old London. However, as one might expect, the interior is rather more modern and pared-down; no cosy alcoves, oldie-worldie nick-nacks and faux Victoriana here. Saying that though, I didn't find it offensively contemporary and the styling does suit the brief. If it helps bring younger folk back to the beer and the pub concept, then maybe its purpose is well-served.

My chums and I happened to get chatting to a young Spanish couple - no, not your average camera-toting tourists - these were dedicated and devoted beer enthusiasts, who were most intrigued to learn more about the UK ale scene and emulate some of its best points at their own brewing operation at home. It was a pleasure to exchange views with them, and it seems Craft really does bring in the true craftsmen and women of the modern beer industry. Such enthusiasm, dynamism and worldliness suggests that the drink we love is in increasingly safe hands - at least at the point of brewing and hopefully pouring.

Maybe not my ideal concept of pub perfection, but it's hard to fault this place as it is mainfestly achieving what it sets out to do. As a pub overall, maybe it's an 8 from me. But as a pure beerhouse, how can it not be a 10? Come here before you try the Euston Tap. For a start you'll get a seat and more than 1 toilet!

And let's see what the Brighton version has to offer....

10 Apr 2012 16:38

The Drum, Walthamstow

I rather think the previous commentator has just about got the essence of this pub, without going into unnecessary detail.

It is interesting to hear it is one of the earliest regular Wetherspoon outlets, although that fits exactly with the kind of decor and layout found within - it does have a surfeit of cheap pine, orderly alcoves with glass panes, flowery carpets and is patently far less grandiose than some of the later offerings procured after Mr Martin made his multi-millions, which is indicative of first-phase JDW design in the 1980s/'90s. I am somewhat amazed that it doesn't appear to have undergone any significant revamping in 25 years. But it's none the worse for that; the interior is both comfortable and neutral in its feel, and it matches the pleasant Victorian corner local exterior which apparently maintains its link with its former identity.

Ale-wise, one had a goodly sum of cask beers to work through, although the total of around 10 might have been inflated by the recent outgoing JDW 'international' beer festival. What we sampled was well-kept, though this being after a visit to the nearby King William IV's Brodie's Bunny Bash where the brewer was offering some 40 options on pump, I can't vouch for the state of my palate. Amazingly though I do recall that Arundel New Horizons was my first drink in here. And I seem to recall it was similar to how it'd tasted last time - at another Wetherspoon's, during their festival!

Food-wise I can't comment substantively, though one always knows what to expect (and what not to) with JD grub. Service was efficient enough and quite friendly. Toilets I think were in reasonable nick, which isn't something one can take for granted.

All in all, not a destination pub; more one of convenience, if in the area and have had enough of the more earthy and beery charms of the King Willy. But not bad.

10 Apr 2012 16:16

Royal Oak Inn, Staffhurst Wood

Apparently I've not commented on the Royal Oak since October 2006 according to one of my compadres, who now finds himself domiciled in the pub-free moribund drinking culture of America, and so was presumably scrolling through old BITE reviews wistfully recalling the joys of the good old British boozer.

And if he started here then certainly it would get the nostalgic juices a-flowing, if like him you haven't been able to visit the pub for months on end. Happily this does not apply to me as I manage to get here - albeit with car in tow - every 2 or 3 months at least to enjoy whatever beer the law allows and a hearty meal.

Apart from the extension to the pub undertaken a few years ago, which arguably made it that little but more 'restauranty' and a tad less 'pubby', there have been few changes, which is encouraging as all the things that I recommended as being excellent about this hostelry remain intact. There is still a pleasant balance under one roof of pub bar and dining room, with custom ranging from rural farmhands drinking to elderly dowagers earing. Julian and Denise still run a splendid ship, with Jules filling the 'mine host' role impeccably by quietly dictating the pace of the bar banter, spinning amusing anecdotes and pulling fine pints, and Denise operating behind-the-scenes by donning her whites to assist the revered chef in preparing the still-restaurant-quality food, which is just as much of a draw as the drink.

Ale-wise we still have 5 excellently-conditioned cask ales (mostly local including the still-elusive Larkins though the more widely-accessible Adnams is always on). These are now augmented by a range of local ciders and occasional perry, at varying strengths which allow punters with-motor to still enjoy some cask C or P if they feel so incined. Oh and of course the Ports and wines are still none too shabby; I spy fewer of the former on the shelves now (no surprise after years of port and pie club tastings) though still plenty of the latter around - ranging from modest to very fine (ask J if you're interested in procuring some of the rarer vinos of the house).

Grub-wise one always has a broad choice of dishes (starters, mains and desserts) wherever possible using locally-sourced ingredients (over the road usually does it for meat and even the Wagyu beef only comes from Wales not Japan!). The meat and fish concoctions vary each day, but are inevitably generous in portion, and tasty on the palate. I've never been disappointed yet after 10 years. Yes, they're not cheap, but it's not a cheap area don't-ya-know.

The pub rightly won the local Cider pub of the year in 2011 and has already won again this year. The award will be re-bestowed on 16 May when J & D will graciously lay on a corking spread of nibbles - it will be another good show. If you wish to show support, try the pub out, and if you can find it, maybe you can hire a taxi and join in the fun!

Perhaps it doesn't have enough competition in the immediate vicinity, but even if it were positioned in an area saturated with ace alehouses, the Oak would come off pretty competitively. Well done Jules and the team and keep up the excellent work.

5 Apr 2012 13:51

George IV, Holborn

While on a bit of a session in the area with my cousin a week or so ago, we ventured into this pub by chance as we were en route to a known-to-be-excellent hostelry over in Covent Garden. The building's exterior is not unusual but is well-preserved and implies that the interior should be of aesthetic and architectural worth, which happily it is, albeit with some latter-day encroachments which are arguably doing no favours to the pub's hitherto-nicely-preserved character. I am surprised I must say to hear that the place is owned and operated by the LSE, as one might surmise there is more money behind the pub than any university could make available.

Saying all that however, the actual experience of the George IV, when one factors in the drinks, service and all other elements, was ultimately unremarkable and although not unpleasant, I left with no inherent desire to make a return visit any time soon. The cask ale range was uninspiring (only 2 handpumps available if I recall correctly), albeit that the London Pride I sampled was found in reasonable condition. My cousin sadly does not share the same palate as myself and is happy to quaff low-strength, ersatz and mass-produced fizzy lager, although even he found a restrictived choice on the taps. Service was via the now-customary foreign employee and was efficient but impersonal.

We did observe a reasonable mix of clientele; although clearly accented towards a younger crowd, there were groups of friends, couples, and people alone of both sexes which suggests some broader appeal. But of course breadth of appeal does not necessarily indicate a superior pub; what it often means is that pub offers a by-numbers, predictable, undemanding but comfortable experience that is enough to capture less-discerning passing trade, but will never be a 'destination' venue for any one aspect of its operation. A 'jack of all trades and master of none' if you will.

Let's face it pugoers, there are innumerate pubs of this kind in and around the capital, and so many of them yield anything that would draw you back in, unless you were passing the pub again and just fancied a quick pint on the off-chance. It isn't doing anything appallingly wrong but equally does nothing so right that it is deserving of a glowing tribute on sites like BITE. I'd still rather pubs like this remained viable and open, and I do hope that it's in safe enough hands to ensure it does not become just another derelict premises. But for my money, it just isnt' working hard enough and will need to rely on as much local passing customas it can - perhaps that's where the students come in?!

30 Mar 2012 13:17

The Golden Fleece, York

Fortunately, unlike His Lordship below, in our semi-befuddled state, we ignored all the claptrap about hauntings and sallied forth with gusto into the dark and teak-panelled interior of the Golden Fleece. And by and large we ewren't disappointed by the time we left it.

We were met by a very chatty and congenial bar fellow who after considerable discussion with us confirmed, as anyone with half an ounce of common sense and a healthy hatred for Derek Acorah, that the claim to be the most haunted pub in the city is a load of tosh, based on no real evidence whatsoever. It is important that potential visitors to this hostelry realise this because many will otherwise easily dismiss it as being a tawdry tourist trap and assume it holds no substantive merits - worse still one might assume it is 'themed'! Happily it isn't and plays all that nonsense down once inside and enjoying their beer.

The beer range was more slender than many York ale houses, but the Black Bull was supped keenly as it was found to be in decent form (though as a caveat to this I should say that following a day of beer consumption, and having just enjoyed a garlic-fuelled Italian 2-course meal with 2 bottles of fine wine, just how fussy our palates were remains to be seen). The pub was quite quiet on our visit and I suspect it's better for that; a large crowd would soon fill up the limited space and surely mean a less personalised welcome from the bar staff.

Not a bad boozer really - focus on the exterior charms of its architecture and forget the cod ghost stories and you will see its worth.

16 Mar 2012 12:15

The Ackhorne, York

Popped in here after some disaffection set in among my friends at the arguably snooty Brigantes. It is tucked away round the corner off Micklegate in a rather pleasant little enclave; worth seeking out. The Ackhorne - is this the only pub with that name in the UK? - turned out to be possibly the exact opposite to our previous experience in that it is in no way pretentious or high-end, yet retains a traditional earthy pub atmosphere and is very genial. It seems to occupy that rare territory between community social club and boozer and I must say we all rather enjoyed it.

Whilst one will never find the diversity of cask beer one sess in its aforementioned nearby neighbour, that which was served was nicely-kept. I observed a large garden area to the rear which clearly would serve a good purpose on warmer evenings (in fact if we'd been here longer we probably could've got away with some al fresco aleage on Sunday afternoon).

There is a lot of space in this pub which I imagine serves it well for busier events or possibly functions; there is clearly scope for a big old hoedown and I really hope they do something of that ilk as it'd be a surefire success. No need to change anything here - all fine as it is.

16 Mar 2012 12:03

Brigantes Bar and Brasserie, York

Having visited the Old Bell in Harrogate in years gone by which is owned by the same company, I could see strong similarities in approach - namely a veritable arsenal of cask ale (mostly local and around 10 on pump), a range of more unusual imported draught/bottled beer, contemporary but not stark leaning in the interior design, a younger-orientated but not exclusively youthful clientele, and a smart, well-heeled sort of vibe. OH, and the food looked to be on the money too. So far, so good.

I was actually pretty comfortable with all this; the ale flowed freely and everything I sampled (please don't ask - I can't remember!) was found to be in great nick as the Beer Guide promised. The barmaid was chatty and knew how to pour proper pintage. The England vs France rugby match was on and there was a jolly camaraderie bubbling away on the back of that - and our unexpected win albeit by a whisker. I'd say it was a nice counterpoint to some of the more traditional boozers me and my two chums had visited during the weekend.

But things seemed to take a slight turn for the worse latterly; my mates seemed to get the hump with the place having apparently enjoyed it well enough before. Maybe it was just too much beer talking on our part and that was leading to fractiousness, but they definitely received the idea that they were somehow being looked down upon. One of us - possibly me I'm afraid - did take the liberty of letting off a modestly-audible belch while standing at the bar, and the response from the barmaid was shall we say terse, along the lines of "belches are banned". Hmm. I took this is good part as it's not something everyone wants to hear, but in a pub it is something of an occupational hazard to overhear wind of all kinds being passed! In any case, others I was with decided they felt Brigantes was a tad too snooty, and so in the dual interests of not causing a fuss and always wanting to try somewhere new, we supped up and moved along.

A shame, because essentially I don't think this is an inherently bad pub in any way, but maybe the smart students-about-town and we're-a-cut-above mentality can just take the shine off for some.

It's still a good score though from me if only for the beer quality and range.

15 Mar 2012 18:00

Ye Olde Starre Inn, York

Oh God I think I went here on Sunday evening but damnation I can't recall what beer I sampled and what it looked like inside. Yes, we were having a good weekend. I do seem to remember it was pretty acceptable and given what's been said previously I think it's safe to say this place should be visited again.

15 Mar 2012 17:46

The Three Legged Mare, York

This has the appearance outwardly of a traditional, potentially stuffy sort of pub but nothing of the sort once indoors - the decor was surprisingly light and white, and whilst that doesn't always work, in this context it seemed to be appropriate and there was a convivial, airy feel to the bar area where a genuinely mixed clientele were busying themselves on beginning their Saturday night shenanigans. It was a place where one could happily go as a couple, with mates, or even on one's own as inevitably one wouldn't remain alone for long.

Ale-wise, it was the trusty beer guide that got us here and it was deserved: a thorough spread of sound cask beers (I should say many more enticing and unusual than just Guzzler which can be found anywhere - pint of Plum Porter, anybody?), that went down a treat. Punters and staff were equally friendly and we received the sort of bantered-up reception that one longs to get in say London pubs, but all-too-often leaves the premises without. A couple of packets of scampi fries kept the impending hunger pangs at bay and enabled more quality beer to be quaffed. Sadly we had to move on but had it not been for the surfeit of other worthy pubs nearby needing our attention, all three of us could quite easily have camped out in the 3 Legged Mare all evening, which in itself says a lot.

15 Mar 2012 17:43

The Minster Inn, York

All the positivity that has been coming this pub's way in dribs and drabs over the years seems to be well-deserving. This is a corking little traditional drinker's boozer (and don't assume a sub-text of drunkardness from this - I simply mean an honest, solid, manly man's sort of hostelry for the reasonably articulate and controlled quaffer!). It is tucked away off Bootham opposite one of York's innumerate bits of wall and once inside you really feel an instant sense of being comfortably-installed.

Despite being with a chum of mine who is a genuine and openly-outspoken Cockney geezer at the time of visiting, not helped by TWG's cut-glass southern tones, neither the landlord nor the customers ostensibly objected to us being there, and whilst the welcome was not marked by easy banter or toothy smiles, there was no sense of enmity either. We simply ordered up, paid, and got cracking on the beer - which was comprised of I think 4 cask offerings; mostly local. Inevitably we were in sparkler territory but when in Rome and all that; at least these ales were brewed with sparkler usage in mind. They all went down very nicely on a hot (yes, hot!) Saturday afternoon anyway.

The pub is an atmopsheric affair with two seating areas and access to the bar from the central corridor and the front parlour. There wa' quite a bit o' trouble at t'mill amongst the chatty local chaps who were in fine spirits, clearly with a few pints' head start on us but jovial, not in any way threatening.

This was the first pub in York I'd been into since the '90s and I was pleased it was a good 'un. If I were there now I'd definitely make the effort to slip away from the tourist-traps of the centre and get myself back here; the 10-15 minute walk will do you good and be well rewarded.

15 Mar 2012 17:33

The Yorkshire Terrier Inn, York

I think literally, this pub was selected as the venue for a starter of ten (pints), and we weren't disappointed. Entered through a narrow corridor which one could easily pass by if not being observant, the pub is down-to-earth and friendly yet retaining a sense of civility and a well-heeled edge. There are various artefacts of breweriana in the front window, and at the rear 'comfy' seating is available as well as more traditional chairs 'n' tables.

Punters were mixed in both gender and ages, and it had a kind of 'catch-all' atmosphere about it which suggested it would suit one's needs irrespective of mood, purpose or occasion. Indeed, I made two visits whilst in York over the last weekend; the first on Saturday afternoon when things were gearing up - rugby was being screened but not too obtrusively. Both the barman and barmaid were informative and convivial - some London bar staff really could learn a thing or two from the way they operated here! All York beers tried - Guzzler, Centurion Ghost and Terrier - were splendid (as one might expect at the brewery's tap). A guest ale also featured - I forget which on the first visit though by the second on Monday it was a Bateman's offering and very tasty.

Sampled some of the food on the second appearance. A range of obvious but worthwhile pub grub meals were offered, with a couple of more-interesting sounding specials. I just about managed the homemade fish pie which was a delight, but served with cauliflower, broccoli (well-cooked), chips (chunky), and, er, gravy! A bizarre mixture but each constituent part was as it should be, so no real complaints. Didn't need to eat again until 8.30PM!!

This case well-recommended and certainly I would venture back next time I'm here. The only remaining question was how it could not be listed in the latest Beer Guide? One suspects CamRA politics or ridiculous quota rules may be at fault...

13 Mar 2012 18:25

The Three Tuns, York

I must say the exterior of this place flatters to deceive a little, as it is charming and well-preserved, though once inside, while not all the fine old features fade away, it certainly doesn't quite have the appeal that one might guess at on the outside looking in.

The Three Tuns was a bit of a punt on a night out last Saturday when we ran out of GBG-listed boozers in the immediate vicinity. That's not to say it wouldn't be worthwhile as in York many pubs that would pass muster in less-saturated districts are kept out of the Guide due to restrictions on numbers. Beer-wise, the options were quite unimaginative, with Banks' probably being the most exciting. Saying that though it was served with a smile and found to be kept well enough. Not everywhere in York wants to be a cask ale mecca.

This place had an immediate impact on arrival; there was a sort of 1980s party vibe to it. Some sort of hen nite (sic) or something similarly tawdry was in session, but it made for a lively atmos. Music was playing and by-and-large there was a friendly feel. Unfortunately one of our number almost engaged in a tussle with one of the less-friendly locals, but mercifully this was avoided. Because of the slight tension this created we felt it prudent to move on, but in fairness to the pub this wasn't their fault.

Definitely one of York's earthier and less-pretentious pub offerings, this perhaps is a reasonable counterpoint to the rather more slick and rarefied experiences of say the Last Drop, Brigantes or Pivni.

13 Mar 2012 18:14

The Blue Bell, York

Yes, fortunately we did have the wit to look beyond the 'private party' nonsense and found a corking little boozer beyond the rather unwelcoming entrance. Not sure about the rationale behind that but I suppose if it keeps a few extra dullards out of the way then I'm not against it.

The interior was appealing and clear to see why it's National INventory-listed. Beers were brilliant too - trouble is I'm damned if I can remember what I had as the Bell was just one of around 8 pubs sampled in a single evening so consequently separating out my memories 3 days later is proving a little tricky! Oh well, this means it will at least mean this becomes one of TWG's briefer reviews, which I know will please some of my detractors of the 'anti-long-windedness' camp.

Not one of my most helpful and informative reviews but please don't assume this pub isn't worthy - trust in your Good Beer Guide and get yourselves there and I doubt disappointment will follow.

13 Mar 2012 18:06

The Last Drop Inn, York

This was a strong contender for one of the city's most characterful pubs, and we found it thronging with a good mix of punters when visited last Saturday evening. The service was swift and efficient despite the busy atmosphere, and the York ales were on decent form, only a few minutes' walk away from their home.

This was the sort of pub where one could happily and comfortably pitch up for a good solid session, especially on the York beers as they tend to be quite easy-drinking. Alas though we had several pub fish to fry and couldn't stay for too long. The stripped brick interior is a talking point and the place appears to have been senstively-restored with a keen eye on its past. None of us can comment on the food provision as we didn't need any whilst there. As for toilet size, again I didn't have need, although from what is hinted at below perhaps that was for the best.

All in all, a pretty decent venue and one which I'd certainly seek out again if back in York.

13 Mar 2012 18:02

The Golden Lion, York

The 5th Earl below appears to echo my feelings about this pub when I visited for a very brief drop-in pint around opening time on Sunday. Whilst on paper there is nothing WRONG with it as such, it did feel curiously by-numbers, and in its conservative conformity to the rather predictable Taylor Walker template, I felt it probably had had any residual character drained from it.

On the plus side, there were 4 cask ales on offer, and whilst Copper Dragon Golden Pippin was the most adventurous available, it was certainly kept properly. Service was a little sullen but affable enough - got the impression the young staff members were struggling a little to perform after what had undoubtedly been a strenuous Saturday night!

I wasn't in the market for grub but I expect the pub meals offered might have been passable. There was a TV and plenty of seating. I imagine when found in a busier state the clientele may be varied and a little more background noise may raise some semblance of atmos. But from what little I saw, the Golden Lion failed to make a lasting impression, and when one considers the strength of many of its counterparts, it is up against it.

13 Mar 2012 17:57

Pivo Cafe Bar, York

Yes, it is indeed Pivni rather than Pivo - apparently the closest translation from the Czech is "beery", which I kind of like as the bar is chock-full of diverse beers from around the world. Technically the name does sell the pub slightly short however as its wares go beyond just beer - in addition to 4 (soon to be 5) cask ales, 2 (soon to be 1) keg ale, and a further 5 or so lagers/imported beers, there is a range of ciders. Also, don't ignore the possibility of sampling numerous intriguing bottled options too - beers, ciders, all sorts. My experience enjoyed last Sunday while spending what was a superbly sunny weekend in York was confined to the cask and keg options, but I would easily have been tempted to bring forth the bottlage had I been able to stay here all day.

Curiously, the ales on cask were entirely foreign to Yorkshire - 3 Brodie's were offered (unusual to see even in London) and 1 Cromarty ale. All were sampled and found to be in splendid condition, notwithstanding the lack of a cellar; beer is drawn by pipe from the casks racked on the rear stillage by handpump. Despite this being a perfectly legitimate method of dispense I'm told that the local CamRA stasi refuse the pub entry to the Good Beer Guide because of this. If that is so then shame on them, because this is one of the city's more intriguing of beer houses. I also supped a Sierra Nevada beer on import - bright and tasty and not too effervescent; perfect actually for the near-Summer conditions.

Service was friendly and punters - although relatiuvely few during our stay - were surprisingly varied. Although probably of an evening Pivni is the domain of predominantly young quaffers, of an afternoon it attracts a wider mix. The decor feels contemporary on the first level although becomes increasingly more sensitive to the building's 12th century origins as one ascends to the second floor (games and seating) and third (essentially the toilets - which incidentally were found in good order).

Perhaps some of the bar choices would be considered a little eclectic for some pubgoers, and food does not feature (I think a number of potential customers decided against coming in for lack of victuals). It may also not suit those with mobility issues. However, for the non-hungry, adventurous and able-bodied beer/cider lover this place is most definitely for you.

13 Mar 2012 17:51

The Cuckoo Inn, Hamptworth

Unbelievably, I appear to never have reviewed the Cuckoo on BITE, despite having been visiting at least once a year on average since 2000. How horribly remiss of me, because it really does deserve the plaudits it has received from most commentators in the last 8 years or so of reviewing. There are some splendid hideaways in the New Forest area, but few so appealing as this one.

This kind of characterful, traditional rural pub was once typical, although sadly as many have suggested it is now on the endangered list; sure we still retain numerous corking country boozers, but most have to some greater or lesser degree been spoiled or compromised in order to serve more pressing if not higher purposes - quite often sheer survival in a food-driven anti-drink-driving climate. Happily however, the Cuckoo remains gloriously and charmingly aloof from this trend and Tim has not yet felt any need whatsoever to turn his ramshackle, barely-altered boozer for drinkers first into a swanky gastro venture. I should say though that the food that is offered is hearty and homemade, and if you are here and in hunger do not pass the basic but brilliant menu options by.

Ale-wise, I can't say I've had a perfect pint every single time. On 1 or 2 occasions I've opted for a beer that's past its best, but this is testament to just how much cask stuff is shifted here, and quite often when Tim knows a beer is on its uppers it is discounted to a mere 2.50 a pint so could still be worth a sniff. Ordinarily though, I've found the beer to be on barnstorming form - usually at least 1 Bowman's and Hop Back offering feature, alongside 3 or so others often from similarly local breweries. Usually one of the Bowman's is re-badged as a house beer, hence "Cuckoorado" as opposed to "Elderado" etc. Don't be discouraged by this. It is a Good Beer Guide regular for many many years and it will be obvious why upon your visiting. And don't assume this is a pub for 'purist' ale-quaffers only; there is much to delight many diverse types of pubgoer even if ale is not their tipple of choice. Saying that, if you like stark, modern, urban, music and TV-led outlets this won't tickle your fancy. But then with its delightfully symmetrical cottagey exterior and obscure location, anyone of that bent surely would have driven past and ignored it anyway?!

Locals and less-regulars gather - sometimes throng - in the main bar area with more seating out back if needed, and in clement weather in the front garden, where one can relax in full sunshine and enjoy the plentiful wildlife that populates the pub's nooks and crannies and the vegetation around it. One always receives a good welcome - the first time I came here (with family) on a wet Monday in October 2000 we stumbled across a wake of all things, where almost 200 people turned out to pay their respects (when you've been here you'll understand just what an undertaking that was)! Despite not knowing the poor deceased fellow we were still offered free food and weren't treated any differently - needless to say we declined, but that's the kind of spirit one finds at the Cuckoo, even in times of solemnity such as that. This kind of experience demonstrates the timelessness of the place perfectly.

It is quite appalling to imagine this pub crawling with over-curious New Forest tourists snapping endless pictures of the chocolate-box views, but I'd appeal to all those of a more discerning nature with less need to cram your family album to take time to seek it out and try its wares. Disappointment will be a decidedly remote possibility.

6 Mar 2012 17:46

The Horse And Groom, East Ashling

Popped in for a quick pre-luncheon pint a couple of Sundays back whilst travelling home through the charming West Sussex downlands, thanks as ever to the trusty Good Beer Guide which pointed us in this direction.

There is a certain countryness and gentility to the pub upon entering its cottagey frontage, although once indoors it reveals itself to be quite cosmopolitan in its customer base, and certainly as much of a foodie haunt as a beer-pub - indeed certainly more the former on a busy Sunday. Observations suggested the pub was popular with family and friendship groups, younger and older. Mostly appeared to be enjoying what looked to be a decently-priced and broad menu (only had brekkie at 11:30 so at 2 we still weren't on for more grub - otherwise we might have partaken).

Ales were kept nicely (although by the high standards of this area the range was not as inspiring as it might be), and service to us was found to be good, although I can see how perhaps some have found it slow or flustered, as clearly despite staff working flat out it was busy and a challenge to keep up with every punter who wanted drinks, as well as all those drawing up to settle their food bills.

A pleasant and cosy establishment which seemed friendly enough, and I would consider returning, although maybe on a less-demanding shift. Perhaps a victim of its own success?

5 Mar 2012 17:58

Artillery Arms, Milton

Unpretentious the Artillery is indeed, but sometimes one cries out for such a straightforward, no-frills local pub after all the gastro-pomp and super-bar nonsense one so frequently comes across in urban centres. No, none of that: here you will find simply good beer and good cheer. When I pitched up on a Sunday lunchtime, it was footie on the TV and a series of local chaps perched around the bar taking it all in. In the other bar, conversation ruled and may have contained some women too, although this remains unconfirmed! In any case, despite its somewhat careworn Victorian facade at the end of a long terrace, and that pubs of its kind are so often nowadays lager-fuelled haunts, the Artillery stands out for serving a range of five good cask beers. The Hophead we sampled was perhaps past its best but that was pure misfortune - someone has to tackle the end of each barrel. Suthwyk Old Dick and Bowman's Swift One were noted as loc-ales, and Fuller's London Pride to suit the less-adventurous quaffer.

All that and a friendly feel to the place too. No wonder this pub has been GBG-listed for a while. It is times like these that one really must value the Guide, as without it I would never have discovered a pub like this, and if I had I doubted I'd have given it a chance as it's so tempting to judge a pub by its cover. Do so at your peril. This is worth a crack.

5 Mar 2012 17:49

The Rose in June, Portsmouth

Alas I don't have the pedigree that the previous writer has, having only visited this pub for the first time on Sunday 26 February. However, it turned out to be possibly one of the most propitious and timely moments to have dropped in, for the Rose In June was in the throes of hosting what was a cracking little beer festival! The pumps suggest they always probably offer a decent range on cask, but fortunately upon my visit this was augmented by a range of around 12 additional beers on a Winter theme. Each half sampled flowed freely and frothily and the conditioning was found to be good in each case - don't ask what was available as the options were too numerous to list here. But be assured the quality was high and I'd definitely make a beeline for this pub if on the sauce in Portsmouth again.

Actually, although it immediately conveys itself as a simple, earthy working-class local, the Rose proved to be greater than the sum of its parts; I really found it welcoming, jolly, and a genuine haven for locals and anyone else to muster and enjoy lively conversation, washed down with excellent ale. They'd even laid on free curry which would've gone down a treat had supplies of it not just reached exhaustion after arrival. Couldn't very well ask for more as it was gratis, but it did look surprisingly passable for a free pub curry.

Punter-wise, there was anyone from groups of loud lads to courting couples through to whole families. I daresay it wouldn't do for every occasion and isn't everyone's idea of a worthy pub, but to me this really felt like how a true community pub should feel, and if more folk embraced their local in this manner the pub scene generally would look rather more healthy. The competitive prices at the Rose certainly must help though. I think this proves that if prices could be lowered in more pubs more customers would come back to them. You can't create an atmos like this in your front room!

Well done folks for organising such a cracking do and making everyone feel part of it. And apologies to anyone that night trying to drive up the Milton Road - I didn't twig it was a one-way street! I'll know better next time, although next time I'd rather not have the car.

5 Mar 2012 17:41

Northcote Hotel, Southsea

Only a relatively brief drop-in to this GBG-listed venue a couple of Saturdays back. Regrettably, my partner-in-piss had started to struggle with his insides following an ill-advised mouthful of Dark Star's Coffee Pilsner at the nearby Leopold; so ill-advised in fact that I have to advise you he was ill - seriously so and spent much of our time in the Northcote making use of their apparently commodious bathroom facilities. Oh well, that left me to enjoy the place as best I could and take in what it had to offer. Some local beers were provided - very nice drop of Irving - and the service was with a smile. There was a cosy element to this pub, although being a Saturday night things were reasonably buzzy and I observed a decent mix of ages and gender in the clientele. Music was on but not perceived to be unduly intrusive.

Although not an out-and-out corker, I got the distinct impression the Northcote was the sort of pub that had the potential to appeal to a broad segment of the pubgoing populace, and is certainly somewhere I might get back to if in the area again. However I can only pray it will be with different company - if one sees more of the urinal than the bar then one knows one has strayed too far from the right road.

5 Mar 2012 17:26

The Black Horse Inn, Byworth

Tried to get in here a few years ago but was closed - reopening has since occurred and it is a homely, cosy and unusual old pub that looks akin to a private dwelling. Thank the Lord it isn't. Friendly service from the bar staff, and locals were not visibly unhappy to see non-locals cross their threshold.

Ale-wise, Young's for the unadventurous I suppose. 2 from King, and Flower Potrs. Criminally, owing to popularity on Sat eve by Sun eve the latter had gone. Sadly the chap didn't advise he was about to replenish it so we went for Horsham Best and that was well passed its best! Bad luck I think. It won't prevent possible future appearances here, in what is truly a dreamy part of southern England. Oh, the Downs....

29 Feb 2012 14:20

The Wheatsheaf Inn, Fareham

New review owing to new new ownership. Early days but locals seemed keen and beer still interestingly-sourced from wider than the south. Young chap on bar knowledgeable. I hope this lot manage to make a go of this place as it clearly has potential, without needing to alter it wholesale.

Saying that - your grub must be stratospherically good to sell it at those prices!! All meat/fish mains 10-20, and 3 veg options all 12.50! Rarely does a pub create an all-vegetarian concoction that equates to that sort of levy.

29 Feb 2012 14:15

The Wheatsheaf, Shedfield

Have to disagree again - beer on song, service quick, and barmaid pulling pints absolutely charming (Sat afternoon during the rugger match: you know who you are!).

29 Feb 2012 14:13

The Flowerpots Inn, Cheriton

Actually used the accommodation last weekend when me and my mate were blown out by the Woolpack at Totford who had booked us a double instead of a twin and had no alternative rooms. It happens, but they also did it last year too and that time I ended up in my own self-contained flat with no extra charge! Maybe we come across as a little too 'dandy' for them and they make the wrong assumptions?!

Anyway, the Pots' accomm is similarly-set aside from the pub, adjacent to the small yet perfectly-formed brewery. The room was spacious and no complaints. Shower worked. Brekkers was available in a number of forms, all capably despatched between 8 and 9AM by the industrious Jo. Lovely bacon and a Tardis of a tea-pot - managed 4 cups from it plus 1 with more hot water. Loose leaf to boot - can't recall the last time that happened!

Beers: no point saying anything much as everybody else including myself have already said it. Perridge Pale, Goodens Gold, Hoptons (hhmmm lovely!) and Pots on. Sampled in impeccable form from stillage, as was all other FP beer tried elsewhere (see Stottidge Stout).

Thanks for providing such a superb rescue package.

29 Feb 2012 14:12

The Tichborne Arms, Tichborne

Alas when I made my maiden visit here in January 2011 I somehow couldn't find the pub on BITE so it missed out on the TWG-treatment (I'm sure t hey've coped admirably in the intervening 12 months).

Happily pitched up here again last week and contrary to my last emergence on a quiet Sunday morning, this was Friday night and the joint was palpably jumping, and thronged with probably every local villager in the surrounding few miles. Really, the Tichborne appears to be a solid, genuine, traditional and welcoming old pub that as has been stated before, must not be allowed to continue dying out at the appalling rate it is presently. When one finds a remote hostelry such as this in such fine spirits (folk music, fine ale, cider, jolly conversation), it becomes worryingly apparent just how much the local people would miss this community focus if it went. Hopefully, if they continue turning such pretty pennies on weekends they'll remain balance-sheet-friendly, although as many of us realise licensees can do everything right and still have the rug pulled from underneath them.

Anyhow, this oak-pannelled, warm and cosy place is worth the drive, even if ale quotients are cut. Actually beer-wise, Palmer's Copper was on as was Dark Star Hophead (the latter was very hopped indeed but I suspect a brewery issue not the cellarman!). But I couldn't quite see the relevance of not one but TWO Banks' beers being on?! Maybe a good deal, or locals request it, but to my palate at least this was a waste and a decent Hants beer would've done them prouder. But in fairness we didn't try it so can't comment on condition. A minor gripe all things considered.

Chalk this up as a to-do in 2012 pub but make sure you happen upon it when it's perhaps somewhere between really lively and empty! It'll then be easier to get the measure of the place.

29 Feb 2012 14:06

The Kings Head, Holmbury St Mary

Update from my last review a year ago - took some marvellous luncheon here last Friday. Slow-cooked large lamb shank served with wonderful gravy and soft veggies! It even persuaded my usually-veggie-but-now-infrequenly-carnivorous chum to embrace the meat... No "oooers" there please.

All menu options were appealing and represented fish and veg as well as meat. Get in here fast - and make sure you do fast beforehand!!

29 Feb 2012 13:57

The Hurtwood Inn, Peaslake

Interesting. Revisited here after some 5-6 years last weekend, and while good beer was retained and a reasonable spread was made available, the vibe just somehow seems now to be too-townies-in-the-country for my tastes. Immaculate decor, smart contemporary twists that still worked within the 1920s imposing white-washed exterior. But bar staff in ties and stripped wood floors alongside comfy chairs and some perhaps unforgivablky snotty ladies in the corner discussing how their horses had come first in their class was maybe not quite what I was hoping for.

Maybe to those who are regular it is not an awkward juxtaposition; indeed it wouldn't be in Dorking or even Godalming. But out in Peaslake perhaps a little more nod to the country environment in which it sits wouldn't be bad. Then again this is entirely subjective and perhaps some welcome the Hurtwood eschewing the 'choc box' approach.

Anyway, lovely S Hills Shere Drop and King 5 Generations (quite a chewy but complex brew) sampled and good luck to whoever runs the show.

29 Feb 2012 13:54

The Bricklayers Arms, Shamley Green

Indeed, this place did seem very friendly; it appears to be family-run and there was the child around but not (amazingly) intruding on our enjoyment of supping at the bar. Some local and some not, I think up to 5 cask ales are served; the Exmoor Gold - godfather of the 'golden ale' format if you believe the hype - was kept very nicely as was the Fuller's, and reminded me how pleasant it still can be and perhaps a worthy occasional alternative to the current slew of high or super-hopped pale ales.

Looked very inviting with delightful log fire administering delicious aromas of burning wood - just right for the occasion. Plenty of space as despite the cottagey double-fronted exterior and historical features, the rear has evidently been extended probably to accommodate a burgeoning diner market. I daresay food is worthwhile; menus looked appealing at any rate.

Well worth dropping off at.

29 Feb 2012 13:49

The Crossways Inn, Churt

A splendid pub that sadly I haven't had opportunity to get to since 2006. A range of well-kept, mostly loca-ales on pump, with a series of cask ciders on stillage behind. A real honest, two-bar, earthy but welcoming boozer that just happens to specialise in quality beer and cider. There are a few houses worthy of attention here but this is surely one of the priority pubs one should head for if in the area. Poor you if you happen to have a car although it shouldn't preclude a couple of sensible 'alves!

29 Feb 2012 13:45

Mawson Arms/ Fox and Hounds, Chiswick

Inevitably I paid a visit (actually two) to what is the flagship pub of Fuller, Smith and Turner's 365 in total, as part and parcel of a very comprehensive and engrossing tour round the Griffin Brewery and its historically-rich environs. Happily, the entire experience was free-of-charge thanks to a colleague of mine winning a tour and lunch on a James May-endorsed Facebook competition - social network sites finally show themselves to have a worthwhile use after all! It meant that myself and another lucky co-worker were treated to the full-on Fuller's experience.

The tour may not be a freebie for all, but even at the 10 pricetag, it comes highly-recommended, especially to those who might have considerable experience of micro-brewery visits but perhaps less of the regionals. It forms a fascinating counterpoint. This excursion is run personally by John Keeling, the head brewer and Fuller's-based since 1981, who has a well-rehearsed and rich awareness of the company's history as well as experience of breweing their beers, and the wider social and architectural background pertaining to Chiswick Village - the rather quaint and immaculately-preserved island of Georgian buildings sandwiched between the Thames and the modern, hectic A4 carriageway. It is a veritable oasis of civility and calm despite still being centred on the hive of industry that is the brewery, and Keeling's tour takes in the surroundings, where the barges used to stop off on the river, ex-brewer's houses, ex-pubs (there used to be 5 on 'the island' plus 1 brothel!) and the beautiful church where W Hogarth among other prominent personalities are buried.

Fortunately for me and others who don't always find appeal in the raw scientific detail of brewery tours, John's focused less on that and stuck to the core details with flourishes of history added in to keep the dialogue between the old and new Fuller's operations going. He is open to questions and comments and is more than a good host, especially when it comes to sampling in the Hop Cellar at the end. The usual range of 5 or 6 cask beers are made available along with a wide selection of their bottled offerings (conditioned anf filtered).

We were moved along to the pub at 2PM for what proved to be a hearty luncheon - being the glutton I am I opted for the two courses (tomato and watercress soup then steak and ESB ale pie 'n' chips) which were both found in excellent form; really tasty as I'm sure the other options were. Indeed, given Fuller's rather lofty pricing strategy in their pub estate it tasted all the sweeter taking some grub off them for nothing! The menu was that of a smart pub but not gastro-ish; pub grub meets bistro which suits the ambience of the smartly-decorated yet traditionally-themed interior of the Mawson.

Ale-wise, one has a selection of I think 5 on cask and the usual bottled fare. The London Porter, Pride, Chiswick and current seasonal Front Row were all splendidly-kept as one would expect, and lingered long on the palate after swallowing. At this point I should say the welcome from the barmaids and manageress was convivial, and service efficient and pleasant. We really were treated well despite not having paid a penny for it.

Before you wonder too hard, the pub has two names as it's believed that the Fox & Hounds stood further down where the brewery shop now is - as it was an equally-prominent meeting place, when it closed it was decided that the name should be moved to join its neighbour the Mawson on the corner, which was a 2-bar arrangement then. The dual name has stuck ever since.

Even if I was a paying customer I'd have been pleased to part with the necessary funds to obtain the quality of the wares and service at this pub, and it is a worthy talisman for the best aspects of the modern Fuller's operation. Yes, it does follow the usual Fuller's template and in some parts of London one is perhaps beset by similar pubs belonging to this estate. But if you're not near one, or perhaps feel you've fallen out of love a little with the ubiquity of the company's beers, travelling out here may hold greater appeal and act as a reminder of how good it can be, whether or not you're in the market for the full brewery tour.

22 Feb 2012 18:00

The George, Croydon

There's no questioning that the management know what they're doing now in terms of beer; the range and quality of cask at the George is now possibly the most consistent of all in the centre of town, with only the Green Dragon rivalling successfully. I just hope Steve doesn't move on too soon as this may all alter overnight once his leadership is lost.

The ale's ace. But has nobody else noticed that the quality of the barmaids is now pretty high too? Most of them look the part certainly, and actually talk to you as well. But, even better than this, they can pour your beer properly! All one needs in a woman really...

13 Feb 2012 17:51

Whispering Moon, Wallington

An utterly average formulaic Wetherspoon's offering in a convenient location if needing to use Wallington station to escape this particular rut of suburban nonentity.

As ever with JDWs, a range of interesting cask ales were available, and it was to its particular credit that some good local brews featured. It is still rare to find Pilgrim beers perching on any bar and so a well-kept and served pint of the Gold Spice was a pleasure I wasn't expecting.

Food-wise everything looked to be by-numbers as per, though having eaten at the nearby Greyhound I had no need of further victuals.

The interior was probably more welcoming than the exterior facade might initially suggest, though it was nothing one couldn't experience in hundreds of others in its stable anywhere in the nation, regardless of location. I didn't help by knocking over one glass (happily with only minimal beer left in it) and breaking another! I don't know, these inebriated individuals ruining the atmos!

Service - including the rarely-used dustpan and brush facility to clean up shattered glass - was very good as I recall and certainly better than some 'Spoon's.

10 Jan 2012 11:22

The Greyhound, Carshalton

This pub is a favourite of a friend of mine who lives in the vicinity, and he recommended that we visited it last Friday when an opportunity arose. From his description I'd expected perhaps somewhere a little more local, intimate and cosy than what I found, though saying that there parts of this clearly once-grandiose old building that retain some character and comfort (namely the Swan Bar).

The atmosphere was perhaps a little routine; it did feel like it was a pub that was not maybe pulling out all its stops to present a distinguished and exceptional experience. However, it hasn't in my made the fatal mistake of turning itself into a restaurant first and pub second; the Greyhound clearly still retains a strong pubby element and a mixed bag of punters were enjoying its liquid wares entirely separate from those who wished to eat.

Ale-wise, the usual Young's fare was on cask, and a perfectly acceptable couple of Ordinaries and Specials were consumed. Nothing out of the ordinary, but that wasn't by now what I was expecting. The chap who served us seemed pleasant and knowledgeable; apparently he's worked there on and off for 20 years so knows the form well.

We decided a meal was in order. A glance through the menu suggested a decent range of pub food, some options a little more restauranty than others but essentially a good balance for the kind of venue. I sat down to enjoy some rather excellent sea bream with new potatoes and other nicely-cooked accoutrements. This weighed in at around 14. While the food cannot be classified as great value, it is not excessive and is in accordance with Young's generally inflated pricing strategy for its estate.

All in all, no regrets coming out here and I would consider a further visit. Nevertheless, judging by the rather splendid exterior (and parts of its interior), I can't help but feel that it has had a considerable amount of its identity bowdlerised over the years, and what could've been a real stand-out pub is now just a more run-of-the-mill option. I'll leave it to those who remember it before that process began to take shape to comment further on it if they wish.

10 Jan 2012 11:13

O'Neill's, Wallington

Made my one and only visit to this pub last Friday whilst on the quaff with a couple of mates who probably should've known better, but then as the previous reviewer rightly points out, one is hardly spoiled for choice for high-quality ale houses for the more discedrning drinker in this area.

In its defence, the Melbourne (as it should be re-titled on BITE), presents itself witha little more distinction and character than the by-numbers formula of the woefully-average O'Neill's brand. It was bright, lively - being a Friday evening - and not altogether unpalatable as a backdrop for a quick drink.

Saying that I personally didn't feel it was a place one would wish to remain for any great length of time, and I believe my antipathy was shared by my co-drinkers, who like me were comfortbale enough to stay put for a pint, but the increasingly youthful, pre-club and frankly chavvy atmosphere wasn't a draw.

Ale-wise, I ended up consuming a whopping 12 pints or so during the combined lunchtime/evening sessions, so I am unfortuantely not best-placed to comment on the quality! I don't recall exactly what we had, and neither does anyone else. But I can confidently state it was perfectly acceptable and no drinks were returned.

I seem to recall service was also reasonable enough, though how representative any of this is of how the pub usually operates I can only guess.

Ultimately, this was, well, passable. But not a 'destination' pub to my mind.

10 Jan 2012 10:55

The Crown Inn, Churchill

It is EXCELLENT on a Sunday as it is any day of the week! God I bet it's corking on Christmas Eve/Day. I haven't been able to visit for 6 months. And worse still, one of my mates is there NOW as I write, having lunch. Bastard.

19 Dec 2011 12:32

The Cardinal, Victoria

My limited epxerience of this pub in its Cardinal phase suggested it was indeed a fairly by-numbers Sam Smith's outlet; cheap and cheerful enough but somewhat dingy and certainly not making the most of its potential inside, presumably as the Smith's model demands little can be allocated to refurbishment budgets if beer is to be consistently sold at Wetherspoon-style prices.

However, it would seem an exception was made for this place, as not only has it reverted to its former name, but Smith's have clearly undertaken a substantial redecoration of the entire premises, and for the better. The interior decor is classic Vitoriana but suited to the age of the building and its traditional exterior. The intricate wallpaper and other adornments make it a charming and comfortable place to drink in, and character has been restored, rather than removed, by the overhaul.

As always, the only cask ale on offer is the OBB, but that was found in splendid nick last Thursday when I visited. And inevitably, the price tags remain very competitive, so the customer isn't seemingly paying for the refurb at the point of sale.

Clearly this is doing something more than right, as the whole pub was absolutely awash with punters; the custom was more what one would expect of a Friday evening session, although I expect the pre-Christmas period was partly to blame for the squeeze. Unfortunately, the volumes did rather shine the spotlight on what seems to be the pub's weakness: slow and generally unfriendly bar staff. Whilst one does not want or expect an exchange of witty banter with staff, especially on a busy night, one can legitimately expect a smile and quicker, more responsive service. I and friends of mine were seemingly ignored on a relentless basis by the 3 girls serving in favour of others who had been waiting a fraction of the time, and were only eventually noticed at all thanks to the courtesy of a gentleman who recognised our plight and allowed us to go first. These girls seemed haughty, disinterested in their job and surly, and we weren't prepared to accept the busy nature of the pub as a valid excuse.

A shame, but sadly not unheard of in the capital pub scene. All told, an excellent revitalisation of a tired pub, with good beer and a pleasant atmosphere. Just get some staff who care and can move with the pace of the custom and it'll be a really worthwhile option when in the Victoria area.

19 Dec 2011 11:34

The Rake, London Bridge

Made my first substantive visit to this outlet in quite a while last Friday night. In keeping with the general context of the Borough area, the pub was fizzing with activity and there was an immediate sense of jollity upon our arrival. Being a strong pre-Christmas Friday I imagine things were even more lively.

What could be quite a boring and sterile space is assisted by various intriguing accoutrements and what might pass for 'artworks' adorning the walls; the wall of graffiti imparts a studenty but original flavour, although I can only hope there's a layer of wittier dawbs underneath the current paint!

Beer-wise, clearly this is one of the capital's boozers that has pledged dual allegiance to craft product, be it dispensed in cask or keg form. I noted the selection of imported bottled choices was impressive, although being me I stuck faithfully to the handpulled options - only 3 but very unusual for London: a Dark Star Oktoberfest, Arbor Ales Oyster Stout and Foundation (can't recall the brewer dammit!). The latter two were sampled by myself and my crew of chums who all agreed it was well-kept, and something of an inspired range, albeit that the light must always be hidden in the shadow of the nearby Market Porter's bushel of up to 10 cask ales. Definitely worth escaping the Porter's excess crowds though to see what's on up at the Rake as a (slightly) quieter alternative.

Can't comment really on any other facet of the pub - didn't need the loo and didn't want food so that'll be for someone else to review. The back area is quite useful for an overspill when the interior inevitably overflows. Punters were generally youthful - many below 30 - but mixed enough and if it was populated primarily by studes it managed to steer away from the grubbiness one sometimes finds in their favoured venues.

Ultimately, a really worthwhile visit and certainly one to include on a wider crawl of the district's many fine houses.

12 Dec 2011 17:49

The Elm Shades, Redhill

Obviously people care so little about the Shades' performance that not one single soul has considered it worthwhile commenting on it on way or the other in 4.5 years! Or maybe just none of its punters use this site.

In any case, in the 5 years and 4 reviews since I last commented, much has come and gone - certainly in the way of licensees, who for whataver reasons have never seemingly stayed for long, despite none of them making a complete hash of the place.

Visited for the first time in at least 9 months last Saturday, following virtual ejection from the Plough at 11:20 (like the bad old days pre-Licensing Act!) in the hope of a last one-for-the-road beer. Against all hope we found the Shades still serving. And what they served was splendid: the finest Kent's Best I've had in some while. Full range of Shep's in evidence. The chap behind the bar looked somewhat raddled but seemed to know his cellarmanship - he apparently has many years of pub-propping experience. All good, though sadly he is merely passing through too, acting as temporary manager until a permanent licensee can be tempted in.

Whilst the pub is certainly a more gritty experience than it once was, it was none the worse for it. It needed a bit of character and edge to get people back in, and certainly there was a good core of chaps quietly quaffing around the bar come last knockings last Saturday. Sallow-skinned and briney the couple managing it maybe, but very friendly and responsive to the right sort of punters: a group of mostly underage youths were politely but firmly refused entry after 11:30 despite their pleadings. I got the feeling your man could have handled things if they'd taken a nasty turn, which in Redders is always handy.

This review will probably be ignored whatever, and won't likely be current for long, but it's nice to let people know the pub is still doing its thing and might be worth a punt if you're in the vicinity.

6 Dec 2011 17:53

The Northumberland Arms, Fitzrovia

A smart enough but perhaps somewhat sterile pub once inside, the Northumberland was not targeted because we'd heard it was especially worthwhile; merely it was the most convenient hostelry in the nearby vicinity and didn't know of anywhere necessarily better.

I had a perfectly acceptable though uninspiring ale - two were available on pump - I must say I can't recall which it was although that will say as much about my state at the time as it might about the blandness of range. It wasn't especially busy and we rather suspected the majority of punters were favouring the nearby Court - which didn't look great but was admittedly rammed to its rafters.

I fear this is one of the myriad number of pubs in the capital that presents a traditional and welcoming exterior and suggests character may lurk within, but once inside it falls rather flat and really could be anywhere. I think the expression 'by numbers' applies. However, if just requiring a quickie this will serve well enough.

1 Dec 2011 17:56

The Doric Arch, Euston

A surprisingly pleasant and traditional feel awaits visitors to this outwardly unappealing pub set within the ghastly brutality that is the present Euston station complex. There seemed to be plenty of punters in attendance when I dropped in on Tuesday evening, and there was a steady hum to the place.

Cask ales are on fine form here, with not only the usual range of 4 or so Fuller's beers on offer, but a range of guests - I think 3 options were given us 2 days ago and what I sampled was on splendid form - damned if I can recall the brewery off-hand but it was called 'Supernova' so that may help if anyone wants to know.

Service was just about with a smile though took quite a while to avail ourselves of it. I didn't get the feeling the barmaid was especially committed to her role, and despite being American - normally that most bubbly and exuberant of nationalities - we found her somewhat charmless. Saying that, she was manning the bar alone and in the end poured some decent beerage.

Can't comment on grub here although I seem to remember there was food served, presumably to help buttonhole the numerous passing trade that this outlet benefits from. I hear they're planning to redevelop Euston which may be a blessing aesthetically, though if this pub is lost in the melee it would be a bit of a shame, as it's a convenient bolthole. Time will tell.

1 Dec 2011 17:51

The Coach and Horses, Danehill

The interior is plain and rustic, and certainly none the worse for that; it is entirely in keeping with what one expects from its cottagey exterior and a classic country pub.

Clearly food was popular, with some pretty high tallies being racked up on the till, but as I'd already eaten heartily I had to pass. Ale-wise, not much in terms of variety; only 2 cask ales were being sold on my visit last Saturday afternoon. However, the one sampled - a Hammerpot brew - was very nicely kept, and was served alongside what I'm sure is the ever-reliable Harvey's Best. The beer was pulled by a jolly chap who I assume was the landlord, and observation suggested he was being ably assisted by a young barmaid.

This really is the traditional 2-bar arrangement, with a 'public' bar on the right which is smaller and home to some comfortable sofas, and the 'saloon' on the left which is where you'll find the fonrt of the bar, and seating area for dining. The pub dog - a rather docile Golden retriever - was wandering around both inside and out quite happily. I like a pub like this to have its own dog - just seems to fit nicely with the overall vibe.

The whole place was enormously convivial and appealing, and on a late November afternoon held all the charm one wants to find in a rural boozer. It was well-heeled, but without being at all pretentious.

Certainly this is worth chivvying out if you're in the area - don't think you've come too far off the A275 by the way - keep pressingon up School Lane and you'll eventually find the C & H, set back from the road.

28 Nov 2011 17:45

The Alma, Uckfield

I hadn't visited this place since the 1990s, and although I used to live in Uckfield in the 1970s I was far too young to appreciate the Alma's wares, although I understand my dear old dad used to like it. In any case, I finally revisited it opportunistically on Saturday, whilst passing through. I found it to be one of the thoroughbred Harvey's houses, with really well-kept ale, what looked to be decent grub, and a traditional but clean and friendly atmosphere prevailing.

A plainly Victorian exterior leads to a similarly woody and traditionally-decorated interior, which was welcoming and cosy - not quite a two-bar pub but not far off, with two 'sides' seemingly functioning quite separately from each other. I received a polite and effiicent welcome from the landlady, who duly pulled up what can only be descibed as an excellent pint of Dark Mild (had the car so no Bonfire Boy etc for me). It was a really tasty drink and it just shows why Mild should never be discarded as a weak or characterless style, at least not when brewed and conditioned properly.

There were a few people in enjoying the lunch menu, which looked appetising, although I wasn't quite there hunger-wise and moved elsewhere before giving in.

The feel of the place was friendly, well-maintained and generally in-keeping with what one would expect. I imagine this functions well as a local for the immediate residential area, and on a more busy shift I would suspect the Alma would be buzzing. I hope it is, at any rate.

Whilst not a 'destination' pub - at least not for me as I have the Garland in redhill nearby which is a very similar bag - it's certainly somewhere I'd come back to as and when opportunity presents.

28 Nov 2011 17:36

The Kings Arms, Tring

Dropped in here for an unexpectedly lengthy visit prior to moving on to the local brewery. Always nice to get a taste of the good stuff before actually going headling into a full-scale session!

The Kings Arms had received good reviews and has apparently been run - very successfully - by the same family for the last 30 years, having rescued it at the turn of the '80s as its future looked bleak. They've magicked up a canny formula of high-quality and diverse pub meals and a decent range of well-kept cask beers, and together with sound service and a welcoming atmopshere this has made for a very competitive and appealing local, which on a Saturday afternoon boasted old, young, couples, families, friends, single folk - you name it, most types of pubgoers were represented here (well, the respectable kinds anyway!). This can only augur well for its future.

Some ales were local although not exclusively - besides the inevitable Tring offerings there were Black Country, Wadworth and Springhead options on pump. The Wadworth was in especially excellent form and I managed at least 3 pints, following receipt of a message from the brewer that they couldn't open for us until 3PM instead of 2.... Damn. Only meant we dug yet further in here and enjoyed some grade 'A' grub - my Thai-influences chicken curry was both tasty and generous in size. Everyone else's looked pretty decent too and I heard nothing but praise for the kitchen staff.

All in all then, a pretty good pub, set in a charming little backstreet residential area of a rather lovely, well-preserved provincial town. What's not to like about that?!

25 Nov 2011 16:54

The Bree Louise, Euston

Having ticked off the excellent Wenlock Arms at last after years of saying I would, I also managed a second coup on the same evening by making my maiden appearance at the Bree Louise, another of London's regularly-adulated pubs which always comes highly recommended by those in the know.

Ales on cask were numerous - don't think it's just the first few pumps you see on arrival - at the rear of the bar there are many more choices and some of those on last night were quite outlandish. I genuinely have never tasted anything quite like the Art Brew beer I sampled; sort of root ginger that wraps itself around your tonsils and gives you a warm glow, yet no heat on the palate?! Bizarre but worthwhile. Brodie's were also represented, which is a rare thing even in the capital.

I should note the decent range of cask ciders too; plenty of Mr Whitemans from Selborne which always delights, among others.

Atmosphere-wise, it wasn't quite what I expected; the interior decor and arrangement of furniture was more like a cafe somehow than a pub. For my tastes it lacked any good nooks and alcoves and it wasn't really the done thing to prop up the bar either, but despite these issues one couldn't dismiss the Bree as unpleasant or antiseptic. Maybe the chairs etc could've been a little more robust - I see what the previous contributor means. But happily we'd have enough beer between us to rise above the relatively minor downsides.

The place was busy for a Wednesday evening and observation suggested quite a broad spread of customers, which shows a similarly generous bandwidth of appreciation across the spectrum. Whether I'd rank this as one of the top pubs in London I'm not sure. But certainly it is in the upper echelons, if only for its striking beer and cider range.

I think I'll be back.

17 Nov 2011 17:30

The Wenlock Arms, Hoxton

Finally managed to get myself to this fabled rough 'n' ready boozer last night and wasn't disappointed. The building itself is plainly worthy of protection - a rather fine Victorian edifice that screams character and solidity when set against its dull 1950s and '60s neighbours, it is the last remaining building of that era in the street and sits in glorious isolation at the corner.

Once indoors, one has to concede that it probably SHOULD be given a good old scrub down, and certainly they could make more of its interior. Saying that though, there's no denying it lends an extra layer of earthiness to the place, and the slightly grimy patina is actually well-placed for a pub of this kind.

The staff were maybe slightly oddballish, but efficient nevertheless (too efficient - my mate got 3 times the change expected!), but the punters were all pretty sound and everyone was beering and cheering very comfortably despite the cramped space. Yes, happily I can report the Wenlock was thronging, and with a really good mix too - young, old, rich, poor, you name it, they were there getting stuck in. The pub was dog-friendly too, with a couple of pooches at one point perched on bar stools!

Cask ale-wise - let's face it that's why most people who aren't local seek this out - there were I think 6 choices from around the country and 1 cask cider (the radioactively orange but delish Cheddar Valley). A Mild was available, as well as a Best, Porter and styles in between. Personally I didn't sample anything new that truly enamoured my palate, but that's merely my own taste and certainly no aspersion on the conditioning. Turnover was rapid as well which is a good sign. In some provinical towns pubs like this may be more commonplace, but it backstreet London they're all too rare and I hope people continue to support it, whatever is in store now the erstwhile owners are selling up.

I was heartened to hear that the Council disallowed the demolition of what is quite plainly a very viable and desirable business, as well as a bit of an aesthetic gem in that vicinity. Whilst refusal of a planning app is never the end of the story, I hope the pro-pub camp stand firm and resist future attempts to erase it from the streetmap. Well done folks - I'll be back.

17 Nov 2011 17:22

The George, Temple

I must say I did wonder - based my addendum on other people's previous comments rather than my observations which is always a bad idea! Looks like I must've been the worse for wear on Sat 24 Sep - next time I shall ensure I drop my reviews some while after visiting the pub in question, to assure a more accurate account free of excess....

11 Nov 2011 17:13

The Castle, Holborn

As an addenudm to my previous review in the Summer, I soon discovered that this pub's owners are the same company who are behind The (New) Wheatsheaf in Borough, which is a far less-pleasant but still excellent ale house which carries a similarly impressive and unusual range of beer.

I don't usually suggest this, but if a few more pubs were to be snapped up by Redcar then it probably wouldn't go amiss, provided they adopt the same approach and don't try to become too formulaic. Their first two efforts would imply that they wouldn't.

Annoyed that The Castle was closed on a Saturday though - I hate London pubs that do that as it so often catches me out.

10 Nov 2011 10:13

The Halfway House, Pitney

I DIDN'T get to the superb HH whilst down in the West Country last weekend! I am extremely depressed about this and am contemplating suicide.........

10 Nov 2011 10:01

The Carpenters Arms, Chippenham

This pub - albeit undeniably charming from the outside - was achingly dated inside, and whilst more often than not I don't object to a little olde worlde charm and character, I just felt that it was neglect, and over-reliance on a captive tourism audience, that had left the Carpenters feeling tired and in today's competitive pub industry, unacceptably shabby.

The decor was suited to the building well enough, but was yearning for some TLC and although essentially clean, the atmosphere was lacking - perhaps that was because it was mid-afternoon but even so, I can't imagine this as a thriving hostelry with an appeal broader than older folk living in Lacock who find it convenient, and unsuspecting visitors who don't know better.

The landlord was a bluff old boy and seemed friendly enough. He only had 1 cask ale on - the rather safe Shep's Spitfire (maybe not ubiquitous in these parts but hardly sock-rocking). He'd got Adnams Lighthouse but apparently it wasn't ready - well, at least he wasn't serving up poor beer. But somehow it didn't inspire one to reach for another half.

It looks like food is served and is popular, although one may have to look at earlier commentaries for details on that front. Perhaps this is enough for some, but in a village like this one surely can expect some really high-quality, smart pub at its core which has a broader appeal? I think this is adequate, but a real wasted opportunity.

I may revisit the village, but alas probably not the Carpenters, unless it decides it wants to justify its position and prices.

9 Nov 2011 18:25

Bell Inn, Lacock

Not an immediately prepossessing pub from the rather basic whitewashed exterior which no doubt hides the true age and character of the building. But don't let that lead to an untested assumption that this is just another roadside country pub feeding off a captive tourist market for Lacock. The Bell is worthy of attention for substantive reasons.

We were in the market for some pub grub and happily a broad mix of dishes could be procured, from the more pedestrian classic pub meals to more sophisticated cheffy numbers. We opted for a cheese Ploughmans and beef lasagne with chips which went down exceedingly well and didn't take too long to appear, despite this being a very busy Saturday lunchtime.

Ale-wise, a range of 4 were found, mostly local if I recollect correctly. My Palmer's Best was on decent form as was my mate's Alfies (can't recall the brewer but it was an interesting offering). Prices weren't silly, and both groups of friends and families were in attendance, showing this place must be doing something very right at the moment.

The pub seemed to lean just the right side of being a restaurant with a bar - the conservatory and dining room areas were maybe not so pubby but the main bar area was in keeping with the old tavern I assume it once must've been. This was certainly a preferable option to going into Lacock itself and paying a fortune for a miserly and dated overpriced lunch.

Once you've ticked your chocolate boxes in the picturesque National Trust enclave itself, walk or drive out here and take sustenance - it's by far the better choice.

9 Nov 2011 18:18

Rising Sun, Chippenham

Now this was a real find. My friend who was accompanying me on this session had visited the Rising Sun before, but alas I had not. My maiden visit proved to be a thoroughly satisfying experience, and one which was perfectly suited to the context of a chilly, leaf-strewn Autumn day, when one simply wants cosy comfort and lively spirit from a pub.

The GBG of course was the trusty tome that brought us here, promising a range of well-kept Mole's beers, which we duly found. 3 were on last Saturday afternoon, including the excellent Autumn ale that is the Elmo's Fire (the 'Saint' appears to have been dropped!). A pint of that really hits the spot on a day like the one I describe above.

The decor was traditional country cottage in feel, and although relatively unimposing from the exterior, the interior was rather more appealing (the view from the rear garden is the real highlight). Numerous locals were supping quite contentedly and clearly there had been a demand for the good home-cooked food on offer. The staff were efficient and always kept the chaps' pots topped up.

All in all, I've chalked this one up as a bit of a little hidden gem, just far enough outside the tourist trap of Lacock village itself yet retaining the area's natural charms. Lord knows when I'll get back, but it won't be too soon when I do.

9 Nov 2011 18:11

The Chelsea Inn, Easton

Nice t o be able to comment on a pub via a proper computer for once - my work terminal where I used to do all my reviews from was blocking BITE but happily the techies seem to have relented!

Visited this pub for the 2nd time of attempting but only the 1st successfully. Persistence in this area of Bristol may not always pay off, but it was the trusty 2011 and '12 Good Beer Guides which insisted t his was worthy of attention and so we persevered, finding it open for business last Saturday early evening.

The Chelsea won't be to every pubgoer's taste; it is an earthy, entirely unpretentious and slightly edgy experience to drink there, and the clientele are somewhat eclectic. But this certainly doesn't mean it lacks character and interest - quite the contrary in fact - and the beer and cheer makes it more appealing.

I think 5 cask ales appeared at the pumps last weekend. Some were local delicacies (Thunderbox Porter) but others were surprisingly far-flung (Upham Ale). 3 were sampled by the half and each were found in impeccable form - really flavoursome and an intriguing mix. Not everyone was an affirmed ale quaffer but still the turnover must be good.

The barmaid was friendly enough and efficient, and although we probably stuck out like sore arses nobody seemed to object to our presence. Loud reggae-orientated music was playing and decks/speakers were very prominent, so clearly this is a haunt of music lovers. Again not to everyone's palate, but somehow entirely appropriate in this environment.

All in all, I really liked this pub. This won't get unanimous approval, but for me it's an 8.

9 Nov 2011 18:02

The Harp, Covent Garden

Justifiably the 2011 national pub of the year award winner, still serving a splendid range and quality of ale, proudly. No other reason to re-review, other than to raise the score to 9 from 8, and to give prettiest barmaid of the year award to one of the staff here. The young lady with dark hair, worn up tonight, in jeans and long cardigan. Don't know the name, but she was - is - truly a thing of beauty. It's not just beer that makes pubs!

24 Sep 2011 21:18

Euston Tap, Euston

Oh, and in the interests of fairness, I should've probably made mention of the literally hundreds of bottled options available at this pub. It was a vast array and probably one of the largest in the on-trade. Also, a specialised cider bar is being set up in the gatehouse opposite, which will undoubtedly hit paydirt when it opens, given the trend towards the apple juice right now. All we need now is a workable design to bring the actual station back to its former architectural glory. Apparently it's in the pipeline.

24 Sep 2011 17:48

Euston Tap, Euston

A prime example of the emerging controversial trend towards so-called 'craft keg' products from respectable foreign brewers, or those British ones which seem to be experimenting with flavour-filled filtered keg seemingly as if to suggest good old traditional cask beer isn't as worthy as people think. Personally I'm dubious of the merits of this manoeuvre. In countries with no cask tradition, and whose brewers are very experienced in creating beers with flavour albeit under pressure, I think we may welcome them as imported alternatives. But I'm cautious about certain UK brewers who seem to want to not only create a market for kegged product alongside cask, but possibly act against it. Brewdog seem to be on a divisive and tedious anti-CamRA drive in favouring keg over their excellent cask options. There really is no point, other than to stick it to CamRA doctrine and to make beer more cheaply and flog it as premium - the lager boys have got away with that for far too long. I don't want to see cask undermined for what is still usually an inferior version of ale. Anyhow, come along to the rather small and quirky yet convenient and pleasant Tap and decide for yourself. There were around 10 cask options on, and whilst they packed some flavour, they were suspiciously heady, raising doubts as to the dispense, which was hidden away behind a panel to conceal the source. Alternatively you'll find up to 20 keg offerings, mostly imports from Europe and America, but with a smattering of British. Tried a keg-only Thornbridge beer. Frankly it resembled filtered and pasteurised bottle beer to my palate. And it was about 60 more expensive than the cask equivalents! I can only conclude that the current shift to embrace UK keg is little more than marketing and money-spinning! The Tap is tight on space, to say the least, although outdoor provision is a saviour on a fine day. Toilets - sorry, toilet - was rudimentary but presumably a function of the limitations of the old station gatehouse in which it is located. An intriguing place.

24 Sep 2011 17:43

The George, Temple

Update! So much for being on the money with this review. Turns out this pub IS a Nicholsons outlet! No wonder it compared so well. Oh dear. Losing my touch. Think I'll have another beer to clear the mind.........

24 Sep 2011 17:23

The George, Temple

Actually something of a first here; this is the first TWG BITE pub review written whilst still in the establishment concerned! Therefore this should be bang up to the minute, although naturally still only my subjective opinion. I'd never heard anything especially great about the George, possibly because it inevitably carrier central London pricing and folk understandably tend to be more demanding of a place selling beer for almost 4 a pint. Nevertheless, in cask ale terms at least, the pub is competitive, with 6 featured on pump, selected from individual breweries nationwide - Sharp's, Black Sheep, Adnams, Sambrook's, Twickenham and Ascot represented as of 24 September. And the latter two were - are - found in excellent condition; perfect temperature and high on flavour. Well done. It certainly compares favourably to the Nicholsons of this world as an ale house. The usual keg cider and lager brands are here of course, but I'm not concerning myself with that nonsense! Food looks to be popular, clearly striking a chord with the tourist market, which, along with the legal eagles, form a significant part of the trade. Service was with a smile and was efficient, with no language problems that can so often ruin a simple transaction in the capital. Externally the pub is evidently playing on its heritage, with Tudor beams adorning the front. Inside, one finds a more typical Victorian-led design. Plenty of alcoves end a generous bar area. TVs are on but not over-obtrusive. All told, not a shabby effort at all. Maybe not exceptional, but worthy of some attention if in need of sustenance in the heart of the city.

24 Sep 2011 17:18

Ferry Boat, Runcorn

Hardly an intended stop-off during our lengthy trawl through Cheshire via canal, but we needed some lunch and Runcorn presented as the most convenient option. I can't appreciate why so many of its pubs are rating so highly on this site - maybe only the licensees have lodged scores. Saying that, there can't be many, as from a brief tour round the centre most pubs now seem to be decidedly closed for business. A sad reflection of the undoubtedly bad times an already deprived town is enduring I suppose. In a bleak beer desert like this a Wetherspoon pub is a godsend. The Ferry Boat provided some respite with several cask ales and ciders. George Wright and Coach House brews featured, and were found at exceptionally cheap prices but in good condition. Service was efficient enough. The place was rather dull and unmemorable in its internal and external appearance, and atmosphere wasn't enhanced by the lack of punters - one might think in a poor area a beer 'n' burger lunch for 2.99 would draw folk in, but it seems

18 Sep 2011 18:57

Penny Black, Northwich

Set within one of the town's numerous imposing mock-Tudor 1920s buildings. The interior is something of a surprise; reminiscent of a barn conversion but it's been refurbished to a good standard as is the case with many Wetherspoon rebirths of old civic premises as pubs. Ale-wise, we'd hardly been spoiled along our meander along the Cheshire Ring canal journey, and so finding a GBG-listed pub serving 8 real ales was something of a boon, albeit that it was arguably a formulaic JDW outlet. The beer, which included offerings from Acorn, Skinners and Batemans breweries, was all in excellent form and we had no complaints. Perhaps more unusually for 'Spoons the staff were not only efficient in serving but also friendly; the 2 barmaids on duty during our visit were doing a fine job - probably too good to stay for long! There is a suntrap of a garden at the rear which we made great use of given the wonderful weather last Thursday. Clientele-wise, it was the usual mixed bag one has to tolerate in this chain's pubs. Most folk were perfectly behaved and inoffensive, although I spied 1 or 2 who were less so. I imagine on a Friday/Saturday night things might take a less-convivial tone, but thankfully that did not affect us. Chalk this one up as one of the more memorable JDWs, and certainly one of Northwich's best offerings - hell, it's one of the few that is still trading.

18 Sep 2011 18:40

The Hollybush, Little Leigh

A chance drop-in at this pub occurred as we'd been forced to overnight on the canal nearby and were in search of a half-decent drinking house serving quality and preferably interesting local ales. Well, we didn't quite find all these at the Hollybush, which was essentially a pleasant enough local pub but sadly showing no imagitation at the pumps. Tetley Cask, Shepherd Neame Spitfire and Fullers London Pride were hardly innovative or local choices. Whilst these were kept well enough, they were inevitably all served via sparkler which was entirely inappropriate for the latter 2 beers. Still, we made the most of its cosy drinking areas, bedecked with horse brasses, beams and other memorabilia. Some of this was authentic as the original portion of the pub is a 16th century farmhouse. However there has been many additions over the years, including a new accommodation block at the rear. It looks like while the pub aims to maintain its status as a local in the main bar area, it also seeks to be something of an attraction to travellers. The family market would seem to be catered for too, with a generous garden and cheap meal deals - 2 courses for 12 quid. Not bad, although I can't comment on its quality. All in all, a perfectly amenable and acceptable venue, but nothing exceptional.

18 Sep 2011 18:20

The Cask Bar, Castlefield

Due to some unforeseen delays in our journey round the Cheshire Ring, our planned overnight stop in Manchester was cruelly but necessarily curtailed to just an hour's stop mid-afternoon. So most of the city's classic cask ale haunts went omitted, with the singular exception of the Cask, which was not only close to where we'd moored but also a new entry to the Good Beer Guide 2012. I'm in accord with one of the reviewers who opined that the pub is nothing special, with its apparent pretensions to contemporary 'bar' design, complete with loud exterior colours and comfy furniture. That said, it is in keeping with the aspirations towards being a continental style venue, with its extensive keg and bottled Belgian and German beers. These looked intriguing, but given such a tight turnaround we needed to focus on the more immediate joys of the pub's name: Cask beer. Only 3 featured on pump, but they were unconventional choices and found in splendid nick. All offerings came from local or regional brewers, which was a pleasure to see. We worked quickly, and polished off a good 3 pints apiece - there were 8 of us - so we must've been content. Mention is made previously of the jukebox; the music was prominent but in a quiet afternoon spell this didn't hurt. Moreover, all tracks appealed to me so I rather got into it. Clientele appeared mixed; a working class couple were already in, and 3 besuited lawyer types arrived shortly after. Altogether not a bad option although there's plenty of more appealing choices not far away. Convenient not just for canal users but also visitors to the Science & Transport Museum and Granada Tv Studios.

18 Sep 2011 18:01

The Blue Bell Inn, Kidsgrove

During an entire week 'doing' the Cheshire Ring, sampling a fair number of pubs of varying worthiness, the Blue Bell Inn probably came out as the best in the opinion of our 8-strong crew. Indeed, we did the ring anti-clockwise mainly to ensure a visit could be made. And we weren't disappointed, with 6 cask ales served (at prices which were a godsend to South-Easterners like us - 2.40 a pint!) and were sourced from local breweries and many beyond. Each were sampled and found to be kept brilliantly. Apparently the licensees are CamRA award winners and I'm not surprised at these plaudits. Plainly the couple running the show know a thing or two about cellarmanship. The pub is attractive inside and out, and we managed to find seating despite it being a busy Saturday night. Locals and other canallers were on board, all enjoying the wares. We had a very hearty time of it and the mood was perfectly-conducive for a damn good session! Although last orders were not late, the landlady very generously allowed as much time as we required to sup up our beers. I'm not surprised to find BITE users so far saving this on average as 9.1. Given the context of the local area, which is not exactly saturated with outstanding ale outlets, this place really stands out and deserves the credit it receives. Long may this continue.

18 Sep 2011 17:28

Hatters Arms, Stockport

After a satisfying pint at the nearby Ring o' Bells, as we were overnighting on the canal in Marple we felt we should spread our wings and try another boozer. So we toddled over to the Hatters. A well-presented, homely sort of pub, it was clearly a solid unpretentious community local which was working class but in no way rough or unwelcoming. 3 of Robinson's ales were on. The Hatters Mild was well-kept and I understand from other crew members that the Unicorn was also decent enough. The interior is divided into 3 characterful and cosy rooms, all with wood panelling and mementoes of local history and pride - in the rear room a gallery of brass band flags adorned the wall. In the front room a 50th birthday party of sorts was in session, despite being a Sunday night. There was high jinx but good spirits and it added atmosphere to what might otherwise have been a quiet evening. It's unlikely I'll be in the area again, but if I were, I'd willingly pop back here for a quick pint or two.

18 Sep 2011 17:09

The Ring o Bells, Marple

Having not always been fortunate enough to strike the best pubs at the right times during a recent canal holiday on the Cheshire Ring, we at last discovered something of a more worthy canalside hostelry in Marple's Ring O' Bells. It was a pleasing whitewashed Victorian building which was immediately welcoming upon stepping inside. Various seating areas are available and all looked comfortable, as was the bar area. However, with 8 of us in tow, there was nowhere with adequate space to sit or prop up the bar even, so we had to venture into the garden. Cold, but at least this showed the pub enjoys a healthy level of customers. I can understand why; there were a range of 5 Robinson's beers on pump, each found in good condition. The Young Tom in particular was splendid. The barmaid was genial and patient with our massive order especially when the ale ran dry and required changing. Food was clearly popular and the menu looked excellent - fish and meat dishes featured and I rather wish others had been up for sampling them - another time maybe. The place had a distinct community feel and various events were being held for their benefit - sadly we just missed a beer festival scheduled for Sat 24 Sep. Also, the pub runs a novel party boat trip up the canal with a bar on board their private 72-foot craft. Unfortunately we met it coming at us under a nearby bridge and narrowly avoided a collision! The staff weren't happy but the guests found it amusing enough. Well done folks - keep this up.

18 Sep 2011 16:57

The Tipperary, Fleet Street

Popped in on the say-so of my cousin who'd earmarked it on a crawl he'd dreamt up last Tuesday. A seemingly genuine Irish (not 'Oirish') pub that was friendly and a rare example of a true local in these parts. Service was prompt and welcoming. Shame only one cask ale was offered - and was the ever-ubiquitous Greene King IPA. Nevertheless, it was perfectly well-conditioned and about as good as it gets. This was all the more creditable given that I assume there's little interest in ale given the obvious popularity of a certain Irish stout. I wouldn't come back for the beer, and it does have a lot of competition locally. But, I might consider it for the other positive things if I happened to be in the area.

28 Aug 2011 18:00

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, Fleet Street

Thought I'd been here previously but on reflection I don't think I had. Anyway, maiden visit made on Tuesday, thereby adding mine and my cousin's names to the already illustrious roll-call listed by the last reviewer. He also details much of the historical and decor descriptions accurately and thoroughly, so I shan't rehearse those here. Be assured the YOCC exudes a cavernous slightly dingy yet cosy charm that centuries of patina has given it, and few London pubs have that advantage. As a Sam Smith's outlet things are pared down and simple, but thankfully that works here. Also there is only one cask ale choice, but the OBB is consistent and easy-drinking, and is well-represented here. And at these prices, it makes it probably the cheapest pint in Fleet Street. Service was friendly although - apologies to more tolerant readers - I did have that "alien in my own country" sensation, as not only were all our co-drinkers foreign (mostly American tourists) but so was the barman, who hailed from New Zealand. I realise it's a very cosmopolitan city nowadays, but it's still slightly perturbing to be surrounded by non-local accents. Maybe I'm just too parochial! Still, it would never put me off a return visit.

28 Aug 2011 17:50

The Castle, Holborn

Possibly the find of the year for me in London pub terms. Apparently not an identikit branded chain outlet like Wetherspoon or Nicholsons - it's owned by a small pubco called Redcar - yet it plainly specialises in excellently-kept diverse cask beers. Indeed, it rated better than either of those two giants, as not only was the selection of ales very unusual (nothing ubiquitous and I'd not even heard of all the brewers represented), but there was a more authentic local atmosphere, with very attentive service to boot. A traditional pub frontage tucked away in a quiet side-street, hidden away from hustle and bustle, one finds an intimate and appealing wood-panelled interior, which doesn't try too hard to reflect olde worlde sentiments. Only a modest number enjoying its wares when I visited but then it was only a Tuesday evening. There was a pleasant hum of chat; piped music was in evidence but hardly intrusive. Ale-wise one has about ten to revel in! Samples were freely-dispensed by the affable and efficient staff. A convivial and jolly experience followed. We even got talking to some of our fellow customers who were taking in some of the fine malts. One is lucky if one receives a smile in some London boozers let alone talk! This pub deserves commendation for its efforts. Any pub in the capital doing Nethergate as its regular flagship ale is in my good books. Excellent - shall be back, doubtless.

28 Aug 2011 17:35

The Knights Templar, Chancery Lane

Indeed a very impressive conversion of the kind Tim Martin and co do very well. No expense spared. The interior is airy and spacious, and perhaps feels more contemporary than one might expect from the lavish neo-Classical frontage. In truth the experience at this pub can't be considered that memorable; it does a lot of things right like ale variety and quality, but is essentially the standard Wetherspoon package. Saying that, there are perhaps fewer unkempt and bedraggled-looking characters drinking here than in many of the chain's outlets in less-affluent locations. But my experience is that the Knight's is not populated by lawyers and toffs either. Clearly they deem a JDW hostelry to be beneath them and choose to quaff their wines and spirits in more rarefied, dearer venues. No loss really - personally I don't want my pubs full of posh types any more than I want them cluttered by dossers!

28 Aug 2011 17:19

The Old Bell, Fleet Street

Perhaps less-appealing in appearance externally than its nearby neighbour the Punch, but further inspection confirms it is far more satisfactory in other respects. In the usually safe, if formulaic hands of Nicholsons, the Bell offers a traditional, cosy interior with plenty of seating around a dimly-lit bar area. Service was with a smile - yes, in London! - and the ale (Moor Northern Ale from Somerset) was on excellent form, and was accompanied by the usual broad selection the chain is known for, all at reasonable enough prices. I daresay food will be found in decent order, as it is in all venues under this banner. Certainly one of the more appealing pubs in this area, albeit perhaps not one of the most authentic. Definitely worth your attention if you like your alehouses traditional, and cask-friendly.

27 Aug 2011 09:08

The Punch Tavern, Fleet Street

I think this pub does flatter to deceive. It appears rather grandiose from its exterior, and internally it seems smart, with lavish twists like a marble bartop, palm trees etc. However closer inspection does reveal it's not much more than a passable Wetherspoon conversion of an old building, but without the array of quality ales and the competitive prices. Indeed, even in this locality 3.80 for a pint of Purity Mad Goose was eye-wateringly excessive. The beers - all two of them - were seemingly in good nick and they were served efficiently enough. But none of this really made me feel that I must undertake a pilgrimage to return at the earliest opportunity. The long and short of it is that there are better pubs very nearby which surpass the Punch on ale, decor, character and price measures. I'd have to recommend these first.

27 Aug 2011 09:00

Royal Oak, Edinburgh

I'm not especially into folk, although clearly this place majors in it, with numerous ads for upcoming performances both here and elsewhere, and a generous subterranean stage where I daresay locals enjoy the talent on offer. While the Royal Oak plainly won't top a list of Edinburgh pubs for ale, food or sophistication, it nevertheless exudes much character and honesty. The lady at the bar - the licensee I believe - had much heart as did the locals propping up the bar. My mate and I were both made to feel perfectly welcome despite not being known from Adam. Beer was limited but the Tomintoul Wildcat was tasty enough, if maybe slightly too chilled. Just as things were going swimmingly, unfortunately a significantly inebriated individual tottered in, clearly to the immediate wariness of some of the locals who must've known what to expect. The landlady and bar-proppers dealt with him very delicately and eventually persuaded him to depart, although not before severel others had evacuated, prematurely I assume. I guess all boozers have their crosses to bear. It certainly can't be said that this pub is boring. Those into Ian Rankin may be interested to note this was a regular feature in the televised Rebus series.

27 Aug 2011 08:48

The Southsider, Edinburgh

Possibly the longest hiatus I've seen on BITE between two reviews. Well, in the last 8 years some things have altered. On my visit earlier this month there was no sign of 15 pumps. Perhaps this pub was really in the vanguard of cask beer in 2003. Saying that, it's not poor for ale now; I recall 4 pumps dispensing well-kept options such as Harviestoun Blonde and Schiehallion. Service was pleasant and efficient. Stopped in at a quiet period on a wet Tuesday afternoon, but there was still a decent mix of old, young and middle-aged folk peacefully enjoying their drinks in the various seating booths and tables. Food was served but not needing sustenance at that stage, I have no comment. I suppose the previous reviewer's assessment that the Southsider is a healthy combination of a student and pensioners' pub isn't far wrong even today. Decor was solid and clean although nothing especially characterful. Worth a stop if passing and in need of pintage.

27 Aug 2011 08:34

The Guildford Arms, Edinburgh

Although a similarly asserting exterior to its nearby neighbour the Cafe Royal, this doesn't quite match up on the inside. But then it's more of an earthy, traditional pub and comparisons with the aforementioned upmarket establishment probably aren't fair. The Guildford offered us I think 4 very decent cask beers, and the Dragonhead was fine, contrary to the last reviewer's experience. Saying this though, I felt a little deflated; not because of what was on but what wasn't a further 6 pumps sat derelict, only taunting the adventurous ale-lover with supposition about what could be. Granted, it's better to stock 4 not 10 if experience shows only 4 can comfortably turn over, but still it seems a shame. It surely could be a means of outdoing the Royal, which whilst good only offers 4 ales... A mixed but affable clientele could be found on a Wednesday afternoon, and my trusty partner-in-booze and I agreed we could've happily whiled away more time here. But the airport beckoned. Oh well, maybe another time. It's a good find, as although it enjoys convenient proximity to Princes Street, it is just far enough from the main drag's hurly-burly to provide a haven of relative peace.

17 Aug 2011 23:10

Cafe Royal, Edinburgh

I must say, the DryRiser is entirely correct in his synopsis of this smart, urbane yet not pretentious or unrealistically-priced pub-cum-restaurant. The Cafe Royal has a rich history which is worth noting from both the text by the entrance, and the splendidly-preserved tiled depictions of famous locals adorning many of the interior walls. The place exudes a confident quality throughout, and happily this expectation is matched by the service, beer and by observation, food standards. We were greeted heartily and all orders were processed pleasantly and efficiently. At home from the outset, you might say. There were 4 excellent cask ales offered, each very well-kept and not the most expensive in the city. Needless to say malts were well in evidence and are worth a sample. Alas, we weren't in need of a feed. Next time I'll make space, because the menu looked very appealing. Fine steak pies, fish and chips, oysters, and a host of other temptations kept appearing at tables nearby. Rarely do I feel I can so vehemently recommend food without having eaten myself! The pub was a pub first though, albeit an upmarket, stylish meeting place for civilised folk; spit 'n' sawdust this ain't. A definite must if you're new to Edinburgh - and if you're not.

17 Aug 2011 22:56

The Castle Arms, Edinburgh

Whilst not finding it to be as atrocious as the last reviewer, there's little doubt that this is a pub coasting along courtesy of its closeness to the castle and captive cattle market audience. I remembered it from previous visits and knew it panders to the tourist trade, but unfortunately we needed a food fix and so batoned down our wallets and hoped for the best. The menu suggests a half-decent cafe but really it's bog-standard pub grub, which was passable 30 years ago but not today. Basic burger and salad etc etc. Too boring to describe, although predictably the prices suggested that one should be writing home to proclaim how marvellous it was. I suppose daft Americans and so on don't know it's not authentic 'Scotch' fare and eat in ignorance, happy to pay as they have more money than sense. Lambs to the slaughter, but that's business. It could've been worse. Actually, ale-wise things were somewhat better. Can't recall the brew as nothing unusual, but it was served satisfactorily and was in okay form. Once we got the mainly Polish staff to understand! Passable, but a wasted opportunity given its position, where a pricey but higher-quality venue could thrive.

17 Aug 2011 22:42

Ensign Ewart, Edinburgh

Regrettably, on a recent 3-day jaunt to Edinburgh, of what must've been 20 pubs visited, this was the weakest, at least in terms of its ale variety, quality and general atmosphere. Whilst one doesn't expect much of a boozer in the heart of tourist-territory, I felt this really needs to try harder. The pub interior was intriguing with various artefacts on the walls and a curious cavernous atmosphere. Initially my mate and I felt it was friendly enough, but as time unfolded things began to sour. The beer - the ubiquitous Caledonian 80 shilling - was decidedly average notwithstanding its hefty pricetag. The pass code system to use the toilets seemed petty. And, contrary to the last reviewer, we got the distinct impression non-local weren't welcome, althoug they're happy to take tourist money. When I came to use the hallowed gents, I used the code but it'd been changed. We also received some stony glares from one of the surly staff. Is this an anti-English sentiment? If so, it's sad, as this is the first pub in Scotland I've visited where I've felt any discernible hostility. Food looked pretty poor too! Sorry guys. This is a shameful effort compared to some of your competitors.

17 Aug 2011 07:54

Deacon Brodies, Edinburgh

It sometimes can be tricky to steer oneself away from the main drag of the Royal Mile; all roads seem to lead to it. Doing so brings many rewards, not least in pub terms. However if you are stuck in the melee of the Mile and need a decent pint, you could do worse than come here. A large, lavishly-decorated Victorian interior, which is reminiscent of numerous pubs in London - and that's because this is the Edinburgh branch of the Nicholsons chain. All the expected features of their pubs are here - decent spread of ales (had some Stout which was excellent), and solid pub grub served in a dining room upstairs. As others have indicated, Brodie's isn't cheap and its touristy location must mean they're raking in the readies. All the same, if you can justify it, you'll enjoy a worthwhile feed and water against a pleasant, affable and bustling atmosphere. Not Edinburgh's most authentic of pubs but preferable to some of those nearby who could and should try far harder.

17 Aug 2011 07:42

The Bow Bar, Edinburgh

I find myself in accord with most other reviewers of this pub, in that this is probably one of the finest - if not the best - boozer in the city. Albeit that my appearances here are rare and spread over many years, this has remained consistently excellent as a welcoming, clean, jolly and characterful hostelry where one is guarantee an array of very-well-conditioned cask ales (10 on my last visit and sourced from across the UK), and hundreds of single malts (not just the ubiquitous offerings but numerous quirky and hard-to-find options too). The ale wasn't too pricey either despite the pub's prominent Grassmarket location so beloved of tourists. The whisky though can reach up to around 20 a dram for the real rarities and older vintages. All are served with a friendly bit o' banter though and staff are sufficiently well-informed to advise you if needed, without being patronising or pompous about it. Some visitors were enjoying samples of various malts and plainly enjoying what the Bow has to offer. Didn't want to leave, but as ever there's always many fish to fry. But this is hard to beat and well worthy of a visit if you haven't already.

17 Aug 2011 07:23

The Cambridge Bar, Edinburgh

A smart and stylish backstreet pub attracting a broad selection of punters. Although not a Beer Guide-recommende venue, the cask ale was found in reasonable nick, if a little lively. Service was friendly enough and efficient, from a rather attractive barmaid. There is definitely aspirations towards a contemporary bar atmos here, albeit that it's housed in an old building. I think it just about pulls off the difficult marriage of pub, bar and eatery. The grub looked appealing although I wasn't staying long and couldn't indulge. Nowhere near the character and intimacy of the nearby Oxford, but a more cosmopolitan and commodious choice. Not bad.

17 Aug 2011 07:08

The Oxford Bar, Edinburgh

I'm going to break a promise here - as I left this pub after my first visit in 6 years, an old boy pleaded with me not to tell anyone about it; well, sorry old boy but this needs to be recommended to those who enjoy their pubs simple, cosy, friendly and serving cracking beers and whiskies. I can undertand why the locals want to keep it free of marauding tourists; if only on spatial grounds the Oxford would struggle to accommodate too many interlopers. But if you're a genuine appreciater of unspoilt bars and only come alone or a twosome, then do seek this out. Excellent cask ale, and plenty of malty action to keep you warm. The bar has much character and charm, apparently untouched by any inappropriate modernisation and preserved in a traditional style. If you're in a larger group and want a more contemporary experience, go to the Cambridge up the road. But for a more welcoming, quieter, intimate vibe this is the place.

17 Aug 2011 07:00

The Blue Blazer, Edinburgh

Splendid old Victorian pub with various little alcoves and seating areas off from the main bar area. A range of 6 cask ales was found on my first visit here earlier this month. All beer sampled was well-kept as the Good Beer Guide suggested it would be. That said, it didn't say they'd be free! Unfortunately the barman serving was seemingly so preoccupied (we believed with a pair of tourist's titties at the end of the bar) that he singularly omitted to charge us! Might've said something were it not for the fact he seemed generally oblivious to customers, so on balance we let it pass. I hope he's more awake usually, as he could be losing the pub a fair amount of cash! Whilst I liked this place, I did sense a slightly pretentious undercurrent; it didn't have the grittier charms of some of Edinburgh's other pubs. Nevertheless, it's still worth seeking out for some good beer - possibly on the hoose!

17 Aug 2011 06:49

Queens Arms, Edenbridge

For more than a decade I've been passing 'Annie's Pub' en route to other places, and have never been in the vicinity anywhere close to its very restrictive opening hours. Happily, I finally managed to gain ingress to the hallowed portals of this renowned and fabled old pub today. I was in no way disappointed! The only ale on is Adnams Bitter, but that is on account of its limited trade. And it is possibly some of the most well-conditioned I've had - I'd forgotten how worthy this beer can be when served properly. The joint was jumping - despite looking closed most of the time I understand it really comes alive when the doors are open, and everyone was in slight awe of just how well-preserved the place is. Very little change since Annie's time, and sadly that is such a rarity these days. At 87 Elsie is frail but is wheeled in to chat with punters and keeps her hand in. Rumour her it that the pub will die with her, so it's a privilege to experience it while we can. Indeed, it's been unviable for years but thanks to the local hunt and Admiral Taverns' patience, it remains trading. No food, no games, no children's room, and definitely no lager! A defiant and delightful oasis which is as friendly as it is fascinating. Time it carefully, and you can discover it for yourself.

30 Jul 2011 16:38

The Bull Hotel, Wrotham

Popped in having heard it was on the up. One somehow expects an older, unremarkable and stayed interior, but in fact this is unexpectedly smart; more urban bistro than village pub. One could debate the relevance of such a design in that context, but it does seem to be working. It was early doors when I visited so hardly any others in. I imagine when it's busy with eaters and drinkers the bar and seating areas come alive. Greeted by a friendly sort of chap on the bar. Rarely eschewing the cask options (Dark Star Partridge and Hophead) I tried this new 'craft keg' product from Chapel Down vineyard, increasingly stocked in smarter Kentish pubs, Curious Brew. It was lightly carbonated and had a pleasant, subtle flavour. Very refreshing alternative to bland mass-produce keg lager on a hot day. Saying that, a half was sufficient and I suspect multiple pints might start to pall. Still, all very civilised and worth a look if you fancy a more contemporary village pub/restaurant experience.

30 Jul 2011 16:18

Whitstable Oyster, Whitstable

Visited at the height of Oysterfest fever last Saturday. Yes, it's expensive, and yes, it's busy. Arguably it is indeed a restaurant first and bar - not pub - second. Nevertheless, I can only report positively about the quality of its wares, and the service. The IPA is the only cask ale and was in splendid condition. The rest are what's currently termed as 'craft keg', which usually seems to mean filtered but unpasteurised beer served on tap. Not 'real' as such, but these beers contained minimal gas and in no way could they be described as bland; the Raspberry Wheat and Oyster Stout were full of flavour. The main purpose of pitching up here was to eat, and both local and Irish oysters were excellent, if probably the most dear of their kind in town. I'm not always certain of my liking for oysters, but this really persuaded me. There were various youngsters on the bar working tirelessly to keep pace with demand - which they did with aplomb. The staff were efficient, and charmingly engaging with customers - even smiles can't be taken for granted in most bars so well done. A very jolly occasion.

30 Jul 2011 15:59

The Two Brewers, Whitstable

I must be frank and confess that I'd had no plans to stop off here on the way into Whitstable, but my mate would've spilled his bladder in the car otherwise. Actually, for a pretty average-looking place only needed for a piss-stop, it turned out to be an acceptable whistle-wetter; the place was on the fringes of Festival territory but happily Gadd's Festival Ale was served. So we had some, and it was bloody marvellous! Really well-conditioned and an unexpected treat. Shame most local chaps appeared to be satisfied by the likes of Messrs Carling and Foster at ludicrous prices, but that's their wasted cash not mine. Seemed to be a decent enough boozer, still modelled on the two-bar layout, which was a nice novelty. May never return, but for a quick, surprisingly good half of cask ale and a proper piss, there are far worse pubs.

27 Jul 2011 23:27

Ship Centurion Arminius, Whitstable

A pub which I've been acquainted with for many years, but alas I haven't always made it to on every visit I make to Whitstable. Happily, this was rectified last Saturday, when we bravely ventured in despite the swarms of locals, all thoroughly enjoying the wares in the spirit of the splendid oyster fest held every July. All characters were in evidence, including the obligatory guardians of most English events - Morris men. Where there's Morris, there's usually good ale and at the Ship it flows freely, at very competitive prices. Elgoods Black Dog is always on and was lovely; Adnams' Gunhill was also in great nick; a lovely woody old ale. The grub looked cheap and cheerful but with a definite Germanic twist. Not sure of the connection to the pub but it was well-received by the ravenous punters. Actually, the busy scene belies the pub's usual character as a friendly, quiet local where one can always find comfort and conversation. I would not be an unhappy chappy if this were my local. Keep up the excellent work folks and I'll be back soon.

27 Jul 2011 23:14

The Plough Inn, Trottiscliffe

Notionally I shouldn't really be reviewing a pub on the strength of an in-and-out visit and a very quick half, but I'll give it a go nevertheless. The Plough appears to be a fine, traditional, weatherboarded Kentish inn in a picturesque village. Once inside... That's exactly what one finds! No apparent frippery or pretence, just a solid, unspoilt local which was cosy and welcoming. Landlord seemed pleasant enough and the Adnams Bitter was well-kept. Food was served though we weren't in need of it at that stage; fairly standard but reasonable value as far as I could tell. All told, somewhere I'd certainly stop off at again if in the nearby vicinity. I imagine this would be ideal on a cold crisp Christmas Eve. Itrust the villagers make the most of their local at that time of year.

27 Jul 2011 23:00

The Plough, Stalisfield

Ordinarily I don't repeat-review without good reason, such as a change in ownership etc, but having revisited a year after my maiden appearance I felt I had to write down my appreciation over again! Still superb, interesting locales, which licensee Bob is plainly passionate about. All in excellent form and showing what Kent's micros can do. Food-wise, equal passion was on display, as the grub was splendid - fresh as a daisy and well-cooked. Sadly the chef is leaving soon, but Bob has confidence in the replacement, who is rumoured to be of a Michelin-aspiring standard. Time will tell. But the lamb dish was so tempting that my mate opted for it - after 13 years of abstaining through a thoroughly well-intentioned, but ultimately foolish move to vegetarianism as a student! Quite momentous. All the excess was washed down by much banter and bonhommie from Bob, who welcomes everyone like a long-lost chum of old. Really, I can't see how anyone could go wrong here if up for good beer, cheer, comfort and fine dining.

27 Jul 2011 18:15

The Railway Hotel, Faversham

Having still not killed enough time at the nearby Chimney Boy for the Elephant to open on Sat morn, I stumbled aimlessly into this pub, an impressive redbrick Victorian corner local with a similarly intact interior, although alas with only a marginally bigger ale selection than its aforementioned Sheps peer. Still, the Whitstable Bay was well-kept. The place had a solid, if a touch tired feel to it, thankfully invigorated by an extremely charming barmaid who was engaging, knowledgeable and efficient, as well as attractive. She brought a much-needed spark of energy to the venue and probably deserves a pay-rise. Being early doors, only a handful of punters were in, but they were a mixed and seemingly civil bunch. A lady of some years who appeared awfully prim walked in announcing she was there for a local ladies' luncheon. Thinking her a classic sweet sherry merchant, I was surprised and thrilled in equal measure when she ordered a Master Brew! There's life in the old girls yet. All in all, not an exceptional pub, but not bad for a swift one.

26 Jul 2011 23:24

The Chimney Boy, Faversham

An entirely unpretentious Shepherd Neame pub on the main Preston Street drag. For all its datedness and unremarkable qualities, I found the place curiously charming, even amusing at times when I ventured in for a quick half while waiting for the altogether more worthy Elephant to open. It was plainly a draw for the town's elderly contingent, a few of whom seemed to be ravenously hungry and were in the midst of taking lunch at half-eleven in the morning! Well, maybe they retire early in the evenings. Food looked basic but good value at 2 meals for 6 - a spot of competition for the nearby JDW I suppose. I laughed out loud when the landlord stuck on a very lively soul track, which sadly didn't liven the old stiffs up but the incongruity of the genteel tea room and raucous pub juxtaposition was an absolute delight. Only supped a half of Master Brew (which incidentally was very good) but this place left an enduring memory. Not a pub for connoisseurs to seek out but utterly inoffensive and despite its poor press, one could do worse.

26 Jul 2011 23:13

The Old Wine Vaults, Faversham

Having been implored by the licensee to visit when next in Faversham and review the pub, I thought I'd do just that as I was in town this weekend. Regrettably, things didn't begin too comfortably, as my chum and I were turned away Fri eve as they'd closed - this was despite plenty of customers still in the bar and it having only just passed 11. Looks like they stick to the book rigidly but there it is. We attempted service a 2nd time the following morning but found it closed! The pub did eventually yield, and once there we enjoyed very well-kept ale (Woodforde's Wherry on fine form) and a pleasant demeanour from the barmaid. A large interior with plenty of seating, clearly the owner is aiming at the upper end of the local market. A reasonably classy feel pervades the pub, although inevitably the pricetags match these ambitions. Still, the Vault (note singular) seems to satisfy a wide spread - elderly ladies were in soon after us on Sat morn for lunch, along with a young family and various others. Hopefully next time I'll get a greater chance to witness the place in full flow of an evening.

25 Jul 2011 00:09

The Phoenix Tavern, Faversham

Visited this pub on Friday evening for a meal, in the hope that the apparent hype around its refurbishment was justified. Alas, from what little I experienced, my verdict was that it probably isn't. Whilst it was clearly busy, and appeared to be a sympathetic modernisation of a fine old building with 4 cask ales and an accent on good food, I found it lacking in warmth, character or friendliness. The clientele were a mixed bunch but there was an air of cliquiness and vague pretence among them which I disliked. And the pleasant welcome from the bar staff was non-existent. There was little urgency and we just felt like we'd been placed on a conveyor belt. Having resolved to persevere and eat there despite the antipathy, nothing particularly grabbed us on the menu, which itself appeared a little over-egged and like they were trying too hard. So we gave in and moved on to the infinitely more relaxed and friendly Anchor Inn. Maybe I'm being harsh, but this pub somehow just missed the mark for me. Another time maybe, but I'll be in no rush.

24 Jul 2011 23:54

The Anchor, Faversham

As an addendum to my earlier review, I recently sampled the wares of the Anchor's fish-led restaurant, the nattily-named 'Crabshack' and found the food to be absolutely spot-on. Having eschewed the nearby Phoenix which I felt flattered to deceive with its pseudish gastro leanings and unfriendly feel, this proved a most appealing alternative. My option of pea soup with Parmesan croutons followed by truly perfect tuna steak with caper sauce were hugely enjoyable. Really, tuna is so often badly-cooked but they got it dead on here. Service was smart and matched the quality of the food and drink. Ignore its poncier peers and head for the Shack! You shan't be disappointed.

24 Jul 2011 18:59

The Five Bells, East Brabourne

What a find. I'd normally have overlooked this pub, owing to surfing for pubs using the Good Beer Guide; this place is yet to feature in that tome but certainly is a contender. The rumours on the hop-vine had it that the 5 Bells is a real treat, and so it proved to be: 5 local beers on pump, with the most appealing display I've seen - raised above a series of local produce in jars (chutneys etc) with the specially-brewed Brabourne Stout heralded by a huge clip in the middle. We were greeted by a down-to-earth lady who efficiently took drink and food orders. The Dover sole was recommended by a customer and it proved to be absolutely splendid. Good portions of all dishes and fresh ingredients used throughout. This really is a cracking restaurant as much as pub, but without too many gastro pretensions. Goachers and Gravesend beer also found in well-tended form. The pub's designer is a canny chap and combines modern touches with traditional fittings. A smart pub for smarter people.

24 Jul 2011 18:47

The New Inn, Canterbury

8 years after I last got here, fortunately nothing much has changed. It still feels like a mellow, relaxed frontroom beerhouse, like those common in Victorian times. The rear is basically a long corridor, well-lit by the glass roof reminiscent of a greenhouse. A jolly welcome was given by the barman, who was chatting with some old gents who looked very at home. Beer-wise, not perhaps the most exhilarating choice, but still acceptable; perhaps we didn't hit it at its peak as it's currently GBG-listed. My Black Sheep Golden Sheep went down refreshingly, albeit hardly a 'locale'. Still a nice vibe here and I think I'll be able to return maybe years from now and it should still be the same.

24 Jul 2011 18:33

The Mermaid, Bishopsbourne

An undisputed classic of a pub, which I happily managed to revisit after a hiatus of, well, not far shy of a decade. And it was as I'd left it; that's to say an unspoilt, welcoming, traditional and unpretentious local. It could be a post office from outside, and inside it resembles someone's cosy front room. A cheery welcome awaits from the landlord, who will dispense a perfectly-kept pint of Shep's. In this instance I opted for the Whitstable Bay which was on song - vastly superior to the tired Shep's beer one finds in London. Before dismissing their ales at least get to somewhere like this and see if you alter your view. A corker, which hopefully will never change.

24 Jul 2011 18:18

Hare and Hounds, Blean

An opportunistic stop-off here yesterday to top out something of a marathonial jaunt round some of Kent's finest. Sadly, although perfectly pleasant and endowed with some positive points, the H & H wasn't a stand-out pub compared to some of its peers. A solid local by the look of it, with a good welcome from the licensee. Around 4 cask ales featured; the Sharp's Honey was in good form and a welcome alternative to the dreadfully ubiquitous and banal Doom Bar. Decor and atmosphere-wise, things seemed a little tired and unexceptional, but nothing offensive. Perhaps room for improvement, but still worth a look in the meantime.

24 Jul 2011 18:09

The Nevill Bull, Birling

The proprietors who took over here less than a year ago have certainly made leaps and strides. Beer variety and quality are both excellent; there is a healthy level of custom and live music events are frequent. One receives a very convivial welcome from the landlady, who happily engaged us in conversation. Apparently the pub's become a route for the new and ambitious Kent Brewery to ply its wares; a meet the brewer night saw 50 pints of his Pale sold. And what an ale it is - immensely sessionable and a real treat. More KB offerings will undoubtedly follow. The plan is for the licensees to buy it from Enterprise. I really hope that comes off as the Nevill would be in sound hands for the duration. Keep up the good work folks, and I'm coming back as soon as the opportunity presents.

24 Jul 2011 17:58

The Home Cottage, Redhill

Just paid a visit ahead of the opening on Friday. The area manager allowed a whistle-stop tour, which perhaps revealed that the Cottage still retains a pubby feel, albeit that sacrifices to the food world have been made, and entire place has been refitted. The bar area at least is similarly laid-out, and although new fixtures abound, the original stubby beer engine has been retained and reconditioned, providing some tacit link with the past. While the front area does provide a pleasant drinkers' zone, towards the rear the changes really become apparent - the extension is basically a long conservatory for diners. No live music likely there. The garden has been bedecked - rats' heaven, but makes much more of the old garden/car park space. All in all, a reasonable attempt by designers to marry the traditional and contemporary. It actually works quite well as a smart town pub and restaurant; it's only problem is that some will always compare it to the earthier incarnation of old.

6 Jul 2011 20:53

The Burcott Inn, Wookey

Now here is what I call a classic, thriving, welcoming local that exuded much cosy charm, alongside a sound array fo well-kept cask ales and probably - didn't check - good food to boot.
Having been dismayed to find the pub not open when last passing in October, happily it was found in full swing this time. A group of older chaps were cogitating by the bar and were very amenable, frquently involving us in their chat without being too insistent. The vibe was immensely jolly, with everyone knowing each other's name and exchanging hearty plasantries. I really felt the Burcott shows how a community local should be - it was well-heeled but without being snooty, and was down-to-earth enough but avoided mediocrity.

Despite being slightly worse for wear owing to excesses over the previous 2 days, this place really helped perk me up. There was 'comfy' seating (but not those vast sofas you find in modern bars in which your arse disappears and you can't get out of!), and the Teignworthy Beachcomber half I had was a joy.

I definitely will look to get back in here when opportunity next presents.

9 Jun 2011 13:48

The New Inn, Wedmore

My first and only visit to this pub so far was made last weekend, and all told I found it to be a rather agreeable, comfortable local which was friendly, served cask ale in good nick, and generally exuded a pleasant atmosphere in which to chat and quaff - which is what a good village local should be. Yes, there may be televisions, but on my emergence here I don't recall them dominating in any sense. The pub was busy given that it was Sunday lunchtime, and plenty of beer was flowing along with food for those who were hungry enough.

A decent half was had - damned if I can remember what but I do recall no dissatisfaction. Sat outside owing to heat (well, beer sweats from the previous night really), although the folk behind and in front of the bar were all very affable and we were made to feel welcome on arrival. Wouldn't have minded staying for another but there was further business to attend to elsewhere.

9 Jun 2011 13:38

The Queens Arms, Bleadon

Another pub on an opportunistic little foray into this part of Somerset en route from/to some old haunts. The Queens Arms should be commended first and foremost for being open on a quiet Sunday afternoon - few deign to even consider it given the slow trade, but they obviously feel it's enough to soldier on. A few stragglers were sat at the bar, seemingly enjoying their extended session. Food clearly had been a big draw earlier - if only because the usual left-over roast spuds from Sunday lunchtime did not appear as a bar snack, owing to them all having been consumed already. Oh well, nice thought.

Service was reasonable; a couple of halves of rather excellent Butcombe Gold were supped. We concurred that the standard was high and can only trust this is the norm. The only slight disappointment was not what was on - 3 perfectly good cask ales - but what wasn't; there was a large stillage behind the bar with a good 20 barrels racked, yet NONE were in use! I can only assume this was once a really dedicated beer house and management has decided to withdraw (which would be a crying shame), or perhaps it's only ever used for festivals etc. Either way, this does seem a cruel reminder of how much better this pub could be ale-wise - albeit that as it is it is performing well enough.

Given the quietness of the place, it was hard to gauge it for atmos - the interior was quite cosy with an L-shaped bar and various seating areas for diners or drinkers. I would estimate this doubles as a decent restaurant and local for villagers in busier times, and I hope the community make best use of it as a hub.

A worthy stop-off.

9 Jun 2011 13:29

The Old Inn, Hutton

A quick whistle-stop tour around some of the GBG-recommended pubs in this area was undertaken last Sunday, having left the wonderful Hunters Lodge at Priddy, ultimately to arrive at the splendid Crown Inn at Churchill. One of these discoveries was the Old Inn.

For once - regular readers will be relieved to hear - I shan't need to go on at length about the interior layout and atmosphere of the place, for Blackthorn has provided a good recent description and there's little I want to add. It is indeed a strange splicing of routine chain family pub-restaurant and discerning drinkers' quality local. Clientele were mixed but not in a jarring way, and the pub doesn't lack character, despite being a far cry from the usual country cottage comforts.
I have to say the cask beer sampled was excellent - really rather better than one might expect on first appraisal. Service was efficient despite the place being filled to the gills - a clear sign that things are working well. Although not a spirits drinker usually in pubs, I couldn't help but notice the diverse selection on the optics and uprights. A nightmare if driving like me but go for it if you're without such encumbrance.

I got the feeling a hardworking team run this pub and their efforts were being paid back handsomely by locals who clearly preferred it to their front rooms - a success story in itself these days. Well done folks.

9 Jun 2011 13:18

The Partridge, Partridge Green

Having not visited this place before last Saturday, I have cannot comment on its performance prior to its recent takeover by Dark Star. However, judging by what I and many others with me found, it is a pub on the upward trajectory, and certainly one worthy of repeat visits in future if only transport permits.
A rather typical Victorian corner local - in fact of the kind which one more readily expects to find in an urban area - has been given a light and airy makeover by DS, who certainly don't favour traditional wood-panelled Victoriana, but thankfully steer clear of the stark chromey minimalism that the word 'contemporary' has sadly come to be synonymous with.
DS claim that the locals effectively took ownership of their brewery, and so in return, they have taken ownership of their pub - clearly no hard feelings as it was eminently popular with villagers. Hence a struggle to squeeze in to the main bar area, until of course we realised there was a larger bar at the rear - which also offered a couple of extra ales worth attending to. At either end, we found the service from the staff to be efficient, and the welcome from locals to be jolly, which is always a bonus. Perhaps they could easily perceive that we were the sort of crowd likely to embrace what their pub offers, given that we'd just spilled out from a Dark Star brewery tour.
Ale-wise, a decent range of DS beers are inevitably available - around 4 last week - and an additional 2 from elsewhere. Sampled from both sides and found the ale to be in splendid nick - and served in lined glassware. The less-adventurous non-cask drinker should beware: you'll find selections limited - nothing in the way of factory lager and even nitro-fuelled Irish stout is not served. The brewery reported a handful of previous regulars who bemoaned the passing of their usual tipple - Foster's - but despite their pleas they refuse to reinstate it. And why would they, given that the loss of that handful has been more than compensated for by the many more handfuls of other people who have happily taken their place at the bar to enjoy something a little more engaging.
The Partridge retains a community, family essence, as the rear room proved with a child's birthday party having clearly been in swing shortly before. Temptation to nibble at the yet-unsulled cake were resisted. Continue out to the garden and you'll find plenty of additional (much-needed) space, and on a sunny Spring day such as last Saturday we really were spoiled, for the garden is a complete sun-trap.

Notwithstanding the somewhat unfavourable comparison with the Standup Inn at Lindfield by the previous contributor, this is certainly a pub worth seeking out. I'm not convinced that such a close comparison is relevant anyway, as other than being DS pubs, there's little similarity between these two, and in any case they're a good distance apart. Perhaps if you live closer to Haywards Heath you wouldn't drive out to Partidge Green, but for those nearer the Horsham end, they may well find this is enough and negates the need to travel to the Standup. Both are of course very competitive in their own ways and if you're anything like me, then you'll eventually make time for both in your drinking life.

Keep it up folks.

26 May 2011 17:31

The Palmeira, Hove

Despite looking fairly grandiose and potentially upmarket poser-territory from the exterior facade and outdoor terrace, don't be fooled; the Palmeira is a decidedly by-numbers byline for averageness once in the interior. Saying that, however, two things need to be pointed out given the previous comments of more than 2 years ago: (i) it is still open and (ii) for all its ordinariness, doesn't appear to be register too high on the awfulness scale.

In truth, judging by my first and only visit to the pub which was made opportunistically after seeing Sussex get walloped at cricket yesterday, it is one of those boozers that tries to be all things to all people, but ends up failing on all fronts - like so many of its Taylor Walker cousins and other similar chain imprints in and around London. In fact this could've been in the capital as it mirrors so many pubs there which flatter to deceive with stately Victorian architecture and hanging baskets galore.
It didn't appear to be populated by unpleasant people - albeit this was only 6PM and it wasn't prime time so who knows. But I'd guess the clientele are mixed but moderate looking at the nearby neighbourhood. It looked to be in reasonable nick decor-wise though it was off-the-peg faux Victoriana all the way.
4 entirely ubiquitous cask ale clips adorn the pumps but all were on (well, one went straight away but at least the barmaid was able and willing to accept this and offer an alternative) , and actually what we got was served in a decent state (T Taylor's Landlord). I daresay an equally-satisfactory-but-underwhelming menu of pub grub is fetched up at certain hours too.

Entirely forgettable, and not somewhere you'd seek out again if out of the way. However sometimes pubs can be easily-remembered for the wrong reasons, and at least this wasn't so terrible that it qualified in that category. Not a winner, but don't dismiss it on the basis of how it was 2+ years ago - I think this is now passable at entry level for half-decent pubs.

20 May 2011 17:39

The Crown and Anchor, Covent Garden

Despite the reasonable passage of time since their comments, Gann and JohnBonser have it about right; this is a pleasant and worthy enough, yet unexceptional and essentially by-numbers hostelry. In essence it is not superior, but can't be dismissed as inferior either.

The outside appearance is of a well-preserved Victorian corner pub, and the decor on the inside is traditionally-orientated and in-keeping with its history, if a little faux and inauthentic in places. In any case, it helps to create a sense of wellbeing and pleasant conviviality away from the hurly-burly of Neal Street, beyond the unnaturally large front doors of the entrance.
The welcome from staff I find to be modest, but not as detached as one sometimes finds, particularly from the non-indigenous members of the team, and above all beer and whatever else is dispensed efficiently enough by all-female team: the bar was well-staffed on my last, recent visit.
Ale-wise, the usual keg nonsense one finds in London and every other town, but mercifully a 3-strong concession to cask, with the same ales as those mentioned previously featuring as regulars. Not an inspiring choice although conditioning seems to be in order. It seems a shame if this is a Market Taverns outlet that the successful template of its flagship, the Market Porter, can't be applied more here (then again they own the Market at Reigate so perhaps we can't expect as much as we'd hope on that front....).
Food is served, although as yet I've not been in need of it when visiting. It appears to be the usual pub grub fare, which presumably satisfies the majority of the innumerable tourists and never-to-return again opportunists who populate it day-in, day-out. If you are in need of sustenance I suspect you'd get a passable plateful here?
Atmosphere, though steady and comfortable, was somewhat lacking, though fortuitously I was last here for a private party in the upstairs function room, which featured a range of shiny happy people including a live jazz band, so we didn't go wanting for liveliness. This area is rather like an extended front room, with a fireplace, comfy chairs, and a plethora of old photographs adorning the walls. It has its own bar too, which featured Harvey's Best but no other ales. It seemed more chilled served from here than downstairs, but it was manageable.

Not a universally excellent establishment and if one pays a short visit for a quick 'alf then it definitely won't stand out in the memory above the many other London boozers of its ilk. However, in the capital one can't afford to pass up every pub that can be considered unremarkable; as it goes this offering is rather better than some of its peers.... And I would recommend the funtion room for a smallish group.

9 May 2011 17:58

Ye Arrow, Rochester

An unremarkable establishment, which is perhaps more impressive from the nice whitewashed exterior than it is once indoors, although don't get me wrong; it isn't grubby or offensive as I remember. Straightforward and basic are the adjectives that stay with me from my recent - and I confess only - visit to Ye Arrow at the end of April.
The bar was busy, although this was probably attributable to the festival that was in full swing that morning. Service was efficient enough and although only 1 cask ale featured (2 unused pumps noted), it was kept reasonably well - took a quick half and popped out back, where I found a huge gaggle of locals all enjoying the sun, silly dancing, music and 2 barbecues. Well why not I suppose when the weather allows.
The scene was a happy one and although a little too family-friendly and chaps-without-tops for my personal liking, I can't say it was a bad place all told. As is always the case with any pub, its worth is in the eye of each and every beholder, who has very different needs. Whilst this isn't somewhere I'd particularly rush back to, I imagine it fills a significant gap in the local market. Good luck to them.

9 May 2011 17:38

The Two Brewers, Rochester

Mercifully, the "nauseating smell" was not in evidence on my first visit to this pub 2 weekends back. It is hard when visiting Rochester on Sweeps' weekend to judge whether its pubs are always such repositories for live music, jolly banter and good beer during the rest of the year - I can only hope so.
The Two Brewers was visited on spec whilst making my way southwards through the hustle and bustle. A heard what sounded to be a decent enough live band and popped my head round the door - which is almost as far as you could get as the placce was heaving; perhaps the band had their supporters in. It is a small L-shaped bar and I imagine at the best of times things could be tight if too many locals decide to appear on the same evening. At any rate, it was convivial, having drawn a mixed crowd who all seemed to be having a genuinely jolly time. Actually, I suppose for a while I was one of them. I was met with a broad smile by the barmaid who served a decent pint very efficiently despite being very much at the business end of things.

On the matter of ale, a range of 4 from the Sheps' stable were on. Okay not the most unusual or intriguing array, but what I had was well-kept enough - certainly in stark contrast to the last commentators who were perhaps unlucky - or maybe I was the lucky one? In any case with only 1 visit under my belt I can't say whether my experience was representative; all I can say is that I've no primary evidence to say it wasn't.

Seemingly a down-to-earth little local gem. I wouldn't necessarily pass it by if in Rochester again.

9 May 2011 17:10

Eagle Tavern, Rochester

Not ostensibly a particularly inviting pub, but equally one that doesn't repel either - a good bog standard no frills local is what one might expect.

By and large that does seem to be what one gets - although beyond the initial impressions of the unremarkable wooden-floored bar area and further seating and performance area round the corner, there is a little more to this place than meets the eye. For a start there is a rather appealing and generous rear garden and decking area, which on a bright Spring day was the perfect suntrap in which to enjoy some sociable drinks. Beyond this, there is an entirely separate 'garden bar' which is an extension of the main building, and on the day I visited featured something of a mini beer fest, with a far greater range of cask ales for sampling than on the main bar - perhaps this should've been better-advertised?! In any case, it was gradually brought home to me that the Eagle has more merit than it might appear, and only a less-cursory visit allows this to become apparent.

Being Sweeps weekend there was the inevitable live country band plugging away - no worse than any of the others witnessed elsewhere - and the atmosphere was both welcoming and friendly. A pleasant Adnams Broadside was sunk and although I didn't stop to try the other beers this time, it's a note to self for possible future visits.

A pleasant surprise.

9 May 2011 17:01

The Good Intent, Rochester

A quick point of order - 1960s pub this is not. It is actually a rather fine early 20th centrury (possibley late 19th?) building that now sits somewhat disjointedly amongst more modern housing development.

In any case, neither the exteior nor the location would seem to promise much for the discerning drinker, and whilst you'd hope for a solid, earthy local, there's nothing bar the Beer guide write-up that would magnetise you to this place. But thank heavens for Protz's publication, for this is an absolute must for those who enjoy unpretentious, welcoming community pubs, and above all a splendid show of ales. Nothing too inspiring on the inside when I popped in last weekend, although notably beers were available from the cask. Eventually I finally twigged that all the action was outdoors, courtesy of a 40-cask strong beer fest that was swinging away quite happily in the sunny weather!

Emerged in the garden to find a tyranny of interesting choice - the landlord apparently ensured every ale was from outside Kent, which is to me something of a crying shame - or would be were we not so sumptuously catered for just round the corner at the Man of Kent! No, here you'll find a broader geographical reach, and there was much to excite the palate - many beers not familiar to me. Alas I was time-bound and so only sampled about 3 in my short visit, but to be sure, my Intent certainly was Good.

Friendly people running a friendly and honest local pub - really, Roch residents are spoiled for fine ales and decent pubs - I do hope they continue to make the most of this as they clearly were at Sweeps' weekend.

I'll be back.

6 May 2011 17:14

The Man of Kent Ale House, Rochester

Amazed that I'd not even heard of this outstanding ale house from elsewhere, even though my own maiden visit to Rochester was only made last Saturady for the Sweeps' Fest. Albeit an excellent show with plenty to distract the eyes, ears and tastebuds, there came a time where I'd lost track of my peers and decided I'd locate and sample some of the town's GBG hostelries. No regrets with that strategy I can assure you. Only a 10 minute walk away was the delightfully simple local that is the Man of Kent, which despite its ostensibly downbeat exterior is nothing short of a mecca for cask ale lovers everywhere - really, it is that good and well worth seeking out even from outside the immediate locus.

Not only were 12 ales featuring on pump - yes, TWELVE - but each and every one was Kentish through and through. Were they ales of Kent, or Kentish ales? You may well ask but frankly if you're here you won't care: Goachers, Millis, Dairy, Hopdaemon, Nelson, Larkins, Royal Tunbridge Wells, Wantsum - you name it; pretty much every Kent brewer was represented with excellent well-kept and well-turned-over examples of their wares. With the possible exception of Sheps.... This is a serious contender for one of the county's finest beer houses, albeit that it isn't in the most picturesque location, and isn't the most refined of pubs.
The atmosphere more resembled the sort of pub one finds in Brighton - very folksy, relaxed, informal, yet quite savvy and it was clear that beyond all the hippy-ish affectations, most punters were socially well-adjusted and articulate, spread across a range of ages. Being Sweeps' time, live music was a-go-go and a very talented chap was performing during my extended stay. A little tortured country rock Americana for my taste but there was no denying the man could strum - and oh, the unbridled joy of vocals without the aid of Auto-Tune! Well worth the detour.

A brief word about the staff, especially as they've received some negative press previously - I found them to be perfectly agreeable, jolly and more than able to keep up with the steady build-up of customers that accrued that Saturday afternoon. As far as I'm concerned folks, there's no need to change the formula.

The only thing that drew me away was the desire to sample the nearby Good Intent, which I duly did. You can read about that elsewhere. But be assured that it was bloody marvellous too! Some days things just fall into place...

6 May 2011 17:04

The Home Cottage, Redhill

Re Tempest's comments of April 22nd, this is one situation where I really hope that I'm proved wrong! I dearly want to believe that I am being unduly doonladen and as you say premature in predicting a character by-pass for this pub when it regains consciousness in July. And I concede to those others who have pointed out successful renovations/modernisation of other pubs in the Young's stable; the Dog & Bull in Croydon is another such example. However, given what I've been hearing locally, and the sheer scale of what appears to be going on inside (not outside - I fully expect the exterior to remain intact), I can only fear the worst at this stage.

I take some half-hearted exception to Sussexfox's assertion that I "live in the past", and am somewhat mystified by his apparent connection of that trait with being a "longwinded bloke"! I am perfectly appraised of what pressures the trade is under in the present, and what the prospects for the future are; sometimes sacrifices have to be made for greater gains in business terms. But that needn't mean a complete interior body-lift of a well-loved pub - at least not in this instance anyway.

Let's just hope folks that there'll be egg on my face in 10 weeks' time. I'll be more than happy to come back on here and say so if that proves to be the case!

27 Apr 2011 18:02

The Marlipins Pub, Shoreham by Sea

I made my comment back in July and haven't got anything new to add, but it only seems right to point out that a 2nd record has since been raised for this pub - albeit under the correct title this time. I don't know what should happen when this situation occurs; probably some sort of amalgamation of the two records although Lord knows how one goes about that, and whether anyone can be bothered.

In any case, anyone adopting this as the record of choice for reviews of this establishment from now on should bear in mind the previous comments on its sister record, listed under the incorrect "Marliplins".

27 Apr 2011 17:39

The Home Cottage, Redhill

I'm afraid from what he has betrayed in his previous comment and what I hear locally, I cannot share Mr Edgerley's enthusiasm for what Young's seem to be planning for this pub, which was steeped in history dating vack to Victorian times and despite a few amendments and additions when they took over in 1978, very little in terms of fundamental character had altered. Ergo, no need for the installation of a complete new layout and faux "Victorian theme" bar area then surely?
I'm not going to argue that the Cottage couldn't have benefited from some improvements, both material and in terms of its food provision in particular. Notwithstanding that, this wholesale refurbishment goes far beyond extending it to capitalise on a restaurant trade and I fear will go too far towards that market and lose the appeal it once had to its more discerning drinkers - if the entire place is to be gutted (and looking at it now on its knees that seems to be the case) I cannot see how it can retain the features many people had been fond of for decades. And given that this was the first pub I was ever taken to as a nipper at the turn of the '80s and one which I have returned to frequently in the years since, I include myself in that. It appealed to the traditional simple pub lover, with various original character features intact (not least the unusual stubby-handpumped beer engine!), but all evidence points to that side of the pub being swept away.

And for what, one might ask? Is it really that viable as a large food concern with a successful Toby Carvery over the road that caters more than adequately for the modest clientele of Redhill? They won't be swayed given Young's lofty pricing strategy. One wonders whether there is even any great business sense behind this excessively bold manoeuvre. It seems to me to be a classic case of over-simplifying the trade so the equation reads "wet sales down + food sales up = huge profits". Whilst there may be some broad ring of truth, it cannot be applied to every public house - pubcos should be cleverer than that if they want to beat this climate.

I suppose this is symptomatic of Young's now being a property portfolio company, that just happens to sell beers brewed at Wells in Bedford with a Young's branding, inherited from the 69m sell-off (out?!) of the Ram Brewery site. One must learn that the business bottom line counts all the more, and autocratic, top-down templates for many of their pubs are applied seemingly without detailed or accurate consideration of whether that blueprint is truly applicable to each specific outlet. And if that blueprint falters, let the pub go to the wall and sell it to redeem the not inconsiderable land value. To larger companies, it is ultimately a win-win either way for them.

The new food may be improved; the new bar may serve excellent ale; the layout may be convenient and it may even be pleasant. But it won't be the Home Cottage, and it won't have been worth the sacrifice to former customers - and possibly in this climate not worth the money spent on it either. Granted, we will only know the true extent of unnecessary tampering when it opens in early July. I can only hope against hope that the bulk of my fears are not immediately confirmed when I step through the door for the first time. But my breath is not being held.

20 Apr 2011 17:30

The Old Fox and Hounds, Croydon

I doubt that most punters of all variable colours and preferences would regard this pub as an exceptionally high-performing or memorable outlet. However, in one regard, hovering around the terminally average mark isn't so undesirable, and being unmemorable at least means nothing too dreadful was experienced when there, even if nothing was perceived to excel.
The Fox and Hounds is a fairly bog-standard Greene King hostelry, featuring up to 3 (but in my occasional experience only 2) of their steady though uninspiring cask ales, and the customary array of factory lagers and Irish stouts. Its decor is pleasant enough on the exterior, suggesting a solid comfortable Victorian local; indoors one finds very few shreds of authentic tradition, but all the same it does not incite revulsion, with its bland but safe oaken panels and comfortable-enough fittings and fixtures. Any creativity in design or ambience would only have to compete with the big screen on the left-hand side anyhow, which doesn't do for everyone.
Clearly this pub pitches realistically to the general level of its customers - many regular but equally a fair number of passers-by, who wish to eschew the JDW option further down but whose tastes are not at the high-end. It is never likely to be a mecca for fine food or diverse local beers.
Nevertheless though, for all my half-hearted comments, 2 things for me have stood out as being surprising on my last couple of appearances: first, the genuine hearty welcome one receives from the Irish chap behind the bar (licensee maybe?), who is chatty and responsive to comment, and second, the quality of the GK IPA, which is consistently good - and at only 2.25 a pint I could hardly have complained if it had been average. Yes, I realise it's hardly an earthshattering choice, but trust me, as an ale lover one really should notice when one is served up a more-than-passable pint of this most ubiquitous of beers. Well done to the management for these little extras, which alas one does not learn to expect from this neighbourhood.

As it stands, the F&H is an earthy 'proper' alternative to the swamp of chain outlets nearby, and does at least seem to avoid the most perniciously anti-social of Croydonites.

20 Apr 2011 17:05

The Wheatsheaf, Bough Beech

I thought I at least knew of every pub in the East Surrey/West Kent universe, even if I am yet to visit them all in person. But it appears this is an exception. I had neither heard of nor noticed the Wheatsheaf before, despite having certainly driven past it. A rare occasion of concentrating on the driven rather than drinking possibilities perhaps?!
In any case, I found myself here with various friends; one of whom had received a recommendation for this place as it provided quality for discerning adults whilst still catering adequately for children - of which my peers now have many, so it was imperative they were accommodated.
It was a glorious sunny Springtime Sunday and so perhaps understandably the pub and particularly its generous garden at the side was pack-jammed. Any fears that it would be too 'family-orientated' were soon allayed as a mixture of seemingly quite well-heeled folk were enjoying its wares, not all with unruly nippers.
No wonder at the socio-economic background, as the Wheatsheaf is set in an affluent district and its price strategy matches: there was an excellent menu and one could almost think of a dish and find it on the board, but none of it came cheap! Still, one is prepared to pay if the quality is good, and overall, we all enjoyed our respective meals which came in generous portions and used sound ingredients. Any amount of meat and fish and vegetarian options were available, including a modest children's menu. Food was phenomenally popular and whilst I can see why, I overheard a couple being told at 2:45PM that there'd be up to a 45-minute wait for their orders - amazingly they remained steadfast. I would have given in. Victims of their own success maybe?
Ale-wise, 5 handpumps were available, with only 3 occupied. Not the most diverse array of options, but the Westerham Grasshopper proved a well-conditioned staple for the afternoon's entertainment. Harvey's Best, and Bushels cider also featured on cask this day. Clearly not a GBG favourite, but not to be dismissed on this basis alone.
The building is charming - as the photo on this site betrays - and its interior is focused on a rather baronial, wood-panelled central hall leading to the bar area, which is awash with numerous nick-nacks and artefacts. Most though not all are pub/brewery/drink-orientated. Of particular note was the empty bottle of 'Cripplecock' cider.... A good night was had by someone for sure....

In the round, this pub is not exceptional. Nevertheless, it has much to draw the above-average punter in. On a beaufitul sunny day, with or without your loved ones and little ones, it could be the perfect lunchtime option - but beware the crowds; booking ahead is probably advisable.

19 Apr 2011 17:26

Crown Inn, Westcott

Amazingly, my maiden appearance at this pub was made only last Saturday. The few occasions I've pitched up in the village I've always opted for the Prince of Wales; not because it appeared to be a better bet - indeed the Crown has a rather more appealing, sturdy exterior - but because the trusty GBG regularly lists the PoW and not the Crown. Well, the lesson we all need to keep in mind is that the GBG is not perhaps always so trusty. Whilst its 1930s roadside companion is a perfectly pleasing local and features reliable ales and a decent welcome can be found, the Crown seems to have all these features and that little something extra - I think that boiled down to two things: firstly the hearty and convivial greeting by the licensee who seemed to be something of a character and well-regarded by locals, and secondly the equally characterful interior which was crammed full on interesting nick-nacks, which we agreed exuded considerably more charm than its nearby neighbour.

A range of 4 ales featured. I wasn't sure whether to give the landlord credit or not as he advised that 2 weren't on the best of form, and recommended I opted for 1 of the other 2! I appreciated his candour, although it did occur to me that it might just be better to keep all 4 in check. Still, there was a potentially good variety and what we had was in decent shape. At the rear lies a charming garden, set into the hillside. A perfect sun-trap with reasonable vantage across to the Downs. Perfect for last weekend's weather.

Ultimately, one may not feel it necessary to drive miles out of one's way to visit this pub. But if you're in the vicinity and read tradition to mean more than just fake Victoriana and home-made pie, then put away your 2011 Beer Guide and take a look at the Crown instead. If you're anything like me you'll be pleasantly surprised.

11 Apr 2011 16:37

The Abinger Arms, Abinger Hammer

Whilst not absolutely and totally at its zenith, a visit to the Abinger leaves one feeling that it might be on its way.

We stopped off here by bus on Saturday as part of the local CamRA Surrey Hills Tour scheme, which weirdly includes many boozers well out of the shadow of said uplands, but this is one that actually qualifies as authentically set within that area. It is a large and imposing Victorian building, which appears to have been smartened up, and is now nicely-turned out inside as well as out, adhering to the traditional mould that one would expect on approach. There is a pleasant garden at the rear which was useful to us given the clemency of the weather. We received a decent welcome from the barmaid, who not only pulled up plenty pf pintage at record speed, but happily signed everyone's passports with good grace.
I understand food is available; we were not in the market for that and so I can't comment. Beer-wise, perhaps surprisingly, only 2 cask ales feature here, but this is probably a classic case of less is more. If they feel they can't yet sustain more pumps then that's fine, provided they keep the 2 they have in fine fettle, and keep at least 1 turning over to keep those of us seeking variety happy. Courage Best was what I assume to be the pedestrian choice for the unadventurous. However the other was far more interesting and less ubiquitous. Embarrassingly though, there my recollection ends as for the moment I can't think what it actually was!! Oh well a good afternoon must've been had. Suffice to say it'll probably worth stopping by for whatever is on.

Keep up the good work folks; I think there is more potential yet to reach here and I hope you're the right people to realise this.

11 Apr 2011 16:24

The Hatch, Shaws Corner

As a minor matter of housekeeping, I think this really should be listed under 'Redhill'; 'Shaw's Corner' is barely even a sub-district of the town and refers to a tiny area, and I can imagine people not realising the Hatch is listed. However that aside, there are things that need to be said about this pub; happily the majority are positive, for it has seen something of a renaissance in the last 18 months.
What used to be the best free house for cask ale variety in town in the 1980s and '90s (albeit run by a haridan of a woman and with the highest prices in the area!), became a Shepherd Neame outlet in 1998 and though initially acceptable (despite the much-reduced beer range), in the last 10 years it has been through a number of different licensees; some of whom were more effective at bringing out its potential than others.
It had become something of a below-average venue by all accounts, with variability in service, beer quality, and inevitably custom, but it appears that the current incumbent, one Roy Peacock, has made a genuinely concerted effort to broaden the appeal of the place, and although this is a painfully slow climate economically, in 2011 there are signs that people are starting to appreciate the efforts.
Unusually for a Shep's outlet, ales do now feature from beyond the tied portfolio. Roy attributes this to their being 8 handpumps available, and that he has shown he can sell a wider range of beer. He is a keen cellarman, and although the prices are still shockingly high - 3.65 for some cask offerings - the quality in my experience has always been sound.
Wine-wise, it is immediately obvious that he has widened the stock considerably, with most popular styles well-represented by quality options, all clearly-labelled behind the bar and with easy-read pricing for each measure - it's worth noting that the majority are available by the glass as well as bottle, which is a novelty nowadays.
The usual array of mass-produced lagers are available, including the Shep's-brewed offerings, alongside a decent show of various spirits. It is clear that while immediate focus is on ale and developing the pub as a smart local with a mixed clientele, there is something that can appeal to everybody at the Hatch, wallet-permitting!
Despite being positioned on a busy junction and with very limited scope for parking, the pub is actually a charming Victorian building which at various points in history has included the cottage next door (presently it is a self-contained house). For many years the interior did not live up to this promise, with a lurid blue carpet and upholstery dominating, but Roy has improved this and the tone is now far more welcoming.
Service is efficient and convivial; Roy himself will chat for England, particularly if one shows oneself to be an ale and pub enthusiast. Clearly he has the right values at heart and is working hard to put on events and so forth to drum up interest in a difficult market. A nascent group of regulars is being built up and I can only hope this is enough to ensure the storm is weathered.

Not an exceptional public house - yet. But give the licensee's enthusiasm, and the brewery's relative autonomy extended to him, the Hatch could eventually reach a new zenith. The only barrier is the pricing strategy.

31 Mar 2011 16:04

The Bell, Reigate

Used to frequent this place during the mid-'00s after it shook off its 'minority' pub reputation but prior to the current incumbent's arrival. It was never destined to be an inspirational pub for cask beer lovers, as they tend towards a preference for quality and variety. Whilst the former could be found, the latter couldn't, for this was (and still is) a Greene King house, and that doesn't look set to alter any time soon.

In the 'old days' (if 2005 can count under such a description) it was always favoured more for its lively Friday night atmosphere and deliberately dated and classically corny 'disco', popularised by the straight and upstanding Uncle Alan, who used to bring along his old collection of mixed 45s and spin them in accordance with requests, and a nice little "what was No 1 on this day in history" feature (happily, 'history' to Alan was anything from 1950 to 1990 but virtually nothing thereafter, so a mixed 25-60 clientele could be found enjoying throwing some shapes - some of them decidedly stiff).

This ended around 3 or 4 years back when it changes hands, and initially I felt the new licensees had blandified the pub considerably, and so I didn't return, especially as nights out in Reigate dwindled proportionate to the number of marriages and children my old mates were accruing. However, a visit on Saturday last demonstrated that whilst it remains an inherently unexciting venue in decor, musical and ale terms, its atmopshere had been resurrected somewhat via a very lively mix of older and younger punters, who seem to have made in back to the Bell in the interim. If this is a genuine reflection of how it normally is - and I should say there was a staff member's 22nd birthday party on so it may well not be - then it is likely down to the pub still just about qualifying as a true local, which besides the Nutley Hall is unheard of now in Reigate centre.

Service was jolly enough and efficient, despite the busy throngs. Beer was very limited with only IPA remaining on, although a recent visit made by a friend did suggest a 'guest' ale was available usually - I assume that means one of GK's bastardised acquisitions like Morland or Ruddles, but better than just their own IPA I suppose. The beer we had was kept well enough at any rate.

Not a classic, and it never will be quite the same without Uncle Al laying down some phat choons in the background. Nevertheless, a civilised and pleasant enough little enclave which can serve as a temporary and welcome respite from the more 'contemporary' bars that operate in this vicinity.

14 Mar 2011 17:54

The Prince of Wales, Farnborough

Unquestionably this has much to commend it, and I assume it is regarded by many as the best pub in this locality?

A true local, where the emphasis is on good beer and cheer, the Prince of Wales accommodates its customers across 4 main areas: the central bar; seating on the right (seemingly more for drinkers); seating on the left (possibly for diners), and the room at the back (didn't go in - maybe a games room?). It is surprisingly capacious, and happily, it needs to be, as it was awash with punters last Saturday evening when I made my maiden visit following a tour of Ringwood brewery. Although said jaunt was informative, beer consumption had been limited in both quantity and variety terms, and frankly, emerging in a classic cask ale outlet such as this was a real tonic. Some 10 ales were on draught, and each one sampled by me and my acquaintances was served impeccably. Most offerings are local but across a variety of styles. Even the rarely-seen Art Brew range featured - a real couple of gems from that stable. Around 4 pints were guzzled before, sadly, we had to ship out. But a return visit surely can't be far away.

I should add that the service here was with a smile and great efficiency, be it from the licensee or his 2 female bar staff. Also, the place was in acceptable decorative order inside and out, and favoured the more traditional, front-parlour approach. I wasn't persuaded that the large mirror behind the bar was a sound idea, especially for those who are less vain and/or who have tendency towards body dysmorphia. I know I didn't really want to see my distended beer-gut staring back at me! Nevertheless this was a minor criticism and one can always turn the other way and talk to one of the seemingly friendly locals. Or stare down to the bottom of one's pint glass, where as we all know, solace can usually be sourced.

An absolute winner for those of us in love with solid, unpretentious yet welcoming local pubs with an accent on ale quality and variety, as opposed to a middle-class diner with indifferent beer and atmosphere.

9 Mar 2011 12:48

Red Lion, Redhill

An updated review is probably worthwhile here as it's been well over 4 years since I bothered commenting. My own observations during a recent visit, and anecdotal evdience from others who've been in over the weeks, suggest that although not in any way exceptional, the Red Lion is a steady and consistent boozer which offers a fair few things to a healthy mix of customers.
There are 3 cask ales on, and the Theakston Old Peculier was on good form, if a somewhat unusual option, and sold at a stupid price of 3.30. Harvey's Best and Sharp's (Coors?!) Doom Bar were also available. Not an inspired collection of beers, but for a pub that probably doesn't attract a large contingent of ale-lovers it isn't too dreary. Sadly many regulars have yet to sprout any palate for good beer, preferring the overpriced factory fizz instead.
Unusually for many pubs in this locality, a good spread of pub meals were being offered - I last appeared on a Saturday evening and a good portion of the punters were diners, seemingly satisfied with their menu choices. I wouldn't dismiss this as an option, as it's nice to be able to eat in a pub that still feels essentially pubby in its atmosphere, which this place does.
Decor is pretty standard trad and faux-olde-worlde fare, but it's none the worse for this as that style doesn't jar in any way with the external appearance or age of the building. Clearly they are keeping the interior clean, as there was a slightly off-putting cleaning fluid aroma about, but this may not be a permanent issue to content with.
There is a small garden overshadowed by the dreaded Donyngs, where numerous smokers have stood sticking two fingers up to fitness whilst dragging on their nicotine-tubes. The smoking ban certainly has improved the conditions of this pub, as I recall it did used to suffer with smoke terribly, as most regulars do puff, and the low ceilings meant it never dispersed!

Overall then, chalk up as a possible suburban alternative to the all-too-underwhelming offerings of the centre of the town.

2 Mar 2011 18:13

The Barley Mow, Southsea

I can echo the sentiment of the previous commentator in that on a recent Saturday lunchtime visit, my friend and I were made to feel most welcome. There was a gaggle of ladies all busying themselves in the backgrond very industriously - although only a handful of punters were in by noon I can only assume this indicates trade becomes more brisk. And so it might, for at the Barley Mow, besides a sense of homely congeniality and local grittiness, one can find a series of rather well-attenuated ales! I believe all were local on my visit, and the halves sampled were on fine fettle. Like many of its nearby counterparts, the pub made me feel slightly peeved - nay guilty - about having to leave it after such a short stay. But it's better to love and leave a pub than loath and leave it.

This really provided a splendid pick-us-up following a decent brekkie at Lou-Lou's in the centre. Good work folks, and don't ever think you need to change.

14 Feb 2011 18:05

The Hole in The Wall, Southsea

It has countryside opening hours - we were rather miffed to find it closed for business on a Saturday lunchtime! I have heard the hype and would love to see if it lives up to it, but I suppose it'll have to be another time.

14 Feb 2011 18:00

The Sir Loin Of Beef, Southsea

Well, had it not been for the trusty beer guide, I wouldn't have guessed that this rather garish Victorian corner local with a badly-punned name would've heralded any sort of revelation for the beer drinker. But really, dismissing this pub as just another dubious old boozer full of salty seadogs with closure beckoning would be a disaster - for here you will be assured of a superb range of 8 cask ales (I think at least 1 cider also featured), and a fascinatingly broad range of local bottled offerings too, for the off-trade. Actually the place seemed to function as much as an offie as a pub, and I trust that brings an extra string to their bow in a difficult, cold climate for pubs.

The service was convivial and efficient; reminiscent of that one used to find in local post offices once upon a long ago before they all closed. There was also a smart edge to the place, although plainly it was in a working class locale and was populated by ordinary folk with no pretentions whatsoever. Music was playing intermittently in the rear - presumably a games room. The Sir Loin is deceptively spacious and I really hope it is packed to the rafters of a Fri/Sat eve - we fetched up at lunchtime on the latter so missed the throngs. I notied the barmaid was frying a tasty titbit up on a kind of portable barbecue/grill, which one normally finds on campsites but seemed to do just the job here too.

Parking - if unlucky enough to be arriving by car - can be tricky, but drive down t he bizarrely-named "Kassassin Road" and hopefully there'll be a free bay. Hell even if you have to park in Portsmouth and walk over, it should be worth your trouble!

Really good work folks; keep it up.

14 Feb 2011 17:54

Leopold Tavern, Southsea

Well Caskforce, I don't know that every visitor to this place would regard the fact they don't do food as a negative issue; I know it's become the stock-in-trade of many a licensee in the days when wet sales just aren't enough to cut the financial mustard, but personally I always have a sneaking regard for boozers that stay either food-free - or at least keep the solids to a minimum, in favour of drinkers. Actually in fairness I'm not so sure there weren't bread rolls available on our visit, so even then there may be something to soak up excess if it's really required!
We pitched up on a Saturday morning and already by noon the place was turning over good trade. A rotund and jolly hostess greeted us and we were pulled up two perfectly acceptable pints of ale - the choice was not that broad from memory but certainly what was on was worthwhile; clean and crisp. Again, like so many other pubs nearby this could be viewed as something of a shock, as the local lads do seem to favour the fizz. Still, it seems there's enough mileage in the real stuff for the Leopold and the like to make sure it's on, and in good nick to boot.

Darts is presumably popular - a large space (which incidentally in so many pubs now would be given over to food customers) had been cleared in the side room to accommodate the oche. Nobody playing when we were in but I expect that soon changed after we left.

I know I'm guilty of using this term too much in my reviews, but really, "earthy" is the best adjective to describe this place. No pretence, yet no threat either, sticking to what it does best and receiving local support for their trouble. Nice.

14 Feb 2011 17:46

The Fifth Hants Volunteer Arms, Southsea

Caskforce appears to be correct in his summation - yes there is a proliferation of pasteurisation fans who seem content to quaff hideously-overpriced lager, but none were rowdy and there was enough of a broad mix of custom - male, female, young, old, on a Friday night to ensure this pub doesn't come across as a one-trick pony at the lower end of the social spectrum.
Actually I had a rather splendid pint of Lancer in here, which I had to quaff in the perpendicular position as there was simply no seating left - but who can knock a busy pub? Fuller's seem to have the knack of hitting the right spot with the right people and despite the decidedly unaltered pricing strategy that is based on more affluent London examples, it seems to work.

Would've been happy to remain for another, but as always, there were other fish in the sea and you have more to lose in this district by staying put than by venturing on and trying many other pubs on offer.

14 Feb 2011 17:38

The Florence Arms, Southsea

This pub was visited shortly before moving on to the seemingly ill-fated Taswell, which is not so different in location and style and could surely learn so much from the Florence if the right people get hold of it. For here, there are plenty of punters, a friendly, sharp service from bar staff, and an overall pervasive sense of pleasant ease; no ponciness, just a good old-fashioned boozer that's moved with the times where it's needed to, and caters for a good mix of customers.
Food clearly is served and I understand from comments below that it is more than adequate. But the stars of this show are undoubtedly the ale and the cider, both of which were found in impeccable form and properly-served. I also noted a proliferation of single malts which would be tempting in the absence of any palate for hop or apple juice.

I could've spent far longer here than I did - sadly a tight schedule and many other fish to fry meant only a couple were squeezed in, but really, if you are a local, or a maiden visitor to the area like I was, get in here. It's worth seeking out.

14 Feb 2011 17:32

Taswell Arms, Southsea

Oddly, given the comments from only 6 months previous, this place features in the current Good Beer Guide and indeed looked promising. However, how much difference a few weeks can make, as something obviously went seriously wrong after the local branch completed its survey for the last Guide, presumably almost 1 year ago.
I should say that there seems to be some improvement, in that the pub is now trading again. It is a solid-looking Victorian local and clearly could match the endeavours of other similar pubs in the area which are enjoying something of a renaissance on the back of good beer range and honest organic atmospheres.
However, there is plainly some way to go, as there were virtually no customers - a bleak sign on a Friday night even in late January - and although clips adorned the pumps, all were turned round.

I'm afraid that means a non-starter for me and mine, which was a shame. I can only hope that there is an upturn here that those more local to Southsea will eventually witness coming to fruition. If not, I can't see any other future in this climate that closure and conversion to housing.

14 Feb 2011 17:26

The Phoenix, Southsea

Beer-wise, the Phoenix scores reasonably well, and in truth one wouldn't necessarily expect it to - it is a classic street corner local with no pretence, and stereotypically one doesn't now tend to find well-kept cask ale in such places as the majority of working chaps now favour a preponderance of pasteurised fizz to quench them. I must say though that this preconception proved particularly unworthy in Southsea, for there are in fact many boozers that some folk would ignore as "dingy", or "locals only", but in fact do yield both good beer and cheer if sampled.
We were led here by its entry in the '11 Beer guide of course, and weren't disappointed with the beer, or the earthiness of the punters and atmosphere. Numerous posters, theatrical, musical, whatever, adorn the walls, and there was a live PA that Friday - who I must say was a surprisingly consummate vocalist and far better than the average sub-early-heat-X-Factor rubbish so often seen in pub corners.
Ale for me was a pint of well-conditioned Type 42 from Irving. Not my personal favourite brewery, but always worth a try if kept nicely.

There was indeed a pub dog - alluded to in the last commentary - and perhaps there was a slight whiff. There so often is with pets who roam free in bars. But it wasn't so unpleasant and frankly a dog in a pub always seems to lend some sort of authenticity to proceedings; if the atmos is relaxed enough it doesn't really get on your nerves.

Get your GBGs out and find your way to this, and the surprisingly numerous delights of this district. You may be pleasantly put in your place!

14 Feb 2011 17:21

The Wine Vaults, Southsea

If one chooses to see this through the prism of the "raucous yoof pub" idiom, then I am bound to say one would not be entirely errant; the so-called Wine Vaults were, on my visit on a busy Friday night at any rate, loud, full of under-30s and very crowded. It did not bode well for a quality clutch of pints and a decent conversation. Indeed I wondered how such an apparently typical "Cresta Run" kind of establishment came to display the words "Real Ale Bar" so boldly on its frontage.
That said, for all its town-centrist grime-bound leanings, I did find the beer to be both varied and in reasonable nick when I sampled it. Fuller's Bengal Lancer on splendid form as was the Porter. Not quite what I expected - moreover, I was even served pretty quickly despite the intense competition for attention, although to suggest that there is anything like an exact science in that regard would be folly; it's luck as much as anything. But service not only came swiflty, but efficiently and with a smile. Sorry folks, but I wasn't expecting that!

As for the conversational element I look forward to whilst in a pub, the noise did rather limit the possibilities, but perhaps on a quieter shift it would be more viable.

Decor and interior atmosphere score poorly I fear, as it pretty much resembled a mosh pit in places - rather gothic in fact. I guess that's the main market they're pitching to, but a spring clean and lick of paint mightn't be a bad idea.

14 Feb 2011 17:13

The Duke of Devonshire, Southsea

Absolutely correct to say that this place is somewhat time-warped; 1970s at best. However, there are many aspects to an older-style boozer that bring to it much credit; a warm welcome, a "proper" landlady, a real local feel to it. Personally I found these traits to be rather refreshing, in a world of branding and management who create a comfortable but so often sterile environment according to a corporately-engineered template. The Duke resembles a community centre as much as it does traditional beerhouse, and that's fine by me.

Granted, cask ale selection and quality - my usual talismans in passing judgment on pubs - were limited; I had a decidedly average Doom Bar experience on my quick whistle-stop visit in January. That said, its other charms would mean I wouldn't rule out popping in for a quick snifter if back in the area again.

14 Feb 2011 17:00

White Horse, Emsworth

All rather jolly, and certainly benefiting from a mixed throng of local punters on the Friday night me and a couple of chums dropped by. The Fullers mark had been made, but other local beers were available and full advantage was taken of these. No regrets here, as the ale was kept well and prices weren't ludicrously over-egged.
The decor was perhaps neither traditional nor comtemporary and there was a sub-'70s feel to things; however this sort of fitted and frankly the place was none the worse for it as it showed a total lack of pretense, and that the pub was set up for and mainly enjoyed by ordinary local folk. And there's nowt wrong with that.
I visited so many boozers in the ensuing days I can't really say much more about this at the moment, other than I would be happy to go back if I found myself in the area again.

9 Feb 2011 17:55

The Wheatsheaf Inn, Fareham

A warm and hearty welcome from the barmaid at this fetching and characterful old local in a classic village setting. The cask beer range was four-strong and the offerings sampled on the last visit were superb. Food is served, and indeed we'd hoped to avail ourselves of some, but alas too much time spent drinking elsehwere beforehand meant we'd missed the boat. Still, the beer's always the main course in effect and crisps etc filled the gap as best they could.

The decor here is very traditional; almost a caricature of what I inagine numerous pub-themers (if there is such a ghastly breed of interferingno-marks) would envisage as the obvious template for a faux-village local in a homogeneous new housing development. But this is the real thing, and you could do far worse than to pop up here and get away from the tedium of Fareham itself, and sample its wares.

9 Feb 2011 17:51

The Ship Inn, South Harting

A year on, and after what I understand were some unfortunate problems with the kitchen, and an ensuing period of closure, the Ship is now back on the ball, with new licensee Cliff installed at the helm, and despite only having been there for a month, seemed to have eveyrthing in order - he gave the appearance of having been in situ for far longer in any case.

The ales were as plentiful and well-conditioned as before: my Palmers Copper really was some of the best I'd ever tasted of that tipple, and I overheard the Best getting similar plaudits. Ballards and Dark Star beers continue to feature.

Fortunately there appears to be no appetite for change, and the Ship will continue as a welcoming, earthy boozer that manages to attract a much broader set of punters that you might imagine. Best of luck with it in 2011 and beyond, folks.

9 Feb 2011 17:46

The Wheatsheaf, Shedfield

Now this was a real corker - a bar area as long as your arm, but without a handpump in site. That's because all the decent ale's stored on stillage behind, and pints are poured effortlessly by the attentive staff on an almost mechanical basis, given the understandable popularity of the Loc-ale range - oh, and the prices, which I must say for a countryside drinking-house were very competitive indeed. The beers we had the delight in sampling really were on splendid show; the Flower Pots Perridge Pale perhaps challenging for the "pint of the weekend", which believe me was no mean feat given the quality and quantity of beverages that passed our lips over a truly landmark 4-day session.

The pub itself is a classic rural community centre, which could still be found anywhere in England, thank God. The people ranged from young families grabbing lunch to old boys having a quiet few; it was smart yet not in any way pretentious or self-conscious. An absolute winner, and one which is sure to please many if you spare the time to find it.

Well done folks.

9 Feb 2011 17:42

The Castle, Rowlands Castle

Well, if this is any measure at all of a pub, within 2 minutes of entering into the Castle's jolly main bar area I felt immediately at home. A mix of nicely-scrubbed-up locals were in attendance, all in happy spirits, with a gentle pace being set by the genial, be-shirted and be-tied landlord (a rare sight these days; well done that man!), ably abetted by a couple of rather attractive young ladies.
All this, along with the predictable but reliable range of Fuller's cask beers (the Seafarers was the absolute business on my visit), conspired to create a really rather appealing vibe, and I became envious of those who lived within easy reach and could get here for what I'm sure is always an excellent show at weekends.
I think this pub has the best of two often very disparate worlds: a popular, savvy urban drinking house, and a comfortable, smart rural establishment. Both camps gel very well it seems, united by the vaguely boisterous duopoly of beer, and rugby.

Incidentally, one of our number required a cup of tea - a peculiar request for a Friday evening but one which was met with politeness and efficiency by the staff. It is the kind of pub where everything goes, provided you're a decent sort who won't rock what is a very jolly boat indeed. I need to be here again at some point in future.

9 Feb 2011 17:36

The Bishops Blaize, Romsey

Oh dear; previous visitors 2 years ago and beyond weren't always kind to the Bishops Blaize (which we concluded surely should be "Bishop" in the singular??!). Perhaps I can see why; it is a basic, unpretentious local community pub and some would read this as being unwelcoming to non-locals, and somehow downmarket by its very nature.
However this is not quite the full story here, as we found on a recent visit a thoroughly friendly establishment, with a mixed clientele in terms of age, gender, and background, all tied up by a down-to-earth and affable cove of a licensee.
I can see this being a lifeline to some Romseyites now bereft of a Legion club or community centre, and I think that is often what pubs of this ilk need to be founded upon. On a Sunday lunchtime it was thriving - yes there were only 2 cask ales on (though the Hyde's guest beer was found in good shape), and yes there was a big screen showing the latest footie match. I suspect that a bag of scratchings would do you for food just as well as any roast. But none of these factors should mean drinkers and pubgoers should never set foot in the place, or indeed the many like it across the country. Indeed, there are other draws here, including live music, which appears to be a regular feature and I daresay brings folk forth all the more readily.

I may not beat a path to its door again in a while, but if I lived more locally, that may not necessarily be the case. When one tires of the fabricated themed trash in centres and self-important gastro-grottos in the country, pubs like the BB might just prove the perfect tonic.

9 Feb 2011 17:26

The Purefoy Arms, Preston Candover

Although not found through the usual GBG pages, word has spread that the Purefoy was worthy of attention not least for its fine food, but also some well-kept ales, which surely now should be a given in any pub that has genuine ambitions in the gastro-game in the same way one should be sure of a decent wine-list.
Pitching up in that quiet lull between Sunday lunch (served till 4 here), and the modest evening stint, there was little in the way of activity at the pub, although one can only imagine that it would be teeming with scores of upper-middle class clans desperate to pay handsomely for some local libation and verifiable victuals, all sourced from the best and most proximitous establishments. It was a shame that food wasn't in the offing as I daresay it would be superb - maybe another time.

The wine selection was excellent, and if one is prepared to pay, there were actually some very fine wines on offer at surprisingly low mark-ups. Ale-wise, only 2 out of a possible 3 pumps were active (the 3rd pump was a cider which is a useful option). Itchen Valley Winchester ale was sampled by the half, and was in reasonable nick. The barman was efficient in serving, if a little pre-occupied. The atmosphere was smart yet still cosy on a cold Winter's evening, and although clearly gunning for the foodie market and restaurant-heads rather than the pub lovers and ale cognoscenti, I think the balance is about right for its context and representatives from both camps can leave satisfied.

The building is charming and set in a very well-to-do neighbourhood, which will be a magnetic draw for some and a complete turn-off for others. I'd say give it a chance and see what you think - though paupers of the parish beware: you shall need to deploy considerable cash to get the best out of what's on offer here!

9 Feb 2011 17:19

The Limes at Catisfield, Catisfield

"Dark and empty" eh? Well, BITE users must speak as they find, but I rather think that comment short-changes this place, which I found - albeit on a Saturday lunchtime - to be a light and airy affair, that was reasonably busy and all things being equal, a perfectly convivial pub.
We'd made a dash over here in desperate need for the gents, which fortunately were found in acceptable form, and used liberally. Once inside the long bar area, one felt the sense of slight datedness in the decor, fixtures and fittings, which was reminiscent of Fawlty Towers-era hotel bars. Saying that however, it did not jar unduly, and after a while I revised that rather harsh initial impression and settled upon a Royal British Legion club as the closest ally to the Limes' atmosphere; a sort of stoical comfort and quiet defiance in the face of unbridled change all around it.

Ales were served from the cask direct, which suited us perfectly well. Ringwood Porter? Yes please, and conditioned nicely too - if only more punters were making the most of it as opposed to the flavourless fizz. The barman was attentive and pleasant, and all in all there was a pervasive feeling of steady, civilised enjoyment on the part of the predominantly middle-aged crowd.

Not for everyone I imagine, but for those who can't recall how so many pubs in the 1970s and '80s used to be in these parts, go to the Limes and it will give you a broad idea. And the joy of it being 2011 and not 1981 is that you can enjoy decent cask beer!

9 Feb 2011 17:07

The Yew Tree, Lower Wield

Albeit that the car is a constraint when it comes to quaffing, it is sadly the only way one will ever get to enjoy the delights of remote rural gems such as this, which is buried deep in the Hants countryside but is well worth rooting out. In Winter, this place is a real winner, with its hearty welcome from landlord Tim and the cosy, comforting interior that just wills one to venture in and not leave for a protracted period; instead imploring indulgence in a boozy session in the self-delusional belief that it's the only way to stay warm and fend off the unpleasant dark evenings.

The place might've been found virtually empty on a Sunday evening, were it not for a crowd of suitably-oiled - if not altogether bronzed - Aussies, who appeared to be well-known to the landlord and so I took for locals (or pals of someone who was). Plainly their afternoon had been occupied by one of those lunches that just doesn't ever draw to a natural close. The coupling of "booze" and "Aussie" is not always a civil one, but happily these were rather more well-heeled exceptions to that rule, staying jovial but never straying into rowdiness, and despite the occasional wine spillage, they lent a sense of congeniality to proceedings.

Tim took time to have a chat with me and my friend, and we both found him informed and savvy. I imagine he runs a good ship here. His ales numbered only 3, but that sampled was kept well (Alton's Pride by Triple F on this occasion), and the blackboard promised further choices of note from local brewers including Surrey's Hog's Back and Hampshire's Bowman.

Food was not being served and so I can pass no judgement on its variety or quality - but I would be surprised if it was always as dubious as the last commentator describes. I would say don't rule this pub out on the strength of that alone.

9 Feb 2011 16:56

The Star Inn, Bentworth

Haven't been by Bentworth for some years but happened upon what I thought was the same pub I went to last time (turned out this was the Sun - a very different breed of boozer to its competitor). The Star was indded shining when I visited on a Sunday evening, with plenty of locals enjoying a clearly well-embedded but civilised drink-up, around the central bar area which clearly is where the atmosphere is conjured up here. All seemed to be in good spirits; as indeed was I although time and the ever-pressing need to get to other cracking venues in the area only permitted a quick 'alf.

Special mention I feel should go to the barmaid, who was a jolly young soul, and her comfortable conviviality with everbody helped oil the wheels nicely and made all feel included, even if she'd never set eyes on us before. I think she said her name was Bethan (?). Well, if you're her and you're reading this, then well done and it'd be nice to have more bar staff like you in pubs across the land.

Not a bad little local this - shame it could be some while before I get myself back in here.

9 Feb 2011 16:36

The Horse and Groom, Belgravia

A rather appealing hidden gem buried deep in the streets of Belgravia. It was troublesome to try and judge too many aspects of the H & G as it was very late when we finally itched up, and it was only us in. Happily, although she was clearly uncomfortable with it, the barmaid (licensee?) did allow us to take a quick half - in my case a very palatable one too in good condition. Whilst there was nothing fundamentally striking about the place, I can imagine it is a very convenient and well-subscribed pub at busier periods amongst the cognoscenti who know of it, and rarer still, its exact whereabouts.

What I found was promising, but I'd like to get back here at some point and give it another whirl. Hopefully then I'll get more of the measure of the place.

2 Feb 2011 15:18

The Wilton Arms, Belgravia

Oh dear. I'm afraid I must fly in the face of some previous assessments here, and not for the better. I visited this place for the first time yesterday evening, and was hit not by one but numerous disappointments. Firstly, we were assaulted by a rather unappealing stale odour as we entered the premises, which didn't augur well as that is so often indicative of an under-used, poorly-run establishment that is on its uppers. Sadly our initial concern wasn't allayed, for when I asked for a half in a pint glass (okay, fussy perhaps to some souls, but personally I find it is simply better to drink beer from a proper pint pot, even if it is only half the full measure - most staff are happy to indulge me in this request), the dopey foreigner behind the bar poured a whole pint. After I set about trying to explain what I wanted in three alternative ways, I gave up, and only by chance did he eventually hit on the combination of half-pint beer, pint glass. Don't get me wrong, he was willing to please, but totally unable to, mainly because - presumably - he didn't understand the language and/or the rudiments of serving drinks.
Worse still, the ale was decidedly on the turn! I had hoped for a refreshing pint of Bishops Finger (Sheps seems to be the order of the day with 3 of their offerings on), but it was part-bitter, part-vinegar. Maybe I was just unlucky here and one should always be able to allow benefit of the doubt, but the overall package was poor and made it harder to extend any generosity to them. Even my cousin's lager was flat!

The only real respite came - bizarrely - in a visit to the gents', which mercifully were in reasonable order, and even smelled quite pleasant. Indeed, the aromas in the latrines were rather sweeter than those found in the bar!

Apparently a nice little bolthole from the outside, and set in a usually reliable district, this really flatters to deceive. I'm afraid someone has taken their foot off the gas here, judging by nearly every measure one could apply to pub quality. And to think we left the nearby excellent Nags Head to come here - we were genuinely gutted. I shan't be returning, and I can't recommend this to users of this site. I can only hope I was exceedingly unlucky and that what we found isn't representative of the status quo.

2 Feb 2011 15:11

The Nags Head, Belgravia

I am bound to say I rather like "oddball owners" as they're referred to by one of the previous commentators, presumably meant purely in a derogatory sense. Whilst there should be no excuse for discourtesy or outright rudeness, especially towards new customers who won't have the benefit of knowing the form as it were, personally I can tolerate a certain amount of brusqueness and dictatorship by a licensee, if they undeniably feel part of, and even add to, the inherent character of the pub itself. And the Nag's Head does exude multitudinous character, with its walls strewn with scattergun memorabilia, pictures, and other random artefacts, and at its heart, a peculiarly low bar area, at which one can perch quite happily on a chair of ordinary height - no propensity for falling off those tower bar stools, which I daresay is a useful feature if you've over-indulged.
I think this pub is matched in its interior oddity - and by all accounts licensee off-handedness - by the Seven Stars on Carey Street near Aldwych, which is another excellent house sadly marred for some by the rather dismissive attitude of the landlady. Yet, it kind of fits with the place's Bohemian setting and frankly I think it can be worth trying to weather any apparent unpleasantness and strict house rules to get the best out of the other less-controversial delights of a truly individual pub. After all, how often do we come across such a thing, really?
Alas, I didn't meet the oddball himself on my last visit, which is a shame as I'd have liked the chance to attempt some banter with him. The ladies at the bar were pleasant enough and - to my cousin's chagrin - were enforcing the mobile phone ban with rigour. He dutifully left the premises to attend to his call, fortunately with good grace. Again, this policy is not a feature I find perturbing as it is unquestionably refreshing to have a pub environment free of the bleeping, fizzing and fussing of mobile telephones and their attendant users.
Ale-wise, one has a range of Adnams beers for delectation - I sampled a very fine pint of the Old, which is a beer one sees too little of even in the Winter months. We sat and supped very happily, drinking in not just the beer but all manner of things dotted around the cavernous parlour that one can only wonder at. A real pleasure.

I'd trade in bland and predictable for unusual and intriguing every time, even if it does mean not using my phone or getting a brusque response from a landlord! Don't ever change, folks.

2 Feb 2011 14:58

The Grenadier, Belgravia

I am somewhat shocked by the roll-call of rebukes this pub - or more accurately, some of its staff - have received from BITE users over the last few months, as during my recent visit I didn't perceive any real issues with the service, or indeed any other aspect of the place.
With the aid of a pre-marked A-Z map I managed to alight upon the Grenadier, which would've been nigh-on impossible without as one simply doesn't expect to find a little bolthole like this down what appears to be a residential mews cul-de-sac in Belgravia. It oozed character, with numerous artefacts of militaria arond the place, and a fascinating bank of 6 old handpumps, which alas were no longer in usage and fonts had replaced them. By way of compensation though 4 new handpumps had been added either side and were all active. Woodforde's Wherry was on, which I always enjoy very heartily and this was no exception. Incidentally, it was served properly by the perfectly charming foreign barmaid - no sign of this ogre of a landlord referred to by others.
It did have that officer's mess feel about it, which personally wasn't offended by. It is a small affair; don't imagine that it's the pub of choice for a larger group to enjoy. Nevertheless, for a quick 'alf, or a more substantial session tucked away from the prying eyes of the world, this could be the place for you.

On the matter of US visitations, I'd only recommend this or any of the nearby hostleries of note to such people if they have a good working understanding and appreciation of what makes our pubs great. If they want an All-American experience, go to the numerous tawdry bars in the city that now choose to sink to that particularly low plimsoll line instead, and leave places like this alone. Better still, stay in America!

2 Feb 2011 14:30

The Star Tavern, Belgravia

Almost the slightly more grown-up older brother to the nearby Antelope, the Star is another jewel in Fuller's crown, tucked away amidst a grid of famous Georgian addresses, whose elegant whitewashed dwellings now house a mix of lavish private residences and embassy headquarters from around the globe.
One comes to know the Fuller's formula having spent considerable time drinking in London and its environs, and so one knows what to expect: a ubiquitous but usually reliably-kept range of cask ales, a pricey yet good quality menu, and a solid interior that leans towards the traditional. Despite this being a fairly obvious blueprint, it is not to the complete detriment of the individual character of the pub, which in this case has been sympathetically drawn out.
This a quite a capacious hostelry with good seating, and we decided to eat. I had the crispy pork belly while my partner-in-booze (my cousin in this instance) had the fish and chips. Fresh ingredients, good portions, and high on flavour. These weren't cheap dishes but I must say I found them to be excellent.
Service was sound, although in fairness they weren't being tested to the full last night, as it wasn't that busy (think everyone had piled into the Antelope for apres-travail refreshment from what we could see).

By and large, one of the better and more impressive of the Fuller Empire in London, and well worth seeking out if in the SW1 locus and in the market good ale and victuals.

2 Feb 2011 14:18

The Antelope, Belgravia

A rather charming little boozer buried in Belgravia that is well worth a stop-off. The place is set in a charming Georgian building the interior is a sturdy, wood-driven traditional affair that does not jar with one's external first impressions.
Perhaps a modest disappointment to some expecting a rather more individual set-up, as essentially the Antelope follows the rather formulaic (albeit often very successful) Fuller's format. This is a blueprint that most would find acceptable and is certainly ahead of some duller competitors in the capital, but it won't win any awards for authentic character or memorable features. Still, I'm being picky really, as the pub offers a predictable but consistently high quality pint from the Fuller's range (my Chiswick was in good nick), and it clearly rates highly amongst the local cognoscenti as an after-work bolthole, for the place was heaving even though it was a quiet Tuesday evening in February.

Certainly worth a visit, provided you're a) patient in waiting for service and b) not fed up with the Fuller's brand of pub.

2 Feb 2011 13:57

Duke Of Wellington, Belgravia

Popped in here for the first time in many years yesterday, and found it to be as I remembered - in other words a sound Shepherd Neame hostelry, which offers most things to most types of pubgoer, albeit perhaps not really excelling in any one of those aspects.
There is a broad range of 4 Sheps' cask ales on offer here, which included the rather unusual Amber Ale - possibly an unsuitable choice of name for what is billed as a "winter warmer", but all the same a tasty brew and a pleasant alternative to the more conventional triptych of Best, Spitfire and Master Brew.
Food was being served from 6PM onwards, and although seemed to take a while to arrive, I noticed that the diversity and quality of the dishes appeared to be healthy. Whilst nowhere in this district can be regarded as 'cheap', I suspect that one will find rather more competitive value in the Duke than in many of the other nearby pubs, wine bars or restaurants.
The interior of the Duke is classically traditional; very Victorian in style with solid dark wood panelling and a muted decor. This seems to suit the age and type of the building in which it is set - that is a Victorian corner local pub conspicuous by its immediate neighbours for being mostly grandiose Georgian villas - and there is a kind of sturdiness to the place.
Like many London pubs it is hard to pinpoint an exact ambience or type of punter as there is a random mix of folk in attendance, although inevitably when one looks more closely it is accented towards the well-heeled and wealthy, even if not all wear their money on their sleeves as it were. It is, I'd suggest, civilised without being snooty.

All in all then, a worthwhile stop-off in Belgravia perhaps en route to other places, and against the general London pub backdrop this one has a greater ability to shine than many below-par counterparts.

2 Feb 2011 13:47

The Bulldog Tavern, Brighton

Now here's an interesting thing. I have never seen cause to visit a gay pub before - at least not having known that it was such prior to entering the establishment. That is not born of prejudice or intolerance so much as the fact that I see places of this ilk as 'minority' venues that are tailored very specifically to one section of the wider community. Personally, I tend to prefer pubs that offer a slightly more neutral experience that can appeal to a broader cross-section of pubgoing puntery, without fixating on sexuality, colour, race or any other division. It would be potentially uncomfortable for me to go somewhere like the Bulldog, as indeed it would be to step into a pub populated by all black people or all under-21s, as it is quite simply 'their world' and I'd prefer to leave it to them, whether I'd be made welcome or otherwise.

All that said, I did visit this place last weekend as I happened to be in a larger group which comprised 3 gay people. It was a rather dingy interior, with red back-lighting only to light one's way, and a series of TV screens, some of which were showing rotating photos of 'buff' chaps looking predictably macho. Hardly an integral part of enjoying a pub any more than a looped video of glamourous women with big boobs is. However it wasn't so intrusive that one could be seriously offended by it. There were other more positive features to focus on. The place was certainly lively for a Saturday afternoon, and the music suited the sub-club atmosphere. Albeit I was in a big group, I didn't feel the staff were unfriendly even when it must've become obvious that most of us were straight. I also didn't feel I was being unduly eyed by the regulars, either with desires or suspicions!

But, the actual fear I'd always harboured about gay pubs is simply that they didn't sell good beer, as the gay contingent don't traditionally tend towards a passion for gentle supping of a wide range of cask ales. Happily, in this instance that fear was entirely allayed, as they had THREE pumps, all active, and whilst not unorthodox choices, the pint I had was kept very well indeed (Harvey's Best). Fuller's London Pride and Bass also were on. So, I was pleased to have at least one preconception shattered.

On balance, not a great pub, but one that shouldn't necessarily be completely ignored just because it maintains a 'minority' interest.

24 Jan 2011 18:30

The Heart and Hand, Brighton

Always a favourite for those who enjoy a less-affected Bohemian vibe, and a solid respect for, amongst other things, a range of good cask beer. Only 1 of the offerings last weekend was a Kemp Town brew (the China) but not such a disappointment with such an enticing range of alternatives accompanying it, including Brewdog Riptide. All ales sampled by me and my entourage were excellent, and pulled with efficiency and effervescence by the barmaid.

The popularity of the place suggests that whatever has been the case in the past, they have got back into their stride again now and are pleasing most of the people, most of the time. There was a mixed crowd in attendance, but there was a palpable perception of organic enjoyment amongst all, and I suppose the atmos really did epitomise the liberal freedoms that Brighton so wants to be known for.

My last visit here was around 2006; I certainly don't intend to leave it that long again before returning.

24 Jan 2011 18:15

The Great Eastern, Brighton

My second - and happily less brief - visit was made to this place on Saturday last. I found what I'd discovered the previous time to still be very much intact; that is a cosy, welcoming atmosphere enhanced by comfortable seating, candles and wooden panelling; a range of 4 well-kept local cask beers (my Hepworth's Pullman was crisp and palate-cleansing); pleasant service at the bar, and I daresay good grub - although that is purely based on the menu options as nobody of my party was interested in food at that stage so no samples were taken.

The exterior promises a smart and clean experience, which is fine although so often that can equate to anodyne and unappealing. The Great Eastern sidesteps these potential pitfalls with aplomb, although if I were to harbour one minor criticism it would be that they have perhaps taken the cleanliness aspect a little too far - there was a pervasive cleaning fluid malodour which did threaten to spoil things, especially I'd imagine for those intent on eating. One gets used to such a niggle quite quickly, but it would be better not to have to. Hopefully this was a one-off overzealous blitz with the bleach.

All told, a worthy pub in a town which majors on cracking hostelries. Just watch the obvious competition of the Prince George directly opposite.

24 Jan 2011 18:08

The Freemasons Arms, Covent Garden

I was en route back from an event in Covent Garden last Saturday with a chum and basically found ourselves in the way of the Freemasons and in need of further libation. Ultimately, it provided what was required although like so many pubs in this district and beyond, it did not provide any long-lasting imprint, and showed itself to be essentially an average pub, that was neither great nor awful.
I hadn't been here for some 5 years prior to the last visit, and had always found it convenient when in need of a quick drink in the Long Acre vicinity but never felt it was somewhere I should deliberately seek out, unlike, say, the Harp or the Market Porter. As an ale-drinker, that which was provided was acceptable, in that it is a Shepherd Neame establishment and so offered around 3 of their portfolio; the Best and Late Red were kept satisfactorily as indeed I recall they had been years before.
Food-wise I cannot comment as I was not in the market for grub - I daresay it's passable. The pub is a large and rather grandiose building which offers various alcoves and seating with much wood-pannelling, and whilst most of it is probably faux it works well with the interior and there is a certain civilised, measured quality to the place. The clientele vary considerably, but on this occasion it appeared that there may actually have been a group of freemasons in: there was an unusually well-attired set of ladies and gentlemen near the bar area who exuded a genuine poise and elan in their demeanour and closely resembled the masonic contingent at my own local pub when in full flow following an evening at the Lodge.
One could do worse than to slip in here when in the area, although I shan't recommend it as the only worthwhile option. There's nothing here that can't be fairly readily obtained elsewhere in London.

20 Jan 2011 16:17

The Sun, Covent Garden

To a greater or lesser extent, most of the recent contributors on this site have been correct about this pub, judging by what I witnessed when I made my first visit, quite by chance last weekend following an event on nearby Betterton Street. The Sun is the kind of place that is to be found universally in London and beyond, in that it is housed in a pleasant Victorian building on a street corner, has a similarly traditional though mostly inauthentic decor that is arguably mass-appeal, and provides an entirely average selection of food and drink at the typical Capital prices.
Beers, ciders, wines, spirits and other beverages are available, but nothing especially stood out, at least to my taste. An uninspiring slew of branded mass-produced, over-priced and over-subscribed lagers were on offer, which pleases the palate that has yet to value diversity of flavour and value for money, but seems endlessly pleased with undemanding ersatz fizz which the predominantly younger clientele appear to have accepted as definitive.
I can't comment on anything other than the cask ale offerings. Alas, only Greene King IPA and Flowers Original were offered. Quite by dint of staying in there longer than planned to discuss a somewhat delicate issue with a friend of mine, I ended up imbibing 2 pints and so sampled both variants. Whilst they will never be the most tastebud-tingling beers by any measure, both were found in acceptable nick and were genuine representations of each brand.
Service was attentive, and most unusually delivered with a smile from the barmaid, and as the place was busy but not heaving it, I felt it would always have been possible to avail myself of another drink without too much of a wait at the bar. The clientele was a steady bunch of seemingly well-heeled Londonites, who presumably are prepared to be pub-whores of a weekend, as whatever elementary charms the Sun has I can't imagine people making any special journey to visit it from any further afield than the immediate streets. I suspect this, like many boozers in the area, benefits from its proximity to Theatreland and all the passing trade that saunters by prior to or following a Drury Lane show.
Ultimately, the Sun will never set your world alight, as it is the archetypally average pub whose character and wares are entirely interchangeable, and can appeal to a casual passing trade without ever detaining their attention longer-term; after all it probably doesn't need to. It is the kind of place that can be readily located in any district of the city, albeit that the pubs of all shapes and sizes are steadily falling in favour of endless conversions and demolition for housing and other uses. If you're in the vicinity and just need a quick refreshment, then do come here as you'll be welcome enough and should get what you require. Anything more indulgent or specific than that, and you may leave feeling somewhat disappointed.

20 Jan 2011 15:04

The Stile Bridge Inn, Marden

The last time I visited here before December 2010 was - those of you who know my reviews will probably have guessed it - with CJG a decade or so ago on one of our many rampages through Kent and its finer boozers. I believe it might've been 2000 not 1999, but I shall bow to the aforementioned's recollection. In any case the point is, it's been a bloody long time, and, happily, there have been several positive alterations to the establishment.

A former Greene King outpost, the pub always sported a deceptively spacious interior centred on a curved bar, with a myriad of pub and breweriana items adorning the walls. This essentially remains the same, although the decor is now darker, more traditional than before, with comfier seating, and there is now arguably a veritable cornucopia of bric-a-brac on display (although not strewn about haphazardly; the pub is clean and free of clutter than might impede customer comfort). Chiefly of course, GK are now ancient history and the takeover as a free house has inevitably led to a broader range of more interesting cask ales at the pumps, which are described below. Conditioning was good, and the licensee appeared to be both knowledgeable and enthusiastic about his beers and keenly advised us of what was up and coming. Alas, it could well be quite a while before I find my way back here again, although judging by the improvements I am hopeful it won't be another 10 years.

Possibly the one change made that I didn't consider an improvement was the rather bold pastel blue colour they've painted the exterior. The Stile Bridge has a Victorian frontage which one might associate more readily with architecture found in urban areas more than the countryside, but that in itself should give it some prominence; it doesn't mean it is appropriate to paint it a bizarre colour in the fashion one might see in Brighton city centre. It could work there and appeal to a more 'wacky' clientele, but in dear old Marden I doubt it does the pub any favours!

Still, a relatively modest criticism in an otherwise positive review. Keep up the good work, folks.

12 Jan 2011 11:08

The Dovecote, Capel

I see that CJG has beaten me to it yet again. It is true to say the ale selection on the day in question wasn't as inspiring as some would like. That said, I am prepared to assume for now that this was perhaps unlucky, and the Mild we tried was well-kept.
Service was poor as we waited the best part of 5 minutes to be given any beer - it doesn't sound long but believe me it is when you're at a bar and in desperate need of libation. However I think they were genuinely struggling as the place was absolutely heaving - a full-on lunchtime shift which they'd have been forgiven for not predicting given that this was supposed to be a quiet Thursday in between the excesses of Christmas and New Year. Maybe they were a man or two down? All the same, when it came the service was friendly. What it presumably does tell us is that the food must be on song and worthwhile trying if you are hungry and have time on your hands to wait for your order to get to the top of the queue!

There is a comfortable feel to this pub and it is a splendidly cosy interior on a Winter's day/night. I imagine it's even better when you can get a seat! There is a reasonably capacious garden at the rear which I daresay comes into its own in Summer, and the car park is conveniently large - necessarily so given the apparent popularity of the place.

12 Jan 2011 10:19

Bush, Blackbird and Thrush, East Peckham

I paid this one a quick visit 2 weeks back en route to pick a friend up from Tonbridge station and having arrived uncharacteristically early. It is only a few miles' drive from said dull town and well worth it to get away from the limited delights it offers pub-wise.

Only having had the briefest of halves (Spitfire) in a 10-minute stay, I am far from the most qualified of BITE users to comment on the pub's wares in detail. That said, for the record, what I found was a spacious, welcoming, pub which clearly had an accent on food (there were a few punters already in sampling the grub and it was only 12:15PM), but nevertheless the ale (all Sheps of course being a tied establishment), was in fine condition. Service was pleasant enough at the bar, and although slightly incongruous given the tile-hung Kentish country exterior, the interior decor was only vaguely traditional; I recall much pine, glassy doors and wood flooring which seemed to be tipping a nod to the more contemporary restaurant look.

I remain unaware of what the significance of the pub's unusual title is. One can only trust that blackbirds, a bush and thrush can be found locally (well, maybe not the latter eh?!?!).

12 Jan 2011 10:10

The Bell and Jorrocks, Frittenden

There is little in the way of honest and useful analysis that I can offer in addition to the review left on the 4th by my regular partner-in-quaff CJG, who has decided this time through a quirk of fantasy that only he can explain that my name should now be 'Thomas' as opposed to 'Telford'.........

Anyway, esoterica aside, he is spot on with his comments here. The B & J is actually an earthy, working rural man's local, and the clientele plainly favour good solid choices on the cask ale front, with a few lagerites topping up the custom. Provided one does not come across as awkward and aloof in this rarefied drinker's den, one should not receive a bad welcome from the regulars, who were perfectly amenable when C and myself bowled up in shirts and jackets and shiny shoes and stood firm at the bar ordering beer with gusto. I had the Moorhouse's Blond (okay not exactly local but well-kepy nonetheless), while my oppo sampled the Dark Star Critical Mass - albeit by the half (bloody girl!).
I noticed later on that a young couple turned up and seemed to be equally at ease with the atmos, so perhaps at different times the pub is home to a broader spread of punters.

Incidentally, the pub is apparently an amalgam of 2 pubs in Frittenden, one called the Bell (housed here), and one called the John Jorrocks (which closed in 1969), named after a fictional 19th century cockney creation of the author RS Surtees. Those of the local hunting fraternity/sorority will be au fait with the character, as Jorrocks gives his name colloquially to the Old Surrey & Burstow and West Kent hunt.

12 Jan 2011 10:02

The Halfway House, Brenchley

I have visited this place a few times over the last few years, and amazingly have never gotten round to reviewing it anywhere, which is a shame, as it is richly deserving of very positive appraisal.
Naturally I've been drawn to the HH on the primary basis of its beer - both range and quality - and this never disappoints. Mostly "locale" on offer, and I think 7 varieties on my last visit in late December. DOn't be put off by the taps at the rear; they are in no way false and serve all beers direct from their casks behind. The "Halfway to Paradise" is a Goacher's brew and well worth the sampling.
Happily, I was in need of sustenance beyond what beer can provide, and indulged in a 2-course luncheon whilst here. The menus - both the book and board options - yield much to tempt the modern pub eater and there is plenty to delight lovers of meat, fish, and vegetables. I began with the tempura prawns with sweet chilli sauce and finished with the venison sausages and mash. Both of these dishes were hearty and flavoursome, although it was not easy deciding on them as frankly I could've managed most options available.
Interior-wise, it is rather what one would hope to expect from the pleasant exterior frontage; very traditional and with numerous alcoves and accoutrements but the HH is every inch authentic and it never feels like a faux image. It doesn't require such spurious affectation, for it seems to draw plenty of regular trade locally, in addition to punters passing through who have cottoned on to the charms of the pub.
Atmosphere was not lacking either: a healthy mix of young, old, regular and irregular were found, on a grey Thursday lunchtime just after Christmas. I'd say that's a testament in itself to the enduring appeal of this hostelry. There was no sense of animosity on the part of the locals, and service was both efficient and with a smile from the young chap manning the bar.

Universally this should score highly on all major elements on which a pub should be judged, and ultimately I think this will happen as further visits are made, and more reviews accrue.

12 Jan 2011 09:48

The Bunch Of Grapes, Knightsbridge

I must say that the previous recent comments pretty much have this hostelry sized; its Victorianised interior appears at least to be reasonably authentic, and suits the style of the building and layout. The pub is certainly commodious and can easily accommodate larger numbers, even though I didn't feel too conspicuous as a single drinker on my recent brief drop-in following a thoroughly consuming 3 hours at the V & A.
It is somewhere that blatantly markets itself as one of London's innumerable "traditional" pubs that serves real ale and decent grub, and observational evidence from my experience suggested that this works, although with the result that there is a sense of impermanency in the clientele and I imagine it would be a tall order to become known as a "regular" here, if indeed one had such modest ambitions.

The ale is indeed Greene King and whilst they are a commercially widespread brand that rarely sets beer enthusiasts' palates ablaze, in fairness the beer I drank at the BOG was impeccably kept; indeed some of the best GK I've had of late, so well done on that. Food looked to be in good order, with hefty portions being dished up around me, but not being in need of solids I didn't partake myself so can say no more.

On balance a perfectly reasonable pub in which to take a quick pint, and certainly one that rises above many of its peers which plough a similar furrow. However, not somewhere one should necessarily seek out. If you've a dry mouth following the air-conditioned hermetic experiences of the museum or Harrods, it may do the job; otherwise, there's plenty more fish in the sea which conjure up a more lasting and authentic atmopshere and charisma.

10 Jan 2011 18:04

Golden Lion, Soho

Alas, a single visit to the Golden Lion will betray that it is essentially nothing out of the ordinary, and albeit in one of the traditionally most vibrant and diverse districts of the capital, it manages to remain relatively unmemorable, and even more so in the vast panople of pubs whose doorsteps I have darkened down the decades.
As previous commentators have stated, it is fond of large TV screens, and clearly pitches towards the tourist passing trade and sports fanatics. The trade is mixed but too much so to impart any lasting impressions. The interior is standard wood panelling with a pseudo-Victorian feel, although in fairness I personally prefer this to some dreadfully miscued modern contemporary nonsense, which clinically moves in on the minimalist and targets the transitory, with no regard for the pub's history or the exterior architecture.

Perhaps surprisingly, the cask beer range was reasonable, and I polished off a perfectly acceptable pint here; on the strength of only 1 purchase it perhaps doesn't seem fair to comment, but if it was representative of the overall standard then one could do worse than the GL, provided a half-decent pint of ale is the utmost priority. Sadly, if it's good conversation and character you want - especially if you're new to London and want to sample the more interesting and charismatic venues - then turn again, Whittington.

10 Jan 2011 17:52

The Dog and Duck, Soho

Unbelievably, despite my various forays into Soho's publand over the years, I don't recall having visited this place, until last week when I popped in en route to the underground. What I found was a friendly, relaxed and feel-good atmosphere, of the kind one so often hopes to find but fails to unearth in the sea of large, impersonal and over-branded London drinking houses. The D & D's smallness helps create a little more intimacy than its bigger counterparts, and provided one doesn't become saddled with an unwelcome punter this is a plus-point. And if things do become a little tightly-packed downstairs, there is an upstair option.

Cask ales are a-plenty here; 5 were offered and that sampled was crisp and well-conditioned. I can't for the life of me recall what it was, but trust that it was not one of the usual ubiquitous brands, and that it was on song; I can only assume that what I found was the rule rather than the exception.

There remains a trace of genuine character and exuberance that many pubs in the area have gradually lost over the years, and for this the Dog & Duck should be congratulated. I certainly wouldn't have any reservations about popping in for a pint or three in future when I'm in the vicinity.

10 Jan 2011 17:44

The Jack Horner, Tottenham Court Road

Ultimately, my review of this establishment will have limited value to others, as I confess to only having visited once, and even then to only have indulged in 1 pint and spent 20 minutes there. Nevertheless, for what that is worth, I should say that the Jack Horner appeared on first impressions to be a respectable, clean house with well-kept ale (the London Pride at least was one of the better examples I've had in recent times), and essentially a solid reliable pub of the now-standard Fuller's large London pub template. It is not in any sense an original interior and could be one of many both in the Fuller estate and beyond. However it ticks certain boxes in that it is capacious, with a mahogany-driven traditional interior that generally pleases both locals and tourists, and suits the exterior expectations of the building.

Contrary to the comment below of 14 Nov '09, I found the service to be friendly enough and efficient, though this was before mid-day, and with no more than 10 people in the pub. Perhaps at busier times the staff may lose ground - but that's not for me to say until such time as I emerge here on a more lively shift.

Overall, not somewhere I'd seek out especially, but if in the market for a steady pint of Fuller's in a similarly conservative atmosphere, on the off-chance one could do far worse that the JH.

10 Jan 2011 17:37

The Surrey Oaks, Newdigate

Nothing substantive to add to previous reviews - as everything remains in spankingly good order (as 2 new awards that have just been bestowed should confirm). However I feel I need to congratulate Ken all the more for these achievements, as unfortunately his wife passed away after a short illness on 12 November. Despite this, he and his staff soldiered on bravely, and have delivered a consistently sound service throughout this difficult time. A local CamRA Christmas function was recently held at the S'Oaks and both food and ale were superb; indeed Ken himself joined our merry throng and other than when anyone offered their condolences for his recent bereavement, he did not let on and frankly I wouldn't have known had I not been made aware previously. Many lesser licensees in a similar situation would have folded when faced with the requirement to be jolly to order in front of 30 people.

Whilst life must go on notwithstanding such tragic circumstances, I can't help but have greater respect for a chap who carries on steadfastly, and in an already challenging industry, and a less certain future. Well done Ken, and I do hope 2011 brings you better fortunes.

22 Dec 2010 17:02

The Barrowboy and Banker, London Bridge

Ultimately, not the best pub in the expansive and diverse Fullers estate, and not the most memorable one could visit, even in the capital itself. On most levels though, it seemed to be universally consistent, and should not be ignored, or denigrated for not being exceptional in any way.

To business:
Drink-wise, naturally being me I only sampled the cask ale range, all of which was found in superb fresh and well-conditioned order. The usual Fullers range can be found, I'm told with the occasional guest but don't necessarily rely on this.
Food-wise, the pub appeared to be doing something of a roaring trade, albeit that myself any my supporting acts were not in need of grub at that stage and so didn't sample it ourselves. Observationally though, and from earlier comments, I doubt one would be entirely disappointed with their offerings.
Interior-wise, the pub had that grandiose, traditional and lavishly architectural feel that suited the building's equally imposing frontage. Presumably a high-profile and costly conversion in its day, it won't promote intimacy, but is a suitable environment for a larger group gathering.
Exterior-wise, this is a pub that won't appeal to those wanting a quiet pint or a back-street local experience; its appearance suggests the B & B is a classic city centre pub aimed at the more urban, corporate customer either on a quick business lunch or a post-work pint-up. But it does what it says on its tin.

In summary:
After a few visits over many years, this pub has proved to be consistent and generally worthwhile. It won't amount to your most impactful evening, but for a routine drink or meal it outshines many a similar London boozer which offers the same but in a by-numbers building with an equally anodyne atmosphere.

20 Dec 2010 17:15

The Porter and Sorter, Croydon

An updated review from me is merited in this case, as I've not visited for several months, and the place seems to have undergone a significant refurbishment. Albeit perhaps along rather predictable contemporary decor lines, the end result in the 'new' P & S is an overall improvement. The contrasting wallpapers and lighter colour scheme throughout is subtle enough not to compromise what character the building has left to offer, yet is fresh and airy enough to appeal to a more cosmopolitan crowd, which surely must be at its doorstep given the proximity to a fairly major railway station.

I haven't sampled the food for many a year, and frankly would have limited expectations. The cask ale selection is now out-and-out Marstons - the pub is now more honestly-branded as a Marstons' outlet and has left behind its small pubco past when it thrived for a while as a good ale venue. That said, the beer on a recent visit was well-kept and served properly. Naturally, being Marstons, one can at least avail oneself of some Ringwood and Jennings options, not only the core Marstons brands.

Understandably this pub will not make any visitor of any inclination stand to attention and fight an irresistible urge to write home about its wares. Nevertheless, it has experienced something of an upturn and now feels far less tired than in did a year ago. It will do for a quick pint en route, or perhaps for a Christmas drink-up - it is capacious enough to cater for larger groups.

15 Dec 2010 17:58

Wheatsheaf, Southwark

Been meaning to drop off a quick review on this one (well, as quick as my reviews ever get) for a while now.
The exterior is hardly laden with promise; cellar-based bars rarely are. However, similar to the Old Monk in Strutton Ground which promises little but yields a surprisingly appealing subterranean interior, the Wheatsheaf should not be dismissed for its unexceptional frontage. An opportunistic walk-in on 19 Nov following a do at Vinopolis and a hearty recommendation from a friend found the joint was jumping, and despite it being a somewhat dingey cavernous affair clearly orientated towards students, I did find myself enjoying it. The clientele were in fairness more mixed than expected, as was the beer selection - I can't quite understand how a range of up to 10 cask ales from a variety of breweries found their way to a bar of this ilk, but I for one am not complaining. The selection was splendid and I would make a return visit for this factor alone. It goes to show one should never judge a pub by its cover; at least not do so and always expect to be correct on further inspection.

I assume the outlet is paying homage to the old Wheatsheaf on Stoney Street, closed in Jan '09 and now decapitated to accommodate a new railway line. This place bears no resemblance to its illustrious forebear, but if it was a nod to what we'd lost round the corner, then it is a nice touch.

Clearly this lot are doing things right as business is brisk. I hope that continues.

8 Dec 2010 17:44

The Royal Oak, Newick

A quick and opportunistic top-off was made here on Saturday morning, early-doors, en route to the rather fine Old Spot Farm Shop a few miles outside of the village. Things were already in session, with 2 or 3 chaps having taken up positions at the bar, enjoying a steady drink - a starter of ten I rather think. The barman was a friendly sort of bloke, and pulled me a superb pint of Harvey's Old. Fuller's London Pride, and Harvey's Best were also on, with a 4th clip reversed - but I suspected a further Harvey's offering. No problem with this, provided they are kept in good form, and the beers here apparently are.

This is a village country local, with all the earthiness and informality of its urban counterpart, but with a little more community focus, a little more charm, and a far more appealing setting. Not an absolute corker, but as an antidote to some of Sussex's perfumed and ponced-up fooderies that pass themselves off as pubs when strictly speaking the term has virtually ceased to be relevant, the Royal Oak will provide a splendid tonic.

29 Nov 2010 17:00

The Griffin Inn, Fletching

On recommendation from not 1 but 2 friends, whilst in the vicinity on Saturday I took the opportunity to avail myself of the Griffin's charms - and I have to report that there are many, albeit that I can perfectly understand why it might not suit every pubgoer's preferences, and indeed it is not perhaps a pub for all occasions. Those needing earthy charm, steak 'n' ale pie, pool and darts, a jukebox and a social club atmosphere need not apply.

On arrival, I felt immediately warm and welcome, surrounded by a rather baronial but still cosy and comforting oak-panelled interior, complete with flagstone floor and numerous other character features which I can only trust are authentic. It is plainly "posh" - as much as I hate to use that word it is a convenient catch-all descriptor for the kind of moneyed milieu that a pub offering a restaurant-quality menu and a wine list to match would find magentically attractive. But the difference between the Griffin and its now innumerable gastro-tentious counterparts is that it retains a genuine sense of "pubbiness"; it is not solely the preserve of those with a fine-dining bent, and as a drinker one is made to feel just as comfortable at the bar as one who is lunching, having booked a table in a sequestered corner of the dining room.

The service was jolly; the licensee (the latest in a long line of them from the same family and with a suitably scrumptious residence just across the road) was a very affable cove, as was his young male and female assistants, who were both immacutaly well-heeled but without undue snooty undertones.
The ale selection is competitive, with a range of 4 locally-brewed Sussex beers on offer. The Hepworth Iron Horse was in good nick, and it led to me to wonder why the pub has been omitted from the GBG in recent years. Indeed I asked the landlord, who was similarly perplexed, especially as he is personally acquainted with the good Mr Protz. I rather think it is local branch politics, or merely a surfeit of other pubs filling the local quota, that is precluding its re-entry at present. In any case, I found it to be more worthy in this regard than many entries that did manage a berth in the Big Beery Bible: a lesson worth learning there.

Food-wise, the menu looked very inviting, but alas I was not in need of victualling at that point. I took the liberty of perusing the wine list, and was impressed to find real top-drawer gems available, probably reaching a zenith with Chateau Leoville Las-Cases '82 and Dom Perignon '00, amongst other delights which arguably seemed ill-at-ease in a pub context, even one as lavish as this. Do note however, there was a good 50-80% mark-up to match; the cheapest bottle will start around the 20 level and take you up to 350 for said Bordeaux classic - which ironically represented probably some of the best value, as that would come well into 3 figures at retail.

The company was, perhaps predictably, well-heeled, and traditionally I am a lover of a more mixed bag in my pubs. That said, it seemed to lack the usual air of faux snobbery and superiority complexes one finds in more grandiose hostelries; rather it was an old-fashioned, old money deference and politeness which actually one all too often misses in most eating/drinking establishments nowadays. I was not in any way left feeling a 2nd-rate citizen who didn't really belong. It's not a divisive establishment I think.

I have to say, I really warmed to the Griffin and its people, as it was more a case of pure class than pretence. I would be prepared to go some distance - literally and financially - to enjoy more of what it has to offer, and any class-ist issues will be set aside. I hope it's not too long before I do, and when I do, I am confident they won't disappoint.

29 Nov 2010 16:49

The Horns Lodge, South Chailey

My maiden visit to the Lodge was made last Saturday, essentially thanks to the 2011 Good Beer Guide, which has long listed this place as a worthy quaff-hole. And so it is: 5 cask ales and 1 cider featured, including the rather marvellous Over the Moon by Dark Star, and 2 Harvey's offerings. The cider was Wilkins' Janet's Jungle Juice, familiar to me from my West Country meanderings, but unusual to see this far east. Good sourcing, there.
The licensee was a little late in opening, but busy getting everything up to scratch, and it actually resulted in me getting my OTM off the cask as it hadn't been hooked up to the pump yet! He and his able assistant, a lady who arrived slightly after me, were equally pleasant and although a little too early in the morning to assess whether it was truly indicative of the usual atmosphere, I found it welcoming and informal. I imagine this is a cracking local for nearby residents, and I hope they make the most of it.

I must come back here to finish - or at least continue - what I started, as soon as poss.

29 Nov 2010 16:18

The Five Bells, Chailey

After a hiatus of 33 years 5 months, and now of an age where I am more qualified to pass judgement on its wares, I finally paid a proper visit to the Five Bells. I was pleasantly surprised on initial inspection as the place hasn't altered much - I have family album photos to prove it - and the charming internal and external character of the place has been maintained, with its spacious alcoves, bar area and various rooms to the rear. It is set back from the road with an appealing weather-boarded exterior and well-proportioned frontage. There is a sizeable beer garden to the right-hand-side of the building.

I was met by the new licensee, who incidentally took over on the 33rd anniversary of my last visit - 11 June - and he seemed a perfectly affable chap, who appeared to know which direction the pub was going and, ostensibly at least, seemed to have finally got his act together, having admitted some teeting troubles in the early phase. According to him, there is an assortment of various groups who are gradually latching on to the pub, from an exclusive car club to wedding parties; diners to fans of live music, which apparently features most weeks.

Food was not yet being served and I didn't have need of it, but I can only trust that the most recent review is more accurate than the preceding few. Ale-wise, it was uninspiring, with only Harvey's Best and Sharp's Doom Bar featuring at present. I took a half of the latter, and it was acceptable, though not the best. If the 5 Bells is to match the achievements cask-wise of its nearby neighbour the Horns Lodge, it has some way to go, in terms of both quality and range. Nevertheless, the licensee was not averse to expanding the ale variety should there be a clear demand; in that case he must ensure the quality of what he serves now is consistently good.

This really is a pub that is laden with latent potential to excel in a variety of ways. As yet it remains to be seen whether the new incumbents can truly realise this. The signals appeared to be positive, but I suppose the regular visitors will be the judges of their efforts, provided they at least give it a chance. At the moment, a tentative 6/10, but with some hope of improvement in the coming months. I will be back to find out at some point; I shan't be leaving it over 3 decades this time.

29 Nov 2010 15:53

The Ardingly Inn, Ardingly

Ultimately, this is not a universally wonderful pub. Its wares appear to be very seldom overwhelmingly impressive. Nevertheless, equally they are rarely underwhelmingly forgettable either. Being a Hall & Woodhouse outlet there is a limit to the levels of creativity the licensees can go to; ale selection will not be out of the ordinary, and the emphasis, like so many pubs of the same stable, is on a fairly predictable range of pub meals. However, the cask beer that is available has never disappointed me; on the few occasions I've visited over the years it's been excellent in fact. Also, although yet to sample it first-hand, the victuals look to be well-presented and popular with the locals, many of whom come not only for liquid libation but also solid sustenance.

The pub does reasonably-priced accommmodation, which is rather useful for events at the nearby Showground. I have stayed here for a local event at the end of November 2 years running now, and each time I have found the rooms generously-sized, clean, with appropriate facilities and decor that doesn't jar. Doubles can be let as single rooms if need be for a reduced price (around 50 which isn't uncompetitive). Regrettably my shower, despite being apparently recently-fitted, didn't operate properly on my last visit, but I didn't mention it to the chamring and friendly licensees. I should have, for the benefit of others, but they were awfully nice, and had just given me a rather good friend breakfast (included in the price, featuring sound fresh ingredients).

Whether you're needing a room or otherwise, the Ardingly Inn is understandably popular with locals, and there is always a jolly, bustling atmosphere to the place. Not exceptional, but thoroughly acceptable on all levels. I daresay I'll be back in November 2011!

29 Nov 2010 15:38

The Snowdrop, Lewes

Clearly a change of heart and I assume a change of hands at the Snowdrop, about which the grapevine (possibly that should be the grain-vine) had yielded an appealing rumour that it has been much-improved in recent months. Having not been for at least 5 years, I and various other ale and 'arty friends of mine fetched up on Saturday, and happily found the rumour to be perfectly true. Gone is the inverted-snobbery and pseudo-studenty flim-flam which had slowly but surely taken over, and in its place was a smart, yet still essentially traditional local pub which cannily combines the best of the food and beer worlds under one happy and efficient roof.
There were about 5 ales on during our extensive stop-by, reducing to 4 as we worked hard to keep pace with our own appetites. Various Dark Star nuggets of gold were available, plus a Hog's Back Ripsnorter which was an unusual choice for these parts. All were found in splendid form. Other imported beers are on tap for those who opt for them, and all were served by a motley, but friendly bunch of youngters. One of them looked vaguely like Nick Beggs out of Kajagoogoo, but then what goes around comes around and for all I know he could be right on trend (certainly in off-beat Lewes this look isn't unfavourable!).

To our relief, food was served all day, and not only was the menu extensive with a broad choice of starters and mains, but the pricing was remarkably reasonable too. Gastro-pub with air-brushed contemporary decor and faux London sophistication this is not. It is a solid, capable pub that does not insult its clientele by charging 15 for lamb shanks. Here, one can pick up roasted sea bass and crushed garlic spuds for 8.50 - in fact I don't recall any main dish being much over this mark - and on receipt of our various choices, which included liver and bacon and some sort of rabbit ballotine (can't remember the exact billing as it wasn't mine!), nobody in our group was disappointed with the quality. It even took our minds off the primary issue of ale consumption for a while.

I would now heartily recommend the Snowdrop, which is a schlep from the main Cliffe drag but worth the detour especially as an escape from the town's hustle and bustle, and I have upgraded my old score accordingly.

23 Nov 2010 17:48

The Coach and Horses, Billericay

Whilst perhaps not for absolutely everyone, this pub really should be congratulated on representing that rapidly-disappearing breed of hostelry: the village hall with a bar; the pub as the hub, as it were. For this was a busy, thriving, locals' pub when we popped in 2 Saturdays ago, which attracted a good range of unpretentious punters, who all appared to be revelling in the jolly atmosphere in equal measure.
Fine ales were kept, several of which were enjoyed by our party. It was not a modern, stylish, chic foody pub. Nor was it a traditional, oak-beamed, comfy drinkers house. It had the feel of a mid to late-20th century community meeting place, and although it won't win any prizes for best pub of the year, being a little tatty and arguably somewhat dated, it had sound core values at its heart.

The main criticism a pub of this ilk tends to receive is that it is not welcoming to strangers. This can be the case but as always with such generalisations, there is no automaticity about them, and at the Coach and Horses we certainly found no disparaging words or suspicious glances. Maybe we were too oiled to spot them by that stage, but it mattered not as we simply joined in with the fun and got stuck into the beers. If you don't consider yourself to be an alien and respect what is being offered, chances are you will not be regarded as one.

A stark contrast to its GBG counterparts, and well worth a visit.

23 Nov 2010 17:34

The Chequers, Billericay

A quick stop-off in the town following a brewery tour which by rights should've meant we were off the beer (more a reflection on us than the amount of ale offered by the brewer!), led to us dropping in to the picturesque and I must say textbook classic British pub that is the Chequers. Wooden beams and cosy traditional interior? Check. Horsebrasses, nick-nacks and comforting old photos of yesteryear (which incidentally show the pub has hardly altered)? Check. Lots of interesting passages and alcoves? Check. A range of good cask beers and dispensed with a jolly disposition? Check. This was not a universal winner on every count, but on balance as an overall jack-of-most-trades, the Chequers seemed to be an ideal town pub, and this plainly wasn't going amiss with the local crowd, who had packed the place to its genuine oaken rafters.

The ales were not plentiful, but at 4 pumps that can be more than enough, and not every chouice was a ubqiuitous waste. We mostly went for the Adnams Old, which is all-too-rare a choice for those living outside East Anglia, and slipped down our collective hatches superbly.

Alas our visit was too brief to comment on any other elements in too great a depth, but there seemed to be something for everybody, in the many rooms and off-shoots surroudning the twisting and turning focus of the bar. I rather liked it, and chances are you would too. Only those who favour extremes in their pubs would feel let down.

23 Nov 2010 17:26

The Coal Hole, Strand

Indeed a beautiful example of a fine London hostelry, under the reliable husbandry of the consistently-appealing Nicholson's brand, which despite being under the M & B stable just goes to show that pubcos can do it when they want to.
The Coal Hole is essentially no different from the usual formula, i.e. a range of well-kept cask ales, good-quality traditional pub grub with an emphasis on pies and sausages, oaky wooden interiors and a distinct welcome lack of company branding. The oddity here is the curious neon-lit pub sign above the main door, which in some contexts could be dismissed as needlessly tawdry, although this being a main London thoroughfare and not far from the ostentatious over-egging of theatre-land, it sort of manages to sit the right side of ridicule.
Always busy in my experience, but notwithstanding this you should get service fairly speedily and if you're really lucky, with a smile. A mix of clientele from young students to wealthy old boys can be seen in here, with many bases covered in between. Not a unique pub experience, and perhaps a true individuality of character is lacking, but still compared to the numerous below-par excuses for boozers in the capital, your evening or lunchtime could go far further adrift than it would here.

Well worth a visit.

23 Nov 2010 17:16

The Clarence, Whitehall

After several visits to this pub en route up Whitehall over many years, I have finally found time to write a review of it.

My recent visit a week ago found the place considerably re-vamped, with a far more contemporary Londonesque, gastro-ish, airy-fairy feel to the interior, whose pastel green colour scheme endures on the once sold redbrick exterior too, for better or worse depending on one's taste. Personally, I think I preferred the old incarnation of the Clarence, and certainly the refurb has been the perfect excuse the ramp up the pricing no end. Whilst it is routinely perceived that most passing trade in this part of the world has more than enough spare cash, it does not mean it is always worth them parting with it.

On balance, a no from me, although I am bound to say that the cask ale was found in good nick, and for that reason I would not rule out a quick pint whilst passing through in future. The single malt selection was also enticing, and on this rare occasion drew me in, via a double measure, despite the inevitable wallop on the wallet.

I don't believe this pub was the right place for such an overhaul, and whilst not an unpleasant experience, I for one won't be able to ignore the cosy comfort and stoical character that it used to provide.

23 Nov 2010 17:08

The Lord Moon Of The Mall, Whitehall

Essentially a standard Wetherspoon's, offering what is now the familiar formula of by-numbers food and service, a regimented orderly layout, but a wide range of cask ales and in those located in grandiose older buildings, a splendidly-preserved and sensitively-refurbished interior. It is slightly unfortunate that the internal and external promise of the pub's architecture and the gravitas of its address cannot be matched in character and atmospheric terms. Although that said, this is far from a poor incarnation of the Tim Martin utopia of the one-size-fits-all pub concept, and certainly is worthy of inclusion on a Whitehall or Westminster-centred crawl. The prices are, as ever, hard to argue with, especially in a central London location where the 3 and over is not uncommon.

As to the matter of thefts touched upon below, I hung my overcoat up on a hook near to the bar and spent some time observing a chap standing in its immediate proximity apparently having a none-too-convincing mobile phone conversation, as if poised to pounce. I sensed he may not be especially trustworthy, and became somewhat agitated by his presence, although ultimately, my suspicions proved false in the end. Whilst I think I was a little over-sensitive to 'Capitalcrime' on this occasion, it does highlight the fact that if you leave any personal item of any value alone in a large pub, it would take no more than a blink of an eye before it disappears. I hope there isn't the sort of problem with pilfering here on the scale highlighted at the dreadful Shakespeare opposite Victoria station.

23 Nov 2010 17:02

The Blue Boar, Billericay

An average JDW in both appearance and atmosphere, but as always, a Wetherspoon rarely has the ignominy of being the worst pub in a town. I',m confident there must be pubs with worse service, poorer beer selection and quality, and over-priced grub in Billericay as there usually is everywhere. At least one knows firmly where one stands at a JDW: at best, excellent ale range and quality, good service and comfortable, if slightly anodine, accommodation. At worst, poor service, limited beer range and a hollowed-out husk of a pub. Happily this offering fell in between by my estimation. It was predictably busy, and the ale that flowed was in good nick. We didn't eat but one expects less with Wetherspoon food so I can't think we missed much.

Overall, acceptable, although not a place one would trouble oneself with if it's out of one's way.

15 Nov 2010 18:11

Queens Head, Coggeshall

A visit personally facilitated by the brewer at the Red Fox, Russell Barnes, who supplies the Queens Head's cask ales, and kindly agreed to take our party over to the pub and partake of some rather tasty sandwiches alongside more of his beer. None of your cheese and pickle either - meatball salsa, if you please! If this was a taster of the food at this establishment then I dareesay it can be highly-recommended; there is certainly a large enough dining room/conservatory to the rear which can service a large number of eaters so I imagine it's popular.

Ale-wise, only 3 on, but each was kept perfectly and if you enjoy Russell's range - it is extensive and he advised us that the pub turns over many different beers - you won't be disappointed. The Wiley Old Fox, Guy Fox (seasonal) and Red Fox Bitter were on song. All were dispensed by friendly and efficient ladies behind the bar.

An unspectacular building to look at outside, although apparently there has been an inn on the site for many centuries, and rather spartan and restauranty on the inside. One might be forgiven for thinking this is your routine by-numbers family Harvester-type operation, but think again: there are some hidden pleasures at the Queens Head. And you don't need a personal invitation from a local brewer!

15 Nov 2010 18:06

The Wenlock Arms, Hoxton

The London Drinker, for what it's worth, appear to remain very much in support of this classic, earthy multi-ale pub, as it is one of the few of its kind that remains in the capital. The latest edition details the current issues regarding the perhaps understandable desire for the licensees of some 16 years to sell up, but can at present only speculate as to whom they may yield to, and fear that it is highly likely that it will be developers rather than publicans, given the fact that the offer made to the owners is reputedly one they would find hard to refuse. In any event, it is hard to imagine it retaining its status as a kingpin free house. Naturally, for all the perceived faults in the way this pub is run, it is a gem in the cask ale crown in London and the local and national CamRA aficionadoes would be devastated to see it fall into the hands of yet more house-builders when it remains such a viable business as it is.

Much to my own chagrin, I've yet to visit the Wenlock, owing to it being a little off the beaten track for me, and as yet having had no obvious opportunities to waylay myself. But it seems I must bring forward my efforts to get there, for it may soon be too late, and if it does come to an end, I'd hate to think I hadn't at least had a couple of beers in its rarefied atmosphere.

You don't miss these things until they are gone!

9 Nov 2010 18:21

The Garland, Redhill

By way of an update on the everyday running of the G-spot: From this week, an expanded food menu is being made available, which features the same pub classics as in recent years, and a few slightly more adventurous options, all at similarly competitiive prices. It has been decided that there is sufficient interest in the local market to justify offering food in the early evening as well as lunch, up until 7PM. This is courtesy of one Pete Stevens, an affable cove who's stood in for Stuart & Lesley previously and has been given a regular position as Master of Victuals during the hours of kitchen activity.... Let's hope the quality remains high and that enough starving punters arrive before 7 to take advantage of the new regime. I'd hate people to turn up afterwards and have to be turned away.

Nevertehless, personally, I am pleased that the entire evening hasn't been entirely given over to food, as happily, the Garland remains the mecca for those of us who contribute heavily to wet sales during evenings, which help to keep it drink first, food second!

Best of luck Pete.

9 Nov 2010 18:10

The Nutley Hall, Reigate

The news here is indeed good - for the duration at any rate. This is not thanks to our weak-willed council who approved the development plans, and our spineless MP who was too busy to lend any real active support to the campaign which he claimed to have been passionate about. Rather, it was simply down to the licensee. John advised me a few weeks back that he had just signed a new 3-year lease on the pub with Hall & Woodhouse, who it seems were concerned that if John left the Nutley, trade was so indifferent that it would fail to attract any new takers and so would ultimately prove unviable as a pub. So not a cynical cash-in as such then?! In any case, happily John was perfectly willing and able to offer his solemn commitment to keep the place ticking over, and that was enough for them to withdraw. So, hopefully we have seen off any unwanted attempts to close it and develop it into housing - at least until 2013!

In the meantime, if it matters to you, make the most of it, and ensure you give the place as much support as you can. If trade demonstrably picks up by the time John does come to leave, it is less likely H & W will give up on it and will at least look for a suitable replacement so it can continue as more-or-less Reigate's only proper community pub.

And I should say for cask fans, the Badger remains on superb form!

8 Nov 2010 17:58

The Tuckers Grave Inn, Faulkland

Ah well, looks like my bad luck. Or should I say poor communication on the part of the local CamRA branch who should be advising HQ of the correct opening hours of their GBG entries?!

8 Nov 2010 17:50

The Tuckers Grave Inn, Faulkland

A substantive commentary cannot alas be given, as despite promises from the '11 GBG that this pub was open for business on a Monday lunchtime, the damn place was closed. Indeed, we wondered whether it had shut up shop altogether, given the wooden barricades and eerie quietness of the premises. However, tehre were signs of life in the rear quarters. Plainly, the proprietors had better things to do that day, or simply felt that they couldn't be arsed opening. A shame, as this attempt was my 4th in total, and on each occasion I've been thwarted by the arcane opening hours. I really thought I'd cracked it this time, but it was not to be.

The trouble is, it really is going to have to live well up to its legendary billing and beyond, as by the time I finally manage to gain ingress to the place my levels of anticipation will be stratospheric - especially as it suddently turns up at No 2 in BITE's daily chart!

4 Nov 2010 17:14

The Jolly Brickmakers, Redhill

Having only re-visited very occasionally since my first visit as a decidedly under-age quaffer in the early '90s, in the last few years I think this place has enjoyed a subtle and desirable shift in direction. Whilst the Jolly Bricks remains a steadfast working-class Redhillian local, which indeed it should, as it is a community pub in a residential area, and it is to those residents it should be pitching, the current licensee appreciates that this should not been the pub needs to attract the rougher edge of the town's clientele, and that there is a gap in the market in north Redhill for an earthy, simple, yet quality and civilised boozer.
The JB does not pander to the yobs, and there is more to it than predicatable lager fonts and a pool table. A range of 3 cask ales are now featured, and Dick (said licensee) reliably informed me when I popped in for a recent beer festival he was holding, that they sell very nicely, despite my doubts that the regulars would buy in. Real ale is plainly a labour of love for this chap, who has gradually built up an interest since taking over in 2002, but alas being a Brakspear pubco outlet, and thereby tied to the Marston's beer list, his hands are somewhat tied and he is not able to lay on the breadth of beer he'd like to. Nevertheless, he had done well for his fest: the full range of Marston's (which lest we forget now takes in Jennings and Ringwood), plus 4 offerings from 2 local brewers which he'd persuaded them to allow (Dorking and Pilgrim). If only there were a little more flexibility, who knows? This pub could become one of the gems in the local cask ale crown.

Still, as it is, it does well. Besides beer, there is a welcoming feel in the 2-bar layout (a rarity in these parts in itself), which retains much of its Victorian character. Basic but hearty grub is laid on, and service on my few visits of late has been excellent - well done ladies!

Slightly off my patch normally, but I do feel I should support this place more. Perhaps some of you might too.

2 Nov 2010 17:58

The Bag O' Nails, Bristol

The latest news is apparently positive - a buyer has been found and word on the street is that they intend to re-open it has a pub. Let us hope they stick to the tried and tested formula, for let's be honest - it was not that which failed the pub.

1 Nov 2010 16:08

The King William, Bath

Alas, this pub is I believe up for sale. I can only hope a suitable person or persons realises they have a winning formula if they stick to how it is presently.

1 Nov 2010 16:07

The Garricks Head, Bath

I have now made a couple of visits to the Garrick since it has been universally overhauled as a gastro-haunt clearly pitching at the pre/post-theatre glitterati of the city. The decor is fiiting for the building's quality and period and doesn't jar, and there is plenty of space for drinkers as well as diners. The service, at least on my brief acquaintance, has been efficient, if not enthusiastic. The pricing strategy is, rightly or wrongly, set at a higher bar but then considering the likely clientele, this should come as little surprise. To my relief, a pleasant little array of 3 cask beers are now offered, and on both occasions I have found these to be on form. Stonehenge ales often feature and are always kept beautifully.

The crowning glory however, if one reads the local press, is the food. Yet, when I ate there in 2009 (thought I'd reviewed this at the time but apparently not), I was decidedly underwhelmed by the quality of the food. Given that it is now a year since I partook, don't expect dissected detail, but suffice to say although it was passable, it did not measure up to its billing - or its price tags.

Maybe I was unfortunate; I wouldn't avoid eating here again, but given the plethora of options in Bath, many of which have proven themselves time and time again, it will be some time before I give it another spin.

Please don't assume it's too dreaadfully cliquey though; some folk instantly take offence at somewhere that's marketed at the higher end of things, and their views can sometimes be found to be unbalanced accordingly.

1 Nov 2010 16:04

The Robin Hood, Bristol

I had twigged on my last-but-one appearance in Bristol that this old-time favourite of mine had recently endured a makeover, and initial glances suggested it had been of the misguided variety, with a hotel-style glass front door, light and airy decor and the ubiquitous nasty laminate flooring all in evidence. However, a friend who had sampled it since did advise that despite the arguablu inappropriate contemporary touches, it doesn't seem to jar so much once within, and the ale and beer selection had improved considerably, along with the food menu.

My chance came to test this opinion out 3 weeks back and by and large I agree. There are some traditional touches still remaining inside, and it hasn't completely been given over to bistro-chic. Not as cosy as it once was, but then it's aprice worth paying for the range of 6 excellently-kepy cask beers, alongside various genuine imports on tap which undoubtedly the local students think are the trendy option. Stick to Glastonbury or Yeovil beers - there's some really good stuff coming through these pumps now.

Food should be superb if it has a chance of being commensurate with its pricetag; I am not too certain who they are pitching to here? Neither nurses from the nearby hospital or students from the University would be that interested in sub-gastro fare I'd have thought - perhaps the local residential crowd take advantage of an evening. Still, good luck to them. I notice they've made a little more of the small beer garden at the back - always a claustrophobic but private little enclave.

Not a perfect blueprint for every outlet, and this may yet divide some visitors as to its relevance. But the quality with regard to beer is certainly not in question.

1 Nov 2010 15:53

The Halfway House, Pitney

Oh dammit I just had to drop an updated review for this pub, not because there's been some dreadful change of fortunes, but simply to underline just how good it continues to be! Off the top of my head, here are 10 good reasons for making a visit to the Halfway House: 1) A superb range of locally-sourced cask ales and ciders, served direct from the casks. 2) A less-generous, but still enticing range of down-to-earth local pub grub, which is very high quality. 3) Friendly service. 4) An equally jolly mixed clientele. 5) A cosy traditional interior that just oozes comfort especially in the colder months when the log fire is roaring. 6) A lovely garden which comes into its own on hotter days. 7) An unspoilt rural location that is served not only by motorists but also a local bus service. 8) A spacious interior with plenty of seating - although sometimes this can be overlooked due to the pub's understandable popularity. 9) A generous car park and children's play area away from the pub. 10) Even the toilets continue to be kept in decent condition!

I mean, if anyone doesn't like a pub exhibiting all these characteristics, then by all means don't bother looking this place up. But I'd have to wonder whether you like pubs per se if you don't. Go there. Even if you live in John O'Groats or Enniskillen. It won't be a wasted journey!

21 Oct 2010 17:55

The George Inn, Middlezoy

I'm surprised to find that this place hasn't been rated more enthusiastically by this site's users. It is something of a classic country pub which clearly plays a key role as a community focus, as thankfully not all of Middlezoy's residents are commuters with no interest in their local village, and is at home to the drinker and eater, although primarily the former I would say.
The pub is set in a charming quiet village street, and is immediately welcoming upon entry. The service was efficient and friendly, and there appears to be no inclination on the part of regulars to regards strangers with suspicion.
Well-kept cask beers can always be found - naturally the main draw for TWG - which included a truly excellent Otter Bright on my last visit on Sunday. Also sampled was a cask cider - Ashton Press Still - which was equally delightful and fresh as a daisy. An excellent way to begin a country pub crawl, in fact.

I rather like the George at Middlezoy, and I fully intend to get here more often in future.

21 Oct 2010 17:44

The Bell, Rode

Not having previously been acquainted with the 'Flatcappers' pubco concept, a friend and I were drawn here yesterday lunchtime by the trusty CamRA Good Beer Guide. The 2011 edition makes much of this pub's recent renaissance as a smart, gastro-leaning, ale-friendly country pub/restaurant, and it was not awry in its promise. I don't know what the previous incarnation offered, but the Bell will now offer you a range of 6 cask beers - the Glastonbury Hedge Monkey was on fine form although the Plain Innocent had a touch of line-cleaner about it: make sure this isn't a frequent issue, folks.
Food-wise, a fairly generous range of dishes are on show, although somewhat inevitable one has to wonder whether the prices are truly commensurate with the quality; we didn't eat so cannot say, but suffice it to say that to charge waht they do, the chef needs to be turning out some pretty exceptional pub food to justify it.
Clearly this is pitched at the affluent middle class and even semi-aristocratic country milieu; the series of Country Life Magazine covers in the Gents featuring fine young fillies (no I don't mean horses!) eligible for furthering their old money fortunes with the right bachelors was an original and amusing touch, but I think does drop a heavy hint at the kind of people the pub now aims at.

Decor was immaculate and service was efficient and welcoming. I just don't know that it has the cosiness and comfort of some of its more traditional, less-overblown counterparts in nearby villages. It does what it promises to do, but whether it's always what one requires of a sojourn to a Somerset pub will depend on the mood and preferences of each visitor.

19 Oct 2010 18:17

The Ring o' Bells, Moorlynch

Finally pitched up up here for only my second visit in 4 years, given its charming rural location and continuous Good Beer Guide support. My last visit was paid on a miserable wet day; this time round the weather was very clement and this helped show off the pub's potential. It was Sunday lunchtime and numerous punters were enjoying the victuals offered on the wide-ranging food menu. Most tastes would be catered for and it went well beyond the standard production-line roasts that many pubs seem to think is sufficient fare for a Sunday.
There were only 2 ales on offer - we tried the Cotleigh Golden Seahawk which delivered a clean and fresh flavour. Note halves are charged at more than half the price of a pint, but as it's openly declared on the beer menu it's all above board. Also, CamRA members note that a 30p discount can be redeemed on pints - alas I didn't twig this until well after I'd ordered and paid full price. It seemed churlish to ask for the refund in retrospect, especially as the service had been affable enough.
Clientele ranged from older couples to young families, although the accent was on well-heeled country folk. Decor-wise, one gets what one expects in the main bar area; horse-brasses and black beams abound. Nothing amiss with that.
Well worth seeking out if in need of ale, food, or both.

19 Oct 2010 18:07

The Wyndham Arms, Kingsbury Episcopi

My first appearance at this pub occurred last weekend, on a rather superb crawl of numerous Beer-Guide-listed hostelries in the general North Somerset area. The Wyndham offers an almost Cotswold-style picture-postcard exterior, which exudes centuries of history, and the interior matches perfectly, adorned with all kinds of traditional bric-a-brac, breweriana, and of course, a vast log fire which yields very welcome heat on a chilly Autumn day.
Only a few locals could be found clustering around the bar, although in fairness this was 5PM on a Sunday afternoon which is rarely a country pub's highpoint for trade. The licensee was a slightly hippy-ish but laidback character, who seemed to have grown into the place well and was clearly well-liked by regulars.
Ale selection was wide-ranging acorss 5 pumps, including 1 cask cider (Ashton Press Still), although the beers weren't especially unusual in this area, where so many splendid pubs dispense such a wide range of local offerings). Conditioning was good on my choice, but my chum's Butcombe was variable. Probably unlucky.
Food was plainly in evidence although neither being served nor required at the time of our emergence, so no comment can be offered on that front.

All in all a friendly and charming pub with much to commend it, albeit perhaps not on the exceptional lines of of some of its nearby neighbours.

19 Oct 2010 18:01

The Ring O'Bells, Ashcott

An opportunity arose last Sunday to pay a maiden visit to this GBG-listed and well-respected hostelry, tucked away in a quiet Somerset village. It is located on the 'High Street' but don't expect the usual wide boulevard of pubs, restaurants and shops; this place is found on a side-road up the hill and is surrounded by housing.
A slightly uneasy mix both in and outside of traditional pub with 1960s extension tacked on the back, the Ring O' Bells nevertheless exudes a comfortable, cosy character in which one can enjoy a range of 3 excellently-kept cask ales (including on our visit the rarely-seen Isle of Avalon Sunset), and ostensibly at least some pretty decent home-cooked food.
The landlord, hailing not from Somerset but Northamptonshire, is a pleasant and affable cove, who was most informative about various aspects of the pub when engaged quite willingly in conversation.
The atmosphere is one of gentle conviviality and the clientele was fairly mixed; observations suggested middle-class young couples and families were rubbing shoulders with older working-class single folk quite conducively.

There are numerous pubs of this name in this region; I remain unsure as to exactly why given that many village boozers across the nation were sited in sound of nearby church bells and yet do not reflect their peal in their title, so don't get this confused with the others. Although I am bound to say that most of the other Rings o' Bells are just as worthwhile!

Jolly good; keep up the good work.

19 Oct 2010 17:52

The Rising Sun, Redditch

Take the now-tried-and-tested Wetherspoon template and apply it anywhere across the nation, and chances are you won't ever end up with the worst pub in the locality, even if the food is factory-farmed, the atmosphere is ambivalent, products are cheap but not always cheerful, and some of the less-desirable denizens of society tend to spend rather too much time there. Indeed, often the local Wethy can emerge as one of the finer hostelries in town, for usually they offer a clutch of cask ales, a surfeit of seating, individualised interior design and a mixed pack of punters which in a large enough pub can be sought out and hopefully provide a vestige of civility even when others lack it.
In this case, I'd say it leans more towards the latter end of the spectrum. Good beer (mostly local I think), in the customary broad range, served by attentive, friendly staff. Being a Friday the pub was busy but with a pleasant mix of old and young, and overall the vibe was a peaceful and pleasant one - notwithstanding the presence of outsized and over-coated doormen who perhaps suggest there is an edgier element in Redditch which needs containment?!

If I lived locally I would not envisage spending all my time here, for there are other worthy and less-obvious options that would absorb attention, but I certainly wouldn't dismiss it as it would always represent a reliable choice, and I imagine could form a useful stop-off if on a wider crawl around town.

6 Oct 2010 18:01

The Woodland Cottage, Redditch

Not immediately prepossessing from the exterior appearance, although pleasant enough. A rather crass extension at the side houses the main entrance area, which seems to be a dead space smelling rather too strongly of cleaning fluid, and reminiscent of a social club rather than a pub. Indeed, this place generally maintains that feeling of a club environment even once safely installed in the rather more homely and inviting main part of the building - which was incidentally free from the astringent aromas.
However, I do not mean this is a negative way; quite the contrary, as we found it to be a friendly local which clearly benefits from sound trade from its immediate community, yet we did not feel sidelines for not being recognisable. Moreover, not only good cheer but good beer was also available. 4 cask ales featured, mostly well-known options such as Landlord (which 2 out of 8 went for and said was good), but the less-ubiquitous offering came in the form of Cannon Royall Fruiterers Mild (sampled successfuly by the remaining 6 - very full-flavoured for a mild with a rich chewy raisiny quality, and well-conditioned despite taking so long to get pulled owing to the use of a largely superfluous sparkler).
Plenty of seating is available, and to the rear one looks out of the French doors onto what appeared to be a commodious and pleasant beer garden. Sadly it was just a tad too chilly for us to make use of it on our last visit, which was Fri 24 Sep and Autumn was even than starting to show its hand.

Not exceptional, or somewhere worth taking a significant detour to find, but if in the general area and in need of warmth and watering, you could do far worse than pitch up here.

6 Oct 2010 17:48

Plough, Worcester

Despite being a first-time visitor to the city, I left this pub feeling like I was not only a resident, but a regular! Whilst neither the bar staff nor the customers endeavoured to ingratiate themselves, they were very jolly and their welcome extended in my direction was such that I felt instantly at home. Unusually, I opted to leave the rest of my compadres to it and remained bar-bound, and the banter flowed effortlessly and amusingly. We even managed to laugh off the fact that I was charged 200,000 for a pint of ale! Ah, the joys of modern technology.
Speaking of the beer, there were a good range of 6 featured, with all but 1 not on perfect form. The offending ale was the Cheltenham SPA which is an oddity at the best of times, but once it became clear that customers weren't loving it, it was taken off. All other beers, mostly from bearby breweries, were splendid, and all priced very reasonably at well below 3. So much so that something of an impromptu session developed, and let's be honest, they're always the best aren't they?!
Baguettes were available and looked tempting but solids were not on our menu at that stage.

I fell I could go back here in a year's time and even if I wasn't remembered, I'd be treated as if I'd been a frequent visitor for many years previous. Well done folks and I hope to get back to enjoy your wares again someday.

1 Oct 2010 18:34

The Dragon Inn, Worcester

Drawn to this pub thanks to the GBG, we were not in any way disappointed. There were 6 ales dispensed on handpump, and unusually none could be considered ubiquitous or a "standard" choice; each one was an unusual and intriguing selection and whilst this may throw the lover of more generic brews, to those who revel in the untried and untested it was a winner. Despite the distance, the Dragon seems to have formed an attachment to the Little Ale Cart Brewery of Sheffield, and there was nowt wrong in that; their beers were found to have travelled superbly. All others - mostly Locales - were also in cracking form, and all served by a convivial barman. The atmosphere was mellow and relaxed, and we felt we could just as happily have been visiting single-handedly as in a large group and would've been equally comfortable.
Food looked to be reasonable and on for similarly competitive prices to the beer, although we were not in the market for food at that point. Note the Top 3 topics of conversation currently banned - one of our number was a little too keen on the history of locomotives and I had to warn him of the possible penalty if he pursued this avenue!

An otherwise unexceptional city pub, but the ales and overall ethos of the place really does lift it and render this a must-call for quaffers who fetch up in Worcester.

1 Oct 2010 18:26

The Waggon and Horses, Halesowen

This is indeed a splendid traditional hostelry, with its emphasis firmly on a readily-changing broad spectrum of cask ales, but also with a serious nod to down-to-earth simple pub snacks using the best quality ingredients. The bar is in one long line with an arsenal of pumps ready for action - quite an impressive sight and without prior knowledge, one would not expect it from the pleasant but unexceptional exterior. This is where the Good Beer Guide is invaluable.
At least 10 beers were available on our visit, most of which were sampled by each one of our 8-strong party. Quite simply, there were no complaints. Au contraire, in fact: this pub was at or near the top of many people's list out of 25 or so visited on a canal boat holiday stretching from Alvechurch via Birmingham, Dudley and Worcester and back again.
The landlord was knowledgeable and welcoming. No pretence, but not in any way base either. This was a pub that does what it does very well, but very quietly and with no frills and furbelows.
The turkey and ham pie with gherkin and mustard was quite simply the best I've sampled - boy do they know how to do pies in this neck of the woods! Straightforward, cheap, tasty fare using sound ingredients and excellent fodder to support what will inevitably be a fairly heavy session on the ale.
The pub is friendly, and capacious with plenty of seating around if bar-proppage does not appeal. We managed 2 visits in the same night, so clearly it was doing lots of things right!

A true classic - those of you lucky enough to visit regularly please make sure you continue to do so as any threat of closure would be an inestimable loss.

1 Oct 2010 18:18

The Hawne Tavern, Halesowen

This is a welcoming local, reminiscent of numerous front rooms in the 1970s/'80s. But somehow it's none the worse for that, primarily thanks to its unexpectedly broad range of cask ales - around 8 in total, all of which were found in great condition. A minor disappointment was that all were of the pale variety; given that we were entering Autumn it seemed perverse not to have at least some brown or dark beers on, but as a pale ale lover it wasn't such a hardship to stay within that stable.
The punters were friendly, as were the bar staff, and for a weekday evening the place was pleasantly busy, which sadly one can't always take for granted even in superior local hostelries in residential areas these days.
There is considerable space in what is essentially a traditional 2-bar layout - there seem to be far more pubs in this Region that have retained this feature than in those further south, and it was a joy to see.

Well worth a few jars if you find yourself meandering around the Halesowen area.

1 Oct 2010 18:10

The Queens, Stoke Pound

It is unusual to find such a gastro-orientated slick operation for a canalside pub; it perhaps would've been more at home in a town centre and the well-dressed clientele suggested it was a rather more urbane affair than many of its country cottage counterparts.
However, don't let the rather formalised, restaurantish way it is managed put you off, for you shall sample some of the finest food at the Queens. Some opted for the mxied buffet, helping themselves to a rake of ill-suited ingredients shoved together on a single plate in the name of good value. All well and good, but for a high-quality, balanced single meal, pay a little more and you shall not regret it. The slow-cooked blade of beef with mash and wine jus was outstanding - rarely have I tasted beef as tender and moreish as that. A real treat. Despite hitting the jackpot with this choice I remained envious of my comrades, one of whom had gone for the fish pie which looked equally excellent, and the other the cod loin. All were polished off comfortably and with deserved compliments to the chef.

The manager - a former customer - was on the ball and organised the ever-busying punters adeptly and politely. He managed to avail us of a table to accommodate 8 despite having no booking, and was most convivial. He would do well in a larger operation such as a good hotel restaurant.

Beer-wise, it's a GBG-listed outlet, and we weren't unhappy with the 3 choices - Hobson's Mild, Wetheroak Ale and Wye Valley HPA. The latter 2 were superb, although I was told that the Mild was a bit ropey. Bad luck. It was the most expensive round on our holiday - 23 - but all is relative. Locally that was high but to us South-Easterners, not bad at all!

If you want traditional cottagey comfort and home-made classics, think again. However, if a smart, contemporary pub and restaurant with excellent food is in your sights, pull off here and fill those boots.

29 Sep 2010 17:59

The Bridge Inn, Tibberton

I can echo what the last reviewer said over 4 years ago, although me being me I shall obviously expand on those themes!
For want of anywhere better to moor up overnight we picked Tibberton, where research suggested there were 2 pubs to choose from. Neither were GBG-endorsed but that's not always possible and in fairness some pretty decent beer will be missed if one only sticks to those which manage a berth in the beer bible.
Ale-wise there was nothing outlandish on offer; the usual Banks's duopoly of Original and Bitter, with a Marston's seasonal called Royal Ryder in honour of the Golf tournament of the same name. The first pint was past its best but a new one went on and although it was hardly a memorable pint, the conditioning was far better. The Banks's was consistently acceptable too.
More noteworthy here perhaps is the food - not only the reasonable quality and range, but the sheer portion size! All of us chose various different dishes but each one was piled high, to the point where even the most capacious of appetites became exhausted and had to leave some lying on the plate. The starter was more fit for a main course (in my case the stilton-stuffed mushrooms), and the main (steak and ale) was superb but hearty to say the least.
We were served by a very sweet and friendly young lady who was very attentive, and not in any way surly, which alas so many of her age group working on a weekday evening would be. She said they'd had complaints about the portion sizes before, which seems perverse as it represented excellent value, but maybe trimming them down wouldn't do any harm?!

We decamped to the garden to "sit" some of it off, and it rounded off a very mellow and satisfying evening.

As a counterpoint to this, the other pub, which is not yet listed on this site, the Speed The Plough, was just down the road. By way of comparison we checked it out, and whilst we found it was a nice traditional cosy pub with well-kept beer (Banks's only), we were made to feel decidedly unwelcome by the landlady, who clearly had several points to prove, and who was downright rude despite the prospect of 8 people drinking and possibly eating at her pub. I shan't dwell on it, but suffice to say there is plainly a "minority" element at the Speed, and of the two pubs I would strongly advise you patronise the Bridge. I would frankly be amazed if the latter wasn't the only pub left in the village in a year or two, given the attitude of the licensee at the former. Be warned!

Well done folks; keep up the good work and just stick a few less chips on your plates!

29 Sep 2010 17:49

Old Crown Inn, Stourport On Severn

Essentially predictable Wetherspoon outlet, other than perhaps the location itself - I didn't expect to find one in Stourport but then again that's how far the reach of T Martin goes these days.
I recall the beer selection was reasonable, mostly local options on our visit. I forget which I sampled; I don't think it was my cup of tea but then again it was conditioned well enough.
2 of our party ate and were more than satisfied with their fare, although I am bound to say their palates may be a little more roughly-hewn than some others in the entourage! Still, one gets what one pays for and rarely can a 'Spoon pub be said to offer the worst value for what it is.
The decor was fairly standard JDW design, which I must say fitted the building (which looked 1930s?) quite suitably. There are views from a terrace with seating across towards the Basin, but alas a car park intervenes and so won't deliver quite the promise it might first appear to hold. The toilets were modelled on the award-winning design seen frequently in other outlets and were immaculate - just the place to dispose of what you have just taken on board!

29 Sep 2010 17:36

Angel Inn, Stourport on Severn

An imposing, what looks to be Georgian, pub down by the broad locks of the canal which separates into two routes at Stourport; 1 for narrow the other for broader vessels. It is a Marston's house, which meant a couple of Banks's and 3 Marston brands were on offer. Most were kept well, although sadly the EPA, which formed the greater part of our 8-pint order, was past its best and despite not wanting to "make a scene" on our maiden appearance in the place, and having received a warm welcome from landlady and punters alike, we decided it was undrinkable and returned the offending pints. Nevertheless, I should say we were furnished with replacements (Banks Original) without complaint, as the lady admitted to "not drink the stuff" herself so was pleased to be advised. We didn't see the EPA clip turn so we only hope the cellarman who does presumably drink cask ale changed it pronto. Our milds, incidentally, were fine.

TV was on but wasn't too obtrusive; toilets were used and found to be in good nick, and there was enough seating for us all get bums on seats. Generally this is a comfortable and pleasant pub. Assuming the EPA incident was an occasional aberration, overall this was to be commended.

29 Sep 2010 17:31

The Vine (Bull & Bladder), Brierley Hill

A quick stop-off following the rigours of the Delph locks allowed us to pop in to the B 'n' B for a couple, after a long trudge up the hill ignoring other pubs which may have been satisfactory for all we knew, but it was the Bathams brewery tap we were after.
Only 2 of the maximum 3 Bathams on - the Mild and the Best - but nowt wrong with that as both were found to be in fine fettle. Our by-then customary round of 7 beers were ordered and I honestly thought the barmaid's arm would snap as she was painfully thin, but this belied her fitness as she pumped each one up with vigour, and with top-ups to boot!
The pub is deceptively large and houses many drinking areas, and at the rear there is a covered area and generous garden for drier days. The front parlour is adorned with interesting old newspaper articles about the pub and the local beer landscape in days gone by. It has a rich history with the brewery dating back to the 1870s.

The pies and baguettes looked superb - like so much pub grub in this region, simple but highly effective and good value. That said I omitted to sample it, although one of the crew did so and was most pleased. Unfortunately, due to a serious hygiene issue of one of the regulars, we had to decamp to the garden - a friendly enough chap but really, if he carries on like that he could lose the pub some business!

29 Sep 2010 17:22

The Church Tavern, Perry Barr

Not the sort of place I or my compadres would ordinarily have chosen to pitch up to, but unfortunately choice was severely restricted, having been forced moor up our narrowboat nearby and take some lunch. Even when a canal holiday is planned meticulously, there isn't ALWAYS a convenient Beer-Guide-listed boozer in the vicinity of every stop-off to satiate a thirst for decent ale!
So we ended up here as it was a) open and b) served meals. It was a 1930s roadside sort of pub; many of the like are now closed but this one seems to be going strong and was full of local families on a Sunday afternoon. Some people complained that the grub wasn't up to scratch, although those of us who opted for the "chicken specials" which came in a variety of configurations were not disappointed. Guilty pleasure though it may have been, my food was tasty, filling, and not the plasticated microwaved mush that one tends to expect from these kind of pubs - or should that be restaurants with a bar in them. Perhaps the previous comment is correct in saying that there's been an improvement in food quality. And nobody could argue the "2 for 1" deals represented excellent value for what we got.

The bad news? Well, you guessed it, the ale. In that there wasn't any. Well, no cask; only bland over-chilled creamy ersatz keg Olde Speckled Hen. I can no longer entertain keg bitter so opted for coke and in truth was happy to have a break from what was an 8-pint day every day for 7!

There were the usual gaggles of poorly-behaved and rowdy young children in evidence; admittedly most were outdoors although I suspect this was not out of consideration to others, but to allow their bovine parents to smoke numerous cigarettes in between courses. Sorry, but I find I am less and less able to tolerate this sort of thing and it does spoil the environment of any pub. Then again, I am not criticising the management for this, as large food-driven value outlets will attract large families and that's business.
As a footnote I should say the service was good, and all staff we dealt with seemed pleasant and at least had the appearance of being pleased to serve.

As a committed real ale lover I feel I should grade this as 2 or 3 for having no cask options at all, but maybe they've tried and the local market just aren't interested. In recognition of the fact that there is more to a pub than just beer (gasp!) I shall bump up to 4 as t he food was okay and it served its purpose.

29 Sep 2010 17:14

The Starving Rascal, Stourbridge

Not somewhere which we'd instinctively have ventured into on our travels, as it appears to be a fairly bog-standard corner local, but it was listed on the Beer Guide as having worthy enough cask ale and cider to merit inclusion so we went with it.
Beer-wise, the selection was very limited and I had to own up to being somewhat disappointed. Maybe we were unlucky, and beer clips adorning the walls suggested we had been, but I can only speak as I found. I daresay what was on was in good nick as my partners-in-quaff didn't complain. For my part I opted for a Thatchers Heritage, which was excellent.
Like many pubs in this neck of the woods, it was notable for having a classic traditional interior, and a continuous row of bottles running round the shelf near the ceiling.
Service seemed fine, and although there weren't many in, the punters didn't make us feel unwelcome either.
Character intact; a pleasant enough boozer. But maybe not somewhere you'd go out of your way for.

29 Sep 2010 16:55

The Old Swan, Netherton

Alas, unlike the previous commentator, I will not be in a position to visit this pub again with friends in the near future, having only managed to get here last week by virtue of a recent narrowboat holiday on the nearby canal. I had heard of "Ma Pardoe's" and knew of its legendary brew-pub history, and I now know exactly what I'm missing. The complete range of 3 Old Swan brews (as detailed by Mr Bonser 1 year ago) were available at extremely competitive prices (1.80 to 2.40) plus the latest seasonal offering for Autumn which was due to begin officially a couple of days later. All were very easy drinking ales, and covered a range of styles; happily we were in situ for long enough to sample all and they were well-kept, if a little lacking in real bite compared to some of its hoppier, more radical Southern counterparts, but that is not really a fair critique as the quality of the brews is simply different rather than inferior. To us they represented exceedingly good value, and were good for an early-start session.

The place was an absolute dream for traditional pub lovers who prefer to do their suppage in a cosy, comfortable time-warp, which betrays very little of the present world in its decor and layout and hopefully that will never alter. It boasts a large drinking area, with walls bedecked by old brewery/boozer memorabilia, and a wonderful photograph of the aforementioned proprietress resplendent in 1920s garb. Quite a looker in her day, actually. The pub has various smaller drinking snugs accessible from the corridor at the side. One could easily bury oneself in here and be willingly forgotten.

Bar staff were smartly-attired and contrary to other reports were favourable to us, and provided good service. Indeed, we chanced our arm and asked for a quick tour of the small tower brewery at the back, which proved worthwhile as they kindly agreed to show us around, despite the fact that they were brewing at the time. The brewery is fascinating, with its old-fashioned accoutrements (including a wooden tun which they have to keep moist to stop it leaking!), and homely, small-scale activity. The brewer was a mild-mannered quiet sort of cove who was clearly very good at his job; you got the feeling he'd been doing it for decades and probably his father before him. There was a whiff of malt but much more subtle than many small breweries, and the whole place exuded a character which most industrial-estate-based modern micros simply cannot emulate. It was a real bonus to be granted access to view it in action.

Food was available, albeit no-nonsense basic pie-orientated fare, which had we not had other plans would have been useful, especially at equally low prices as the beer.

Really this was chalked up by myself and my other 7 crew members as one of the best pub experiences of our holiday (actually I could cut the word "pub" as most of our experiences off the water were in pubs!), and I would heartily recommend it to anyone who truly loves the features I and others have described on these reviews. A gem on the coal face, almost literally.

29 Sep 2010 16:48

The Swan, Stourbridge

Quite simply, a cracking, pretense-free, down-to-earth local that I found instantly appealing upon my first - and unfortunately quite probably my last - visit here last week. Despite being an early week night the pub had a good number of drinkers on board, and although arguably a little intrusive, good music was being pumped out and this helped to cement the atmosphere quite nicely. I believe 3 ales were on, all pale, which is not an issue for me although one can say that this style is perhaps somewhat over-stocked at the minute. In any case, they were found to be on fine form and slipped down the hatch a treat!
The bar staff were lively but not precocious and I found them rather entertaining. They really looked like they were making the most of their shift. At one point when I was overheard asking why West Brom Albion are referred to as the Baggies, one piped up with "well I don't know love, but all I know is they're SHIT!" Crude, yes. Vulgar, I'm afraid so. But funny, and especially said in the local accent! Sometimes you need a pub that can strip out the frippery and get back to basics, without becoming a mecca for morons. The Swan seems to have managed it.
It also is notable for retaining its original 2-bar layout, although the rather twee and prissy flowery wallpaper in the left-hand bar didn't quite seem to fit!
Well done folks; don't ever change!

27 Sep 2010 18:06

The Robin Hood, Stourbridge

In the vicinity following mooring up our narrowboat nearby, we were ion the market not only for good ale pubs, but also one that could serve decent grub. After a bit of a trying schlep up the hill, we finally happened upon the Robin Hood, which immediately exuded a feeling of liveliness and good cheer. It is an attractive, double-fronted exterior and the front rooms have the cosy feel of your own living room, without being bland. Note the impressive and continuous row of bottled beers around the top of the walls.
Both punters and staff appeared friendly, and we keenly engrossed ourselves in the range of 5 interesting ales, which covered a considerable range of styles and strengths. Forgive me for not remembering them now, but this was one of 25 or so we visited in a week! I can say that they were found in excellent nick though.
Food-wise, there was a similarly broad range of hearty dishes. Some of these, such as the chicken stuffed with black pudding covered with a stilton sauce, err on the rich side and it won't suit everyone's palate, but despite some initial doubts the quality of these dishes proved to be high. We ate in the restaurant area in which one receives waiter service from a barman, who must've been increasingly busy with drinks orders as the pub started to fill up.

Overall, I really rather enjoyed myself here, and it is only a shame that I probably won't be in this locality again for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless I would not hesitate recommending to those of you who are and who enjoy generous good value grub and good ale that you should investigate the Robin Hood ASAP.

27 Sep 2010 17:59

Maverick, Stourbridge

A fascinating pub which seems to have adopted an American Wild West theme to it, apparently courtesy of the licensee. However, dismiss the Maverick as a fly-by-night manufatured pubco theme bar at your peril, for regardless of whether one appreciates the Cowboy and Country memorabilia or not, the pub is clean, spacious, comfortable, and most significantly, sports a range of 4 well-kept cask ales. An oddity, one might think, but somehow it works, as it is evocative of some US bars where one does now find a sometimes staggering range of local micro-brewed beers on tap.
We were welcomed by a jolly and engaging barmaid who dispensed some super beer, and we all enjoyed regressing to our childhoods by failing to resist a spin of the wall-mounted roulette wheel behind us! Somehow, it just about managed to steer clear of tawdry, partly because of its out-of-town location (really this is Amblecote not Stourbridge).

Anyone who knows me should be assured I wouldn't write a positive review of a corny Yankee theme pub - so don't be too quick to dismiss this place if you're in the area. There are a number of Good Beer Guide-listed boozers within walking distance which all have merits, and this forms a good starting point for such exploration.

27 Sep 2010 17:51

Ye Olde Leathern Bottel, Wednesbury

The previous commentator says "mellow pub" and having dropped in here for a quick pint 2 weekends ago I can completely appreciate the sentiment. The pub is olde worlde and perhaps to some the surfeit of Victoriana, complete with horse brasses, copper-topped tables and oak pannelling might seem a little too heavy. This didn't unduly concern me however and I was just pleased to find a friendly licensee (sporting a shirt and tie - how often does one see that these days - nice touch!), and equally enthusiastic conversation from a couple of local chaps, a father and son who knew the area well and were interested to hear why a bunch of Southern Softies had emerged in Wednesbury of all places!
Ale-wise, it didn't quite match the promise that the Beer Guide implied; the most exciting option was Wye Valley HPA but it was immaculately-kept and if that's an indication of the usual standard, then I have no complaints. We noted that 4 days after our visit a festival was planned, with some less familiar choices on offer - I hope that event worked well for them.

Really this pub will appeal primarily on grounds of its cosy interior and characterful kerb-appeal, in an otherwise mixed built-up area. It is perhaps unexceptional, and maybe even a little dated, but that doesn't mean you'd be disappointed if you dropped in for a drink or two. I am confident you'd receive as warm a welcome as we did.

27 Sep 2010 17:41

The Rosehill Tavern, Wednesbury

A friendly local boozer in the residential back-streets of Wednesbury, which seemed to swing quite markedly between quiet, almost twee middle classness in parts to roughly-hewn, somewhat deprived working class character in others. This pub would appear to straddle the two, and was all the better for it as it was a respectable friendly place without being too drab or gritless.
We received a hearty welcome at the bar, and ordered liberally from the range of about 5 cask ales on - our visit had been decreed by the '11 GBG which suggested this was worth the trouble - and by and large, it was. The Theakston and Banks's Milds were found to be good, as were the others sampled, which included Palmers Copper Ale; surely a rarity in these parts but it had travelled okay.
TVs were in full swing as it was Sunday afternoon, so we decamped to the commodious and well-kept garden area at the rear, which did the job well although being at the fag end of Summer it was debatable as to whether it was warm enough.

I don't imagine that I'll ever come back here, not because I didn't enjoy the pub, but because I can't see me ever landing for a night in Wednesbury again! All the same, if ever I were, I would probably look the Rosehill up if I fancied a pint or two of decent beer.

27 Sep 2010 17:35

The Bell Wether, Wednesbury

A most unusual location to my mind for a JDW, and besides its usual livery it would not immediately leap out as such to the casual passer-by. I assumed this was a recent addition to their stable, but apparently it recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, so what do I know?
We found a reasonable range of cask ales, and each was found in good nick. Prices were predictably low and it probably resulted in the cheapest round of our entire holiday (we had moored at Wednesbury for the night while on a canal trip; it would have been a pretty perverse choice for a holiday destination otherwise!). The pub is spacious and clearly caters for the family market in the area, particularly those who might consider some of the older outlets to be a little rough round the edges...

Relatively unexceptional otherwise, although after a hard day's work on the locks and in other pubs beforehand, perhaps I'm not best qualified to judge. I'm sure the consistency of Wetherspoon management will ensure this pub stays above the acceptable water-line of standards, even if some of its nearby counterparts might struggle, in what is a community which has plainly seen better days.

27 Sep 2010 17:28

The Bottle and Glass, Dudley

Only open during Museum hours as it forms a centrepiece of the Black Country village replica which has, astoundingly, been mostly constructed from existing buildings nearby that were threatened with demolition. This used to stand with its back to the Canal by the Stourbridge Flight of 16 locks, and what a pub it must've been! It is exceedingly unusual in having been given a new lease of life in a different context in the 1970s, and it now thrives as a hub of activity for visitors to, and employees of, the Museum. Sadly it is all too easy to get carried away enjoying its authentic Edwardian wares; so much so that one can miss vast swathes of other interesting diversions on the site!
We found 4 pumps dispensing cask ale - although in its notional 1910 setting the terms "cask" or "real" were entirely unnecessary as that was all one got - authentically lacking any clips. 3 beers - a mild, bitter and best may be found (courtesy of Banks's) and 1 cider (Thatcher's). Although I am not the world's greatest Banks's fan, I and one of my co-travellers agreed that the Original (Mild) was the best we'd ever had it served, and was one of the finest tastiest chewiest pints of Mild I'd had from any brewery. The landlady, in full costume (as all employees have to be to evoke the "living" element of the museum's ambitions), was very engaging and told us that besides their efforts, they had an exceptionally conducive cellar which may account for the quality.
The front parlour area is minimalist, with only a few items adorning the walls and some beind the bar - the only sign of 2010 there was a few modern bottled ales from current outfits. We are advised this is exactly how records indicate it would have been. Sawdust is scattered around the floor. A friendly policeman pops in from time to time to check for inebriation levels! All part of the theatre.
I must say this was both impressive and absorbing in equal measure. Its only crimes are the insistence on modern health and safety regulations (nobody is exempt!), and the fact that 2010 prices are charged. Indeed, in an area where beer is generally found to be very competitively-priced at 2.40 to 2.90 (this is a good 50p less than what I'm used to as a Southerner), the B & G will set you back in excess of 3. Still, I wouldn't have missed it for the world and I think the atmosphere it evokes is worth the extra pennies.

27 Sep 2010 17:22

The Prince of Wales, Birmingham

One could be forgiven for imagining that this might be just another average Victorian boozer in a city where such places are common and often have little to distinguish them from each other, as they are so often run by characterless pub companies. I would say think again, as although this is clearly a pubco-owned establishment, it is well-kept, friendly, and has a decent range of cask ale on for those who prize good beer.
The pub's interior is wood-panelled and fits the cosy atmosphere that exists here on a busier night.
The licensee and staff were chatty and welcoming as all 8 of us sauntered it not quite sure what to expect. We were served promptly with various good ales, including TT Landlord and Ansells Mild - which even the licensee had thought to have been extinct! It was actually rather tasty and a good starter-for-ten as it were. Posters indicated that the pub is part of a scheme which rotates various - seemingly random - beers from around the UK and provides thorough tasting notes according to the Cyclops system, so this should give local drinkers an insight into what lies beyond the boundaries of Brum as well as within.
The clientele were a mixed but seemingly respectable bunch; again all were found to be agreeable in their demeanours. The sad thing was however, that there just weren't enough of them, especially as it was a Saturday evening. One has to wonder how much trade the POW gets now, particularly as it stands as one of the last bastions of Victorian architecture in an otherwise bland and callously-redeveloped area which could be anywhere. The nearby Mailbox development and Gas Street Basin area draws all the younger custom, and I doubt there's enough older folk around the area to keep it going indefinitely. Indeed, we noticed a for sale notice attached to the building's side, so who knows?
I'd say make the best of this while you still can, as despite its good points, its future is far from assured.

27 Sep 2010 17:10

The Wellington, Birmingham

I was indeed fortunate enough to be at the Wellington 9 nights ago, on a drop-in whistle-stop tour of Brum's finer hostelries. Naturally it draws innumerable plaudits from CamRA-affiliated reviewers and ale-lovers across the piece, as its pride and joy is a boastful but spectacular row of 16 handpumps, all dispensing every style of cask beer and cider one could ask for. During my visit 15 of these were active, and many intriguing choices could be found, not only from the West Midland locus, but farther afield too. Most of these were sampled by at least 1 or more of our 8-strong party, and I heard no complaints about conditioning or presentation from anybody. They adopt a useful and relatively unseen system of an electronic display which provides constant updates of what's on - in any other pub this would be used for yet another tedious big screen for sport lovers, but here they know the true accent is on the ale!
Service here needs to be on the money, and happily, notwithstanding the huge number of punters all wanting attention, we found we barely had to wait more than a minute or two for complete dispensation of an 8-pint round. Each ale was dished out with a happy-go-lucky air that suggested these guys and gals really enjoyed being a part of this ambitious ale-based outlet, which can safely rely single-handedly on wet sales. Don't concern yourself with food while here; all you'll need is a packet of scratchings and let the beers speak up for themselves without tainting the palate!
Decor-wise, the pub is somewhat unexceptional, although pleasant enough and broadly in keeping with the large Victorian structure it occupies; no outlandish over-contemporary touches have been added here thankfully. That said, a little more care might be in order, as we all found our shoes adhering to the sticky carpet where countless spillages from pintglasses in transport across the room had landed. Maybe this is unavoidable on a busy Saturday night when the beer is flying off the bar, but it didn't inspire great confidence. I don't recall the lavs being that decent either!
On the matter of atmosphere, which others have passed negative comments about recently, I sort of know where they're coming from. If I imagine the Welly on a quiet night (assumung they have one?) it probably would lack distinguishable character besides the beer range. The hurly-burly did mean that any lacking in this department was effectively negated.

Perhaps to those for whom a vast array of cask ales is not sufficient and who require a more rounded pub experience, this may not result in an outright 10/10. However, to me and my crowd, it would've had to have done something far more heinous than lack a little character to qualify for any less than a very good rating on this site.

27 Sep 2010 16:57

The Old Joint Stock, Birmingham

Plainly a carbon copy of the kind of bank-conversion pubs favoured by Fullers down in London, but despite the migration of this rather grandiose concept up the M1 including London pricing strategies, it is hard to say it has failed. The building is spectacular and Fullers have done a fine job in making the most of its features and restoring the best of them where possible. The usual spread of Fullers cask choices abound, although there is room on this bar for a further 3 guests, all from local breweries such as ABC. Some were in better condition than others, but overall we were not disappointed.
I should say that given the popularity of the place, service was maintained at a reasonable level and the management clearly recognise the need for a good number of staff to ensure all hands are to the pumps.
In many ways very un-Birmingham, but in a city environment where numerous identikit multiples jostle for position on the main thoroughfares, a splash of Fuller-ism is not such a bad thing, and few vertically-integrated family brewers know how to present this kind of hostelry than them.

27 Sep 2010 16:42

The Weighbridge, Alvechurch

This is a truly splendid establishment, which marked the start of a 7-day narrowboat holiday comprising 8 people, lots of fun and an average of 8 pints apiece per day as we meandered our way around some of the Midlands' better boozers courtesy of the canal.
Pitching up here was sheer convenience given its close proximity to the boatyard from which we were embarking upon our trip, but it just so happened that it would've deserved considerable attention anyway, as it is a classic, no-nonsense, friendly local beerhouse which merits a strong place in the new Beer Guide, serving as it does a range of 4 interesting local ales and 2 ciders. The excellent Kinver and Wetheroak were amongst the breweries represented on our visit - which needless to say was repeated upon our arrival back at Alvechurch the following Friday!
The landlord was a very friendly cove and dealt with all our shenanigans very well. Service was superb, and always pleasant. This was especially commendable given the strain they were under last Friday - it is a multi-roomed pub with outdoor space too but it was almost impossible to find seats. It seems boaters and locals alike relish their opportunity to get to the Weighbridge and sink some quality ale, possibly accompanied by some similarly worthy food which some of us sampled the previous week.

This one was the first of many for us, but it was only "beaten" as it were by a couple of others discovered later and certainly was deserving of a Top 3 berth out of the 25 or so pubs we visited. Well done folks; it's almost worth taking another trip from the Marina to provide an excuse for getting back!

27 Sep 2010 16:35

The Fox Revived, Horley

Having not appeared here for 5 years, I was only prompted to return thanks to the recently-issued 2011 Good Beer Guide, which assures readers/pubgoers of fine ale and food. Not that that wasn't the case to a degree 5 years ago, but the selection and qaulity of beer was as I recall indifferent and the food menu average. How times change. The new licensee seems to have made a good fist of moving the Fox firmly in the direction of gastroism; whilst not to everybody's taste I can't dispute that the menu looks tempting, and no more highly-priced than nearby competitors, with starters under 6 and mains up to 18.
Ale-wise, the quality was found to be tip-top, and moreover, the range has improved heavily, with a clear accent on localism. Surrey Hills, Dark Star, Hepworth and King - all "locale" brewers, featured on the pumps on my last visit yesterday, and I daresay these are regular suppliers, as various bottled fare was on offer from these outlets. My DS Smoked Porter was excellent.
The stripped-down laminate-floored contemporary decor that now pervades will divide; some will relish its modernity and clean style while others will reproach it for lack of traditional touches and being arguably out of keeping with its exterior. That said, the latter has also been smartened up, and one would not necessarily now expect an olde worlde country local. Given that the Fox in its previous incarnation often fell short in that guise, perhaps it is not a bad thing that it has been hauled into the 21st century. It may well prove far more lucrative for the owners, especially given the affluence of the surrounding area.
In some places this blueprint would be neither unusual nor exceptional, but locally the Fox could well carve out a successful niche for local beer and smart food if it plays its cards right. I've yet to try the food myself; it was littered with Christian names prefacing dishes - e.g. "Doreen's Home-Baked tart"; "James's Game Pie" etc etc. I do hope this very obvious allusion to the home-made and all-things "local" isn't just an affectation. Whoever these people are who have their name attributed to the dishes on offer, they won't be in the kitchen preparing it in person; I can only hope the chefs do their recipes justice in their absence. Others will undoubtedly offer their opinion in the fullness of time.

16 Sep 2010 16:01

The Pump House, Brighton

Plainly one of M&B's Nicholson's houses, which following their eminent success as relatively unbranded, cask and traditional food-driven pubs in the Capital, have made a worthwhile transition down the A23 to Brighton. The concept doesn't perhaps quite stand out as starkly as it can in London, where sadly one finds so many average boozers run in a by-numbers manner by faceless pub companies, as in this neck of the woods one is spoilt for excellent pubs which major on home-made grub and fine ale. However, that is not to denigrate their efforts, and the Pump House makes for a worthy stop-off for a quick pint or two, or possibly for a meal if you're in need and don't fancy a restaurant bill.
5 beers featured on Saturday, and the 2 tried (I think 1 was the RCH Old Slug Porter), were kept properly. Furthermore, they were served by a very pleasant young barmaid who actually seemed happy to be there - certainly a departure from many of the chain's London outlets where smiles can be a rare commodity.

14 Sep 2010 17:33

The Greys, Brighton

Having not been since the early 2000s, it was time to catch up with the Greys following check-ins at the Charles Napier and Constant Service. The exterior turquoise-fest and out-of-kilter 1950s design are not to everyone's taste, and could be considered a little crass in an otherwise well-preserved Victorian quarter of the city. However, within one can still find a down-to-earth local vibe pervading what is quite a small pub, with a few tables outside for good measure to accommodate the inevitable overspill.
Ale-wise, things weren't perhaps as inspiring as one reads; well-kept Harvey's Best and Tim Taylor Landlord are never unwelcome but somehow I had expected at least 1 or 2 more unusual choices. Nevertheless, a real cider featured in the shape of Thatchers Heritage, which turned out to be a splendid choice and a worthwhile brief distraction from the ales that sandwiched it at other pubs.

Definitely a relevant stop-off although for an entire night, as a cask ale devotee I am bound to say there are more diverting alternatives in the vicinity.

14 Sep 2010 17:26

Sir Charles Napier, Brighton

Now here's an absolute winner - located almost at the apex of the long steep hill of Southover Street, if approaching from the bottom on foot the walk take its toll on the less fit amongst us, but happily the rewards are self-evident upon arrival. For at the Napier there is a range of 5 excellently-kept cask beers (4 from Fullers including 2 derivative Gales ales, and 1 guest - on my last visit the exquisite Okells Bitter which had travelled extremely well), home-made sausage and mash with the speciality being a variety of interesting sausages, friendly service (in the shape of Christine who has had the place for a year and clearly works hard in the face of considerable competition to maintain the edge), and generally jovial and convivial chat. On Saturday afternoon there were groups of locals, visitors, and, almost predictably, Morris dancers, who can always be found where there is good beer to be swilled.
The trick here has been to maintain a sense of local identity while clearly coming under the Fullers fold; most Fullers pubs, though usually worthy, can tend towards the urban towny end of things and do not always make the most of each house's individual character. This one does, and fortunately the licensees are given the autonomy to see that it stays that way.
There are other pubs worthy of attention on this street and those nearby, and clearly the Napier falls within an area where it could feature as a drop-in en route to several of its neighbours. But trust me, it is a tall order to leave after just a quick pint - especially if you have slogged all the way up the hill to get it! Allow time for an extra couple here and perhaps leave out one or two of the less-merited competitors further down the slope, and you should not leave disappointed.

14 Sep 2010 17:20

The Constant Service, Brighton

After an unspeakably long - and entirely unintended - hiatus of 7 years, I finally got back to this pub. I blame the Evening Star and Lord Nelson for the missing years, as so often they are too good and effectively prevent visits to Brighton pubs further afield that are just as deserving of attention. Here one can find a range of up to 4 Harvey's ales, all well-kept (the South Down was splendid last weekend), jolly service, and a typically Brightonian, relaxed vibe created by a canny mix of traditional and contemporary decor (note the multi-coloured representation of Southover Street above the bar), and an eclectic selection of albums on CD and vinyl (the latter has a special stand on the right for the current LP cover to be displayed - nice touch).
The pub is dog-friendly but not so much so that it interferes with those wanting a simple pleasant quaff at the bar or one of the tables.
The Service is indeed Constant, and all the better for it - well worth seeking out especially on a crawl which could take in any number of the many and varied hostelries in this part of town.

14 Sep 2010 17:12

The Portland Arms, St Albans

A thoroughly sound Fuller's house in the residential backstreets of the town, pleasantly situated for local trade but also not so obscure that it can attract some passing trade too. Ales were found in well-conditioned form, and I daresay the food was also worthwhile, although we were not at that stage of proceedings where it was required. We were met with a jolly and engaging hostess - the landlady or maybe an unusually sociable barmaid - who made us feel at home. There are commodious facilities indooes although given the clement weather of the day we decided to make full use of the outdoor area. Not much to look at, with a view directly onto a tarmac car park, and no real garden to speak of, yet it was a fine suntrap and a vaguely bucolic feel was created by the presence of a well-populated hen house.

Not the ultimate pub experience, certainly not in as competitive a town as St Albans, but all in all well worth a pint or two. If you live locally, it would surely be a must.

1 Sep 2010 17:45

The Royal Oak, Rusper

Hear, hear. What the Oak has done to deserve such swordplay on this site is a mystery, other than be a superb characterful local which happens to specialise in cask ales, ciders and perries. I can't blame locals for getting incensed by - and entering into - attacks made on this site about their beloved pub, but it only serves to detract from the core business of reviewing on BITE: that is to provide some sort of considered critique on pubs, whether it be positive or otherwise. Whilst we will never eradciate it, there really is so little point in slinging mud at each other over differences in pub appreciation.
In response to the "antis" who seem so affronted by the Royal Oak "concept" - if that doesn't sound too corporate for this context, I would say that all too often we cask lovers have to suffer venues which eschew all the aforementioned products in favour of mass-produced, over-priced fizzy lagers, keg ales and ciders. That one pub amongst many many others should have the temerity to stick solely to cask and steadfastly refuse to serve other drinks should not be such a matter for resentment amongst you, who have your way most of the time, in most places.
I appreciate that some visitors may have found Sara's regime - and I am bound to say Sara herself - somewhat inflexible or unduly robust in her defiant defence of her pub, which may have been taken as offensive or a hallmark of cliquiness. I daresay that many consider it legitimate nowadays to expect a pub to serve a bit of everything, including a full food menu. But not everywhere must sing from the same song-sheet, and I think Sara & Clive should be given all the support people can give for managing to elevate this previously tired H & W house into something which is perhaps niche for drinkers, but surely is not lost on the wider market in other respects - I mean, just look at the place! The pub is not inherently superior - just different, and any excess vigour on the part of its licensees or regulars in defending it is usually born not of snobbery but of the unwillingness of some to understand or engage with it, who then feel inexplicably threatened, enough to peddle disproportionately adverse commentaries about it. To make a pub economically viable with a relatively slim range of food and drink in this climate is no mean feat.

Hopbitch - I was probably in situ at the bar when you were unfortunately turned away for food yesterday. You weren't the only ones, and it underlines the fact that there is a definite market for a slightly wider food range here (this is dare I say it something S & C might wish to look again at?!). But when it is available, albeit with a limited choice, trust me, it is hearty and flavoursome, and all prepared using the best ingredients! So I do hope that you persevere and try to get back next week for some victuals. If you like the rest, you can't fail to enjoy.

For those not needing the Full Monty, cheddar cheese, pickled silverskin onions, Bombay mix (should this be "Mumbai" now?!), and salted peanuts are placed on the bar for your delectation, along with a variety of rolls for 1. For the dedicated beer/cider/pery-lover like me who has travelled a fair way to get here and can only do so once every few weeks, this was more than enough.

Don't let the bastards grind you down!

Such is the warmth and jollity of the regulars, in particular, that every visit I make leaves me feeling like I've been one of them for years, and not many places do that.

16 Aug 2010 17:55

The Old Cage, Lingfield

Having heard varying reports of this pub over the years, ranging from must-visit beerhouse to best-avoided barrack room, I am happy to report that following not only a visit but an overnight stay at the Old Cage last weekend, the pendulum is currently swung in the ascendant. On arrival, I was lucky to find a car parking space, for the whole pub was heaving with post-work and other local customers, all seemingly in a very jolly mood and enjoying the lively bustling atmosphere, which was close to an indoor market at peak trading times. Given the mix of people it seems that they are doing more than a few things right - and it's not like it's the only pub in Lingfield; business could be taken elsewhere if this wasn't up to the mark.

The ale selection is, to a very seasoned consumer, somewhat predictable, with 4 beers across 8 pumps. I couldn't help but think the icing on the cake would be to occupy another couple of them with more varied offerings, but perhaps tie precludes this? In any case Sharp's Doom Bar, Harvey's Best, GK Ruddles Best and "Jailors Old Cage" (sadly not its own brew but Courage re-branded!) were in good nick and seemed to sell well.

There are numerous little cubby-holes and alcoves in which to settle aside from the central bar area, and all are bedecked with a rich ensemble of old memorabilia - not all of it pub or drink-related - which although perhaps a little pseudish do lend a hand in creating a warm and cosy environment, in addition to the exposed beams and pannelling which are reminiscent of an old barn (the oldest part of the building is said to date back to 1592).

The accommodation comes in the form of 3 chalets at the rear, converted from old outbuildings. For 40 a night they were well-kept and commodious, with basic facilities but that suited me fine. One is left to one's own devices to come and go as one pleases, which is always good. A late pint was served by the landlord with a smile, as was breakfast in the morning - served in the generous window of 8:30 till 11. A fiver gets you a comprehensive fry-up, although an extra 2.50 will buy "the Full Monty", which may suit those of a heartier temperament first thing after a beer session! All food was tasty, in generous portions, and served efficiently.

On balance, this would seem to be the pub du jour for locals in the village, and even those of us seeking out broader and more exciting beer ranges should still not ignore the Cage, for its convivial atmos and fun-loving crowd make it worthy of a visit especially in a larger group - you may be drowned out if you go it alone at a busy period.

16 Aug 2010 17:27

Blacksmiths Head, New Chapel

Decided to pitch up at this establishment last Saturday afternoon, as some friends were camping nearby and I had joined them. Needless to say I'd hired some buildings with proper roofs on as TWG does not "do" camping.

This is somewhere that has apparently fluctuated over the last few years from being nowhere on the cask beer map, to being something of a local flagship, and then back to relative unworthiness. Despite the clutch of numerous interesting beer-clips adorning the wall above the bar which would suggest a rich and recent supply of good ale, the pumps themselves were regrettably bereft of any such offerings, with only 2 out of 4 in operation, and those that were were what most would regard as ubiquitous and uninspiring choices (Fullers London Pride and Greene King St Edmunds).

However, just as most readers will assume a tirade of negativity to follow on the back of the beer choice being so narrow, I am pleased to report that our afternoon at the Blacksmiths was not wasted, for every other element that a serious pub-goer wishes to see in respectable form was in check. Given that we were enjoying a long mellow session pre-Races, and the weather was awful, we were holed up here for some time, during which we not only sampled the beer but also the food, and had a lengthy exposure to the general atmosphere of the place, which so often a brief drop-in visit for 1 or 2 pints does not allow and necessarily renders any reviews on this site based on such a fleeting experience subject to various inherent disclaimers.

Food clearly was a keener focus than the beer; it is served all day on a Saturday and a large variety of both snacks and full-scale meals were on offer, although there was no sign that it has over-blown gastro ambitions; what one finds here is just good, accessible pub grub. The sandwiches, available in various configurations, that were served up to others appeared to be generously-portioned and well-presented; the more substantial dishes we ordered were found to be in the same vein. The cod and chips, pie and chips and the lamb chops with asparagus and saut potatoes were all splendid. Fresh, quality locally-sourced ingredients in simple but not drab forms, which is everything one should want from a pub menu. My lamb chops were fabulous 3 of them done to perfection and relatively good value for 12.50. Although a special, the manager advised this is one of their big sellers. I was not surprised.

Other creature comforts are well-attended to at the BH, with a range of tables at the front, bar seating and a comfortable set of leather sofas/chairs which fortunately we were able to purloin and enjoy throughout. Piped music is played, though its style varied and none of it was unduly obtrusive. The lavatories were found in a state of acceptable cleanliness. There is ample car parking and an equally generous back garden for when conditions are rather more clement than they were last weekend. Frustratingly, I had been thwarted in my attempt to secure accommodation but it looked reasonable and could be useful for those visiting the area for racing etc.

In terms of clientele, the pub plainly serves as a solid local, as well as attracting a mix of folk from further afield, partly generated by Lingfields race-course trade. A birthday do was in session and the entire vibe of the place was one of mellow contentedness and unpretentious banter. Service from the manager and barmaid was attentive. The pub dog, a winsome springer spaniel puppy, was much in evidence; although something of a handful as juvenile dogs can be, it was hard to be irritated by him and his comical activities with items ranging from a cushion to till roll only added to the entertainment and good-humour of the scene.

And, for all my opening criticism regarding lack of range, both the beers were conditioned well if perhaps with a little too much head which some may decide needs topping-up. Other drinks ordered, from Carling lager to gin and bitter lemon, received no complaints from our number and pricing wasnt outlandish.

Not a universally-great pub. But still pretty good in most key areas, and perhaps this sort of place acts as a lesson to us ale-driven punters that not every outlet with limited cask offerings not making the latest Good Beer Guide will have zero or little value by other measures.

16 Aug 2010 17:10

The William IV, Leyton

After a considerable build-up both from those who had previously visited with it and those who hadn't, a visit was finally made to the bosom of Brodie's beer last Saturday. Although this was perhaps an unwise move given we were en route from a brewery visit, it worked out rather well if only by accident not design. Most of our 16-strong party managed to become acquainted with the 13 ales on (this is the norm, which suggests a very strong turnover - surely helped by the almost Wetherspoon-like pricing strategy of all pints being 1.99) over a couple of hours, and of all those tried I can happily report that I found none of them unpleasant. Indeed, most quite the contrary; given the diversity of beer styles this really is a great credit to the brewers.
We were also treated to a quick shufty at the brew house itself, which was interesting. Quite how so many offerings are produced from such basic equipment I don't know, but ours is not to reason why - just enjoy the fruits of the couple's not inconsiderable labours.
As a pub, the William IV would probably be chalked up as passable and pleasant without the Brodies cask ale arsenal; it is a characterful Victorian corner local of good size, attracting a nicely mixed set of punters. But with the beer draw, it elevates what would've been just another ordinary East London boozer to another level altogether. Surely it would be the only pub in this area which would attract such interest from further afield?

There really is a beer for all seasons, and something for most tastes to be found here. And if cask ale isn't your bag, then the usual bar fodder is available and served with a smile in comfortable enough surroundings. Worth seeking out - and if you have a choice of dates you could do worse than to set aside Sat 4/Sun 5 Sep as Brodie's will be celebrating their 2nd birthday, and amongst other things will be offering the characteristically generous range of beer, including the infamous 22% Elizabethan Ale. Whether a brew of that strength can technically be classified as beer is a debate worth having; preferably after several pints of it just to be sure you know what you're talking about.

9 Aug 2010 17:34

The Churchill Arms, Kensington

(ooops did this via mobile and somehow managed to chop the closing comments off).... quite happy to rub shoulders alongside each other. Quite literally, as it happens, as things can get pretty tightly-packed at the Churchill. Saying that however, I never once struggled for attention at the bar and the 3 staff serving were on the ball. No baulking about top-ups either; indeed the first barmaid who served me offered it without me prompting her, despite the thronging crowds all wanting service.

All told, this pub has many facets and somehow they all manage to gel together to create a warm and vibrant experience. Well worth a visit and unusually, this is a pub where one could easily spend an entire evening without feeling the pangs of boredom, and leave very satisfied indeed. Good stuff!

5 Aug 2010 17:02

The Prince of Wales, Kensington

Rather like so many of the capital's pubs (those that manage to remain in business at least), this is attractive on the outside, and has character, but once within, the experience is rather more anodyne and even an extended visit probably struggle to embed much of the Prince of Wales's features in your memory with any permanence.
Happily, unlike the last reviewer, I did not receive a poorly-kept pint, and that sampled was in reasonable condition - though I should say not outstanding in any sense. A large number of pumps sit on the bar, but only about 3 or 4 choices are on; several pumps were "doubled-up" and none of the offerings deviated from the standards one finds in numerous pubs across the city and beyond.
Definitely worthy on inclusion on a crawl, although I would imagine most would struggle to mount a case for remaining in this pub for an all-night sesh. Depends on what you're in the market for, I suppose.

5 Aug 2010 16:55

The Greyhound, Kensington

A fairly by-numbers London pub - nice exterior and generally well-kept premises but nothing especially memorable otherwise. A perfectly acceptable pint of Young's Gold was sampled; not out of the ordinary. Service seemed reasonable. Probably didn't linger for long enough to justify commenting further, but on balance I'd chalk this up as one of those pubs that's fine if in the immediate area and in need of a quick drink, and equally useful as part of a Kensington-wide crawl. But for a planned and/or protracted visit, there are better places than the Greyhound to target.

5 Aug 2010 16:51

The Churchill Arms, Kensington

Certainly all things to all pubgoers of a traditional bent, the Churchill Arms aims to grab maximum attention both in and out of doors. A little overstated one might think, but the myriad of colourful hanging baskets in Summer really does show effort, and a desire to be noticed. Which in fairness is a must in such a locality. Beer-wise, we have the Fullers four, at the usual price, but a guest should also feature. Food-wise, it's Thai'd up all the way, but despite the bizarre juxtaposition of Irish - as evidenced by the busy decor - and Asian does work, as the food operation is efficient and in no way jars with the essence of the pub's character. Moreover, the food is of a high standard and eclipses many a restaurant of its type in the capital. Nearly every punter, on a Wednesday night, was indulging in the grub and it was no surprise. Not often a pub-cum-Thai concept works, but this is it. Overall, the Churchill manager to eschew the usually inescapable toffishness and accrue a genuinely mixed bag, who seem

5 Aug 2010 00:35

The Builders Arms, Kensington

A little harsh, the last contributor, methinks. By all means this establishment could be criticised for being a little Sloane Rangerish, but what does anybody expect of pub in this district? Expecting to see flat-capped manual labourers with dirty fingernails here would be like expecting to see royalty in a back-street local lager den in Liverpool. Like it or not, there is penty of money around and that will be self-evident upon arriving at the Builders. It's not the pub's fault and it has to serve the immediate community around it if it is to succeed.

That notwithstanding, by and large the clientele were tolerable, and I didn't feel that the Hooray Henry element drowned out my enjoyment of the place, despite one or two of their number clearly endeavouring to do so after too many Jagerbombs. No, I hadn't heard of them either but suffice to say they should be kept well away from over-privileged toffs in their 20s.

It was a fabulous sunny afternoon and beers were taken outdoors. Up to 4 cask offerings on pump (Sambrooks Wandle, Harveys Best, Sharps Doom Bar and Deuchars IPA - a fair spread and not wildly over-priced for the capital, at around 3.10 a pint). Additional interest could for once be found over on the taps too, with some unusual imported choices including the winsome Sierra Nevada Pale. Service was respectful and with a smile - my, what a rare commodity that is in London, to be sure!

The menu didn't look half-bad either, with a range of tempting dishes served all day. But happily we didn't have need of them as we were destined for finer dining at the Roof Gardens. This pub provided a perfect distraction and is a worthy stop-off if en route to the shops or restaurants of Kensington.

2 Aug 2010 18:04

The Swan, Wittersham

Ostensibly a rather by-numbers, vastly-extended family-orientated pub, it pays to stop off and investigate further. For there are a range of decent cask ales to be had - my Goachers Fine Light was excellent - and what seems to be good food. Only had snacks in the form of cheesy chips and cheese board, but it was hearty fare and served up at the usually-food-unfriendly hour of 5PM. The landlady was convivial, although I've got to say the girl who brought the grub over seemed somewhat charmless and altogether detached. Still, overall, a worthy stop off and a nice end to an afternoon in the summer sun.

25 Jul 2010 22:35

The Whitstable Brewery Bar, Whitstable

It seems I was fortunate indeed to be able to review this place with any conviction, given that previous would-be commentators were thwarted by odd opening hours. I'm not au fait with the usual routine, but it was very much open on Thursday evening, and positively thriving, as most other town outlets do on Fridays. There was live music - good live music to boot - sport on 2 large TVs, and a beer festival, featuring 30 ales from 6 breweries. I have to say this probably isn't the norm, as Whitstable is gearing up for its annual oyster fest, and many places were seeking to capitalise. Still, it was a lovely evening to be out, and if you wanted liveliness, this would suit. Left after a half not because the ale was poor, or the service lackadaisical, but because it was just a little too loud and studenty; I felt quite aged despite only being in my early 30s! But for you young 'uns not there, get down to the quay and fill your boots. After ringing to check if it's open...

25 Jul 2010 22:22

Ferry Inn, Stone-in-Oxney

I fail to understand why this wouldn't be everybody's kind of pub, for it seems to offer a particularly obvious set of advantages. It is a charming old building set in an equally beautiful countryside location, which looks out on fields. On a glorious summer's day - which it happened to be on my visit - the picket-fenced garden is idyllic for a few drinks. Inside is a central bar and various alcoves for drinkers and eaters alike. Food looks like it'd be worthwhile: a substantial menu featuring some mouthwatering options is available, but alas we'd already taken lunch and they'd ceased serving by 4 when we arrived. Prices were high. But show me somewhere in this vicinity where they ain't? The beers were in good order, although this isn't presently a GBG-listed venue. Really, we could've whiled away hours here into dusk, were it not for time constraints. Do try it and see for yourselves.

25 Jul 2010 22:05

The Black Lion, Sittingbourne

A gem indeed. Yes, certainly for the beer: in my 2 visits so far, one this week and the other in 2006, I have found what is effectively a Goachers brewery tap, with 4 pumps dispensing their range, seasonal and otherwise. This time, the Stout and Best Dark sat alongside the Mild and Fine Light. I had the Mild and as ever was not disappointed, nor was my accomplice, who sampled a Best Dark and Fine Light mixed. The greatest joy though is the collection of pub, beer and breweriana which adorns most available surfaces and wall space. Everything from adverts to celebratory glassware and old bottled brands can be seen and one sits intrigued at the bar while keenly inspecting these collectables; all now rare glimpses of a bygone era. The landlord is a solid, gritty sort who looks every inch the part as the traditional country pub master, and presides quietly yet authoritatively over the jolly proceedings. I should say it's not entirelys a pre-modern museum piece; those of a political bent may wish to note the various items in the lobby lampooning current figureheads of power - most notably the not-so-dearly-departed Mr Brown! This is undoubtedly a classic and as someone unable to fetch up regularly, I trust the locals really make the most of their pub.

25 Jul 2010 21:43

Red Lion, Badlesmere

I suppose I've been something of an infrequent visitor to this pub for the last 11 years or so; i.e. once every 2-3 years. So whether that's enough to qualify me to comment I don't know. But I might as well anyway. The Red Lion is a GBG regular; hence my awareness of it. It's actually a pretty average-looking unaffected sort of local boozer, with no frills. Plenty of space to sit both in and out of doors (don't forget the rear garden), and what looks to be fairly reasonable food, although take that with a pinch of salt as I've yet to eat here. Ale-wise, I must confess to always being a smidgin disappointed, not in the quality of what's been served, or even the choices on offer; it's more the fact that I've never seen every pump occupied. Often only 3 of 6 are on and some Guide-listed pubs certainly work a little harder to keep their berth in the beer-bible. Nevertheless, the conditioning seems consistent, and the Skinners Betty Stogs was in good nick last Friday lunchtime. But I wasn't around in the evening. I suspect with alt the locals in it could be a corker - maybe future reviewers will enlighten us. Anyhow, worth the time for a visit.

25 Jul 2010 20:51

The Star, Romney Marsh

Dropped in for an all-too-brief half en route through the Marsh. We discovered a charmingly timeless old pub which I can only imagine hasn't altered since the '70s. Except the beer range, thankfully, which included a Goddards and - very unusually outside London - Meantime's IPA. The latter was a tad warm although the former was perfect. Very earthy and mostly the haunt of locals, we nonetheless didn't feel unwelcome at the Star. The garden came into its own given the lovely weather. Note the concreted-in seats with wooden tops. Presumably this is due to the brisk wind and salt content, which was bristling across as we sat enjoying our drinks, which means the seating would both blow over and degrade all too quickly. Overall, an old time classic that's worth finding.

25 Jul 2010 20:13

The Bell Inn, Romney Marsh

I am genuinely surprised by the low scope this place has so far accrued, although clearly this was born mostly of 1 punter's disgruntlement 2 years aim which I hope was a blip. In any case, I found the Bell to be a thriving, unpretentious, welcoming house, which is a local for the working folk of Ivychurch first and foremost. We received a hearty welcome from the barmaid and the locals were conversational. Happily, 4 ales are supported, and those sampled were kept well. There was a pleasant buzz around the pub which left me feeling confident as to its prospects, notwithstanding its relatively remote location. Visitors new to the village may wish to visit the 15th century church round the corner - another genuine delight.

25 Jul 2010 18:50

The Plough, Stalisfield

I had been advised by my old friend and partner-in-quaff Sir CJ of G that this pub universally scores very highly on all measures of performance. As much as I delight in proving the old bugger wrong, there was no hope of that materialising here, for the Plough is indeed a byword for excellence on all levels. For a start, let's set the record straight on SilkTork's rather patronising suggestion that this is "moderately charming". To my, and I'll confidently state most others' mind, this is utterly charming, and isn't deserving of damning with faint praise. The key features of the building are dealt with below, but I should add that the landlord - incidentally a thoroughly affable and generous soul who is plainly passionate about his pub and beer - intends to remove the clunky unloveliness of the patio and restore it to a more natural layout. On the matter of ale, a respectable 4 are offered; all Kentish, and all in exceptional form. The Old Dairy Blue Top was simply sublime, while the Whitstable Pearl of Kent and the Faversham Creek also excelled. Food-wise, there are equal pleasures for the palate. All locally-sourced and prepared on site by the chef, we opted for the fish and chips - a routine dish for many but here a genuine tower of strength: fresh-as-a-daisy haddock in light batter, proper chips, superior mushy peas (the secret is the use of 2 types and shallots mixed in), home-made ketchup... Need I continue? The meals come at a price, but not exceptional in the current climate and by my reckoning, worth the sacrifice. Regarding facilities, space, atmosphere et al, have no fears; all appear to be comfortably intact! This has many creditable attributes, and shows just what can be achieved at a rural pub in the appropriate hands. Quite simply, keep it up!

25 Jul 2010 18:39

The Plough and Harrow, Oad Street

This is a quaint old curio of a pub, which has much to delight the traditional pub enthusiast who likes his boozer as untouched by the creeping hand of modernity as possible. The building exudes a richness of character throughout, and - vitally - the 2-bar layout has been retained: there is an old connecting door but its use has long-since lapsed. The Irish lady who served us - it was my maiden visit so I'm assuming she's the licensee - was very jolly and welcoming. A bit of idle banter was enjoyed by my mate as I sat outside on the old iron bench and enjoyed the clement weather. So, nothing wrong with this picture then? Well, almost. You may note that uncharacteristically, I've yet to mention the beer. That is because, sadly, the wide selection alluded to in the Beer Guide didn't translate in reality. Only Master Brew and Bishops Finger on during our visit. Maybe we called at an inopportune time? That said, the Finger was on fine form, so no cause to doubt the conditioning of the ale that does appear. I am of course biased in favour of cask provision, but this could really go the distance if they stuck to a keener range of ale. Otherwise, an absolute charmer.

25 Jul 2010 18:13

The Red Lion, Hythe

Indeed, I'm here to confirm that 13 months on from the last review, and 7 since my own last visit, this pub has attained a good level of appeal to a broad pallette of people, and also of service/friendliness. Having spotted the 5 lunch promotion in Dec but not having needed it, this time full advantage was taken and the meals were tasty and not too small as one might expect. Food here appears to perform well, though not at the expense of the ale side: from Whitstable and Ramsgate last time to a current emphasis on the new Wantsum brewery offerings, beer here always seems to be on song. My minor criticism would be they were perhaps a little unseasonal, but no matter if they're kept well. The landlady, and the busy (and rather attractive) barmaid were both chatty and efficient in serving up the drink and grub. If in Hythe and in need of sustenance, you would do worse than to start here. Then move to the splendid Three Mariners a few streets on.

25 Jul 2010 17:55

The Butchers Arms, Herne

Well, the pub was very much open when a couple of chums and I popped in last Friday, although anyone who knows this pub will realise this doesn't necessarily mean one can get in and stay in, for this is famed as one of Britain's smallest boozers. Provided you're don't have a vast entourage, this is a must for any ale lover, and indeed anybody fascinated by quirky pub interiors. The place is bedecked with innumerable artifacts, some pertaining to its rich history as a butcher's and others to beer history in general. It is odd to have customers lined up on either side of a central floor area, staring in on those standing. But, only vegetarians, and those of a weak disposition generally, would be offended or intimidated by this place or its punters. Friendly wit and banter pervades the palpably enthusiastic atmosphere, and it's impossible not to be drawn in. Oh, the beer? Well, from a selection of 5 available, all drawn direct from cask, I had the Over The Moon. And it was the best I'd had and no mistake. Hophead etc went down equally well with my chums. The only disappointment to me was having to leave. What can you do, especially with so many fine beerhouses in Kent needing attention?!

25 Jul 2010 17:38

The Elephant, Faversham

The Elephant was once allied to the Nelson brewery in its former incarnation, and my last visit was during that era. Following said brewery's change of ownership the pub's ties have been severed, and by my estimation this was no bad thing, for th'Elephant has a more abundant ale selection - I tried the Whitstable Ruby Mild which was superb - and seems to have a more mature, broader appeal to the place. The same couple are running it; the landlady was very friendly and was happy to fill us in on developments with the pub. The regulars were not unfriendly either. Those fans of the Nelson days need not be disappointed either, as their beers do apparently still feature from time to time. All in all, a splendid little town pub that retains good cheer and character. Keep doing what you're doing folks.

25 Jul 2010 17:20

The Anchor, Faversham

A charming and spacious hostelry at the end of Abbey Street, which perhaps isn't as well-heeled as one might imagine on first impressions. However, that is of little consequence. The pub has various drinking/eating areas; grub appears to be reasonable value, and up to 4 ales can be found (albeit not anything of special note to cask connoisseurs - Sheps' 4-4-2 being the most interesting offering on my last visit). Some modest outdoor seating provides a great sun-trap in sunny weather. Note the awkwardly-named "Crab Shack" next door... Overall, perfectly satisfactory. Just not one to write home about.

25 Jul 2010 17:09

The Bell and Crown, Canterbury

A very affable and pleasant town pub, benefiting from considerable passing trade which yields a good mix of punters. 4 excellent cask ales are offered, including Hopdaemon and Whitstable brews. In Summer the Bell has much-needed additional seating outdoors where one can quite happily watch the world go by. A solid, unpretentious, well-run house that comes highly recommended, by me at any rate.

25 Jul 2010 16:53

The Bedford Tavern, Croydon

Been an infrequent visitor to this establishment for several years, and at best its performance can be considered "satisfactory" across most key indicators. The exterior Victorian grandeur of the Bedford perhaps belies its interior. The pub features standard decor, various tables, and the usual array of gaming machines. Ale selection is limited and uninspiring (think GK IPA, Fuller's LP) - though there is doubtless an equally limited and uninspired set of punters for whom it holds no interest, and in fairness the beer is usually kept well. Food seems to be obvious and unoriginal; again though nothing wrong with simple pub grub and it's not overpriced for what you get.
Let's be frank: it is not a pub for a smart city type to take his new lady-friend on a first date. Indeed, the atmosphere will plainly not be to everybody's taste across the social spectrum, especially when it's busy and crammed with chavs and chavesses wearing far too little and drinking far too much.
However, all that notwithstanding, one can't accuse the Bedford of being boring. Even if karaoke and loud music and a bit of boisterous behaviour aren't your bag, it is hard to say it lacks character, or has no edge. Actually the place is positively thriving and the landlord is a rumbustious and memorable chappie, as he tends to join in with whatever shenanigans are going on - without losing overall control of the running of the pub it seems. I haven't borne witness to any "trouble", albeit that I might not have been surprised to have been!

Essentially an earthy boozer and one which not only suits its context but should be valued to some extent as being a dying breed in Greater London. A quick pint on your lunchbreak and maybe a sandwich is okay. If you're in the right mood, with the right people, a Friday evening here MIGHT just do the trick.... Though it will be kill or cure for most.

9 Jul 2010 13:42

The Glamorgan, Croydon

I too am one of those awful suit-adorning ponces who by very definition clearly must have no taste in comparison to the world of those who step out in tracksuits, polo shirts, jeans and similar chav-wear, so most of you can ignore this commentary....!

On a recent visit to this place after a hiatus of what must be 3 years at least, it was much as I'd left it; i.e. spacious, comfortable, airy, and essentially satisfactory. 3 cask ales offered (Sharp's, Harvey's, Hop Back - the latter's Summer Lightning was in decent shape), which no doubt account for its current GBG entry status. Food appeared to be popular and it is no surprise that local workers choose to use the Glamorgan given the general lack of other worthy alternatives besides the Builders Arms (I used to work opposite when it was the Grouse & Claret - very different pub then, but still popular with the dreaded suits I'm afraid).

Yet, the place underwhelmed me. It has very little character or atmosphere; the decor is devoid of any interesting diversion, be it beauty or talking-point. It is clean and comodious, but ultimately dull. I should say the service is hardly sparkling with effervescent charm and enthusiasm either, although it was efficient enough.

By-numbers, but that does not mean by-pass.

9 Jul 2010 13:28

The Lamb, Rusper

Hadn't popped up at the Lamb for some 4-5 years - for no other reason that it's a bit of a schlep from where I live - until last Thursday. Considering that this visit was preceded by a lengthy wallow in the ale troughs of the Royal Oak at nearby Rusper, it had a hard act to follow. Not a fair comparison perhaps, although in any case, happily I was not disappointed with what's on offer here.
I discovered that in essence the pub's character and quality has been retained since WJ King relieved themselves of their one and only tied house and concentrated solely on the brewing, which is always what they did best. Indeed, arguably things have improved generally since then. There is a broader selection of cask beer available (4 pumps, 3 in use on my visit serving 2 Dark Star and 1 King) and from my recollection, possibly better-kept. A charming, chatty and essentially barmaidly lady pumped me up a pint of the Old Dad and it was splendid, as was the half of Hophead sampled thereafter. Incidentally, a couple I got chatting to who were in for food hadn't visited for even longer - about 14 years - and they seemed to be quite pleased with the way things had gone.
The decor is traditional but airy; somehow the Lamb manages to be equally appropriate a backdrop in Winter or Summer weather. The rather pretty building has not been unduly tampered-with, and is commodious enough to accommodate a large number of seated diners/quaffers. I had heard that the food side has been on the up lately - it was always slightly hit and miss in the King era - but any judgement on that aspect from me will have to wait until I arrive hungry. Still, there were people already arriving for meals, which surely is a good sign.
Punters seemed a friendly enough bunch and I stood at the bar shoulder-to-shoulder with them without sensing any disparaging looks-askance for not being a regular, despite sticking out like a sore thumb in suit and tie having come from work!
Events seem to be quite common - there's always been a predilection for live music here, even pre-King - and that night some sort of tango or salsa dancing was taking place. Not my cup of cha but still nice to see a pub making an effort to diversify and appeal to a wider community, especially when located in such a remote area.

All in all then, a sound rural local which has broad appeal and scores well in a variety of key indicators. I must get back sooner than another 4-5 years. Well done folks.

7 Jul 2010 13:06

The Clachan, Soho

Unusually, whilst in London on leisure rather than business activities, both pubs I decided to pop into were of the Nicholson's brand, which while being owned by a large and nationalised pub company, actually do strive to maintain more traditional outlets which major on sound pub food and a range of well-kept ales. Unsurprisingly, the Clachan ticks these boxes.
As mentioned by previous commentators, 8 handpumps are supported, half occupied by more regular offerings and the other by less-ubiquitous beers from around the UK. Yesterday, a good variety were on albeit orientated more towards the Midlands and upwards. RCH Pitchfork and Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted were quaffed and found in good order.
I had already eaten so wasn't in need of any victuals, but the usual Nicholson's menu with an accent on good solid pub food (and the customary range of "real" sausages!) was available, and I observed that the dishes brought out for others appeared to be of the consistent good standard I've always found in this chain.
In terms of atmosphere, contrary to some who have obviously arrived at quieter times, it was buzzing, partly - though not primarily - because the latest World Cup football match was featuring on the TV. It might've dominated, but there are plenty of alcoves around to escape it. Decor was classic repro-Victoriana and generally un-branded - perfectly acceptable for this kind of pub. People were of varied ages and backgrounds and it was lively.
Service-wise, a mix of foreigners were manning (womanning?) the bar as per usual, but were courteous and efficient, if not people who would be able or willing to strike up any light conversation with punters - in fairness it was too busy anyhow. I can't say I've any complaints on this aspect.

Ultimately, this place might not be truly exceptional, but compared to so many of the average by-numbers pubs in Soho and beyond, it actually compares very competitively on the beer and food fronts especially, and I would recommend a stop-off if any of you find yourselves in the area.

8/10 - possibly a little generous but the score hitherto seems a little unrepresentative.

30 Jun 2010 11:06

The Clarence, Mayfair

I am somewhat perplexed by the raft of poor reviews on this site for this particular pub. Okay, it is not what anyone would sensibly regard as exceptional, and is not fault-free, but to judge any public house on such tall orders would be a little unfair. I hadn't visited much in the past, and not for at least a year, but yesterday when looking for a decent ale and food pub for a lunchtime refreshment en route to the nearby Royal Academy, I rediscovered the Clarence and found it to be in good shape overall, and certainly no worse than much of its local competition which could and should always try harder.
The ale selection was, arguably something of an exception, as 8 different cask beers featured - 4 standards and 4 more adventurous offerings. This is indeed the benchmark of all Nicholson's outlets, which albeit have less competition in the capital than in some parts of the country, do continually deliver very good traditional food and ale, despite being owned by the usually uncaring and indiscriminate Mitchells & Butlers. I sampled the Morrissey Fox IPA and Daleside Morocco Ale (oddly there seemed to be an accent towards Yorkshire - accidental I'm sure) which were both in acceptable nick.
The usual variety of worthwhile pub grup dishes was on offer, and I partook of the salmon and broccoli fishcakes, which were I have to say excellent, as was the mixed salad that accompanied it. Perhaps a little over-dressed with vinaigrette, but happily that's the way I like my salads so it wasn't an issue for me at least. It was served up efficiently, as was the necessary cutlery and condiments. If the remainder of the options were as consistent as I've found across the Nicholson's estate, then I daresay one should not be readily disappointed.
The atmosphere was perhaps a little thin; a mix of clientele from elderly retired people, via working-lunch business types and various tourists, to youngsters were in and it was ticking along pleasantly enough. The latest Wimbledon match was featuring on the reasonably-sized TV screen above without being too obtrusive. A range of London tourist reading material - and literature for non-London events such as the Edinburgh Festival was available if the sport didn't appeal. The decor was standard "traditional" sub-Victoriana for pubs of this ilk but was solid, harmonious and entirely appropriate. Toilet quality however could be improved: take note please.
As for service - the final conrnerstone in the pub experience not yet mentioned in detail, it was okay. I'm afraid it was the now all-too-ubiquitous foreigners on bar duty whose willingess - and perhaps ability - to be charming in English was limited. The bloke was pleasant enough; the lady was efficient but entirely expressionless as if she really was elsewhere in her own mind. At least she was towards customers; she seemed happy enough when having banter with her playmate who was of the same background. A smile is one thing one still doesn't have to pay for in the capital and more effort is needed from this woman.

Ultimately, this represents a good all-rounder to my mind for London boozers and serves well enough for food and drink. There are better pubs; there are better Nicholson's pubs, and I wouldn't necessarily implore people to seek it out if not in the Mayfair/Piccadilly locale. Nevertheless, I would suggest you allow yourself the chance to visit the Clarence if in the area to see who is the more accurate in their appraisal. If you disagree, then I can only apologize!

8/10 if only to re-balance the ungenerous score so far!

30 Jun 2010 10:52

The Cock Inn, Ringmer

I haven't been to the Cock in absolutely years; always remembered it as a cosy, traditional country local and essentially it retains those importnat qualities today. It sits on a part of the old Uckfield Road bypassed some while ago, which arguably can cut off passing trade to a pub, but in this case it appears not to have done it any harm - quite the contrary in fact, now being set back from the din of the main road's traffic shielded by a thick screen of woodland, with a fair few customers still in situ even at 4:30 on a Sunday afternoon. Actually, on the subject of flora and fauna, the garden was looking splendid, and clearly has had much work done to it. This can only enhance the beautiful weather-boarded exterior, and the surroundings were glorious, especially on a day like yesterday.
3 cask ales were found, including the increasingly-ubiquitous but never-disappointing Dark Star Hophead (at 3), which proved hugely refreshing. A group of locals were sheltering from the still sweltering heat all enjoying a convivial chat and a pint; I imagine this would be even more of a prevalent sight in Winter months by the fireside. All very friendly and no perceivable antipathy towards non-regulars.
I observed the food menu, and there were many delights present which, had I not been expecting my Sunday roast later that evening, I would have been sorely tempted by. I can only trust that the positive comments about this aspect hold true. Worth remembering for possible future reference.

Clearly the Cock has followed the food and family-friendly route, which can be forgiven in the current climate where it is increasingly hard to survive on wet sales alone. Moreover, they seem to do what they do very well, and ultimately it remains able to please ale-lover and victual-seeker alike with no real prejudice.

Don't ever change!

28 Jun 2010 16:33

High Street Bar, Shoreham By Sea

Suter's Yard it is, and albeit ostensibly a pub that has been shamelessly converted to a wine bar, a more-than-cursory inspection of the place shows that it hasn't given up on its pub roots altogether. Besides the lager and Belgian beer fonts which one might expect at best, 2 handpumps are available and both are in use. Thwaites Original (an odd but still welcome enough choice) and Hepworth Sussex on - the latter was superbly refreshing and nicely-kept without over-chilling. Service was efficient, and the general feel of the place on a warm June Saturday afternoon was relaxed, stylish but not pretentious. Customers appeared to range from artisans to middle-class couples (happily the screaming child of the latter was eventually removed to allow the rest of us some peace!), and it would seem to be fitting in amongst the other pubs on the town's main drag.

Interesting, and certainly not to be entirely dismissed. Good for a quick one on a wider crawl.

21 Jun 2010 17:30

The Surrey Arms, Shoreham by Sea

STILL being turned into flats 4 years on..... I can only assume a cashflow problem. Or is this is a case of divine intervention and fate is willing this to be turned back into a pub?!?!

What a shame. This looked like it was a corker in its day.

21 Jun 2010 17:25

The Red Lion Inn, Shoreham by Sea

A bit of a trek for those coming from Shoreham centre, but on a fine day not unpleasant and ultimately worthwhile, for there are plenty of potential rewards at the Red Lion. It clearly must have been one of the only buildings in the area at one time - it and 3 other thatched cottages nearby pre-date the rest of the nearby structures by some 300 years. How charming it must have been when it was an old coaching inn!
Still, that's not to say it's lost its relevance or intrinsic appeal because of busy traffic and surrounding development. It remains a little gem with genuine oak beams, little alcoves and cubby holes, a low ceiling, and a warm character exudes throughout.
About 5 pumps are regularly discharging fine ale; breweries represented inclde the local Hammerpot and Adur. Sampled some of the former's White Wing and the latter's St Andrew (I THINK that's what it was called but at a deceptive 6.2% maybe I can forgive myself for being unsure!) which was reminiscent of Old Peculier. Way too steep at 3.80, but all other beers were within current common margins so I assume this was deter people like me from quaffing it by the pint. It didn't work.
Service was efficient and pleasant, and on an early Saturday evening the place was attracting a mix of elderly diners, families and youngsters preparing for a bigger night out on the town. It seems to have the local market sown up, and why not if you can successfully appeal to a wide range of folk and they all mix comfortably, it's as good a model for future-proofing as any licensee can get.
Food was not needed, but we did notice a fairly broad menu with the now-customary items listed at to-be-expected prices. Having observed some dishes as they emerged from the kitchen en route to their owner, I must say they looked both generous and tasty and I would consider having a go if I was here and found myself hungry.
There is a generous provision of outdoor seating at the front and also a garden at the rear. Actually, in the interests of brevity, when reviewing this pub it'd probably be better to list what it doesn't have rather than what it does!

Could have remained here for several more but the crawl had to continue. Recommended.
Could easily have remained

21 Jun 2010 17:21

The Lazy Toad, Shoreham by Sea

What a find it is. Neither the pub's frontage, nor its location, nor its quirky name, really do it justice and I can imagine many slip past it either not noticing it, or dismissing it as a potentially dubious seaside venue. If you do so it is your loss, for the Lazy Toad hosted a thriving and bustling set of people from a mix of backgrounds, and perhaps more surprisingly a cracking little range of real ales - drawn from the casks! No, not a pump in sight; just beer straight from the barrel. Tried the Downton New Forest and it was splendid, if a little lively when first poured, and there were at least 5 others to consider from 3 other breweries.
The decor is bizarre, in that it doesn't quite seem to know whether it's a pub, a wine bar, or a social club. But its slightly unorthodox styling suits the area and is no bad thing, especially as the ale - and the whole vibe in general - is obviously on the up.

A hidden delight, if not a hidden gem.

21 Jun 2010 17:08

Marliplins, Shoreham by Sea

I am conscious of using the expression "down-to-earth" a little too frequently in my BITE pub reviews, but so often it seems to fit the bill. And I don't (always) mean it in a euphemistic sense to try and be polite about clientele who err on the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum! At the Marlipins for example, one finds a genuine, pretense-free, solid pubby atmosphere. It isn't purporting to win any awards for beer, food, decor, entertainment. It just ticks all the basic boxes that a mixed and middle-of-the-road set of locals want. 4 cask ales (though nothing out of the ordinary those sampled were kept well). A range of the standard lagers and keg cider. Comfortable seating. Traditional, sea-farer-orientated decor that fits both the building and the town's context. Seating outdoors. Not sure about grub but I imagine hearty and simple offerings if there are any.

Just a friendly and straight-down-the-line local really, and none the worse for that. Of course this is all based on one visit so far - so if anyone finds different I suppose I'd better draw attention to this as my disclaimer. But as the site says, don't take any reviews on here too seriously!

21 Jun 2010 16:53

The Buckingham Arms, Shoreham by Sea

An intriguingly incongruous mix is indeed what one finds at this large rail-side pub. The external appearance is charming enough, although its internal decor is perhaps not what one might expect having given the frontage a cursory inspection. Still, mismatches aside it is quite light and airy around the bar. At the risk of generalising too wildly, my experience of pubs adjacent to railways in small towns/villages is that they tend towards the dull and the dowdy; seemingly relying on a mythical captive market generated by rail passengers who sadly, by and large do not even consider dropping into a boozer when they come off the platform, preferring instead to simply get in the car and drive home. Certainly they are not known to be meccas for real ale. The Buckingham is just that - not only does it feature prominently in ale-related literature, its impressive tally of 11 handpumps in a row meets one's eye immediately upon arrival; reminiscent of an arsenal of soldiers presenting arms in unison at their pass-out parade. And, all but 1 of these was occupied on my visit at the weekend! As for range, the policy seems to be to stock around 5 more recognisable brands (Taylor Landlord, Harvey's Best, Young's Ordinary, Ringwood Best, that sort of thing), and up to 5 lesser-known breeds, some local, some otherwise. And I believe at least 1 real cider featured too, which is a welcome touch for apple-ites who look beyond the Magners and Bulmers factory fizz.

All the other usual indicators of a house highly-regarded by the cask cognoscenti are not present however. The clientele - and they numbered many as it was a busy Saturday early evening - were generally down-to-earth working types, and observations suggested more lager-orientated. There were no frills and furbelows. It is lively, to say the least, and does have the vibe of a "sports bar", which is not always everyone's bag. I did leave feeling slightly relieved in a way, despite having appreciated the well-kept beer, attentive service and actually generally clean and happy atmosphere. Perhaps it is good for pubs to successfully supply two distinctly-different ends of the drinking market, so well done to them. But for those who expect the other features that so often go with a the more stereotypical "ale house" template, you might wish to think again. There are plenty of pubs in the area to try as an alternative if this one doesn't float your boat.

8/10 essentially because of their keen efforts on the cask front, which as many know I will always prioritise. Sadly though, without the beers it would struggle to be a 5 for me.

21 Jun 2010 16:41

The George, Croydon

It is sad to see a rather silly tiff emerging around the George of all pubs, as it is has always been a fairly average JDW venue. It has had its ups and downs over the 17 years it has traded, but is now mercifully on a steadier course thanks to Steve, the current manager, who has done wonders with the cask ale side, and generally seems to have elevated the quality of both the product and the fabric of the place, if not to excellence then to acceptability. He has also employed slightly more efficient staff to keep the pub running smoothly, although I do still witness unfortunate hiatuses between customer arrival and service, and certain staff suffer more with moodswings than others. But that said, so do its clientele, who remain "mixed" at best, and while most usually behave sociably, there are certain individuals, and contingents of people, who are not pleasant, and who must present considerable challenges to the management.

You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear as they say, but in its defence I think the present George team seem to have done their best to maximise its strengths and suppress weaknesses, and more so than in some other Wetherspoon outlets. And as for other "cheap" alternatives such as the Goose.... It has to be this pub every time for anyone with any discernment.

Now then. Play nicely children....

11 Jun 2010 11:41

The Nutley Hall, Reigate

Yet another pub needlessly under fire from a cynical and lazy regional brewer who'd rather behave more like a property portfolio company, and just sell-off pubs on the fringes of its large estate that it deems aren't worth the bother and cash in on the considerable land value, rather than try to devise a strategy that might help such pubs survive for the benefit of its local customer base. Stand up Fuller's, Greene King and of course, Young's who all have been/will still be guilty of this one-size fits all approach and simply letting pubs go to the wall and selling them for conversion/demolition when they don't quite conform to the standard blueprint of food first, ale second - a template that works for affluent middle-class pubgoers in Greater London but not necessarily in more provincial locales.
Actually in this instance, the brewer in question - Hall & Woodhouse - are not London -based (Blandford Forum), and one might have hoped they'd be more sensitive to the individual needs of its various pubs, but clearly that would have been naivety gone mad, as they are now acting as ruthlessly as any real estate company (sorry, pubco) would do!

There is still much to commend the Nutley; not least it being the only true "local" pub remaining within the centre of Reigate. There is often only 2 ales on, but both are kept well by John, the down-to-earth, engaging and clearly popular licensee, who along with a significant number of local regulars/visitors is preparing to fight H & W's plans to the end. Yes, many Reigatian residents probably prefer more upmarket venues, and yes, the South-East needs more housing. But these broad truisms alone should not be sufficient to necessarily seal the doom of yet another community pub, whose trade is respectable in the current climate and which is the antidote to all others in the town which have sold out to the posher end of the spectrum.
The Nutley is not a perfect pub. But it is worthy of a campaign to ensure it can continue to trade for those who prefer it to the likes of the Market Hotel, Blue Anchor or the Cage. Support it while you can - forget all that crap about it being full of certain "minority" types a few years back - and make the most of it, in case the owner gets their way, which despite some tough talk I heard from John and some punters last Friday, still remains a very likely outcome. Note there is a petition available and if you feel inclined to sign then ask at the bar.

10 Jun 2010 12:59

The Kellaway Arms, Horfield

I rather fancy the weaknesses outlined by the last contributor 9 months ago have improved since - with the exception of the good-looking barmaid who if it is the same girl who served us remains so and needs no improving. I believe 5 beers were available; not all were unusual, but a few ubiquitous offerings provide familiar territory for the less-adventurous quaffer and help to keep ale sales ticking over nicely. I would say the beer was kept well and was clean, clear and tasty. Food was available but although being hungry we decided against it, and opted for Snickers bars instead to prolong the need for a solid savoury meal, which would only have got in the way of the core activity: boozing.

Big screen was on which I wouldn't normally enjoy but it was showing the latest Test match which was of interest to us, if nobody else.

I suspected a recent refurb, as things were rather spruce and breezy indoors, and the outdoor signage style implies a recent addition. It looks like some money has been invested and I'd guess it has been a worthwhile project. Keep this up and the Kellaway could get back to its hey-day soon.

9 Jun 2010 17:47

The Annexe Inn, Bristol

Despite it's long-held tradition for having a variety of real ales to sample, I never once got round to visiting this place... Until last Monday. A quiet period, being a bank holiday lunchtime, but none the worse for that. Surprisingly capacious, the Annexe has the unusual character of a social club and pub combined, which is a canny mix and one which I imagine goes down quite well with local clientele.
They have that rare arrangement of handpumpage which is set against a wall with the clips facing backwards - and there are about 8 available so clearly there is potential, although I did wonder from the kinds of drinks being ordered by others whether there was enough demand to ever satisfy the full complement. In any case, there were around 5 to choose from and mine was cool and crisp and perfect as a starter-of-ten for the day ahead.
And...all served by a rather sexy barmaid whose pertness of buttock and shortness of skirt was I'm afraid taking everyone's attention - probably why I can't recall which beer I had now!

Not bad actually. Dismiss at your peril, whether you're a "ticker" or otherwise.

9 Jun 2010 17:40

Cambridge Arms, Redland

Never before bothered to try this place, but on its appearance in the 2010 GBG and other positive accounts I sallied forth last week. I found the fairly standardised Fullers template so frequently found in London had been applied here, but in truth there is nothing wrong it that and it didn't jar. The selection of beer was reasonable - happily Fullers are finally waking up to the fact that their customers sometimes need to enjoy beer beyond their own portfolio however well-cellared it is (and it is here) - and from what little I observed food seemed popular. Various family types were in owing to it being half-term, but they didn't intrude on the quiet quaffing of the over-18ers.
Met Paul, the manager, who was most attentive and seems to be a conscientious custodian of his bar - his response below is perhaps indicative of his genuine interest in customer service which one can never take for granted in pubs nowadays.
Nothing out of the ordinary for me in the South-East, but in Bristol it isn't quite so common and I imagine this is now a justifiably popular haunt for those living locally. Well done.

9 Jun 2010 17:30

Old Stillage, Redfield

I never quite had the courage to venture into this place when I was younger, on account of being concerned for my safety and worse still, being faced with no decent ale to quaff. Whether my fears were justified or not, there is no question that this place has been overhauled for the better, and whilst it retains a down-to-earth edginess owing to its very location, it is a welcoming, comfortable and characterful pub which plays host to a range of fine beers from the Arbor Ales brewery, which it seems can do no wrong at the minute. There was no doubting the quality of the beer supped, and all in all I left with that warm fuzzy feeling that one gets not because of excess consumption, but from having visited a pub which blew away all previous preconceptions with a very positive impression.

Methinks I shall get back in here at some point.

9 Jun 2010 17:24

The Seven Stars, Bristol

Steve advised me last time I visited that the new licensee, Paul, would keep the place in good order. And all evidence found last week seemed to suggest he has. Beers still varied; still kept brilliantly. Convivial, relaxed atmosphere was intact. Friendly customers and staff. No unwanted or inadvisable alterations. Simple, and still so effective.

The only slight downer was one excessively inebriated punter who my mate reckoned tried to grope his arse.... I should say that this person was male and so is my chum so that didn't go down too well, but landlords can't go handcuffing drunk and frisky gay customers so it's not the pub's fault!

Keep it up.

9 Jun 2010 17:18

The Lansdown, Bristol

My earliest experience of this pub was winning a pop quiz - almost single-handedly despite being in a gaggle of fellow students - and having a gallon of Smiles Best bestowed on us; most of which was consumed by me which was fine seeing as how I'd answered most of the questions!
Spool forward a few months and it was boarded up thanks to various violent incidents; a year or two later it had become some poncey pseuds' corner called "Suzy's", and later still closure - and probable oblivion - beckoned. Fortunately someone has swooped in to rescue the Lansdown and has opened it up to become a stylish food and ale house, without divorcing itself from its Victorian roots. The ale selection found last week was similar to that outlined below, although we found the quality to be higher - whether we were lucky or the cellarmanship has improved in the last 6 months I can't say, but it's got to be a positive sign.
Food was being served despite the unorthodox hour (5PM), and a hearty chilli con carne and wedges was enjoyed at the bar. Pleasant service by young barmaid, and punters were gradually trickling in. I think it is appealing to the Cliftonites but not the worst kind - part of this assumption derives from the prices, which aren't the greatest of value. But, given the leaps and bounds this establishment has taken in the last few years, I can only commend the latest incumbent's efforts and recommend you give it a try.

9 Jun 2010 17:11

Colston Arms, Bristol

Well, I stand corrected - said the man with the orthopaedic shoes....

Finally did step in briefly to the Colston last week, on a wet Tuesday lunchtime. Only two chaps in doing the crossword together - bless! - and the landlord, who was clearly expecting no further custom as he was busying himself at the back of the boozer for some while before I could alert his attention to my arrival. That said, he was convivial, and the ale - a quick 'alf of Gem on this occasion - was kept well and was one of three to sample. Nothing outside the box as it were here, but a solid pub which I do hope attracts a greater buzz during evenings, perhaps courtesy of the local workforce at the hospital? Certainly I could envisage this forming a useful stop-off of a wider crawl from Kingsdown to the Centre, or back again.

In terms of character, I didn't notice much alteration good or bad since it was Micawber's. There was a surprisingly large area to the left of the bar which I didn't recall from its pseudo-Dickensian days - so don't write this place off if you're in a larger group as the interior is more commodious than you might guess.

9 Jun 2010 17:01

The Quinton House, Clifton

This was once a lunchtime regular of mine during 1995-'96, when it was an unexceptional but comfortable and convenient Ushers house. The licensee left, and after a few false starts following Ushers' demise proper, the pub eventually closed and like so many its future appeared uncertain.
I had heard a worthy owner had stepped in and had rejuvenated the place in 2009, and I made it my business to come back to the Quinton after what must be a 12-year hiatus at least - and I was thrilled by what I found! One learns to expect less of pub re-openings to avoid yet further disappointment when they fail, but in this instance it does seem the right chap is at the helm, for the Quinton is now a thriving, cosy, well-decorated and engaging local, which I'm sure we had more of its like in over-blown Clifton Village. The traditional character has essentially been retained - no disharmonious contemporary makeovers here - yet there is a subtle modern twist by the introduction of cleverly-selected artwork, and revitalisation of the beautiful stained glass windows and fireplace. Seating is just as comfy as it always was and it is close-quarters enough to encourage light-hearted interaction between the friendly locals and visitors.
The bar area hosts four cask offerings; most were not uncommon but the Brain's Rev James which I sampled on the day was in excellent nick. The emphasis seems to be on wet sales not food, and the owner clearly has shown that there was always demand for a place of this ilk - no longer is that demand being ignored.
Leave your Clifton pubs, leave your Berkeleys, leave your Whiteladies nonsense and come here instead. If you appreciate the features outlined herein you shan't leave disappointed. Good luck folks; fortune favours the brave.

9 Jun 2010 16:48

The Three Tuns, Hotwells

Indeed, this pub has been vastly improved by anyone's measure in the last year, and is a true testament to how much of a turnaround can be achieved with the right people, right ideas and a bit of cash, however hopeless the future seemed in its previous incarnation.
In the late '90s the 3 Tuns was a bog-standard Ushers house as far as I can recall, and although to my knowledge not exactly a dive, it was certainly nothing to write home about and clearly was nowhere near reaching its potential.
Happily, a good team is now on the case and although it won't be everyone's idea of a perfect hostelry, it serves a plainly strong demand amongst the local community for a simple pub, serving good basic grub, a wide range of predominantly local cask ales, and which has an unpretentious, yet cosy atmosphere to it.
Popped in on the last Bank Holiday Monday, to find an earthy group of punters all enthralled by some live folk music being performed in the corner. It is not my usual bag, but nevertheless I found myself genuinely drawn in by the solid performance of these local musicians, who sang soley from the heart and honoured the folk traditions of old England in an authentic and lusty style.
The ales were on stupendous form, and every customer was furnished with ham and cheese sandwiches by the landlord as we whiled away the evening enjoying the free-spirited vibes. Even one of the barmaids did a brief turn on the mic at closing time - who'd have known she could sing?

One of the most honest and endearing of revived pubs not only in Bristol but anywhere, and judging by the popularity of it I can only hope it will continue enjoying its revival for some while.

9 Jun 2010 16:33

The Plough, Coldharbour

To clear up a couple of minor points on John B's commentary - which I must say could have applied to various visits I've made in the past and I'm pleased to see it's not all doom and gloom.

1) There did indeed used to be ten handpumps herem in one straight row acorss the bar, which used to be far longer. Usually they were nearly all occupied with quite a diverse range of ales - Rick has only ever had two regular brews of his own on - Ringwood and Sheps were often represented as I recall. Although I could understand the rationale and don't miss them now, at the time they re-organised the layout (part of what must have been a pretty expensive refurb to improve the toilets and build up accommodation facilities) in around 2000, I was disappointed to see only 5 rise from the ashes. A ten-pump bar is a rare thing to behold.

2) I didn't know about the Beautiful South beer - but I can guess its provenance. During my last visit in February Anna mentioned that she had signed up for Paul Heaton - lead singer of the Beautiful South currently doing a national tour of pubs to support the flagging industry - to do a turn at the Plough, I think on 12 May. I missed it, and I confess to having doubts as to whether it would come off as it is way off the beaten track, but I assume it probably did and that Rick brewed this one-off to commemorate it.

PS: Those who have commented on my allegedly indulgent rant of 27 May, please note the (slightly) shorter length of this one. I am getting better....

7 Jun 2010 18:00

The Plough, Coldharbour

As someone who has been an infrequent visitor here across the last 14 years, and who has appreciated the good local beer and pleasant location, I am disappointed to see just how sour the reviews have become about the pub, which although has always tended to divide opinion did used to receive a fair share of positive comments. I am bound to say however that I have little choice but to accept that the bad experiences punters have endured here recently - which now go way beyond just the short tempered snappiness of the landlady and are often levelled at the food, ale and the state of the interior - are genuine, and sadly a fair barometer of how far the standards of the Plough have declined compared to what it was a decade ago.

Anna - the landlady - has always been perfectly pleasant towards me personally. However, it is obvious that she is undoubtedly not a tolerant or personable character per se, and I have borne witness to unnecessarily harsh comments from her towards usually unassuming customers. I have also chatted to her and heard her side of the story about some incidents (it is only fair) and whilst I might take her viewpoint on board, the overarching fact remains that she is in a role which requires one to major in public service, and unfortunately there are times where a pub licensee must within commonly-accepted bounds of reasonableness go along with occasionally demanding or unfair behaviour of its customers with good grace. That is not to say they must be expected to tolerate every whim of the punter, but they are there to serve, and to maintain a sound business for the benefit not only of the customer but their own livelihood. Generalised comments made about "ramblers" and so on may be based on some genuinely unfortunate experiences, but given that they will rightly or wrongly form a large contingent of your customer-base, can their support be so easily-discarded?

I know the pub was marketed 2 years ago for a considerable sum, which notwithstanding its charming setting and continuing potential, was unrealistic, especially given the downturn in the property market at that point. Anna has stated that to come away with any money at all the price was justified, especially as trade has declined considerably. Whilst I didn't say so, I do fear that the latter problem could be eliminated or at least lessened if her attitude was a little softer and more tolerant, particularly on matters which are plainly petty. I vividly recall an incident in early 2000 where some people were virtually horse-whipped for having taken up seats in the so-called dining area after having been "warned" not to. Food was not even being served! An earlier comment suggests there has been no let-up on this issue 10 years on, and it is something like this which will turn customers away. I worry that any turnabout in the pub's fortunes now can't be realised because of the bad press Anna has allowed to develop around it.

Plainly average-quality food (frankly it always was variable) and charging for tap water and small beer-samples is not good business sense, and whilst one accepts the heightened desire for licensees to make a margin any way they can just to survive nowadays, this policy does more harm than good, and no amount of empathy with the Abreharts' personal circumstances will justify it in the minds of customers whose expectations are legitimate, and who in the final analysis can go elsewhere - permanently. As for rude and incompetent staff, that is almost certainly due to what I imagine are now relatively poor wages given the couple's reduced financial situation - one gets what one pays for. Again though, a case of false economy methinks.

I am surprised at one commentator who found the Crooked Furrow on poor form, as the most consistently good aspect of the Plough - indeed the one which has kept me going back albeit with increasingly protracted hiatuses between visits - is Rick's own-brewed beers. The food is over-priced for its quality but good beer in country pubs never comes cheap nowadays and 3.30 a pint isn't ludicrous. Actually I feel I must sound a note of support for Rick at this juncture, as he is an absolutely charming man who I've never seen irritate customers. It is perhaps frustrating that he isn't more "front of house" than his wife, but sadly this is probably due to him having been seriously ill 3 years ago and although recovered, I don't think he is as hands-on as he once was.

There is no doubt that there are serious fault-lines that could to a significant degree still be ameliorated. However, I don't think the regime will change at this late stage, particularly because I believe that the Abreharts are now just biding their time until they can sell - I think they will end up having to retire and let the place go for less than they'd hoped and may lose money. But then it won't just be the market that commands a lower price, as their approach to running their pub has done nothing to maintain any residual "good-will" value that could help boost its prospects for buyers, who now have to re-build a positive reputation for the place. In her defence, Anna has rejected an offer from someone who wanted to convert the place into a poncy wine bar, despite offering a reasonable sum. I think it is to the couple's credit that they so far haven't been willing to sell to just anybody, because however appalled some folk are at the way it is now, surely there's nobody who wants to lose a local pub to a venue that is best confined to Covent Garden and not commensurate with the community of Coldharbour? Once that happens, there really is no going back.

I'll let the gunfight at the Coldharbour Corral between Grumpy et al continue, but I felt some sort of measured criticism of this establishment with a bit more background was worthwhile. Please don't involve me in any slanging-matches if you happen not to approve of any of my comments!

27 May 2010 12:28

The Yew Tree 'Time well spent', Reigate Hill

Made my first visit in a while yesterday, and only my fourth in the last 10 years. It perhaps would have been a better choice for a cold wintry day rather than a balmy May afternoon, with its copious wood-panelling, log fire and cosy seating, set in a pseuod-baronial 1930s roadside-style building. Nevertheless, it is not unpleasant, and one is promised a "sun-trap" garden at the rear, which I eschewed only because by that time of day the lee of Reigate Hill would surely have obscured any rays from the garden.
So, a pleasant pint of Caledonian 80/- (or just "80" as it's now known, presumably because the majority of people aren't sufficiently educated or aged to recognise that the stroke and dash signifies "shilling"?!) was supped at the bar for 3.10. Not bad, considering the multi-millionaire neighbourhood the pub is adjacent to. The only other cask ales were the ubiquitous London Pride and Young's Ord, although the conditioning of the 80 suggested these would at least be likely to be found in good nick.
Plainly the current incumbent, whose "time well spent" strapline also applies to the Sportsman at Mogador - do we have a nascent mini pub-co developing here?! - has orientated the pub towards food, which is always a modest disappointment if one is visiting solely for drink as one can feel somewhat sidelined in favour of eaters, and when busy I don't see the Yew as am obvious place for a solitary drinker to use. However, as the owner passionately argues in response to criticism of his other pub, this is now a vital means of staying afloat, and turning a profit if you're lucky, and it is true that many licensees now cannot simply rely on wet sales for survival. I daresay it is popular for grub, with a good range of predominantly solid British fare on the menu, with specials also featuring.
Not many in at 6:30PM on a Monday, but at least the lady serving was most welcoming, and pleasantly chatty without being invasive. I overheard her saying she'd ruled out paying 700 for a Hog Roast. Wise move, although some of the nearby local residents would probably think nothing of it!
All in all a jolly and perfectly decent place that does have some warmth and character, and is worth a visit, especially if one is in the market for a spot o' din-dins. But as to value for money, I would reserve judgement until I'd eaten there.

25 May 2010 15:25

The Blue Anchor, Reigate

Yes, though supposedly due to re-open on Thursday 27th.... I went a-roving for a decent pint in Reigate yesterday evening and found both this and the Anchor shut. I feared the worst - another change of hands - and this fear would seem to be well-founded. When are they ever going to get these two pubs right?

25 May 2010 09:58

The Red Cross Inn, Reigate

Yes, though supposedly due to re-open on Thursday 27th.... I went a-roving for a decent pint in Reigate yesterday evening and found both this and the Anchor shut. I feared the worst - another change of hands - and this fear would seem to be well-founded. When are they ever going to get these two pubs right?

25 May 2010 09:57

Three Horseshoes Inn, Sidlow Bridge

Since my last BITE appraisal of Oct '06 of this establishment, I can report many a happy visit since, especially since Rob Martinez took over the reigns in '08, and began making subtle changes for the better. He has realised that as a country local the pub worked very effectively as it was, and neither the layout nor the decor needed much in the way of alteration. Consequently, it still has a thriving core of regulars who remain comfortably loyal to the place, and for a pub in such a quiet location, such consistent custom must create a real fillip for Rob and his team to work hard to maintain the pub's high regard. A mix of punters can always be found around the bar engaged in active debate, and some enlightened conversations usually can be had whether you're a regular or not.

Whilst not making unnecessary changes, Rob spotted the 8 handpumps on his bar, has saw the benefit of bringing in a variety of more interesting cask ales, as the local market clearly showed some demand for this. Happily, we now see the 4 regular offerings from Fuller's, Wells & Young's, Harvey's, plus diverse guest beers from a wide selection of usually small brewers - the likes of Ramsbury, Langham, Rebellion, Surrey Hills, Hammerpot et al have been seen at the pumps, and Rob will always take the time to seek opinions from experienced palates as to the quality of the featured ales. He is a man who I believe is relatively new the this game, but has nevertheless developed a respectable reputation as a landlord of a Good Beer Guide-listed pub through sheer hard work and willingness to learn quickly.
He has successfully channelled these attributes further by holding an annual beer festival every May - sadly I missed this year's but 2009's was a superb effort for a maiden attempt by a small country pub.

In summary, the 'Shoes is a cracking boozer for good ale, keen discussion, and I understand hearty food too, and one feels at home in the extensive garden in Summer, and by the fire in Winter. Keep it up folks!

14 May 2010 15:10

The Shakespeare, Victoria

Oh dear; having visited this place once or twice (the last being February this year), I was fully-aware that it fails to impress or excel in any area one cares to consider as a measure of what constitutes a "good" pub. I know this because my eyes were open.
However, perhaps I was more fortunate than many recent visitors, as I didn't experience the dreadful customer service, poor drinks service/quality, neanderthal doormen or petty theft from punters! Naturally you may choose to defer to the earlier comments as the more reliable barometer of this pubs shortcomings, but for my part, I have to say it is terminally average; nothing more, nothing less. The service I received was reasonable - nearly all foreigners with dubious English but one learns to expect and tolerate this in London nowadays, and they were pleasant enough. Also the bar in the main part of the building was noticeably over-staffed, if anything - I counted 7 barmaids including a manageress as I sat waiting for friends to join me, so it would've been an achievement to not get served quickly.
As for cask ale range/quality - always top-trump for TWG - it was utterly unimaginitive and predictable: GK IPA and Fuller's London Pride. I had the Pride, and notwithstanding the exorbitant price-tag, it was kept well enough and wasn't the worst I've sampled in the capital.
Interior-wise it is by-numbers, with various seating areas for drinkers and diners alike, with a sort of half-arsed sub-contemporary decor which jars somewhat with its Victorian exterior. It was clean, though.
Plainly this is run by a large pub-co concern which cynically assumes it has a natural captive audience of unsuspecting local and tourist customers by dint of its central location opposite a major railway station and adjacent to theatres. One doesn't expect much, but really, if there is even a quarter of truth in the comments on this site, they really do have their work cut out to improve overall standards to acceptable levels. Even based on my own experience which was passable, would I go back? Not unless I had no choice.

13 May 2010 11:59

The Royal Oak, Rusper

Having now managed to squeeze in the tortuous but still delightful journey out from Chez TWG to the Oak a few times since my opening gambit in January, I am on the verge of obsession, and my liver, and indeed general wellbeing, should think itself damned lucky that I can only ever emerge here once a month at best, and so far always avec voiture. As any closer and it would be a surrogate local and I would never resist the temptation to be manacled to the bar - notionally of course, although if Sara wants to try it literally then so be it!
Despite having numerous fine qualities that make up the full picture, the ale selection, and quality, is paramount here, and from my experience it's no wonder the reputation is most certainly being cemented in this area. Always 6, and always from a canny mix of local and farther-afield breweries - yes - Devon! The Dark Star offerings always shine; oh dammit they all do. And all washed down with genuinely convivial chat from Sara, and Clive - he seems to have been overlooked here somewhat - which one rarely receives from sometimes all-too-complacent rural licensees who seem to assume punters are putty in their palms. I took my old mum here for her borthday on 1 March and she was incredibly impressed. And she doesn't even drink real ale! The food menu was worryingly brief with only a smattering of hot offerings, but it centred on a homemade pheasant stew. Needless to say, said pheasant had been alive and kicking only a few days previously, and when tasted, it became immediately apparent as to why there is no need for an expansive roll-call of victuals. Everything is simple, local, properly-cooked and prepared. That is really the main issue. Better still, one can pick up all the veg one needs to help re-create this hearty fare at home, which I duly did. Haven't tasted carrots as sweet for years!

All visits - even at quiet times when S and C are having a well-earned break - have been a solid-gold joy, and it is clearly the same for other customers, who frequently appear in relaxed and jovial mood and don't make suburbanites like myself feel unworthy.
I also think it's marvellous that the pub and its licensee has drummed up so much passion to create such a dialogue on this site - there aren't many who can keep it up this long!

I feel compelled to upgrade my already hard-to-exceed score to double-figures, and I just can't wait to keep getting back here to remind myself of why.

Right, back to Mr Grumpy and co. God, if he lives in Redhill I might know him! Then again, there are - understandably - a large number of grumpy-looking blokes in Redhill.....

29 Apr 2010 17:48

The Eighteenth Amendment, Reigate

I am somewhat miffed at the appearance of this phantom pub on this site. Not because it's an abuse, or because it is having a wry dig at a real pub that seems to have fallen from what little grace it had of late - nothing so high-handed. Rather, because it took me 7 months to get a GENUINE outlet registered on here, and yet this figment of some joker's imagination just to make a point - which given its topicality can only have been requested a matter of weeks ago - seemed to swan in and get placed without delay! Maybe it's just a matter of where one's pub request falls in the cycle....

Surely there must be some independent verification needed before something can be uploaded to BITE? Come on guys - things are bad in the pub sector but we don't need to resort to allowing fictional outlets onto the site just yet!

29 Apr 2010 17:22

Old Oak, Reigate

I was somewhat surprised to see this one not already added, so I took the liberty of recommending it myself - in August '09. My, it only took them 7 months!

The Oak is a by-word for traditional, earthy pub values, and is a much-loved community local used by an engaging mix of punters. Run by veteran publicans Colin and Pauline Batt for what must be getting on for 25 years, if not more, it exudes a kind of comfort that one enjoys from a favourite arm-chair that has always been in the same family, and the same corner of the lounge. A little worn, and in need of modest re-upholstering, but all the better for it as it represents not only reliable service for its purpose, but lived-in character.
On paper the Oak is nothing special; for a start it is now owned by the often terminally-average boa constrictor of a pubco, Punch Taverns. It is a pretty enough Victorian structure which has had a recent lick of paint, but nothing exceptional, and with some might say a rather unsympathetic 1950s conservatory added. The interior has been steadily modernised down the years although happily the spectre of appalling overhauls that characterised some pubs in the '70s, '80s and '90s did pass it by.
But irrespective of all this, there is a decency and honesty about the place and its customers which one does not always sense in smarter, slicker outlets. The small things are what make it. There is a mutual, organic respect between customer and licensee. The bar area is littered with odds and ends of old memorabilia, and some newer items for raffling. It's all tat - but that's the beauty of it! Colin has been known to don a waistcoat when serving - another sign of a sadly dying breed of landlord. There is a series of celebrity photos above - maybe a naff provincial nod to the inaccessible world of celebrity and glamour, but for me far better that than some pretentious outlandish artwork so beloved of the more money-than-sense crowd of Reigate. Reverence is due to the beautiful game - darts - with plentiful provision of space at the oche. And also the other - rugby - many Reigate clubsfolk have and do drink here and there are pictures to prove this longstanding connection.
At brass tacks level, what about the ales? One would expect the pumps to be awash with the usual bland ubiquitous offerings, but there's always been a relatively good spread, and in recent times Colin has managed to pressgang Punch into yielding further and now up to 6 can be offered simultaneously. Young's Ord, Fuller's L Pride, Adnams Bitter, Brakspear Best are usually found, but Woodforde's Wherry and Purity Mad Goose are recent examples of this welcome guest ale trend, and both were on peak form. Prices are reasonable and do still dip below 3 - thank the lord for small mercies.
I can't speak about food; indeed, I'm not even sure any is served! But if it is, it will surely be simple, cheap, hearty and tasty fare suited to a pub, not a pub with restaurant leanings. And there is nothing wrong in that.
Trade can vary; I only hope it's sufficient to keep this most enduring and honest pubs alive. Car parking can be trying but persevere, or just walk, as I believe that if this is the kind of gritty-but-not-dowdy boozer you instinctively want to visit but so often fail to find, you'll feel right at home. And make the most of it before the Batts inevitably retire, and the pub will almost as inevitably go to the wall in the absence of a saviour....

29 Apr 2010 17:14

The Tom Cribb, Piccadilly

Oh yes I just did - apparently he's a bare-knuckle boxer. Shows how observant I am then; I barely noticed the boxing memorabilia!

Just goes to show how partial even the most dedicated of BITE reviewers can be!

29 Apr 2010 16:07

The Tom Cribb, Piccadilly

Dropped by before moving on to the nearby Moroccan restuarant (well, one can't live on pub grub every night can one?!), and was pleasantly surprised not only by the generally clean, ordered and as rpadam says civilised interior of this pub, but also it being a London-based Sheps outlet bothering to serve the maximum range available. All ales were on, and those sampled were in bloom. Marked-up of course, but then consider what the rent or mortgage and general overheads on a property off Piccadilly must cost nowadays. Even Sheps can't be blase about these sort of business rates.
I would disagree with the previous suggestion that it isn't spacious; we found it reasonable enough, if perhaps a little smaller than one might expect from the exterior. Seating availability was limited but it was a busy Saturday evening, and frankly finding a seat in most Central London quaffholes is always an arduous mission.

At the risk of betraying my ignorance (or maybe not reading earlier reviews if someone has been kind enough to explain already), I am curious to know who Tom Cribb was and why he gave his name to this pub - and as far as I can make out this pub alone?

29 Apr 2010 16:05

The Tattershall Castle, Embankment

In fairness my last visit here was last year, but since I omitted a review then and I have time on my hands now, I shall pass judgement. Essentially, there is a sound novelty factor about a pub like this, and for a while that works a treat, especially as previous visitors have pointed out, on a balmy summer evening. The place is in reasonable nick inside too, and has various seating areas and comfy accoutrements.
The inevitable downside is that when one thinks it would be pleasant to pop along to the TC, the world and his wife will have had the same idea at the same time, and the net result is an often tortuous negotiation through the throngs to get to the bar, and then a 10-minute wait for attention. This isn't the pub's fault as such, but the term "victim of its own success" could have been invented for this establishment when it gets into its stride.
At weekends the music can be insufferably loud too, which I daresay suits the younger element but for those who like to talk rather than shout and to hear people's replies, it doesn't really do.
Ideal for a group stop-off - safety in numbers - possibly an office do or even a stag do.

22 Apr 2010 17:39

The Red Lion, Westminster

Not too many Members around given the purdah period pre-election - and this is no bad thing given that they aren't known for enhancing any pub's atmosphere, especially given the cool reception they are currently getting from Joe Public post-expenses scandal. I do wonder whether some of those excessive claims involved ludicrous bar tabs racked up at places like the Red Lion, where a well-kept but nevertheless hardly unusual or exceptional pint of London Pride will set one back 3.45, so one can only guess at the extravagant tags on other more MP-friendly beverages such as double malt whisky.
For all that though, the Lion isn't a poor venue. Indeed, it covers all bases reasonably well and whilst the overall effect is forgettable, it fares better than many of its capital counterparts. A decent range of 5-6 ales feature; service is prompt despite getting busy during after-work hours. The decor suits the traditional outlook of the building, and there is outdoor seating to accommodate overspill on a clement day.
I suspect that the numerous tourists swarming around London's flagship buildings of interest regard this as a "typical" English pub, and maybe there's something in that. Just a shame it's a jack-of-all-trades and master of none.

22 Apr 2010 17:27

The Westminster Arms, Westminster

Can't believe I haven't bothered reviewing this one given the number of drop-ins I've made over the last decade. I found that on my most recent visit, after some months, the place had been given the most minor of makeovers, which preserved the character of the interior but spruced it up with a good lick of paint and subtle decor improvements.
The Arms used to have a fairly broad array of cask beers which I always tried to enjoy, though sometimes the quality varied - likely a function of attempting to stock 7 pumps when in fact 4 would've been more suitable. Saying that, 6 featured on Tuesday night, all Sheps now of course, and the Canterbury Jack was on decent enough form. It goes without saying that this pub was never competitively-priced, but realistically one does not go to Westminster for that. Take some comfort in the fact that they are routinely extracting maximum ackers from some of the richest members of society - namely MPs, who at any other time in the electoral cycle tend to be part of the furniture here.
For those who care, there is a TV screen showing football, or possibly cricket depending on the season.

22 Apr 2010 17:18

The Sanctuary House, Westminster

Been popping in here on and off over the last few years, and always find it agreeable on most fronts. I once ate here and the food was reasonable, if ambitiously priced as is always the case with sizeable Fuller's houses, and the ale is always well-kept - beer doesn't seem so over-priced but this is only because of the relative inflation of pricetags across the Westminster area which sadly one has to adjust to.
Service is always consistent in my experience, and although not perhaps a venue one would make a particular bee-line for, it acts as a worthy stop-off if you need a quick pie and pint, or indeed if one is traversing from Parliament Street to Victoria on a crawl which takes in the various decent pubs in the vicinity.

22 Apr 2010 17:11

The Speaker, Westminster

Finally made a welcome return to this pub after a 6-7 year hiatus. And welcomed we were; Dennis - who I feel I could still be on first name terms with even if I didn't get back for another 6-7 years - was most gracious and as previous commentators have remarked, very inclusive. Nobody is made to feel irrelevant and anyone can be part of the low burr of conversation at the bar, where D gently dictates the pace of proceedings.
Even more crucially, he seems to know his beers, and will be one of the few licensees able and willing to look far afield to stock his pumps with weird and often wonderful examples of fine brewing. There is only 4, but that will suffice and those sampled by yours truly last Tuesday were on song. D has, and will have festivals and clearly shows much alacrity in this area.
Otherwise, a cosy yet still understatedly classy atmosphere pervades, with wood pannelling, several sets of tables and seating areas, and a stylish semi-stained glass series of windows letting in just enough natural light.

This pub has much to commend it, and the only sadness is that it shines the spotlight on the tragic averageness of so many of its London peers. This place shouldn't be exceptional, but in its context, it easily qualifies for that status.

22 Apr 2010 17:03

The Woolpack Inn, Northington

Oh dear me; this pub's arrival on BITE was always destined to spark off a difficult but nonetheless worthy debate on how far different pubs should go towards the restaurant end of the market. Sometimes it is a disastrous and misguided manoeuvre driven by a perceived lucrative trend rather than focusing on local market needs, and where the losses vastly outweigh any gain. Equally, there are cases where it is an entirely appropriate move which takes full account of what is most in demand and hence likely to keep the establishment in business, and if delivered to the standard it aspires to the gains can be immeasurably higher than any loss.
I personally believe that this is very much an issue to be judged on a case-by-case basis on relative merits. I love a traditional down-to-earth drink-based boozer. But I also appreciate a stylish upmarket food-based pub. As good old Harry Hill would have it, "which is better?" As Mr Hill doesn't have it though, the best way to find out is not "fight!", but "it depends on the case in point, and what you were after as a customer". If you have a general preference, do your homework to seek out the pubs which will suit you best.

The task of balancing a bit of both - the holy grail - is fraught with difficulty. Arguably, the Woolpack hasn't got it completely right. But it isn't a heinous example of an ill-advised, poorly-conceived needless sacking of a superb local just to play at being a restaurant. There is no question that the young chef here is talented, and has struck a sound balance between contemporary recipes and traditional local ingredients. It is also beyond doubt that the service is efficient, and the accommodation is as Clixby Jermyn Godmanstone points out below, second to none in the pub world - and unexpectedly far more competitively priced than the food. So yes, it does have aspirations to gastro-ism.
Yet, it manifestly does maintain a significant pub element, with a long bar featuring 3 very well kept local ales - strong support for Andwells is most welcome - and on a busier night will attract the drinking cognoscenti who will pull up a pew, although in a place like Northington the number of nearby residents is so minute that it's little wonder there isn't a bustling core of locals perched on stools. The refurbishments have added modern touches but not in ignorance of the historic structure without, and I felt it retained a cosy pub feel: albeit a decidedly middle-class one.

The trade-off here has been the everyday working class custom which would turn its nose up at what would surely be dubbed "poncy nonsense" by the earthier of punters. But you can't please all the people and that should be the joy of pubs - there's still something for every taste, just not always under one roof. And frankly, how many old farming types are around to patronise this remote outpost now? Drink-driving and non-smoking laws have taken their toll and I can fully understand why the owners (incidentally related to the Heineken empire - some 250K of the family fortune was deployed to restore the place and luckily far more than Heineken beer is offered!) decided to go for the upmarket dining-pub venture.

In sum then, the Woolpack has probably done what it needed to do in its particular context to stay alive, and to serve the majority of people who would now consider going out of the way to use it. And what it does do it does exceedingly well, even if it can be a little too polished at the front of house end! I should say that the staff doing brekkie (one of the best fry-ups I've had in a pub) were far less slick and much more relaxed - a young couple with much to offer the industry in future years.

PS: For those interested in reasonable deals on fine wines, check out the list of bottles for sale. There are one or two bargains to be had in the 30-60 range!

24 Mar 2010 16:35

The Bell, Alresford

Something of a surprise - ostensibly a somewhat dated hotel bar which I really had little hope of yielding anything too pleasant, but my luck with pubs struck again as not only was it rather less tatty than predicted, it was cosy, clean and friendly. The ale selection was also curiously broad, and I really hope those who patronise this regularly make the most of this provision.

I was with my drinking brother CJG of course, who recounts his version of the experience below. Sadly I can't recall which beer was in need of a change either. But I'm confident it was attended to promptly and properly by the barmaid, whose appearance was almost as arresting as her accent - not sure of origin. I like to think it was Basque; then again I like to think about Basques on a regular basis....

24 Mar 2010 15:43

The White Lion, Redhill

Not only new management, but new ownership too! Happened to meet the new incumbents, John & Sharon, at the Garland last week, and I found them most agreeable. They seemed to have the right kind of approach to making the most of the Lion's potential, especially now the ties to GK have been relaxed, and up to 3 guests can be sourced, from suppliers of their choice.
My initial impression emboldened me to make the schlep up the hill (sorts the men from the boys!) to sample it for myself. It wasn't busy for a Saturday night, but time is needed for them to spread the word that things should be on the up. And in fairness more folks gradually appeared as the evening wore on. I found 2 unusual guest ales, both hailing from the Midlands; and both were served and conditioned well, despite not being my personal favourites (maybe consider the LocAle initiative John - get those Southern beers in!). Pleasant hum of classic 1960s tunes on the stereogram, which suited the atmos well. An unobtrusive TV was keeping tabs on the (disappointing) England v France rugby match, which one could take as much or as little notice of as one liked.
J & S were in the bar and were very friendly to all, as was the pleasant and pretty barmaid. Unlike my visit last Summer, this pub now has the grassroots feel of an emergent sound local about it, and I hope they manage to build on this, as surely residential trade is the key here. I was further impressed by the provision of a cheese platter at 10PM - 3 types plus numerous grapes, biccies and oodles of salad! Not bad for under a fiver really.
It is somehow comforting to know that there is now a decent ale pit-stop at BOTH ends of Grove Hill Road, and I will be intrigued to monitor the progress from here onwards. Best of luck to you folks.

24 Mar 2010 15:36

The Plough, Earlswood

I notice from a cursory glance at my previous ratings that I haven't appraised the Plough since Nasty Nick left it high and dry (actually, it was far from high in standards and the bar was never likely to be drunk dry) 3 years ago. It is - at least I think still is - now run by David who used to keep the Station Hotel in South Nutfield many a moon ago. A larger-than-life character who knows a bit about boozers, although you're lucky to see him behind the bar.
I am happy to report that you should now find this place much as it was prior to Nick's misguided takeover in late 2005; in other words it is far more welcoming to drinkers, as well as those wishing to eat, and the decor has been returned to its more traditional styling infinitely more in keeping with the building than the bistro-esque pretentions that dogged it in the mid-'00s.
Four ales are all kept in good order (was going to use the word "nick" but that wouldn't be appropriate here), and whilst 3 pumps are still dedicated to ubiquitous brands, 1 tends now to feature something a little more unusual, thanks I've been told to an appeal to Punch to allow them a little more original in their range, in the same vein as the Old Oak down in Mead Vale. Purity Pure Ubu and Mad Goose have been caught here for example, all the way from Warwickshire. Prices have ALWAYS been un-competitive here; sadly that seems to be the way regardless of licensee and I assume is associated with ridiculous prices and rents levied by Punch. Don't automatically blame those behind the bar!
I'm only an occasional visitor these days but I've always found the service to be most cordial, and there is a strong sense of this being a local's place at the bar as well as an established pub for dining. I suspect it's won back a fair few drinkers from the Shades, which benefited hugely from the Plough's wilderness years, but now has a new licensee of its own who arguably isn't quite on the money beer-wise.

I do hope the last person's experience vis-a-vis topping up was a blip.

24 Mar 2010 15:20

Colston Arms, Bristol

Regarding the last comment for this pub - which used to be known to me many years ago - the re-naming is simply restoring it to its original name! This pub was known as the Colston Arms I believe from its inception until c.1995, when it needlessly dumped all semblance of previous history and changed its name to "Micawbers Ale House". The licensee wasn't called Micawber and the pub doesn't have any obvious connection to the character of the same name from Dickens' "Pickwick Papers", so who knows what the rationale was. Colston of course has a clear Bristolian connection and gives its name to many streets and edifices in the area. I am pleased they've seen sense and reverted.

Now all I need to do is get back in and sample the beers, as it sounds far more enticing than it ever managed to be in the mid-'90s....

24 Mar 2010 14:55

The Toby Carvery, Redhill

I very much echo the sentiment of RPAdam, who rightly points out that although one expects it to be entirely given over to "family dining" given the Toby Carvery branding (it'll always be Laker's to me), it does at least manage to operate reasonably well as a pub. It does attract customers looking for just a drink and who aren't necessarily eating, and the bar area - although rather heavy on the pine - is both pleasant and clean, featuring a selection of keg lagers, cider, stout, and even a couple of real ales (London Pride and Deuchars but hey, one doesn't take even these for granted in a venue like this). Actually the latter wasn't the best I've tried, but it was competitively-priced at 2.15. Even the Pride was only 10p dearer.
Service was efficient. I daresay the grub is reasonable as it does seem to lure a broad cross-section of folk even at ungodly times and I believe Tobys to represent good value. The main building itself dates back to the 1850s and has been thoughtfully refurbished; there is a series of comfortable dining/drinking areas with suitable decor that fits the traditional exterior reasonably well. Pool etc is available. I don't know about the hotel element tacked on to the rear - living in Redhill I'll probably never need to use it, although a couple of Italian friends of mine stayed there at New Year in 2007 and found it reasonable enough for the price.

It is sad that a once venerable venue with a clear local link has been re-branded into a fairly identikit pub-restaurant with a generic name. But it isn't worst example of its kind, and actually offers a little more than one might expect. Obviously for better ale quality and retained character go across to the Home Cottage, but if it's a hearty meal for a large group you need, this could cover it. And better a Toby than being closed or converted to housing.

17 Mar 2010 12:22

The Stand Up Inn, Lindfield

Unbelievably BITE is telling me I have made no comment or rating of the splendid Stand Up. I find this staggering as I've been coming to sample its many wares on and off for over a decade, but there it is. I suspect that many users have already made the necessary points about both the wonderful range and quality of cask ales, and the rustic great value cooking. And all served with a smile and in a pleasant environment that manages to successfully straddle tradition with contemporary.
Dark Star are enlightened enough to feature a selection of 3 or 4 of their own offerings at the pumps, along with around 3 guests. There is also a bank of pumps dedicated to cider and perry (2 of the former and 1 of the latter on my last visit). All samples imbibed last week were on cracking form and this is consistent with earlier visits.
The range of dishes on the menu is not broad. But what there is is cooked very well, using quality ingredients. My beef stew was a delight; beef evidently casseroled for a while as it was tender, and bags of flavour - a little heavy on the sage perhaps but that was a minor criticism. I can also recommend the deceptively-filling pasties - we all like a little pork 'n' cider now and then - especially for 2.50!
Historically, this has always been a good boozer - as the Linden Tree with the 90-year-old bird pulling the pints (never knew whether the creaking sound was the pump or her arm!) it was reliable, and in the 19th century it boasted its own brewery (Durrant's). But Dark Star have really brought it to life without ruining the interior and what made it successful in days gone by.
Well done folks, and I hope to be back whenever opportunity permits.

17 Mar 2010 12:11

Trevor Arms, Glynde

A rare opportunity presented itself to revisit the Trevor last week, and I feel I've under-rated it. Service was a little steady shall we say, but not rude, and the ale and grub that followed was superb. Porter and Old all in check, and the lasagne and ploughmans sampled by my erstwhile colleague and myself were good companions. Salad was properly-dressed, and included not just rocket and carrot and lettuce, but beetroot and pickled red onion! I have to say I really enjoyed the lunch here and in the convivial traditional atmosphere the pub's various rooms create, I can't see why people would be so against it.

16 Mar 2010 18:10

The Crown and Anchor, Brighton

Came here by mistake, as we had been aiming for the Preston Park Tavern.... Still, we didn't pay too high a price as this was a friendly and pleasant enough diversion, if entirely unexceptional. On one hand I really could've been in any pub in any back street, but the service was swift and the ale - Harvey's Best - was on unexpectedly good form. There were few people in being mid-afternoon on a Thursday, but I would suspect a down-to-earth (rather than down-at-heel) working class bunch probably pitch up on louder and livelier nights. The increasingly dominant Big Screen was looming over us, but I daresay it keeps the sports fans coming back and business is business in a somewhere-yet-nowhere location such as this.

Completely average, but none the worse for that.

16 Mar 2010 18:05

The Prince Albert, Brighton

Peculiarly, I had yet to venture inside this rather prominent pub, until last Friday. I suspect that a combination of pull factors (stand up the Lord Nelson and Evening Star!) and push factors (hordes of lager-swillers spilling out onto the front area during Summer) were responsible for this. I had spied that there were a couple of surprisingly unusual ales on the night before so decided to find out for sure. Happy was I to find a selection of four beers, including WJ King's none-too-easy to find "Mother-in-Law" at a barnstormingly cheap 2.50 a pint! And it was on fine form too; no sign of a price cull to pass off old beer ASAP.
I did have some difficulty fighting through the scores of predominantly post-work crowds to reach the curiously deep bar (looks like the hordes referred to earlier stuff themselves into the pub on less clement days), but a busy pub is a happy one and it is not to be taken for granted nowadays, so good luck to them.
Whilst a rather different animal to its nearby competitors, this offers a kind of London-style drinking shed experience - it has two floors and many corridors in which to lurk and slurp, in tandem with an emphatically Brightonian vibe - piercings, political debate, foreign nik-naks and today's Guardian were all in check. I must say although much of that sounds ghastly to my mind, I kind of liked it. Nowt wrong with a bit of affectation if it can be mixed with affability and affordability.

16 Mar 2010 18:00

The Preston Park Tavern, Brighton

After wasting plenty VDT by emerging from the opposite entrance of Preston Park station and being in denial that we had picked the wrong one for far too long, we eventually came to our senses and headed back and found the PPT just the other side of the railway. It promised to be an earthy, non-nonsense local that according to the Good Beer Guide now hosts a wide range of cask ales for delectation.
It would appear that we couldn't have arrived at a less propitious time of the week, as of 6 pumps, only 3 were occupied, and 2 were duplicate Harvey's Best. We couldn't question the credentials as a beer boozer, as the multitude of diverse and colourful clips adorning the upper trim of the bar testified to a wealth of previous choice - just obviously not at 4 of a Thursday afternoon.
Still, what we did find was a clean and crisp half of Fuller's ESB, and very friendly patter from both sides of the bar. The lady behind it did say they were expecting 2 much more intriguing offerings to hit the spare pumps soon, but they weren't quite ready. I do hope they did, and that someone got to sample this pub's wares at their best.
I would return here although not being local it may be some time, and allow myself another chance with this pub as it has the makings of a real old-school classic.

NB- there was a surprising variety of crisps, sweeties and nutty bites available for those who might be put off by the previous comments regarding tough beef and hard veggies!

16 Mar 2010 17:50

The Cricketers, Brighton

A first visit in more years than I care to recall was made last weekend. The pub is as charmingly cosy indoors as it would appear from without, and has resisted what must have been a considerable temptation to follow the route of many Lanes hostelries and go for the contemporary and characterless lager and spirit-driven blueprint. Fortunately this is avoided - but beware - the pricing strategy one finds synonymous with the area is certainly being adopted. I sampled a pint of Doom Bar - one of a few cask offerings - and produced around 3.25 from my pocket to cover it. No chance; 3.50 no less! So the note was brought forth and I set about reconciling myself, as after all it isn't entirely uncommon even for real ales to be ramped up to that price now. But alas, this task was all the more arduous, as the beer just wasn't that good I'm afraid. A little tepid, but drinkable. I can only allow benefit of the doubt and assume it's not always in that form.

An okay drink or two was had by the crowd and we enjoyed the pleasant convivial aspects of the place well enough. But there isn't enough of an exceptional nature here to make me want to make repeat visits; at least not with the competition that lies outside the Lanes - or even within them at the Bath Arms.

15 Mar 2010 18:14

The Battle of Trafalgar, Brighton

The previous commentator does not do justice to this pub. It is a traditional classic of Brighton, but despite opting for the cosy, old-fashioned interior decor, which some would see as synonymous with older beer-quaffers, it still manages to attract a very healthy number of visitors from a broad pallette of society, including large groups of younger drinkers who one would assume may more instinctively gravitate to "Bar X". They still choose to pour endless gallons of Fosters and Carling down their throats, but then I must try to be charitable as any business for a pub is good business - and if it helps somewhere like this stay in the money then so be it.

Having not been for a few years, I dived in to take cover from the rain at 5PM on a Friday expecting it to be only modestly busy, but not a bit of it - the joint was thronging with lively conversation amongst young and old, male and female - and I suppose straight and gay although the cliched markers of the latter weren't in obvious evidence. I just about negotiated a space at the bar but the various furnished areas (many of them "comfy") were out of bounds with so many bums on seats. Happily, 4 cask ales feature, and whilst not as innovative in choice as the Evening Star (why compete anyway?!), they were sound offerings and not all tediously ubiquitous: Pride, Ordinary, Broadside and TEA - with Cornish Coaster to follow soon. The TEA was splendid - as were the two barmaids serving.

This really shouldn't be ignored just because it's in a part of the city blessed with numerous good outlets. Just pop in for a pint if you don't fancy the crowds and move on - or alternatively book time off and pitch up early for a more set-in session!

15 Mar 2010 18:06

The Royal Oak, Crockham Hill

A maiden visit to the Westerham pride and joy on Sunday afternoon. Although a quiet spell, it was a) open and b) friendly, on both sides of the bar. A very efficient barmaid served up some Finchcocks and BB in good nick, and I availed myself of a few bottled offerings too. It is surprising that there seems to be a discernable bar atmosphere, as the decor is decidedly restaurant-orientated and one would assume it is going for gastro rather than pitching the pint-pot. The menu looked interesting, if not original, and I would be keen to sample it some day (I have heard comments of disappointment but I shan't let that dampen my enthusiasm).

Perhaps not what one would expect from the outside appearance, but provided the fine balance between a good dining area and a thriving bar element continues to be at the heart of this place, then I'm all for it.

8 Mar 2010 18:11

The Rock, Chiddingstone Hoath

I was absolutely thrilled to pitch up here last week and find all the charm of the old place intact - and all the charmlessness of the previous manager disappeared! Matt & Laura are a genuinely pleasant and hard-working young couple, who appear to have exactly the right attitude and outlook when it comes to running a classic traditional local such as this. Both were very chatty and made me feel enormously welcome, despite not being a regular (if I lived closer that would change!).
A few subtle changes have taken place, but you'd barely notice (sad to see the old pumps now gone but as they'd almost rotted away one can understand that sometimes function must triumph over the appeal of antiquity). Cards are now accepted, and so are mobile phones, if you're lucky enough to get a signal!
2 Larkins ales are still very much available and both were on spanking form when sampled. The food menu covered down-to-earth pub fare such as fish pie, ham egg and chips, cod and chips, via the slightly more upmarket homemade venison burger, chilli and rice and a Thai offering. I had the fish pie and it was truly superb - they have a good chef apparently, and it shows. Prices were also realistic.

With the new management, the Rock is finally realising its full potential as a great local beerhouse and excellent eaterie, without any of the pretense that so often comes with it. Good work folks - long may the labour of love continue.

8 Mar 2010 18:06

The Anchor Inn, Hartfield

Occasionally I find myself in Hartfield in need of a pint. Sorry Mr Officer, a half. The Anchor usually does the trick, with a range of ales on in a very traditional, charming building. The exterior is just as alluring, and on such a sunny Spring-like day the outside terrace provided a perfect spot to sit and look forward to the months ahead. In Summer, the seating in the rear garden has obvious draws.
However the interior does have a somewhat tatty and tired feel to it. It doesn't need a re-fit, simply a fresh lick of paint and perhaps a bit more effort generally.
I can't speak for the food although I heard rave reviews about one of the desserts from a couple behind me. Meals were certainly popular. I also found the service to be pleasant. I was slightly let down by the beer selection - nothing out of the ordinary and out of 6 pumps, only 3 were occupied. I had a Larkin's, but it wasn't in the best of conditions. Shall we say passable.

I do hope they aren't taking their fingers off the pulse and allowing complacency to creep in; some previous comments do make me wonder. It has all the right ingredients but all efforts should be made to ensure these come together to make what should be a very pleasant experience for any visitor.

8 Mar 2010 17:56

The Old Mill (Dunnings Mill), East Grinstead

A charming exterior, which so often can deceive, and what lurks within is a corporate branded family restaurant nightmare. Happily, this is not so here. Although unusual for a Harvey's outlet in that it is large, very food-friendly and has music playing, it doesn't lack character, and the hallmarks of quality one expects from Harvey's are intact - namely well-conditioned ales (the Mild was lovely), and friendly, efficient service. It was a quiet time, being mid-afternoon, but I imagine a couple of hours later it would be a different story. I suspect it is a rare creature in managing to successfully combine a community local boozer with a family dining element.

Well worth a visit, either for a pint or a meal.

8 Mar 2010 17:47

Coppingham, Horley

Used to be a pleasant enough little local, perhaps lacking in interior character but keeping a cross-section of folk happy, with more of a focus on being a pub than a restaurant. A couple of well-kept cask ales used to feature and 2 years ago it even secured a Good Beer guide berth.

How times change. Popped in the other day believing to still be a pub, but it don't be deceived: it doubles as an Indian restaurant, and the emphasis now is clearly very much on curry.

Needless to say the real beer has been booted out, so I'm afraid I made my excuses and left. It's probably fine if you fancy a biryani and over-priced lager, and good luck to the new guy, but this is off my list.

8 Mar 2010 17:40

The William IV, Bletchingley

I hadn't darkened the doorstep of this place for almost 2 years until I happened to dive in at the end of last month, sheltering from a horrendous downpour. It was shortly before afternoon closing and so an estimation of the atmosphere couldn't really be made. But in essence not much had altered in the intervening period - except provision of a restaurant area where the pool room once was. Not being a lover of cue and ball-orientated sports, to my mind this was a worthy advance. I can't pass judgement on the food served in it; the usual hearty pub fare was on the menu which one would expect from a Young's house. It just depends on whether there is a decent cook installed - quality can and does vary in Young's pubs so I'm not altogether surprised at earlier comments.

But frankly I care less about the grub, as I always saw this as a boozer first, and happily the new owner (who must've moved in just after my last visit) have recognised this and retained it as such. I used to come here often in the late '90s and although the beer range is now restricted thanks to Young's takeover 4 years ago, it is well-kept, and can usually be quaffed in cosy and convivial surroundings. The barmaid (sister of the owner) was very chatty, despite being about to close up, and made me feel like I should come back sooner than in another 2 years.

In Bletchingley, beer is just as good at the Prince Albert; food probably better at the Red Lion. But for character, and a delightful off-the-beaten-track location, come to the William IV.

8 Mar 2010 17:35

The Bell Inn, Godstone

It is correct to say that the Bell has a protracted history, and also that much of that has been buried, mostly by unnecessary and ill-conceived modernisation of its interior since the 1990s. That said, some of the residual warmth has been retained under the current ownership, with some period features still peeping through. Although evidently run as a corporate eaterie first and boozer third, this is not the worst example of its type.
There are only 2 cask beers on - Pride and Landlord. The latter was found to be in good shape. I didn't have need of food (which probably rendered my presence there somewhat anachronistic), but the menu looked appealing enough. I would've felt somewhat ill at ease filling my face on my own though. Similarly to the Red Barn down in Blindley Heath, the Bell seems to be pitched towards upper-middle class groups and families, both of whom were strongly represented on my last visit, taking up most of the not inconsiderable floorspace. Still, it suits some, and I'd rather see a pub bustling with customers than bereft of them.

Not a boozer then; more of a family restaurant in an old pub shell. I don't hate the concept, but I am bound to say there are already more than enough establishments of this ilk in the general area. What we need is more pubs catering to the drinker first, and the eater second. To my mind, the Bell offers nothing new and is not a superlative example when set against some of its peers.

8 Mar 2010 17:24

The Red Barn, Lingfield

Made what was only my 3rd visit at this establishment at the end of Feb. The 1st was in 1985 when it had more of a pubby and intimate feel, but was still pretty food-orientated even then; the 2nd was in 1995 for a birthday do and the whole thing was more opened out and shamelessly chain-operated.
Fortunately, the recent change of ownership appears to have restored a little more class and comfort to the experience, albeit that they clearly have restaurant pretentions. It is still run by a chain, but a small emergent one - Geronimo Inns - who I am hearing much of of late. They seem to be branching out into the Surrey hinterland from London and specialise in providing what they believe is a fine dining experience within the context of a traditional pub. By and large, they have achieved this brief here, as what was left of the building's character has been restored and preserved to a reasonable standard, and most importantly, the bar element is still central and doesn't appear to be an afterthought like so many gastro-orientated venues. Up to 4 real ales are available (Doom Bar sampled on superb form), and the wine list is impressive.
The menu is equally stylish, with a range of modern dishes using quality ingredients, and if the chef knows his stuff I imagine it would deliver a very satisfactory experience, although at a price: those seeking value meals should steer clear of the Red Barn, with most mains being in excess of 10. If you do come to eat, I would suggest you try and bag one of the tables to the right of the bar, which are in a far more intimate setting; those to the left are in one large dining area which works best for larger parties.
It is family-friendly, with a newly-built play area in the substantial grounds around the building, which include a vast car park and a pond.

All in all, not a pub for stopping off for a quick half. But if you have a healthy bank balance and want to entertain your family, this could be the place.

8 Mar 2010 17:14

Brickmakers Arms, Crowhurst Lane End

Purely for reasons of convenience, or lack of, I hadn't been able to visit this pub for around 7 years. Upon entry it became immediately apparent that a significant refurbishment had taken place. Previously it was a warm, welcoming, traditional and cosy local. Now, it has the distinct whiff of interior design about it, with a more open-plan layout and decidedly contemporary twists such as flowery wallpaper on some walls but not others, "comfy" furniture and so forth. Despite its modern makeover though, it doesn't lack warmth, and some key traditional features have been retained, such as the log fire and chimney breast. A vast range of pictures have been affixed to the ceiling, which is an unusual but not altogether unwelcome addition.
As for the food and drink, only 2 handpumps now remain, but happily the Larkin's Trad is still served, and to a good standard too. The usual range of lager adorns the bar. Although the friendly barman denied the pub has "gone gastro", it clearly has upped its game with regard to victuals - a range of very appealing modern dishes featured on the specials board (shame I had already eaten).
It is plainly no longer endeavouring to be a farmer's local any more, which in a way is a shame. That said, I imagine that to secure increased trade (and survival) the owners have opted for the food avenue as the best means of achieving this. If they fail, it won't be because of the food or beer quality/range, or the decor: it will simply be the remote location. A notice had been placed in the gents to say that they will no longer be opening on Mondays - I do hope that doesn't denote a flagging business.

8 Mar 2010 17:00

Stephan Langton Inn, Abinger Common

Paid this one a visit after no less than a 12.5 year hiatus - not because I had deliberately avoided it, but through sheer lack of opportunity to drive out there. It's not easy to find but after a couple of twists and turns it came back to me and I pitched up in the capacious car park opposite. Had to wait 15 minutes as although the Beer Guide suggested a 5PM opening time, it seemed to be half-five. But I won't judge too harshly on that as it isn't the first error I've encountered using said tome.

Contrary to the earlier comment which suggests this isn't cosy in Wintertime, I would disagree; it felt warm and was subtly candle-lit in the main drinking area and was welcoming (although things have taken a somewhat stark and contemporary turn in the adjacent dining area which would've been less alluring at this time of year). The traditional elements have broadly remained intact, despite its obvious leanings towards being restaurant first, pub second. The 3 pumps are still in use, with Shere Drop sampled in reasonable (though not impeccable) form. Service was efficient although no efforts made to chat despite being one of only two people in. Perhaps I can be a tad unapproachable....
One would imagine from the ambitious menu and gastro-bound price tags that the Langton would excel in the food stakes; I didn't stay to find out as I had other fish to fry but judging by earlier comments since the recent takeover, one wonders whether one's wallet would be walloped unjustifiably... I do hope things return to the former glories alluded to in previous years. The potential for excellence as a pub and restaurant - ideally in equal measure - are both still there, despite the obscure location. Don't waste the chance to prove it, folks....

23 Feb 2010 16:59

The Kings Head, Holmbury St Mary

This placec has come so far since I last went, just before the current incumbent took over. Six handpumps, serving a range of local ales? Check. Beer sampled on crisp and clean form? Check. Efficient and pleasant service? Check. Friendly local punters? Check. Traditional and very cosy interior? Check. Charming exterior and location? Check. There is little that this pub could do now to improve on its obvious advantages; the licensees have really made the most of the King's Head's fairytale position buried at the foot of the Surrey Hills in a forested area surrounded by picturesque and I'm sure equally cosy cottages. There is outside seating for when the Winter finally recedes, and all this can be appreciated more fully. For now, just enjoy the fire! Don't know about food - but I daresay that's covered nicely too.

Notwithstanding the inevitable need for a motor for most of us who don't dwell in said cottages, a few fine ones will surely be supped here in coming months. Well done folks.

23 Feb 2010 16:44

The Admiral, Reigate

Despite having resided in the area for over 30 years I had never once crossed the Admiral's threshold (is that an old naval term? I do hope not!). Anyway, having heard things had taken an upward trajectory of late I dropped in for a brief pint last Saturday lunchtime to see if there is any justifiable fuss to make as it stands now, even if I am unable to make comparisons with its previous incarnations.
I found the pub in a quiet period - well, it would've been if the large TV had not been in on. That said, the very personable young woman behind the bar did at least offer to turn it off (with no prompting), which despite the banality I declined, as who am I to dicate, and I was only in for a quick one.
The Admiral clearly still clings to its roots as a corner local, and so it should. They had resisted the temptation to knock through the two bars and despite a connecting doorway they remained comfortably separate. There were some chaps chatting in the other bar but nothing obstreperous; laddish not loutish. Endeavouring to butter up the barmaid, I expect!
The ale selection was, as I suspected, disappointing, with the all-too-ubiquitous Pride and Bombardier on and the 3rd pump off. That said, the latter was in perfect condition and rarely have I tried it on better form. At least they know how to cellar the cask beers they do offer.

Traditional in essence, but clearly trying to appeal to a more working-class crowd than many Reigate boozers, with some more modern elements on offer (quizzes, karaoke, Ladies Night, bar food etc), I can see the place does have potential, which I can only hope the new manager who is spoken of so fondly by previous commentators realises. I wonder whether she was the woman who served me? She was very eager to provide good service and made what seemed to be a genuine effort to make me feel welcome (more than the usual barmaid does with a stranger). If it is you - keep up the good work. If not - the actual manager has a discerning eye for good bar staff!

16 Feb 2010 16:36

The Mill House, Salfords

I should now say that if it's beer you're after, forget the charming but all-too-often ale-less Mill House and head down the main road, left onto Honeycrock Lane, right onto the recreation ground and across to the Salfords Club. Here you will almost certainly receive a warm welcome from the hard-working managers, and a choice of two far more interesting and well-kept cask ales, both priced at a competitive 2.45. Better to support a community venue rather than a large corporate group any day.

And before anyone says it, yes, I would recommend that the Club be given its own billing, but it seems to be virtually impossible to get any suggested pubs onto this site - the last one I put forward for inclusion was in August last year and still no word!! Sort it out folks.

10 Feb 2010 16:58

The Five Bells, Chailey

Nothing really relevant to say here, other than this was the first pub I ever went in to, at the tender age of 9 days! Even I wasn't quite on the ale at that early stage so couldn't comment on it then any more than I can now. But I daresay Slerpy was probably at the bar, enjoying some Charrington IPA....
A shame it now seems to be something of a tired hostelry judging by earlier comments; I have a small but worthy affection for the pub and I only hope it learns how to prosper in future years. The building certainly suggests potential.

4 Feb 2010 17:07

Half and Half, Croydon

Notwithstanding the shameless plugging of the pub by its own licensee (I suppose one can't fault him for trying, but he should be aware that such a tactic can be viewed as arrogant and inappropriate by some users), I actually found both him, and his "lounge bar" concept far less odious than I was expecting. Indeed, it was rather inviting, and in some respects arguably outshines its illustrious predecessor the Beer Circus, as although the decor is clearly more akin to a cocktail bar than a pub, it is smarter, and I am bound to say, cleaner than before. I shall always miss Graeme's warm welcomes and down-to-earth banter, but it's not the new man's fault that he left and things had to move forward. And as much as I wanted to be disparaging, I found this to be a perfectly pleasant experience that was adapting well to the local area. I even found a couple of other co-punters from the BC days quaffing in here, which is a good sign.

The main reason for bothering to walk the not inconsiderable distance to visit, over 2 years after I was last here, was hearing that not only had Hophead been reinstated, but a 2nd Dark Star offering was now in place. Sure enough, pump No 2 was installed, and dispensing the Old Chestnut, which was about the only one of their portfolio I was yet to sample. Temperature was perfect, and it was full of flavour as DS beers tend to be. I can't fault the cellaring. Prices somehow remained the same as in 2007 - 2.40 which we all reluctantly must agree is competitive in today's market. Admittedly, the BC would offer a range of different brewers at the pumps, but as it's easier to maintain 1 good tie with a very reliable brewery than it is to establish many with several that may not be so reliable, I am comfortable with this choice, especially as I am assured it sells by the bucket-load.

For those wondering about the foreign beer element, the choice of 300 or so bottles is no longer offered. But there remains a goodly raft of bottled options from Europe, including Budvar and Budvar Dark, and a supposedly unique "Half and Half" draught option which is a mix of the two. One or two other lagers with real flavour are offered on draught too, so the Belgian or German beer lover shouldn't be so quick to avoid this place in future.

The only MAJOR difference besides the warmer, cosier interior is the lack of live music. It was tried, but didn't work out apparently. No great loss to me but I know some BC fans loved it so you should be warned!

Unlike Kodl, I am entirely unbiased, and if anything I was prepared for automatic disappointment. But I must say, not a bad effort so far, and he has shown to be a licensee who will gauge and act upon the tastes of his customers. By all means keep using BITE as a price-list my friend, but spare some time to think about bringing back handpump No 3. You know it makes sense.

1 Feb 2010 18:05

The George, Croydon

After must be innumerable management changes, I feel a fresh review is merited in this case. Food quality, and that of the general clientele, does remain a mixed bag, and probably always will do. But happily for me, there has been a genuine uplift in the quality and range of ales, which as I said back in '06 was never poor, but as ever with JDW outlets, there was always room for improvement. Steve, the current incumbent, seems to have a sound knowledge of how to keep good beer and also shows a definite alacrity to lead where others follow: he has succeeded in getting the George into the Good Beer Guide for the first time I can remember - if it has featured previously it must have been over 10 years back, when I used to rely predominantly on my nose to sniff out good beer and boozers and not the GBG. The sister pubs in Croydon, the Ship of Fools and Skylark have featured, but the George always lagged behind - not so now. Steve's own dedication, and having apparently got his staff into better order, has made not only for better beer but (dare I say it) an improvement in efficiency too. I am finding myself opting to have a pint in this pub now, rather than using it by default because it was either too wet or I can't be arsed to walk to anywhere better from my office!

As ever with JDW one feels it's only a matter of time before this manager moves on, and if the next one has any less ability and interest in the ale element, the place will almost certainly revert to being average in this area. But as long as it's as it is, I shall never rule it out.

1 Feb 2010 17:44

The Sun, Redhill

Given the change of management here (okay, all 'Spoons change managers every 3 months but stay with me!) which actually seems to know how to keep cask beer and moreover is keen to further customer interest in it, I feel I should re-appraise this one. Yes, much of the comments regarding clientele, made by myself and others, sadly remains valid. However, the consistency in ale conditioning, and the breadth of range of guests, has improved markedly, and on my few recent walk-ins I've even found more efficient service. I am reliably advised by more frequent punters that the new chappie, Mark, has already run a successful jaunt to the Dorking Brewery, off his own bat, for free! All those who went along were singing his praises, so we can perhaps hope for more of this in future.

Then again, Mark may be a distant memory in a few months, as the usual Spoony management re-shuffle is surely due soon....!

1 Feb 2010 17:23

Thomas Henry K, Hayes

Oh no; I just heard that the Thomas Henry K has just been closed down.... We are now officially publess in the United Kingdom!!

Actually, given the state of the pub industry right now, perhaps I shouldn't jest....

1 Feb 2010 17:14

The Royal Oak, Rusper

Unhappily, it took me over a decade to revisit this pub, and not before time, as although I don't recall it being anything special in the late '90s, as we enter the '10s it has numerous features to commend it, with local and regional awards abounding, and an arsenal of ale for the cask beer lover to revel in. Even more unhappily, my visit was cruelly brief, owing to having visitied a raft of other pubs that afternoon, and my presence being required at the dinner table for some much-needed solids! But what I found during my short drop-in was exactly as I'd have hoped: a broad range of 6 ales; a busy bar atmosphere where locals were conversing convivially and generally having a jolly time; and a thoroughly pleasant welcome from the landlady, despite not being known.
There is little point in me continuing with my descriptions as John Bonser seems to have covered all the necessary ground and more in his post of 23 Nov '09. Just be assured that this pub really does live up to its current hype, and I would just love to live close enough to become a regular. Besides the barrage of beers to work through, I genuinely feel anyone would be welcome who appreciates what the licensees have worked so hard in recent times to achieve.

Keep this well and truly up folks - I shall be back as soon as is humanly possible! PS the rating of 9/10 is tentative; there may well be room for increment once I get to visit for longer and more regularly.

29 Jan 2010 15:36

The Three Moles Inn, Selham

Given the change of ownership 2 years ago, I feel a fresh review is appropriate, following what was my first visit to the pub under its new incumbent.
First impressions would imply it has given in to the ever-encroaching demand of the diner, as much of the bar area has been cleared of clutter, and the room on the right has been opened up to form one single seating area. However, this is misleading, as although the new landlord, Paul, does now lay on some food provision, it is limited to only 3 very simple options (soup and such). The Moles remains very much a bastion of the drinker. Personally I am all in favour of this, given the surfeit of rural boozers now devoting most of their effort to the more lucrative food side of their business, sometimes to the detriment of the pint-supper. That said, sadly, I fear that most passing trade in the area (and there isn't much!) probably is seeking the full meal experience, and maybe 1 drink each, and not several rounds of fine ale - if only because driving is inescapable. The 3 Moles' remoteness is its unique charm, but could also be its downfall, as so few customers outside the few locals who have stuck with it consider going. Paul's current outlook isn't especially positive, and I gather he is struggling. Whilst he isn't perhaps the perfect licensee, he isn't doing anything obviously wrong. His four beers are well-kept (Stogs still retains its crown as best-seller), and his place in the 2010 GBG is well-earned. It's still a comfortable and cosy "front room" in which to while away some quiet hours. But all this cannot always beat off the dual enemy of a harsh economic climate, and little passing trade for wet sales.

I do hope he feels able to continue, as to lose this pub forever would truly be a travesty. I daresay the local community would bemoan its passing, but they need to ask themselves now how much they actively support the pub, before it's too late.

29 Jan 2010 15:25

The Keepers Arms, Trotton

I feel compelled to lodge a refreshed review of this pub, as it has changed hands since my previous visit, and some changes have been effected. The new proprietors have cleared much of the unnecessary clutter and nick-nacks, which does make for a more comfortable and spacious seating area. Some items have been retained and so some character still can be found.
The menu looked fabulous - various classic dishes were included from duck confit to mushroom risotto. All were to my taste, and although the price tags are high, from what I observed so is the quality of the food. I simply wasn't hungry enough to sample it on this occasion.
The service when we ordered drinks was ultra-polite and very decorous, but I am bound to say lacked some genuine warmth, especially when we declined to place a food order after our beer.
The disappointment for me is that the new owners have rendered the pub even more of a restaurant than it was previously. It never had a thriving "around the bar" scene, but now I felt the bar area to be entirely incidental; an afterthought to what is essentially now a restaurant. I accept and appreciate that "gastro" has its place, but it was a shame that the pub side couldn't have ben balanced a little more with the food.
Moreover, we felt that although acceptable, the cask ale was not served to its best - certainly it was over-chilled. Otter, Hophead and I think 49er were on. Not bad, but not as adventurous as I remembered (no Ballards for a start!). 1 handpump had been completely obscured by a vast chariot of over-priced crisps, and I suspect is never used at all now.

A good place for a high-end and hearty blow-out. I should also acknowledge the wine selection, which covered a good range and was notable for the availability of some fine Clarets, and Rioja. but for a pint or two only? I fear not. Especially when there are so many other great hostelries only a short drive away.

29 Jan 2010 13:27

The Ship Inn, South Harting

Made my most recent visit to this pub this week after a few years' hiatus. Fortunately, nothing had changed, which is truly a blessing in this down-to-earth but still serviceable local. A range of four local ales were available as ever, and the quality was superb. I should say that when my Golden Bine came up cloudy, the landlady was all too keen to replace it, and although I said the flavour was acceptable she still furnished me with a new half free of charge. The Swift One and Palmers Copper were in fine fettle from the outset.
A convivial bunch of local chaps were guffawing away at the bar, and despite not being familiar to them or the staff, my friend and I were greeted very politely and were just as included in the general conversation as regulars.
I can't comment on the food, but my guess would be that it is simple, unpretentious fare, and that is exactly what the Ship should be doing. It is a far cry from the potted crabmeat and Thai fishcake outlets; in an environment such as this, we want "gravy", not "jus". But frankly I fail to see why the grub is necessary other than satisfy the incidental need for something solid to accompany one's beer. This is primarily a pub for drinking, and for this it should be celebrated.

29 Jan 2010 13:02

The Westgate Inn, Winchester

I must confess to not really having taken the time to sample the full wares of the Westgate, despite being resident there last weekend (nobody else was apparently but it was nice to have the place to oneself). Given that I have at least given the accommodation a spin I felt I should drop a review in for that. A large number of rooms are available, at competitive prices. Mine had recently been refurbished to a good standard - could still smell the fresh paint. Decor is a canny mix of traditional items with contemporary design, and in my room at least this seemed to work well. The bed wasn't exactly comfortable, though I managed a good sleep (possibly owing to alcohol consumption elsewhere I am bound to say). Good for the spine, at any rate.
The bathroom had the usual plumbing issue (there's always one in every pub and B and B I've stayed in!), in that the bathwater didn't drain properly, but otherwise, clean and commodious.
The place came into its own at breakfast time: splendid locally-sourced ingredients in any combination one chooses, and all served by a very helpful and pleasant lady - whom I believe was the proprietress. A real surprise. And the dining room itself was rather grand, too - which is not the feeling one gets upon arrival in the pub quarters.

I shan't offer a rating out of 10 as I didn't get a chance to try the ale or food, or even spend more than a couple of minutes in the actual pub. But given the price I would suggest this as a suitable stopover for a quick pied-a-terre in Winch.

28 Jan 2010 17:05

The Old Vine, Winchester

Plainly, this is a restaurant that happens to serve real ales. One half of the premises is devoted to foodies, and on my first visit last weekend this certainly was proving a draw - my two friends and I were unusual in that we were only there for a drink and not to eat. The food has a fine reputation and one day I would like to sample it, but I fear that I will have to find a girlfriend first, as the Vine was populated almost exclusively by upper-middle class couples, all whispering to each other coyly so as not to stand out against the very low hum of voices. Dining there on one's own, or even as a group, seems not to be the done thing.
The other half of the venue is given over to what clearly aims to be the "pub" portion, but does in fact come across more of an ante-room where diners congregate for a polite quiet aperitif before moving to their table. It operates in the same way as most hotel or restaurant bars do. Again, there was a faintly prissy air to the place as well-to-do couples ensured that they remained as restrained and genteel as possible so as not to risk offence.
All this notwithstanding however, the establishment does have its place. The decor cleverly combines contemporary design within a traditional setting, and the quality of the beer was up to standard. Four pumps were all active, serving 3 ales from Hants and 1 from Yorkshire. Bar-proppers, though few, are in no way discouraged, and if a few more drinkers were to adopt the place for its pub rather than grub element, it would help to balance the two more convincingly. Service was with a smile, and efficient.

So yes, a place for a civilised meal, preferably with the other half, but also not somewhere to discount if you like alehouses, if only because somewhere that so easily could be lager, wine and spirits only serving a good range of proper beer should be supported.

28 Jan 2010 16:27

The Eclipse Inn, Winchester

A charming Tudor exterior which I am reliably informed used to house a rather dull and average pub. There have been some much-needed changes of late, as this now offers a cracking range of four cask ales (the ringwood Porter really was on song; I was happy to tell the licensee of this and he seemed genuinely pleased to have such feedback). The interior is clean but not pretentious. I expected something overtly baronial but fortunately that cliche has been avoided. The bar area was small, though comfortable as there weren't too many customers on my visit - just enough to create a pleasant buzz of an atmosphere. In fact this offers a quiet little bolthole away from the more bustling venues in the City and personally, I believe this should be welcomed.

28 Jan 2010 13:47

Selborne Arms, Selborne

Been visiting this charming country hostelry for a few years on and off, whn the opportunity arises. Alas they arise all too rarely, as the Selborne really does prove itself to be a corker each time. The ale selection is both broad, and served to perfection. Mostly local beers feature and breweries such as Suthwyk and Bowman making regular and welcome appearances. Cider is strong here too, with the complete Mr Whiteheads range available in bottle - well worth sampling if you can tear yourself away from the real ales!
I haven't eaten here for some years, but I have no reason to believe the offerings are any less tasty or hearty than in the past. My last visit was after lunch, during that glorious few hours in between sessions, where one can really take it easy and have a meaningful chat with bar staff and the few other customers who may emerge, beyond the usual niceties. We had a very jolly discussion with the barmaid, who was both charming and engaging, and it all helped to enhance the experience, as if the ale, cider and sweet aroma of logs burning on the nearby fireplace weren't enough.

The pub building has its obvious allure but don't miss the garden in more clement weather - it is suitable for families and provides a lovely outdoor lunch experience in Summer. I would be prepared to bet a reasonable sum that the commentator of 15 Sep '09 did not have a genuinely representative experience; go and decide for yourselves.

28 Jan 2010 13:09

The Ship, Alresford

A good, honest, down-to-earth country community local. There is no obvious over-emphasising of food, as is so often the case nowadays, and there is still room for the good old drinker. A friendly landlady presides over a comfortable bar in the middle, and at either end there is a large seating area that can accommodate a surprisingly large number of punters. The night I was there it was their Annual quiz night - which was a massive hit with the locals who had crammed into the pub to show off their knowledge (or lack of it!). I was amazed, although sadly for a Sunday evening this was not representative of the usual custom which would struggle to fill half let alone all the seats! Still, the place seems to have a loyal following and justifiably so.
Ale-wise, up to 4 are available, and choices are varied judging by the clips on display. Palmers Copper Ale was absolutely superb, as was an offering from the Goddards brewery.
Don't mess with the formula, as it seems to be spot on right now, and one that fewer rural retreats are following.

28 Jan 2010 12:53

The Royal Oak, North Gorley

Notwithstanding the wrath of the last commentator - which may or may not be a fair representation of this pub's food offering - on a recent visit I fond it to be thriving, with a reasonably well-heeled set of locals who mostly were not dining but drinking. Sadly there didn't seem to be much of an appreciation of the ale side of things, with most folk quaffing by-numbers Pinot Grigio or mass-produced over-priced lager. Up to 4 cask beers are available, and presumably in good order due to its GBG 2010 entry (which was responsible for me rooting this one out). However, I hit it at an awkward time when only a couple were on, and these were ubiquitous choices which I wouldn't have driven so far to reach had I known. All the same, the 49er was on reasonable form.

In summary, a pleasant buzz and a warm atmosphere should greet one at this pub, but the ale variety and, should the preceding commentary be at all indicative of a general trend, the food quality may disappoint. I should say on the matter of food that the pub has employed a couple who specialise in "Thai and Tapas", owing to his Mediterranean experience and his wife's from Thailand. The quality of their victuals may be high I don't know, although one has to question whether mixing the two usually-discrete concepts of Thai food with Mediterranean ("tapas" presumably only means Spanish anyway and not Italian or French?) is wise or indeed necessary. I suppose it could be a "USP" but if they are aiming to combine these two disparate areas on one menu, I would be cautious.

28 Jan 2010 12:35

The Greatham Inn, Greatham

An opportunistic and all-too-brief stop-off between here and the ultimate lunch destination, the Hawkley Inn, Hawkley. There is certainly a "tardis" quality to the interior, which is completely belied by the outside appearance which implies a modest, cavernous country cottage pub. The log fire and wooden beams are all intact, but in a large open seating area in front of the bar, which was useful for family and larger groups to congregate.
Three good quality ales were featured, and dispensed with courtesy and efficiency by the barmaid - who had the air of a licensee/landlady about her so I may be demoting her here. A thoroughly cosy and inviting environment was found, all helped along by a well-looked-after half - indeed arguably the finest Fortyniner I've EVER tasted. It really was that good and I was heartened to find how good that beer can still be, especially in the Marstons
era. If I don't return again soon, it will only be down to lack of opportunity.

28 Jan 2010 11:39

The Star, Godalming

Made my second visit to the Star in 9 months recently, and each time have found it to offer a warm welcome, very generous portions of classic pub grub, and a range of well-kept cask beer - and all this notwithstanding it being in the grip of Greene King! Fortunately that grip seems not to be too tight, and the licensee presumably demonstrates that selling a broader range of ale from competitors makes the tills ring that bit louder. Keep up the good work.
Sampled the Titanic Iceberg, and Keltek Arthur Ale. Both had travelled a fair distance and yet were in good nick (the latter was off the cask and although not to my personal taste was clearly as it should be). A man sitting behind me was dutifully working his way through a vast burger, showing that one needs to undergo some star-vation (sorry!) to really get the best out of eating here.
One of the best in town - make a beeline for it.

28 Jan 2010 11:29

Jack George Phillips, Godalming

My maiden visit to this Spoons outlet, which ostensibly has little to commend it, but it is Beer-Guide listed, which at least suggested something worthwhile would lurk within. And happily, it did, in the form of a range of fine ales (many locally-sourced), and jolly service from the staff (far from a given in JDW establishments as we all know). Prices were as usual, peerless (especially if one has CamRA vouchers to deploy!), and quality of the beer was high. No food, other than a "grab bag" of prawn cocktail crisps, was consumed, so can't comment on that (I know, they make one's fingers smell like Liverpool Docks but they still go down well with your pint!).

Not being a Godalmingian(?) I have no clue as to the significance of Jack Philips, but I don't think he'd be too disappointed to find his name associated with this pub (unless he was a champion of the temperance movement...).

28 Jan 2010 11:14

The Compasses Inn, Gomshall

After an entirely unintentional hiatus between visits of 12 years, I found myself back at the Compasses, as an opportunity presented itself en route to other pastures (well, almost - it was 10:50 and so we had to loiter about furtively until the doors were opened!). When we finally gained ingress, it hadn't changed much, other than the licensee, and - mercifully - the ale selection, which although only numbers three, suggested that it is now effectively the Ranmore brewery tap (dfespite numerous pump clips adorning the bar area which imply other brews do feature). We were greeted by a friendly chap (surprising given his South African accent - sorry but they aren't renowned for their charm!), and the "milk-curdling" landlady was hovering in the background. I spoke to both and they seemed well-informed and pleasant, so perhaps we shouldn't let accents or appearances be the sole judge and jury. I know this used to be an Enterprise outlet, and the landlady confirmed it still is - the beer range is thanks to her willingness (and undoubted ability) to persuade her employer that more interesting choices are the way forward, and having struck a comfortable deal with Ross at Surrey Hills. Prices weren't cheap (halves of the Ruby and the Ranmore were sampled and it came in at 3.50) but then again weren't unusual in today's country pub market. The main thing is, there is more beer and cheer to be found here than in many pubs owned by said company.

The pub itself provides a cosy interior, if a little horse-brassy, and the grounds provide excellent outdoor facilities on a hot sunny day, set beside the nearby river. If you don't fancy this there is the 11th century Old Mill Inn opposite, which looks good, but I would doubt has Surrey Hills beers as well-kept as this?

28 Jan 2010 11:10

The Sun, Faversham

A thriving establishment that serves well-kept cask ale and hearty food in generous helpings. They also seem to be equally generous in kitchen opening hours; grub was being brought forth as late as 3:30 on my last appearance.
During a weekday afternoon it has a pleasant buzz of custom and a welcoming atmosphere. It isn't doing anything out of the ordinary and on paper the Sun is something of an average outlet, yet it does have a certain something which to my mind at least sets it apart from some of its more pedestrian counterparts. Perhaps it is the general pleasantness one feels when crawling around the charming streets of Faversham? In any case, I would commend this pub for its indoor cosiness in Winter, and its pleasant garden in Summer.

28 Jan 2010 10:59

The Bear Inn, Faversham

To elaborate slightly on the previous comment, which does capture the essence of the Bear, the pub is a Sheps' outlet that serves a good range of their ales (and sometimes a guest - how enlightened!), and trades on its multi-bar layout which appears to have only undergone minor alteration over the last century. It has cosy alcoves in which one can closet oneself away from the madding crowd with a well-kept pint, and also the front and rear rooms which afford greater seating and can accommodate larger groups. Music was quite prominent (seemingly Hits '78 was spinning on my last visit; not sure how appropriate punk is to the atmos, but the locals were fondly reminiscing over it and certainly for them it was a plus).
Service is friendly, and my experiences of the place suggest it is worthy of a visit by those seeking genuine character, and cask ale (albeit mostly Sheps at least it hasn't had to travel far).

Each time I visit Faversham, I would probably try to make sure I have a quick drinkie here, which is some measure of its quality.

28 Jan 2010 10:54

Pearsons Arms, Crab And Oyster House, Whitstable

Although ostensibly a traditional and unaltered exterior, this now flatters to deceive, as the interior of Pearson's is a light, airy and modern affair, with a bar and seating arrangement more akin to a wine bar than a pub. That said, somehow this proved not to be a bad thing, as it would be in so many other Victorian public houses that have been insensitively dragged into the 21st century. The decor is attractive, clean, and notwithstanding its contemporary leaning, not without character, and in Summer would provide a stylish and agreeable backdrop for drinking and dining. Equally, in Winter time, the pub still manages to offer a cosy and comfortable experience, with fire burning and friendly, efficient service from the staff.

Sadly food was not required so I cannot comment on this aspect too deeply, although the menu was undoubtedly alluring, packed with modern dishes using the best of seasonal ingredients. Ale-wise, one finds a good range of Ramsgate beers, which only have to travel a few miles down the coast and are kept in perfect condition. My No 3 was on superb form.

A real surprise, and a pleasant one too. This surely should become the destination du jour for all locals and visitors alike who want a smart, good-quality experience that cleverly balances restaurant ideals with that of a pub.

28 Jan 2010 10:47

The Rock, Chiddingstone Hoath

I am flabbergasted that I appear not to have written a review for this place in the past - it's been one of my favourites for many years. What was essentially Larkin's Brewery Tap, one could be assured of finding 2 or 3 of Bob's offerings in excellent nick (if a little pricey but then it usually is wherever you go), and really rather good pub grub too. Throw in a slightly dog-eared but still delightful unspoilt interior with log fire, ring the bull, flagstone floor and so on, and this really was a gem. The only downsides were a) the bizarre and somewhat ungenerous opening hours, which foxed many a would-be visitor, and b) the presence of Dick, the cantankarous and curmudgeonly old fart who used to manage the place, whose off-hand attitude could only be tolerated when one realised it was not reserved for me personally; he was like that with everyone!

I was surprised to drive past at the end of Nov and find it shut, but encouraged by the fact it was clearly not permanent and is to be re-opened. I have yet to revisit, but I really hope that the new licensees have realised the huge draw this kind of pub still has, and have chosen to capitalise on it further by not being over-zealous in their refurbishments. Stick to a similar formula as before, but with better opening times and a pleasant bar manager, and you'll have it made!

18 Jan 2010 18:00

The Rose and Crown, Selling

I have been happily well-acquainted with this establishment for many years, as although I am not local, I am fortunate in having a friend who hails from the area who occasionally needs visiting - thereby affording immense opportunities for revisiting old haunts like this across East Kent.
The pub is set in what feels like the middle of a wood, which gives it a serene and comfortable feel in the Summer (the garden is charming), and a cosy and enticing atmosphere in the Winter, complete with log fire. The food has always been to a high standard, and this appeared to still be the case on my recent visit, although this is based purely on jealous observations of others, as alas we'd arrived just too late to place an order ourselves.
As for the ale, the pub was known for serving only four cask beers, but those that it served were usually on fine form, and in addition to an offering from Adnams and Harvey's, one could almost certainly source something more intriguing, usually in the form of Goachers (more often the Light Mild but sometimes another alongside), which although a thriving brewery remains somewhat hard to locate even in Kent. To our slight dismay, the Goachers is now conspicuous by its absence, which is acceptable if the replacements are worthy, but sadly they were decidedly average - TWO Theaskston beers. Okay, I've nothing against Theakston's, but theirs aren't the most inspiring brews on offer nowadays, and I would have expected to have been treated to a more interesting, unusual, and local offering in the Rose & Crown. And certainly not two from the same brewery! I stuck to Adnams and my mate stuck with Harveys - needless to say, very well kept and enjoyable. Everything else was in place, including the wonderful cavernous, snug environment, and very pleasant and convivial service from the manageress/landlady. But please folks, don't make a habit of putting bland and less exciting beers on - if you can't for any reason get hold of the Goachers, there are plenty of other excellent local brews which I'm sure would delight your customers' palates!

18 Jan 2010 17:52

The White Horse, Chilham

Having not been in the area for some 3 years, on a cold and exceedingly wet afternoon after Christmas, a friend and I decided we'd call in at the charming village of Chilham and make a bee-line for the White Horse. Having amazingly found luck on our side with car parking in the Square nearby, we dashed in, to find a warm (thanks to the corking log fire ablaze) and hearty (courtesy of the numerous punters including some of the local hunt) atmosphere, where much ale and grub was being keenly consumed by all. Clearly popular, and understandably so given not only the picture-postcard setting (which must have charmed various television producers as recent costume drama "Emma" was filmed in the main square), but the fact that this was one of the few pubs still open at 3:20 in the afternoon that day, we were keen to sample the beer and ideally the food ourselves.

We succeeded on the first part of the mission. Only 2 ales were on offer on our visit and neither were especially out of the ordinary, but given the difficulties with supplies and so forth after the festive period this was forgiven. The Harvey's Best was superb. However, we failed on the second leg, as we were advised that no more food would be served.
The latter point was not entirely unexpected at that hour. However, the slight disappointment was the decidedly unfriendly and cold response from the woman behind the bar, who, when she finally deigned to serve us, demonstrated a decidedly frosty and worryingly obvious disdain, suggesting to me that she'd rather have been anywhere but in the pub serving the likes of us. Perhaps that was so; maybe this was a one-off. But there is no place for such moodswings in the hospitality business, and her apparently indifferent attitude would deter me from returning anytime soon, notwithstanding the other attractions of the pub. I notice it's now run by two ladies, Lisa and Rosie. If one of them was the person who served us, I'd implore her to focus on her approach to dealing with customers. Their pub may always be popular because of its obvious charm, but that's no reason to be so off-hand.

18 Jan 2010 17:39

The Plough and Harrow, Bridge

A well-kept and cosy village pub on the main street, with parking available off road at the rear. The usual selection of 3 Sheps' cask offerings were available, but from what I sampled, kept in good condition. Service was efficient. The place had a pleasant hum of conversation and despite there being few punters in at that time, this helped to create a general feeling of comfort and wellbeing.
Perhaps not a pub which one would make a special pilgrimage to unless it was your local, as after all east Kent is crammed full of absolute gems that really raise the bar above the usual expectations, but nevertheless, if you're in the area and are in need of sustenance, you could do worse than pitch up at the P & H.

18 Jan 2010 17:25

Millers Arms, Canterbury

A fairly standard venue in appearance, and beer range, given that this is a Sheps' outlet. However, it is no less pleasant for that, and is located in a charming backwater of the city by the water. Service was reasonable on my last visit, although given that I was one of only about 4 people at the bar perhaps this wasn't the greatest test of their capacity. A pint of Spitfore was sampled, which was found to be well-kept. Inevitably with so few customers the place lacked any sense of atmosphere, but I imagine that in busier times this pub would be worth poking one's head into, if not for an entire evening then certainly for 1 or 2. It was certainly a cosy kind of interior, which was essential given the cold post-Christmas conditions.

I understand the accommodation is supposed to be quite competitive, although parking may be a problem. All in all, not in any way exceptional, but certainly not bad.

15 Jan 2010 09:33

The Phoenix, Canterbury

What a find! After over 10 years of regular visits to the city, not once had I been to the Phoenix, or even been aware of its existence. I berated my chum with whom I was drinking and who was brought up in the area for not introducing me sooner, for it is a perfect gem to the committed ale drinker who prefers his or her pubs simple, without affectation, but still friendly. The landlady, who admitted she is not in the best of health, appears to handle the running of the pub herself without assistance, which is no mean feat given the hard labour it entails and long hours - she has to be a tough lady. She was very chatty and pleasant, and we left feeling like we'd been regular visitors for years.
The beer - which is surely the chief attraction - was both plentiful and in good condition, despite the very cold weather. Some really unusual fare for this part of Kent too, which shows an alacrity (and ability) to offer the broadest possible choice. And a variety of styles were available on our visit, from modern golden ales to traditional stouts.
The pub did not attract exclusively CamRA types; the few others who'd ventured out in what can be a weak period for trade just after Christmas were down-to-earth locals, young to old, drinking anything from whisky to vodka, so don't dismiss this as being just a beer-heads' venue if that isn't your scene.

In summary, a good honest boozer, there for the community and beyond. My best wishes go to the licensee, and to BITE users, please do seek this out if you're able.

15 Jan 2010 09:28

The Smugglers, St Margarets at Cliffe

Looked enticing enough, and my mate and me were crying out for a feed as our plans to take lunch at various venues beforehand had failed for one reason or another. Families were still heartily tucking into what looked to be equally hearty and wholesome fare, but it being close to 3PM we didn't expect that food would still be served. But there's always beer, isn't there? Well, no, not on this occasion: we were immediately advised - and with little warmth - that the pub was closing and not even any drinks orders would be taken. Okay, some pubs shut at 3 but we were somewhat surprised given how busy it was. Bah humbug I say. I seldom make an appearance in this neck of the woods but next time, although it had some promise, I shan't be making a bee-line for the rather inflexible Smugglers, especially when the motor will take me to far superior pubs not far away.

14 Jan 2010 18:08

The Coastguard Inn, St Margarets Bay

Undeniably a winning location, and almost unrivalled for a pub in its close proximity to the sea. I have two regrets here; firstly, my first and last visit was in the depths of winter, and so am yet to appreciate how fine this would undoubtedly be in drier warmer months, and secondly, it being just after Christmas and a period of heavy snow, food availability was very limited, and our plan to take what looked to be a superb lunch here failed miserably. Shame. Still, it is heartening to see how popular the place is with a varied clientele, and the beers sampled were on perfect form. The Coastguard is not what you might call a "cosy" pub, and I do think its airy and modern piney interior is best-suited to hot summer nights, but in those circumstances I imagine competition for bar and seating would be pretty hot too. Not bad at all folks; I shall be back one day.

14 Jan 2010 18:04

Red Cow, Sandwich

Haven't been here for the best part of a decade. That's how frequently I emerge in Sandwich. Still, it was pretty much as I had left it; a pleasingly well-preserved traditional beamed interior, plenty of space to lounge in, and well-kept beer, which is something of a surprise as the bulk of punters seemed to be wholly focused on the footie and were your classic lager-swillers. Still, it was good to see that locals were using the pub and enjoying what it offers. This place doesn't quite live up to its exterior, but it's nevertheless worth popping in for a pint or two if you're in the vicinity.

14 Jan 2010 17:58

The Fleur de Lis Hotel, Sandwich

A rather touchingly-old-fashioned venue, with a raft of nick-nacks attached to various surfaces and a slightly lurid decor reminiscent of the bawdy old dens one used to find routinely in London and provincial towns. But this is unfair as it appeared to be a perfectly respsectable house, where elderly ladies could lunch on reasonably-priced simple fare quite comfortably, and various drinkers could also feel just as welcome. Service was efficient and pleasant, as was the ale, although being a GK brew sadly it was never going to knock my socks off. Well-kept though. This certainly oozes character and it really is a place where one could while away a whole afternoon steadily getting more and more sozzled. Alas, the call of other hostelries and the driving seat did not permit this. Maybe one day....

14 Jan 2010 17:53

Three Mariners, Hythe

Happily, I don't have to expend too much effort on reviewing this as my erstwhile drinking compadre below has already said most of what needs to be said. Not that this place doesn't deserve a bit of time being spent on advising BITE users of its attributes; not only an excellent welcome from either side of the bar, but a range of fine ales in great nick and non-nonsense pub grub. It appears that there is sufficient local trade from the nearby residential streets to sustain the pub, relieving it of the need to pander to the whims of passing trade in a more central location. There is a clear sense of pride in the way it is now run, and justifiably so.

A simple but highly-effective formula has been devised for the post-Neame era by the new owners, which simply responds to what the locals need/want, and I wish them all the luck in the world in this endeavour, although evidence at present suggests they don't need it. If I don't re-emerge here in the near future, it will only be because of distance from where I live!

14 Jan 2010 17:43

The Lemon Tree, Covent Garden

Popped in after an exuberant and enjoyable three pints at the Harp, not expecting a great deal; at least not in beer terms. However, I was happily proven wrong as well-kept Harvey's Best, Fuller's London Pride, Hobgoblin and Adnams Explorer (an innovative range for most London boozers) graced the bartop. It was not too busy and space could be found at the bar if not at a table. There was a festive spirit in the air and barmaids had donned short-skirted Santa uniforms. Nice touch. And they were both friendly and efficient to boot, which again is not something one takes for granted in the Smoke. '80s disco and rare groove on the stereo but not obtrusive (made a change from a CD of Christmas hits). The place gradually filled up with a pleasant mix of punters, and it was actually all rather jolly.

All in all it measured up reasonably well and I'll probably look to pop in when next in the area. Can't say fairer than that.

17 Dec 2009 17:22

The Hand and Raquet, Wimbledon

Popped in on the offchance while waiting for friends to arrive. The exterior didn't augur well to me; it had that rather wine-bar-ish decor and numerous drinks promotions were advertised, which all suggested an over-priced "yoof" sports bar with little to offer a serious beer drinker who is after a genuine atmosphere.

Happily I was proved somewhat off the mark when I got inside. Yes, there was an emphasis on sport, with a large number of punters clearly in to watch the Man City v Chelsea match on the various TVs, which did tend to dominate. Not a feature I look for, but otherwise I at least found the place not to be pretentious, devoid of atmos, or even unduly overpriced, as the previous commentary suggests. The cask beer was essentially Greene King, which although not to my taste I'm sure was kept well enough. They did offer a guest (a genuine guest - not just one of GK's bastardised brews inherited from taking over another family brewer), in the highly quaffable form of Hyde's Jekyll's Gold. More of a Summer choice perhaps but given the intense heat from both the central heating and the sheer number of bodies crammed into a small space, it was entirely appropriate.
Service was lacklustre - although my presence was acknolwedged it still took an age to be served, and it was in that slighly careworn, impersonal manner that one sadly comes to expect from many in our so-called hospitality industry. But, in their defence it was a very busy time and the main thing was that the beer I was given was in good nick.

Overall, my recommendation would be not to avoid this pub, but by the same token don't actively seek it out. If you're passing, have a quick pint or two then spread your wings.

7 Dec 2009 12:52

Trafalgar Freehouse, South Wimbledon

Let's deal with the location issue briefly - yes, it is what most would consider unappealing, and it is not the kind of area which one would expect to boast a superior ale house. But lest we forget, we should never judge a neighbourhood, or a pub, entirely by its outward appearance. Either would be serious folly in this instance, for the Trafalgar is quite simply one of the best public houses - certainly free houses - I have discovered this year.

I arrived with a couple of friends on Saturday evening and found the place thronging with a good mix of punters, all having a whale of a time and clearly enthusing over the forthcming live jazz performance, and the superb range of unusual cask ales on offer. Happily, we managed to find a seat and simply drunk in the atmosphere, and as many of the beers as possible. The clips in the bar area demonstrate how many they have served in recent years, and I found the quality of the cellaring matched that of the quantity. I come from near Reigate, where only recently has it been possible to source Pilgrim beer, despite having been brewed there for 24 years, and even then its appearance is intermittent, and usually confined to the Progress. Yet many miles to to the north we have the Traf, which regularly serves TWO Pilgrim beers, neither of them from the usual portfolio. One, the Thrupenny bitter, was subtly smokey and hugely sessionable, and the other was a brew specially commissioned for the licensees to mark their 5 years in the pub - Dave advised me that they have a good relationship with the other Dave at the brewery. Clearly they must if he was willing to create an exclusive brew for him! The other ales sampled were also on song, and this, combined with the lively, friendly and unpretentious environment, made for an exceptional evening's entertainment. Everything was convivial and gelled perfectly.

Regardless of the downbeat character of its environs, I'd happily get a place in the nearest tower block if it meant being able to maintain a prominent and regular presence at this pub! A fine blueprint of how good a simple, local boozer can be. David and Karen: I salute you.

7 Dec 2009 12:39

The Sultan, South Wimbledon

Indeed it is... Finally set foot in the place for the first time on Saturday evening and found a superb range of Hop Back beers (the only other HB pub that has such a wide variety on that I know of is the Coronation in Southville, Bristol), all being frequently pulled by a jolly barmaid. I enjoyed some Entire and the seasonal ale which was supber (especially at only 3.9%), Elf and Hoppiness.
The Sultan clearly is a community local and serves its purpose very satisfactorily in that way, but this is not to the exclusion or detriment of those of us who are not regulars. It was a foul evening and the pub's main bar area was nice and cosy, with its slightly faux but somehow appropriate wood-pannelled interior and busy carpet. I thoroughly approved of the fact that the two-bar layout has been retained and not insensitively bulldozed into one. The place has many fans, as attested to by the numerous awards it has won during the last 15 years (though sadly not so many of late - can't think why).

All in all a down-to-earth, comfortable and pleasing experience, with superior beer to wash it down with. The only criticism I have - and sadly it is something that hit me immediately upon arrrival - was the pungent smell of cat which pervaded the bar area! I don't know whether this is the usual state of affairs, but despite the pub's various attractive qualities, that can be enough to put punters off and it suggests the place isn't as savoury as it could be. Sort this, and an already good pub can step into excellence.

7 Dec 2009 12:24

The Crown, Soho

I made what is probably my second or third visit here over the last 10 years on Saturday. And on balance I found the pub to be as it I had always experienced it in the past. That is to say, perfectly acceptable and satisfactory.

Contrary to some previous comments, I find the Nicholsons chain to be one of the more reliable and worthy of London pub companies, as their outlets are traditionally-orientated without being too faux or branded; there is usually a range of good quality cask ales; consistently good pub food using good ingredients but nothing pretentious; and the service is normally efficient and friendly enough. All these things should be basic pre-requisites in our pubs, but sadly they are not - especially in the Capital.

Most of the above positives can be experienced at the Crown. It is not as capacious, or as atmosphere-driven, as some of its counterparts, and on my last visit the ale range was okay and the beers kept well, though nothing out of the ordinary was available. But it is perfectly serviceable, especially for a quick couple of drinks en route to other venues. I completely concur with earlier visitors in that it is a very mixed bag clientele-wise; even on a Saturday night one could find young and old, male and female, emanating from diverse social and economic classes and a mix of nationalities to boot. A good thing in principle, although the ebb and flow of so many disparate groups doesn't help to bind the punters together and can render things a little impersonal, despite the sometimes cramped conditions. It was odd because at some points the place was jam-packed, while at others almost clear. A steadier buzz would've been easier to negotiate.
There was also a slightly petty couple of incidents where the manager seemed obsessed with ensuring punters didn't move seats and stools around the bar area - one chap clearly was offended by this but happily nothing kicked off. Maybe the man had his reasons but it did seem something of an over-reaction especially when there was a bar of people needing to be served!

In sum I think people are correct in their assumption that this is the kind of place that is good and perhaps tries a little harder than many terminally-average London boozers. But in this location this isn't enough to make it stand out from its numerous nearby comeptitors, and make it a venue that is an obvious focus for an entire evening's drinking. It is a pub where people come and go quite happily, in between other pubs, bars, theatres, restaurants and so on.

30 Nov 2009 11:53

The Caxton Arms, Brighton

Dived in here a couple of Saturdays ago and found it reasonably quiet (it was early-ish though and perhaps custom is greater during the week?). It was a pleasant enough boozer; clean, neutral decor. Appeared to be trying to appeal to a broad cross-section of punters, although all in attendance on this occasion were under 30. All this did not make for an especially memorable or engaging atmosphere.

I should say the service was efficient and pleasant - a friendly welcome is far from assured in many pubs nowadays - and the ale was kept well. That said I was only in for a quick 'alf and in any event, there was only one active pump when I was there (Spitfire). I'd say they could do better on that front, but maybe the average customer here does not favour the real stuff (judging by the comments below extolling Oranjeboom and Asahi I fear this is the case). It isn't worth getting more ale in if it won't turn over.

All in all, an average experience, but perhaps a longer visit on a busier night, with one or two more ales to choose from, and I might be tempted back. Trouble is, for the likes of me this is just too close to the Star and the Nelson, and would have to be exceptional for it to feature in the running with such illustrious competition!

25 Nov 2009 15:58

Grain Barge, Bristol

I'd sworn I'd reviewed this place before, but the audit trail below suggests not. Slapped wrist for me as this was very remiss. What I've been meaning to say about the GB is, well, more or less an echo of the various comments now made by many others who have sampled and been won over by its charms. The idea of beer on a boat might sound obviously alluring, as it is something of a novel concept even in a Maritime city such as Bristol. But the proprietors still have to get it right - and happily, they have. Each visit has found a range of at least three (usually four) BBF ales on board; it is tempting to have a quick 'alf of each, as theirs is one of the few portfolios which can support a seamless "horizontal" tasting (sorry to pinch a wine-buff's term but it is appropriate here!) without the flavour jarring. Swing from Sunrise to Milk Stout via the Red and No 7 and let your palate decide!
As for the interior, it is airy and thoroughly in-keeping with what one should expect from a pub housed in a boat. I rather feel it tops the Apple for overall water-borne drinking/eating experience, if only because it is above the Plimsoll line and isn't so gloomy! Excellent views to be had across the Harbour, especially on a fine day from the outdoor deck area.
As for grub, tales of tarting up with tea-towels aside, I found it to be both hearty and tasty when I tried it - I wouldn't write the Barge off if you happen to be peckish as well as thirsty while aboard.
I should make mention of the service before I close - very helpful and pleasant in my experience. Barmaids tend towards the attractive which I am bound to say can only be a good thing!

All in all, excellent work and keep splicing that mainbrace!

16 Nov 2009 17:26

The Berkeley, Clifton

More by default than anything else, I was once found in here fairly regularly during a brief window of the mid-'90s, as it was always a natural draw for students playing at being poor, on account of its cheapness (in both price and atmosphere), and sheer proximity to the University's various outposts. Happily, after the first term I discovered other far-superior alternatives and never looked back (including the once-superb Quinton House - not Arms as stated below - which has been boarded up, but I am reliably informed has recently re-opened and is back on form?).
Having made sporadic visits in the last few years, I have never found anything other than the beer range and quality, and perhaps the vague novelty of the whispering gallery at the rear, to entice one back in a hurry. Frankly I have come to expect decent ale from most JDWs; this isn't an unusual feature nowadays. And as for the interior, it is looking rather faded; at least when I first went there it was still relatively new. Years of student and local grime is never kind to a pub's furnishings. Moreover, if one insists on sticking to the predictability of the chain in question, in Bristol alone there are at least four others which represent an improved pub experience on that to be gained from the Berkeley.
Not bad, but average at best, and so easily outclassed if only one is prepared to walk a little further. Unless cost is your driving criterion, go forth and seek out the Hope & Anchor, and the Eldon House for starters, all within 10 minutes' trot away.

16 Nov 2009 16:16

The Garland, Redhill

My innate desire to ensure fairplay wherever possible leads me to update a couple of points raised in my last review of January 2009. Firstly, the issue of slightly less-than-full measure pints has entirely evaporated: I cannot recall the last time anyone at the G served me anything less than the full 568 ml. Secondly, the music policy: remains the firm domain of the landlord, but diversity of choice has widened, and volume levels have been subtly raised where appropriate to help develop or enhance the existing atmos. Indeed, Stuart has mastered the art of using his tuneage to gently dictate the mood and pace of steadier evening sessions, which I heartily approve of.

Needless to say the quality of all ales remains very high, as does the service, and all told the pub remains a must for devoted traditional ale and pub lovers. Yes, I remain hugely biased as it is my local. And no, I have not been paid to say all this... Come to think of it, I should have a word with Stuart about that....

8 Oct 2009 10:31

The Star and Garter, Soho

A perfectly charming Soho pub that isn't in any way exceptional. However, we should be thankful for any pub in this district that has retained any sort of residual genuine character, and at least offers something in the way of passable beer. And it is a rather fine building too if you take a look.

Albeit a function of being tied to the usual pubco fare I expect, the ales on last weekend were undeniably an unchallenging and ubiquitous choice; namely Shep Neame Spitfire, Fullers London Pride, and GK IPA. Boring. But reliable enough, as the Spit was in good shape.

As for environment, the S & G is a very pleasant little place that seems to attract a mature crowd of various ages; certainly reserved by Soho standards but that will be a plus for many. It will do just as well for a meet with mates as it would with a partner, and I think it benefitd from being set in a lively street with plenty of hustle and bustle, as one can feel close to the beating heart of the area on the doorstep, whilst still enjoying a quiet drink within.

Not bad.

28 Sep 2009 16:51

The Seven Stars, Chancery Lane

Certainly one of London's most eccentric and characterful hostelries, albeit that competition in either arena is sadly dwindling with the ongoing insensitive and bland refurbishment/re-branding mania, and of course frequent closure altogether.
At first I wondered whether the pub was trying too hard to attain this niche, although in time I decided that any affectations were entirely a reflection of the landlady's own persona, and given that they won't necessarily appeal to all passing trade it's hard to argue a case for them being deliberate attempts to garner extra business. Personally, I quite enjoyed the novelty of stuffed animals, a windy and narrow staircase to the latrines, and the landlady's living quarters all being on open display, to a soundtrack of 1950s music hall LPs.
And even if the all this theatre and sometimes whimsical campery isn't to your liking, if fine ale is, then still you must come here, as there will be much to delight you. 2 beers from Dark Star on (a relative rarity in these parts) amongst others, and both were superb.
Being a large group and a fine mellow evening we opted to stand outside rather than try and cram ourselves into the bar area. Service seemed efficient enough, although "Roxy" didn't muster even the faintest of acknowledgements or pleasantries as I let her pass on the stairway. For someone who ostensibly is such a stagey old dear, she appeared remarkably unexpressive all round, but perhaps one must earn one's niceties at the Seven Stars. In any case, whilst it may deter many, it will not in my case, as at least it provides a clear signal that undue airs, graces and endeavours to ingratiate are entirely pointless and one is spared having to make the effort.
I do imagine this is a place where one could slip in for a quickie (no "oo-ers" please) and end up having an enthralling, if not slightly bemusing, conversation with one of the regulars.

I must say, it's easy to knock, but damned hard not to enjoy all the same!

28 Sep 2009 14:18

The Lyceum, Strand

The character of this pub (wooden pannelling and various alcoves) appears to have been well-maintained, although as ever with Sam Smith's houses that is more a core element of their business model, as the money saved on maintenance and refurbishment allows them to sell their wares at almost Wetherspoon-like discounts! I don't touch the keg offerings, as I'm afraid that just seems too retrograde a step given the variety and quality of real ales available nowadays, but the OBB was sampled and was satisfactory. As mentioned before, it was a touch too chilled, although arguably that helped render it that bit more drinkable as a few of my crowd suspected it was past its best.

Surprisingly capacious actually, as there is an upstairs seating area which isn't immediately obvious upon entering the ground floor. Service was reasonable, although I think we left under a cloud as things became somewhat rumbustuous following repeated losses of coinage in the Games Machine, and the barman felt the need to quieten proceedings on 3 occasions. Still, I dearly hope that we injected some much-needed pizazz, without being too obnoxious or obstreperous in the eyes of other punters.

Might take a quick 'alf here again if the opportunity arises, but I doubt that I would seek this pub out specifically.

28 Sep 2009 14:01

The Ship and Shovell, Charing Cross

A stop-off here on a stag-related pub-crawl last Saturday, which was most welcome, not least for its double capacity on either side of the passage (an unusual and useful feature), but for its maintenance of traditional values based on good beer and good cheer. A mix of people were found already supping; the TV was on but was entirely unobtrusive. Service was speedy (in both bars), and the ale was found to be in sound form. I can confirm the Lemony Cricket is very pleasant, even though I am not a die-hard Hall & Woodhouse fan. It's more cricket than lemon. Other fellow quaffers seemed to be enjoying their Tanglefoots and First Golds too.

A pub that manages to cater for more current tastes without compromising its traditional outlook, which comes across as far more genuine than many an ersatz "olde worlde" boozer in London. Worth seeking out, tucked away just a few hundred yards from Embankment.

28 Sep 2009 13:54

The Greenwich Union, Greenwich

Dropped in as part of a stag do (well, glorified pub crawl really) expecting only to partake of a couple of pints, but ended up taking lunch as well, which emboldens me to provide a few comments about both grub and grog.

I must say that I echo quite a bit of what has been said by recent visitors. The Union is a worthy pub in that it strikes a reasonable balance between the traditional and the contemporary, with a mix of decor and design that can appeal to the long-term local or the first-time tourist. A mix of punters can be found there, although arguably accented towards the young. It is the tap for Meantime brewery and although always being of the belief that Alistair Hook focuses his brewing efforts on keg and bottled offerings only (the latter very successful in the US Export market), I was heartened to see 2 cask ales on the bar (albeit that only 1 was a Meantime beer - IPA; the other being Adnams Bitter). Despite all the plaudits for its bottled and draught products I stuck to my guns and eschewed these for the cask IPA, which was excellent, if very reminiscent of several other ales of a similar ilk. Others enjoyed some of the other options, including a 75cl wine bottle of London Porter, which did look pretty scrumptious. Even the non-cask stuff seemed to be relatively gas-free from what I observed of others. So, worthy of a visit for the beer I would say.

The food, which one by one each member of our merry throng decided to order despite initial resolve to delay, didn't offer a huge variety, although there were some more unusual offerings; the "brunch" selection of bacon butties, eggs benedict etc was appealing and both were sampled, as was one of the burgers. Portions were generous, which perhaps began to justify the plainly over-inflated price bracket. However, it was generally agreed that it was not quite prepared to the levels of gastronomic excellence the pub would purport to maintain. For a start, my eggs benedict was served lukewarm. Lovely flavours, but by the end, cold! A friend who opted for a dessert declared the ice cream to have been "re-frozen" and altogether an average experience. So, it flatters to deceive somewhat on the victuals side, but still I wouldn't advise future visitors not to eat here.

The one thing I will have to contradict is the comments on service: last Saturday's visit found the staff to be welcoming, talkative, knowledgeable, and entirely friendly. Beer and food were dispensed efficiently and with good grace. I have no negative comments on the service whatsoever.

Definitely worth the effort for non-Greenwichites, provided you aim to visit various other hostelries nearby too, with a view to broadening your experience and to get beyond the semi-gastro pretense that seems to be on the rise at the Union by trying some more down-to-earth boozers. The Richard I next door looked good (Young's) and was popular, but we didn't have time.

28 Sep 2009 13:43

Old Down Inn, Chilcompton

I've only pitched up at this place once so far, but I am somewhat surprised to find such a negative appraisal of it on this site.

The building is both capacious and charming; one could be forgiven for assuming it is a hotel upon entering, as one has to find one's way through a rather grandiose lobby to the bars at the rear. The impression I got was that it is kept well and is clean, despite the amount of housekeeping it must require.
There were 4 cask ales on, all drawn direct from the cask on stillage. My choices also included Butcombe and I found it in perfectly acceptable form, as was the New Forest Ale. I also visited the solids menu and found a good variety of dishes on offer; all sounded very tempting actually. Plumped for the belly pork which although on initial inspection appeared to have been over-cooked, actually was nice and tender, with a tasty ring of crackling! Vegetables of various types were brought forth, and all were soft but with some bite - the way I like them. My friend partook of fish pie and was most impressed.
This was all framed by extremely friendly and efficient service from all staff; particularly the comely Maxine, who appears to be the nearest person behind the bar to a landlady, and who assisted willingly in getting a car moved outside that had blocked my exit. She seemed to be well-known and loved by the locals - and there were many: the place was near-empty upon our arrival at 7 on a Saturday but by 9 every dining table was full, so presumably they must be doing something right?

All in all a good all-round performance for me, and worthy of investigation by those who might be looking for sustenance while travelling around Bath and its environs. I hope that future visitors find my version of events to be more representative than that of the previous commentator - who perhaps might not live up to his name?!

22 Sep 2009 12:38

The Barley Mow, Bristol

Indeed so... The takeover by the Bristol Beer Factory as their first "proper" pub (the Tobacco Factory and the Grain Barge don't quite count) has been a roaring success as far as I can see: 4 perfectly-kept offerings ranging from the Bristol Stout through No 7 and Red to the Sunrise. All sampled and all excellent. Extremely friendly reception from the barman (despite the fact he only looks about 13!), which guaranteed a very convivial experience. Food also appeared to be in good shape, although none was tried on the last visit.
Got in very early doors but after 20 minutes or so the punters started filtering in; we were assured that trade had been reasonably brisk and so hopefully the Barley Mow will now be rendered safe from the fate of many pubs in the area (closure). It clearly aims to position itself as a quality community local, and it seems that various folk from the nearby and curiously-named Dings area are picking up on this and gradually "taking ownership". I hope this goes from strength to strength, as anything less would really be an injustice.
A superb blueprint of how a local boozer should be: down-to-earth while maintaining a high benchmark of quality.

22 Sep 2009 10:36

The White Lion, Redhill

I find it peculiar that having been moderately familiar with this establishment for over 15 years, I haven't sought to review it previously. Actually, I thought I had, but BITE records reliably(?) inform me that I have not. Here goes then.

Sadly I can't put my apparent memory lapse down to having had endless indulgent sessions on the ale at this pub, as although it is served in reasonable nick by the seemingly diligent and friendly folk who currently run it (watch this space though as the pub has seen innumerable changes at the helm since the untimely death of long-standing landlord Oliver O'Boyle a few years back - much missed by all accounts), it is Greene King and affiliated bastardised brews only at the pumps (all 5 of 'em), and try as I might, I just can't learn to love them. I "tolerated" a well-kept pint of Ye Olde Trip before taking just that back to the trusty Garland at the other end of the same road (incidentally, never do these pubs the other way round, if only to ensure the walk is all downhill!).

Needless to say, this is not the fault of the licensees, or the pub. We ale enthusiasts have other outlets both tied and free in the area which will serve our needs better, but the White Lion has enough other positive qualities to render it a worthy component on a local Redhill crawl. A well-kept and traditional interior will greet you (some faux additions but it isn't hard to believe this has been licensed since 1900) and very capacious when one chivvies out all the various alcoves and nooks; just the place for comfort on a cold winter day.

I do fear though that it is struggling to drum up the custom it enjoyed in its '90s heyday when it boasted a loyal local following; my last visit was on a Saturday night (on my own - god what is happening to me?!) yet I found no more than 4 other customers in situ. Four. GK beer aside, it deserves better than that. Perhaps it was a one-off? I do hope so.

17 Sep 2009 17:05

All Bar One, Croydon

The previous commentator has rather stolen my thunder as he has covered all the relevant points that should be borne in mind about this establishment and the thousands of its kind across the nation. Bland, over-priced, and formulaic, one really could be anywhere once inside (perhaps this is considered a plus for folk who'd rather forget they were in Croydon but usually this is not a positive trait). Yet, it is surprisingly well-subscribed by people who presumably prefer a safe and characterless environment for their eating and drinking.

No real ale of course; the Pride is keg only and as one of the previous visitors noted is only there as a token gesture. The draught lager selection at least isn't confined to the ubiquitous ersatz British brands, and sometimes a more interesting and dare I say it flavoursome imported offering appears. But this is of little interest to an ale man. The saving grace is perhaps the fridge, as it does contain a couple of passable bottled ales - namely Innis & Gunn and Worthington White Shield, thanks to which I have been able to endure if not enjoy the various leaving dos that silly colleagues insist on holding at this venue!

I should also say the food isn't too bad, and the wine selection while not unusual is quite diverse. But neither represent value for money and the sterile environment makes for a pretty anodine experience whatever is in your glass.

11 Sep 2009 12:59

The Flying Scud, Redhill

I can confirm that as reported, this pub CLOSED last Monday as expected. I have further been informed that the owner sold the building to a developer, which confirms my fear that there is no posibility of this being re-opened as a pub, and will probably face demolition rather than conversion.

Another one bites the dust.

10 Sep 2009 10:56

The Thomas Cubitt, Belgravia

Having made my maiden visit to this pub only yesterday, my initial impression was that it clearly thinks a lot of itself, and would seem to be a restaurant cloaked in pub's clothing. It is a pleasant, airy affair, but with only two cask ales on (surprising given the renewed emphasis on real ale in many pubs with a gastro-leaning - cue Cask Pub & Kitchen et al), and despite paying 3.50 for a pint of Adnams Bitter, it was decidedly warm and not especially enjoyable. Perhaps I was unlucky but it doesn't fill one's heart with hope.

I decided against eating, not because the offerings were uninviting, but the prices just didn't stack up for me. Solid classic British dishes with an occasional flirtation with France, but it would have had to have been phenomenally good to have justified the cost, and on the strength of the beer this was far from guaranteed.

I have to say the clientele were pretty Chelsea-ish (or failing that snotty Americans) and despite being dressed to the nines myself I still didn't feel particularly comfortable during my brief stay, especially being alone. In fact I'd expected this sort of crowd from my ultimate destination, the Ebury Wine Bar over the road, but oddly didn't find any snobbish affectations there.

I concur that the service seems friendly enough and I wasn't made to feel unwelcome for not being a diner. Would I go back? Even with a lady in tow? Maybe. But not in a hurry. I shall have to ask Clarissa if she's free....

8 Sep 2009 18:12

The Travellers Tavern, Victoria

There is no question that this is a by-numbers definition of averageness; neither the building nor its contents are especially inviting and are not conducive to the creation of any memorable character. The decor is bland, although in reasonable order; the ales are ubiquitous though reasonably well-kept; the food is predictable and microwave-based but arguably better than the standard set by many Wetherspoons' kitchens; the service fairly impersonal but efficient enough.

This is a classic "convenience" pub; a place where one would never set out deliberately to visit but when in need of basic sustenance in the form of beer and burgers and there is no obvious outlet nearby where higher quality can be guaranteed, it will do the job to an acceptable level. It's surely its prominent location near to Victoria Coach Station that has secured its viability thus far, although it was hardly thronging on my visit last night. If only for the reason that far too many London pubs are closing regardless of their quality, I do hope that the Travellers Tavern doesn't allow itself to become another statistic. A bog-standard pub is better than none at all.

8 Sep 2009 18:02

The Ebury Wine Bar, Belgravia

No. Not a pub. The clue is in the title, and I have to say it doesn't mislead. Regardless of whether such a venue should have a berth on BITE, I can at least report that as wine bars go (and I'm not a connoisseur of them in the same way as I like to think I am with pubs), this place is actually very nice. It has the olde worlde atmosphere of a good boozer without being contrived, and seems not to have the dreadful snooty air and irony-free pretensions that many of its peers specialise in. A fairly mixed bunch were whiling away the evening and not the bowtie and braces types one's stereotypical prejudices might lead one to expect.

The wine list is tempting too, with a good variety of red and white offerings from across the globe. Mark-ups obviously are significant, but arguably not as high as those found in most London drink and eateries (Crozes-Hermitage '05 for 30 and '01 Rioja Reserva for about 25 - considering the quality of these vintages the price seemed a little more acceptable). Ordered a so-called large platter of cheeses, and as I suspected, this is an area where the title does mislead - 8.50 for a few lumps of only two different varieties was hardly value, tasty though it was. But all in all a pleasant experience was had, and any comparisons with the features commonly associated with "proper pubs" probably wouldn't be fair as that is not what the Ebury sets out to be.

Of its type, far from offensive, which in itself is a monumental achievement.

8 Sep 2009 17:54

The Mash Tun, Victoria Station

An entirely false frontage for an entirely false pub. It is not quite the traditional Olde Englisshe boozer it pretends to be, although I daresay enough of our foreign friends are fooled by it. Acceptable for a quick snifter (not of the beer variety - with the sad exception of Wetherspoons all other Victoria station outlets are bereft of decent ale) en route to better things either in the provinces or the capital itself. The marginal saving grace here is that it does seem to be exude something of an atmosphere, even it is conjured up by a bunch of old soaks who missed their trains hours before and decided to ignore the march of time and press on with their over-priced run-through of the shorts.

It is better than anywhere in the area prefaced or suffixed by the word "Bar", and better than Bonapartes, but otherwise don't miss your train for one here.

7 Sep 2009 16:22

The Sloe Bar, Victoria Station

I always maintain that someone who feels that strongly about a pub - or indeed anything for that matter - should be able and willing to come up with a critique that amounts to more than two words, or indeed one single insult in this case. However, whilst I think the earlier commemt of "just awful" probably wasn't deserved, I am finding it challenging to come up with anything particularly worthwhile or more positive to say about this establishment.
On the one hand it is standard, corporate, railway station material and us natives know not to expect more in this day and age. However, it remains a crying shame that because of its prominent location in a station of international custom, many foreigners might experience this dull-as-ditchwater and entirely pedestrain public convenience as their first pub in the UK, and for that it is unforgivable. Perfectly clean, efficient and well-positioned. Otherwise, bland, faux, over-priced and without any beer worthy of mention for those of us who have a decent palate.

Okay for a quick G 'n' T passing through having over-indulged in enough decent pubs elsewhere to a) not need any more beer and b) be too plastered to care about the price.

7 Sep 2009 16:07

Society Rooms, Maidstone

This was something of a by-numbers 'Spoons as far as I could tell on a recent visit; possibly more memorable for its modern glassy appearance than than anything else. That said the beer sampled was both varied and in correct condition, and as always, sold at highly competitive prices. I didn't try the food but one has to learn to tailor one's expectations to be realistic in JDW outlets. If it's gourmet grub you're after, naturally avoid this place, but for a quick beer and bite it should suit well enough.

The issue which might preclude any enthusiasm for a return visit? Lack of atmosphere. I left feeling that it had really made no impression on me one way or t'other, but I suppose that is preferable to having been left with an unpleasant experience to dwell on.

7 Sep 2009 11:50

The Flower Pot, Maidstone

Stopped off last weekend following a suggestion by the Brewery Liaison Officer for Whitstable in Grafty Green as they were holding a beer festival and barbecue, and is the current local POTY. No disappointments on my part I must say. A corking local with oodles of atmosphere was found, along with a range of around 5 ales on pump and a further 8 at the rear for the festival (all beers sampled were on good form and none were being offered for 1 in imperfect condition; hopefully the licensee has learned his lesson there!). All staff were friendly and efficient; locals appeared to be rubbing shoulders happily enough with interlopers like us, and there was certainly an earthy, pretense-free air about the place despite its recent success. Tried the food (chicken curry) - cheap and cheerful.

The only significant criticism has to be the sheer lack of space, which I daresay wasn't an issue in the pub's previous incarnations, but now it is enjoying something of a renaissance in fortunes, it is close to becoming something of a victim of its own success. Happily the weather was clement and no-one objected to us standing out on the pavement to quaff, but that option won't always be available so be prepared for a bit of a tight squeeze if it's wet and busy!

7 Sep 2009 11:44

The Sultan, South Wimbledon

No, more's the pity, but don't fret, I haven't forgotten about it - hence my check to see if anyone had answered my query today - thanks for that Roodeye. Trouble is, although I only work a relatively short distance away in Croydon, the opportunity to wangle a trip to South Wimbledon just doesn't seem to arise in the normal scheme of things. Often too busy boozing in more conducive locations! I am going to need to make a special effort and set aside an afternoon to check this (and other places that have caught my eye) out. Hopefully my next comment here will be a substantive - and thoroughly positive - review.

3 Sep 2009 17:54

The Flying Scud, Redhill

It is with regret that I announce that according to local sources, the Scud is to close its doors on Monday 7 September.

Although it was never a personal favourite of mine, and sadly the potential improvements I had hoped were to materialise in 2007 never really did, I shall still morn the passing of a long-established community pub, which despite some shortcomings always appeared to try hard to hold on to its local custom. In today's market, I suppose that just isn't enough. Anyway, assuming what I hear is correct, you have 5 days to pay your respects if you feel so inclined.

No word yet as to whether it might be taken over with a view to re-opening as a pub, but experience in these matters suggests that conversion to a private dwelling, or worse still demolition to make way for a colourless block of utilitarian apartments, is a more likely fate. I hope I am wrong - as the predictions I made about this place 2 years ago on this site prove.

2 Sep 2009 17:51

Royal Blenheim, Oxford

After hearing the numerous positive reports about this pub of late, I felt it deserved a visit to see if the fuss was justified, as so often one finds that hype leads to unduly-high expectations that can only be disappointed. By and large, I am happy to say I left feeling that it is deserving of its blossoming reputation.

Any pub packing 10 pumps and able to shift enough beer to justify them has to be given credit, and certainly the ales were freely-flowing here, dispensed by the outgoing and jolly staff, who helped to create a lively focus of fun at the bar without being too skittish. The usual range of White Horse and Everards brews were on, along with 3 from Holden's, which aren't personally to my taste but I have little doubt they were kept as well as the others (the Village Idiot was superb). The staff boldly endeavoured to push us towards taking lunch there; the fact that we ultimately resisted had more to do with the lure of other venues and limited hunger than the quality of the grub on offer. Various dishes emerged from the kitchen including hearty Ploughman's and fish and chips, all of which appeared to be delicious. A good mix of punters were in and enjoying the victuals so I assume all is well on that front. Maybe next time.

The refurb is rather more traditional than the exterior signage might suggest - and all to the good as far as I'm concerned. If the Blenheim remains well-managed and continues to major on quality traditional fare and cask ales, it has a bright future.

2 Sep 2009 11:41

Folly Bridge Inn, Oxford

Having always eschewed this pub in favour of the Head and various other more central delights, I decided to pop in last Saturday. It is perhaps more of a working-class drinking-hole than one might expect from the spruce exterior and well-stocked garden that surrounds the pub. Also, it seems to emphasise Sky Sports as a main attraction, which - sorry to say it - all-too-often does not bode well for the overall quality of a local pub. However, happily, I found it to be clean, friendly and the service at the bar very efficient. The big screen was on, but didn't dominate unduly. To say this place is "down at heel" is a little unfair; I would substitute this for "down-to-earth", and in truth it is quite refreshing to find a local pub in Oxford that has no pretensions and isn't aimed squarely at the American tourist/Morse market.

Most importantly for an ale lover such as I was the sheer quality of the beer! I was amazed to find the Wadworth Horizon not only in good nick, but truly the finest I've ever sampled. One mouthful and the finish lasted so long that it was unnecessary to take another for a good few minutes! I didn't have time to try anything else, but if all ales are kept to this standard most of the time, this place really deserves more praise that it's been getting for this alone. And it must be said - it is far cheaper than the Fullers fare up the road.

I say well done folks; I shall be back.

2 Sep 2009 11:30

The Turl, Oxford

A building that flatters to deceive in that it would appear certain to yield a smart, stylish town pub that respects its long history, but upon entering it is immediately apparent that none of these assumptions are safe.
I had always avoided it, and having given it a chance found that I had been right to do so. Bland, sapped of any character despite the charming exterior, and by-numbers food and beer. Oh, and did I mention the smell of rancid fat? No - well, it smelt of rancid fat. At least on my last visit which admittedly was some months ago now. But I fear from the last commentary that nothing has changed in the interim.

In fairness, the Brakspear was in reasonable nick, but one ale - and a ubiquitous one at that - in okay form is not sufficient to draw me back, especially in a city blessed with numerous above-average outlets for food and drink. A classic case of potential, and that will not alter unless there is a change in ownership.

28 Aug 2009 17:11

Hobgoblin, Oxford

Visited on and off over the years (I'm sure it was something else before this - the Bulldog??) and always found it to be consistent, although not excellent, reliable town pub. The ale selection is reasonable (always Wychwood on which doesn't float my particular boat but White Horse and others were available on my last appearance), and usually in good form. Friendly service, and plenty of seating. However, the place does resemble a barrack room and sadly, it just somehow manages to exude no real atmosphere.

Undoubtedly a worthy stop-off on an Oxford crawl; my recommendation would be to perhaps pick up a swift half here before launching oneself into the bigger-hitters. But I can't go so far as to say it would be worthwhile to stay for an all-evening session. Make up your minds for yourself when you go.

28 Aug 2009 17:01

The Royal Oak, Oxford

Dropped in here in May having for some reason always walked past it previously (all-too-likely due to being en route to the excellent Rose & Crown), and it proved well worth a stop-off.
1) Friendly service was experienced; 2) A fine range of real ales; 3) Beer sampled was well-kept; 4) The interior was comfortable, capacious, and exuded a warm atmosphere (despite being a quiet spell on a Saturday afternoon). Oh, and 5) Toilets in good nick: an area in which far too many hostelries lose points.
I shan't be ignoring this pub on my future Oxfordian ramblings.

28 Aug 2009 16:56

The Prince of Wales, Reigate

Been somewhat amiss in that I forgot to drop a review in the box for this pub when I was last there - which is all of 5 months ago now. However, for what it's worth, assuming there have been no seismic shifts in its character in that time, I can report I was impressed by the PoW. To a degree that was a measure of my expectations, which were not high, as I've been here periodically over the years and always found it lively enough, but mediocre in most respects. Certainly not so in March; it was still a lively venue with a salt-of-the-earth clientele. Good range of Sheps' beer on including an excellent Kent's Best. Also the service was found to be pleasant despite it being a hectic period when staff were clearly under some pressure to keep customers topped up.
The pub was always known locally for its live music; there was none on when I went but I imagine it still has performing acts appearing and so for those who want an extra dimension to their evening might want to look into this.
Not an absolute stunner by any means, but worthy of an occasional visit. Furthermore, as there are relatively few other decent boozers in the area, and it is a merry joint, I would say it would be viable for a night out in it's own right at the weekend without the need to move on elsewhere.

26 Aug 2009 12:57

Colston Yard, Bristol

Curiously this one seems to have escaped the TWG-treatment over the years; I'm sure I'd left a comment about the place after the radical alterations of 2007, but clearly not. One too many Butcombes perhaps.

In any case, my last visit was 2 months ago and I found it much as it had been from the outset following the Butcombe take-over: cosmopolitan custom, smart and contemporary (if a little anodine) decor, young and efficient (if not always talkative) enough service, and most significantly, a good range of cask ales including several from the growing and increasingly worthy Butcombe range.
There is no question that they have done a fabulous job on resurrecting the pub from its sudden and unnecessarily brutal fall from grace as the Smiles Brewery Tap. They could so easily have slavishly sought to recreate the successful blueprint of the preceding 16 years, but bravely opted for a more upmarket and modern approach, which mercifully steers just the right side of corporate, although some visitors may beg to differ on that one. Sufficient acknolwedgement and respect for its heritage has been afforded and yet it seems to eagerly anticipate a bold future in its latest incarnation. The only issue is perhaps that it feels somewhat anachronistic in its Colston Street location; I can't help but feel it would be better-suited to a more central spot, but if it were I imagine it would become so popular that one could never get served!

Yes, I miss the award-winning stripped-down decor of the old Tap; I whiled away many a fine hour as a student and beyond enjoying the quaint checkerboard flooring, hopsack-covered walls and excellent Smiles ale while peacefully watching the world outside pass by. But as phoenixes rising from ashes go, it is hard to fault and it forces one to appreciate the good aspects of the new going forward, and not just hopelessly reminisce on the good things of the old going backwards.

20 Aug 2009 16:57

The Star Inn, Lingfield

A typical 1930s "roadside" style of building, which seems somewhat incongruous in a quiet residential side-street in a village. However, the pub is none the worse for this, and its large capacity - both in and out of doors - makes it a venue that is very conducive to larger groups, and families. There is a large car-park at the front. Children are catered for via a large play area in the garden at the side of the pub, but the interior has various seating areas and a large bar, so if like me you don't want your experience to be marred by unruly kids, there are plenty of areas here where one can escape them!
There was a mix of classes here, and I imagine that brickies can rub shoulders with bank clerks without any difficulties. It certainly seemed to be serving as a local for residents, which is an encouraging sign in these days of "use it ior lose it". It's the sort of pub that is a jack-of-all-trades, albeit that it seemed to be a master of none, but maintains a broad appeal through this approach. Food looked to be popular but nothing unusual was on the menu; up to 4 ales were offered but again nothing adventurous was seen (I should say only 2 were on on my recent visit although the Harvey's Best was in excellent form); the decor is faux-trad but comfortable and none the worse for this really.
In sum, a perfectly acceptable boozer, if one that perhaps won't live long in the memory (unless of course it is your local and you use it regularly!).

17 Aug 2009 10:29

Greyhound Inn, Lingfield

I shall kick the reviews of this place off then.

My maiden visit to the Greyhound was made on a Friday evening, and I found it in high spirits, with a good mix of punters all seemingly enjoying themselves in a hearty fashion, which bodes well for the pub. It's not everyonbe's cup of tea, but karaoke was on offer, and the standard of vocal performance I experienced was arguably not as poor as I have witnessed elsewhere! Whatever one's take on such tawdry entertainment devices, it can't be denied that it seemed popular and helped to create a buzzy party-ish vibe to the place. Perhaps given Lingfield's size the pub is relatively quiet on other nights I don't know, but on Fridays don't go looking for a peaceful pint and involved conversation!
The interior was traditional, and much as one might expect from the exterior appearance. It was well-kept and appeared to be clean. A few real ales were available - nothing that one can't easily find elsewhere but I can report the Young's Kew was being served in good condition on my visit. Service was both efficient and friendly; we didn't feel we were treated differently for not being well-known local faces.
All in all, there is nothing outstanding about the Greyhound, but it is a perfectly reasonable outlet and if in the area, it may be worth dropping in, especially as there aren't many other options in the village itself.

17 Aug 2009 10:13

The Sussex Cricketer, Hove

Popped in here rather opportunistically during the lunch interval of the cricket match taking place next door, and despite having limited expectations given its chain identity and rather bland appearance both in and outside, I found the pub to be surprisingly worthwhile.
By way of correcting the previous commentator - unless of course there has been a sea-change since late April - there were no less than seven cask ales on offer as of yesterday. The handpumps had the whiff of Greene King about them, as each had been installed with that peculiar new high swan-neck device next to the pump itself (of which I personally am doubtful as to whether it imparts any real merit whatsoever to the quality of the beer it dispenses), but this doesn't disqualify their beers from being "real", and thankfully, only 1 of GK's portfolio was on offer (IPA). The remainder were a diverse selection including Harvey's Best, Fuller's Summer, Keltek Even Keel, Martson's/Ringwood Fortyniner, and something from Tom Wood which I forget. And furthermore, I found the two I sampled in perfect condition, and served with efficiency by the staff.
I also expected the place to be very family-orientated, given its emphasis on food, but again I was pleasantly surpised to find the clientele to be comfortably over-age and seemingly representing a healthy mix of backgrounds. Indeed, there is a notice on the front entrance advising that children under 14 are not permitted - suits me as I'm one of those who prefers a pub to be essentially an adult environment (I might alter this view if only more parents could learn how to teach their offspring how to behave appropriately in public!).
Atmosphere was perhaps lacking and if anything it was being generated second-hand by the presence of the Cricket Ground and its activities, and the sunny weather. All the same, it wasn't enough to take against the place.
I can't comment substantively on the food, although brief observation suggested it was hearty and reasonably-priced, if a little obvious in terms of choice. So I can only conclude that if you like your real ales, and a child-free pub, and are in the Hove area, don't discount the Cricketer on the basis that it is a branded chain outlet!

12 Aug 2009 17:55

The White Swan, St Albans

I must say that despite this place ticking some positive boxes, I am somewhat surprised that it has so far garnered such a healthy overall score of 7.7! It is an appealing pub from the outside and the interior, although perhaps a little faux, does have a traditional feel that seems to match. The beers I found on the bar last weekend were in good shape, and service was both friendly and efficient, despite the throng of customers all vying for attention. It is also very conveniently situated for a sopt of refreshment having scaled the heights of Upper Dagnall Street, and before one launches oneself upon the town centre proper.

But it didn't make any lasting impression on me in the character stakes, and I can completely understand the dilemma of the previous commentator who also seems to have found it a somewhat anodyne experience. Yet, the Swan attracts a mixture of clientele - plenty of vodka and shots being downed when I was there as well as beer - so perhaps that's its secret. Being a jack of several trades but master of none. Chalk up as a worthy stop-off on a crawl but be prepared for it to pall after a while if you stay all evening.

28 Jul 2009 13:03

The White Lion, St Albans

Arguably this is now one of the most alluring boozers in the town, despite having much competition in the nearby vicinity. Besides being a charming old place that has the appearance of a cosy cottage and tucked away in a desirable residential area, it has wisely retained a characterful 2-bar layout indoors, and has a superb rear garden, which acts as an ideal sun-trap on a finer day and a repository for tiresome children etc while the serious adult business of enjoying some beverages can continue inside.
And the bar area sees much quaffing action. The focus, quite rightly, is on the variety of quality ales dispensed from its pumps (note the rare retention of a long-defunct Watney's Red Barrel tap on the bar - a delightful irony and a happy metaphor for the steady triumph of real ale over keg!). Some ace offerings were sampled on a recent visit, all washed down with convivial chat with some local folk, and the friendly banter from the rather comely barmaid (who a friend of mine took a keen interest in, only to be told elsewhere that she is already taken - and by the landlord?!).
This has similar advantages and appeal of the Lower Red Lion on Fishpool Street, but crucially, it currently has a clear edge over its rival - plenty of customers, who help to breathe extra life into what is an excellent template for how to run a successful pub. Keep it up folks.

28 Jul 2009 12:38

The White Hart Tap, St Albans

Splendid little place tucked away but still not tricky to locate. An obvious follow-on from the White Lion or Garibaldi if one is immersed in a crawl of the area.
A relaxed friendly atmosphere pervades the interior, and on a fine day the tables outside are pleasantly appointed. I daresay those living nearby must find it difficult not to saunter down here at lunch and even more challenging not to remain all afternoon! Several excellent cask beers can be found too, which make this something of a hidden gem, or a relatively unsung herp at least.

28 Jul 2009 12:22

The Six Bells, St Albans

Not as broad a range of ale as mentioned by some previous commentators, but what was on seemed to be in reasonable enough form (GK St Edmunds - but without that daft new dispense system that is supposed to come with it!). Barmaid was friendly which always lifts proceedings.
A very traditional 2-bar interior to match the exterior appearance; beams and horsebrasses akimbo. No problems with this, especially as it appears to be authentic enough. Must be very welcoming in Winter. Darts is available with a proper metal oche nailed to the floor, well away from dining tables etc.
Should make mention of the pleasant rear garden too which deserves a go if the sun is shining. All in all, not bad, although inevitably this standard is beaten by others in the town.

28 Jul 2009 12:18

The Rose and Crown, St Albans

The R & C is a very worthy establishment on several fronts, from the obvious allure of its unspoilt and traditional exterior (and interior), to the convivial buzz of drinkers and eaters enjoying their fill (not all tedious lager and family types - a mixed bag was found on a Saturday lunchtime), to the quality and range of the cask ales. Landlord and Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted were excellent and can be recommended - a little lively but given the policy of using lined pint glasses (a brave choice even today) at least this can't be said to be a device for short-changing less-observant punters!
The food certainly appeared to come in generous portions, although alas it was not time to think of solids on my last recent visit, where the pub took pride of place as the first in a long line of illustrious boozers to be visited in a crawl compiled by a local friend with paramilitary precision. A hearty time was had at what clearly is a hearty sort of a pub. Good work folks; keep it up.

27 Jul 2009 18:07

The Lower Red Lion, St Albans

I was intrigued to read about the ups and downs of this place since the turnover of tenants began. I was last here in September 2007 and found it to be nothing less than an excellent, down-to-earth yet characterful ale house, in a charming location and, crucially, with plenty of custom.
I am bound to say that I found quite a few of the positives still intact - the LRL clearly still occupies a berth in the town's Top 3 pubs for cask ale, both in breadth of choice and quality of conditioning. A superb selection of about 5 or 6 were on, 3 of which I'd seen nowhere else save for festivals. The JHB demanded a second pint, and despite being on a crawl that aimed to take in an ambitious 12 outlets, the lot of us felt 2 or 3 drinks at this place was merited. I should also make mention of the lady behind the bar, who was unassuming but very pleasant.

But evidently, something had gone wrong. Something crucial to developing a pub's atmosphere to its greatest potential regardless of how many and how good the beers are, how efficient the service is, how pretty the building is etc, was missing: yes, customers!! Dear oh dear. It was a Saturday lunchtime and yet only a handful of punters had emerged - mostly to eat in the garden which I believe has recently been opened up (incidentally the grub appeared to be reasonable although not out of the ordinary). The pub itself was pretty dead, which tells me that not all is well here anymore.

This is undeniably a shame, but given the wealth of positives I found still to be in place, not an irredeemable situation. All it needs is a steady hand on the tiller from someone who can embed themselves in the business of running this excellent local facilitym and hopefully, whoever is currently in charge is that person. When I next go in which could be a year from now, I expect I'll find out.

27 Jul 2009 17:59

The Garibaldi, St Albans

I see no reason to stay away from the Gari, unless of course one isn't in St Albans, or maybe doesn't get on with Fullers ale (making one "slightly insane" shouldn't be the usual by-product, but the great thing with beer is that even if it doesn't agree with you, you can still enjoy the cut and thrust of the argument!).
A very pleasant little local tucked away in the charming backstreets of town, and well worth seeking out. A very convivial welcome awaited us, and the Seafarers and ESB were both cracking. This really held a solid appeal on a balmy summer's afternoon, although I suspect that on a cold winter's evening one could still find the beer and cheer needed to jolly one's way into a better mood.
TV was on, but it wasn't unduly obtrusive, and there were various alcoves (as well as a generous rear garden) in which to sit if the main bar area isn't your bag. All in all, a very engaging pub that deserves to do well - I shall pop in next time I'm in the area.

27 Jul 2009 17:48

The Fighting Cocks, St Albans

An apparent change of hands since my last appearance in 2007, but ostensibly at least no worse for it. Clearly it was still well-subscribed by eaters - although I expect the clement weather assisted - and a good mix of customer could be found, albeit arguably accented more towards young families.
I was advised by a local chum of mine that the ale quality had perhaps dwindled somewhat under the new regime. We found the T Taylor Landlord, and especially the Harvey's Best, to be extremely lively - almost as if sparklers had been used. However, once it had settled down there were no quibbles with the flavour, so, not top marks on this front but not enough to justify crossing off the list either.
A charming semi-rural location yet close to town, the FC has a lot of potential, and if that is never quite fully-reached it is likely to be because it is owned by a bland pubco who favour an identikit approach - I do hope it can keep doing things well and maintaining an edge, which is especially tough in a town blessed with numerous high-quality hostelries.

27 Jul 2009 17:40

The Farriers Arms, St Albans

I am not a local at the Farriers. Hell, I'm not even a local to St Albans. However, I am happy to report that no sense of hostility was experienced on a recent drop-in. It was a quiet period just prior to the Saturday evening session, but nevertheless a thoroughly relaxed and undemanding atmosphere was found, all founded on a steady flow of very nicely-kept McMullen's ale.
It is curious to think that this is supposedly the very location in which the consumer might of CamRA was formed back in 1971 - I somehow expected them to have made more of this but comfortably, they have not worn their heart on their sleeve. And nor should they, as that would be decidedly un-Farriers. For those who want to escape the hurly-burly of the centre, and take a few quiet and contemplative pints - possibly even accompanied by nothing other than a book or a newspaper - then seek this out. Keep it simple - come here and re-focus on what really matters, in pubs, and in life...

27 Jul 2009 17:33

The Duke of Marlborough, St Albans

A sturdy, reliable sort of hostelry, but one which would be unlikely to engender enough interest from more discerning passers-by to sustain a whole evening, but sufficient to render it worthy of a short stop-off en route to somewhere a little more engaging. And as a local, I daresay it pulls in enough folk from the surrounding area to keep it busy.
There's not much WRONG with a pub like this, other than it is simply very average, as the previous commentator says, and it would struggle to provide a memorable experience to anyone other than the die-hard regular who uses it for convenience - well, at least whilst there's still thousands of boozers like it still open across the country (this of course is no longer a certainty!).
Cask-wise, Bombardier, Pride and I think GK IPA on last weekend - an uninspiring selection but all ale sampled was found in good nick which is the chief concern. Very pleasant service from the landlord, and overall a friendly, unpretentious vibe was experienced. Capacious and pleasant beer-deck at the rear, should weather permit its use.
Credit should be given for retaining the 2-bar layout; this adds a slightly different dimension to what otherwise would be a fairly dull set-up. Darts is available for those who care to cast the arrows while supping.

27 Jul 2009 17:27

The Boot, St Albans

This has received mixed opinions from punters on this site; some of the more negative material seems to centre on the quality of service and whether or not the atmosphere represents traditional earthy character or down-at-heel dullness. Whether these factors suit individual tastes or otherwise, the place does maintain a consistent reputation as one of the town's better pubs for cask ale provision. My recent visit found the beers to be kept well, and a reasonable variety appearing on the pumps. I suspect that notwithstanding any other failings, the Boot will always hold a rightful place in the heart of those seeking to remind themselves of why St Albans remains the proud home of CamRA, and who enjoy an unpretentious pub and an unusual - if not inexpensive - pint.

27 Jul 2009 17:18

The Railway Arms, Alton

Intriguing to see the variable character of reviews for the Railway, not just of late but further back in time as well. Plainly it is a pub that ale-suppers will wish to seek out if anywhere near the NE Hants region, as it is effectively the Triple F brewery tap, and the addition of various guests makes it a must in terms of diversity. As to quality, one might sense a trait for variability in conditioning of the beer, although I am happy to report that this has never been apparent on the few visits I have made over the last 5 years or so. Was here most recently on Saturday and found the cask selection to be plentiful and well-kept.
If I were to level any criticism, it would have to be the general state of the place. A previous commentator quipped that he liked "rustic" but "dirt is dirt"; perhaps a little harsh, but there is no question that this pub could and should try harder on the cleanliness front. The choice of decor is not out of sync with the building but does lean a little too far towards "student". And the exterior is not exactly pre-possessing; it lacks the more obvious and arresting outward charms of some of its nearby competitors and if it weren't for its ale selection I have to say I wouldn't otherwise be drawn in (perhaps this is the one area that the poor old Railway opposite manages to trump it?).
I can't NOT commend this establishment, because the positives to my mind clearly outweigh the negatives. However, comments from others regarding cleanliness and beer quality will make punters wary, and I do hope they don't imply a complacent approach to the way it is managed.

20 Jul 2009 15:09

The Eight Bells, Alton

Definitely echo most of the comments made in recent months; this certainly is a contender for Alton's best boozer. The ale selection is both interesting and well-kept, the atmosphere is lively and friendly and the food (such as it was - only tried a ham roll) seems to be in good order to boot. Arguably, it has an edge over the Railway Arms - its obvious local rival in the real ale stakes - due to its chraming traditional interior and off-beat, pretty location. The solution is, inevitably, to ensure that one gets to both if out and about for more than a couple!

20 Jul 2009 14:52

The Waggon and Horses, Brighton

Peculiarly, 2 weeks ago saw my maiden visit to this pub, surely one of very few I haven't managed to get into in this area over the years despite not being from Brighton. Initial impressions didn't suggest anything too out of the ordinary, but then again there is much to be said for that; a good sound boozer than knows what it does best without any gimmicks or pretence is to be welcomed, all the more so in a city dosed up on a plethora of plasticated places prefaced by the word "bar".
Modest selection of 2/3 ales but complimented by the unusual presence of real perry on pump: well worth a go for those who believe that cider can be pear-flavoured, should be fizzy, poured from a bottle and served over ice - hopefully you might be converted. Service was friendly (keep up the good work ladies), and the punters were of a mixed age and class - although accented towards the younger end in the evenings especially as the Waggon seemed to be something of a magnet to hen parties etc. Nowt wrong with that as long as no beer is spilled!

Another one to chalk up for the notional pan-Brightonian crawl, if not a pub which justifies a whole evening to itself.

14 Jul 2009 17:45

The Victory Inn, Brighton

Ordinarily I would seek to echo the generally positive flavour of recent contributors, but my last visit was something of a disappointment. The ale was on reasonable form and service was fine, although my mate and me were faced with a rather intimidating bunch of locals, who by and large turned out to be friendly enough (if a little intrusive - a few too many I think lads), but one bloke seemed to seriously piss the manager off and he promptly threw most of the customers out! We weren't specifically asked to leave the premises but given the sudden souring of the atmos we felt it was a wise move to step out voluntarily (fortunately it was a boiling hot day - not sure what we were doing indoors in the first place).

One could say it was memorable, but arguably for the wrong reasons. I only hope things are a little less tetchy at the Victory usually, on both sides of the bar.

14 Jul 2009 17:39

Pub du Vin, Brighton

It certainly is a disappointment to read the comment below, which as the maiden entry for this establishment on BITE does it no favours. Not having eaten here, I can't comment myself on the food standards. One would expect that the association with the reputable (if pricey) Hotel du Vin might be a guarantee of quality, and it is all the more deflating when one has an inferior experience in such a venue that clearly is aiming at the higher end of the market. I do hope it isn't punching above its weight and that the previous account represents teething problems.

Whatever the situation re food and service, I should by way of balance say that I found the pub to otherwise be in good order, and one to which I would return. The reasons for this are that there are 6 local cask ales on offer (1648 and Dark Star well-represented), and those I have sampled were excellent. Furthermore, I was expecting something of an over-priced, criminally minimalist (try saying that after a few APAs!) pseud's bar which was far more hotel than pub, but was somewhat relieved upon arrival to find that although it is clearly pitched at the bistro market, the decor is stylish and suited to the building, and moreover, the prices weren't totally ludicrous: we expected at least a 3.50 pricetag for beer served in a tankard, but a more conventional 3 was the norm. There were various comfortable alcoves to withdraw to, including "the Captain's Table", which felt like sitting in a Georgian front room, albeit complete with small falt-screen TV and wi-fi.
This isn't a venue for the pure traditionalist pub-goer, but as an alternative to that without straying too heavily into chrome lager fonts, tinny piped muzak and excessive pricing strategies, the PdV could suit.
I must say I found the service to be efficient as well, although in fairness my visits have been at quieter periods and perhaps one should defer to the previous contributor to judge this element.

I think that overall this is a positive contribution to the scene, and perhaps if they respond to early criticisms and make a few wise adjustments in the certain areas, this could become a stylish modern eatery/drinkery that cleverly combines the spirit of a pub with a restaurant, and doesn't alienate either the younger or older ends of the market in the process as it has a wide enough appeal to capture people from both.

14 Jul 2009 17:31

The Bath Arms, Brighton

I can't quite understand why any punter would venture that the Bath Arms model is one to which "all" should aspire; I couldn't honestly describe its ale selection, food, interior design or inherent atmosphere as being aspirational.
That said however, when one looks at this pub in the round, it arguably provides a satisfactory and consistent performance in each key area that would please a lot of people a lot of the time. The cask ales aren't all ubiquitous offerings, and are usually found in acceptable nick. Food is standard but competitive enough. The clientele I find to be mixed but in an anonymous or passive, not openly contentious way. The atmos of an evening is busy and pleasant by most measures.
The Bath Arms has perhaps traded too heavily on its captive audience of locals and tourists that pass through the narrow streets of the Lanes, but thankfully at present its standards suggest that it isn't being so complacent. Whilst not the most memorable pub experience, most things here are in reasonable order and certainly it is sufficient to earn it a place on a round-the-town crawl.

A jack-of-all-trades, albeit master of none.

14 Jul 2009 17:12

The Albert, St James's

This on the surface appears to be a glorious, well-preserved architectural gem of a pub that was once commonplace on the larger thoroughfares of London. However, its external grandiosity leads, arguably, to a somewhat disappointing experience once inside.
Don't get me wrong, the interior decor is fitting and well-maintained. Clearly plenty of money has been deployed in the pub's direction. It is smart, offers a range of 5 ubiquitous but on my recent visit properly-conditioned ales, and a carvery which seemed popular with the punters - a mix of locals, tourists and sporty types on a Saturday afternoon.
The issue here is that it is pubco-by-numbers. Anyone looking for something slightly individual; slightly off-beam, will be left feeling bereft, as despite its pleasantly conspicuous outward appearance, this could be any average pub in the capital from the inside out. And I concur with the previous review regarding pricing - not unusually high for this area, but nevertheless one could legitimately expect a little more for one's money.

Like so many of its ilk, any real character has sadly long-since been left behind. But otherwise, one could do far worse than this and it offers a reasonable standard experience, which if nothing else will keep unsuspecting tourists comfortable in the belief they have experienced a "true" London boozer, and keep the royalties flooding in for whichever outfit owns this place.

8 Jun 2009 17:42

Willow Walk, Victoria

Perhaps owing to the very nature of the building, this establishment lacks any real character and is unlikely to live long in one's memory. Nevertheless, it should be commended for its beer range and quality (the customary JDW values regarding real ales are well in place here and if you enjoy your ales at competitive prices, then this certainly increases the appeal of an otherwise routine pub). Service was surprisingly efficient on my recent emergence - far superior to that seen in many of its peers, although lest we forget, everything is relative. A mixed clientele seem to populate this pub, which I suppose is reflective of its position close to Victoria and the cosmopolitan custom one sees passing through.

If nothing else I would recommend this as an alternative to the Wetherspoon's in the station itself, which I note has been given a generally poor set of reviews by BITE users.

8 Jun 2009 17:19

St Stephens Tavern, Westminster

This is fabled as a haunt of various politicians, which given the recent outing of most of our MPs as greedy chancers might put some readers off. However, if one is fortunate enough to visit at a weekend, the clientele are rather more diverse. The difficulty is likely to be availing oneself of enough space to even stand comfortably, as for some reason (presumably its prominent location in the heart of Westminster) this pub is perennially packed. Don't bother squeezing past people to try the other bar, as whichever one you're in the other will be just as busy. I did start to wonder whether a pub crammed full of MPs mightn't actually be preferable to one full of tourists, but I shall leave that to you to decide.
For all this, I would still suggest popping in here for a quickie if you're in the area. The pub does have a well-preserved, characterful interior, and there is indeed no faulting the cask ale offerings - all Hall & Woodhouse but always on form in my recent experience. In fact if this place were transplanted to a quieter town well away from the seat of government and incessant tourism, the chances are its appeal would increase inexorably.

8 Jun 2009 17:12

The The Old Monk Exchange, Westminster

In similar fashion to the previous visitor, I had hitherto ignored this unobtrusive basement bar just off Strutton Ground, and I must confess almost did the same on Saturday when last in the area. Nothing rendered it particularly alluring at ground level (not least the pigeon that was standing at the top of the steps that took some shooing before we could pass!), and frankly we were expecting to exit almost immediately on entering. However, one thing gave cause for hope - the large board exhibiting numerous pump clips which if nothing else suggested a potential hidden gem for the keen ale drinker (the Old Monk is not in the current Beer Guide but sometimes decent pubs are overlooked in such publications).
The interior was not as cavernous or dingy as one might expect, though it was routine wood panelling, and boasted few cosy alcoves inviting intimacy. Still, I was with a mate so that wasn't an issue for me. The majority of the clientele were transfixed by the latest rugby match showing on the big screen. That said, what it lacked in character I believe it made up for in beer selection. 4 reasonably priced ales featured (inc 2 from Twickenham on my visit), which were all well-kept. Clearly from chatting to him the landlord is keen to continue supplying a good range and has sufficient knowledge to facilitate this, and this place is a possible for next year's GBG - the licensee only returned in the last year and so I assume it was barred for the '09 issue.
Whilst not perhaps a venue for an all-night session, it's well worth popping in to see what's what. An important tip for those who eat here: don't shake the tomato sauce bottles to try and loosen the sauce before attempting to serve it: the screwtops are loose and you'll end up with ketchup EVERYWHERE like I did! The host was remarkably good about cleaning the mess and it seemed no-one else noticed as they were so glued to the TV, but all the same, an embarrassment I would hate others to repeat.

8 Jun 2009 17:03

The Cask and Glass, Victoria

A very personable little pub in an area that appears relatively untouched by modern development on one side of the road, but with the vast unloveliness of the glassy Cardinal Walk development opposite. Views aside, it is a decent local which on my visits has exhibited a good range of clientele, and always well-kept Shepherd Neame ale (there aren't that many Sheps houses in the vicinity so it is something of a novelty). The Kent's Best was on spiffing form on my last appearance here.
Yes, space is at a premium, but outside facilities do at least offer some additional capacity for overspill (people, not beer!) in warmer weather.
Worth seeking out as a surprisingly quiet back-street alternative to the larger and altogether more brassy pubco-owned houses on the main street.

8 Jun 2009 16:48

The Sultan, South Wimbledon

Breaking a rule here as I never normally comment on a pub I've not yet been to (but damn, that needs to be rectified soon as the reviews across 6 years suggest this place is pumping up some proper pintage!), but having seen the picture I'm curious - is this the place they often used to use on "The Bill" when they wanted a really dodgy-looking "estate" pub? I'm sure it is, as besides its distinctive frontage, I recall spotting some Hop Back beers on the bar (during a fight scene) and thinking how unlikely it was that a really rough gangster's grothole would be stocking ANY ale, let alone something like Hop Back!

17 Apr 2009 17:08

The Red Cross Inn, Reigate

I am wedded to offering as honest a review of what I find on my visits to pubs as possible, but of course one always needs to be mindful that the way it appears on one visit might not be truly reflective of how it performs as a rule. However, even bearing this possibility in mind, I am slightly surprised by the reviews left since December, as my first visit to the Red Cross since the takeover found it to be rather better than I'd remembered it, and arguably the best it'd been for some years.
Those familiar with the TWG will know my trademark staple of quality measurement above all tends to be quality and range of cask ales - so skip this part if they're not your cup of beer. I found every pump in use (yes, all 5), and each was occupied by an unusual or at least only moderately familiar offering. I sampled 3 and each was on fine form. Gone was the soapy, uninspiring dishwasher juice that passed for London Pride and Adnams that was about all that was on under the previous regime. Hammerpot Red Hunter, Westerham 1965, Pilgrim Progress (at last - the beer brewed down the road available down the road!), Hobgoblin something or other and something else. Keep this up.
My memory is rather more intact regarding the interior, which although less country cottage and more towny now, seemed to fit. The clientele were mixed, and well-behaved. Service was uninformative, but efficient enough (not sure why the barman had donned his shirt, tie and double-breasted business suit, but hey, it makes a change from the sloppy surf uniform that most young bar staff wear these days!).
It was also surprisingly busy for a Wednesday evening - although in fairness there was a live jazz band playing (bloody good they were too - we need more of this in Reigate as it seems to create a pleasant but not too pretentious vibe, and can impart some much-needed character to dull mid-week nights). Maybe this made it a trifle more acceptable than my predecessors found it, but I felt things were generally on the up. It seems they are at least trying, with some sort of entertainment planned for most days.
The downside: that dreadful neon-pink tawdry plasma TV screen! It was like something from an '80s Northern cocktail bar or club a la Phoenix Nights ("I've seen the future Jerry, and it's plasma screens!"). Get rid, or risk ruining the atmos and severely curtailing the appetite for more discerning punters to make a return visit!

17 Apr 2009 16:31

The Dog and Bull, Croydon

It's been while since I commented on this, my local when I'm at work as it were, and felt I should update things. Since Lesley took charge in December there certainly have been efforts made to improve the place, which so far have been beneficial without detracting from its character which keeps it in the hearts of so many local drinkers. Food had virtually disappeared from the Dog in recent months, but happily it has been brought back, and with some vengeance: the chef is of Venezuelan extraction apparently, and is rumoured to have previously worked on the Orient Express (presumably as a chef and not as a driver!). The menu sensibly sticks to good solid pub classics (sausage 'n' mash, fish 'n' chips, soup 'n' sarnies etc), but the quality of the ingredients is far better, and I've found each one I've tried to have a definite twist which raises the quality of food here above many of its counterparts. Fortunately they've realized that Thai crab cakes, panini, raspberry jus etc would receive a less-than-enthusiastic response from most punters who do want some grub. Prices are relatively good too.
As for the beer, quality of conditioning so far remains high. The reason for the sudden influx of other brands is because Wells & Young's either have struck a canny deal with the brewer (see Caledonian Deuchars), or now own and brew the brand itself (see Courage Directors). But there's nowt wrong with a spot of variety, even if in the D & B Ordinary will remain king.
Sadly, despite the clear upturn in quality, the efforts of the manageress to broaden the appeal of the pub, and the appreciation shown by punters, trade remains a shadow of what it was pre-Smoking Ban, and whilst hopefully this isn't critical, it is sad that so many (including some old boys who were part of the furniture until recently) have deserted, either pubs altogether, or for a cheaper alternative down the road. We can only hope that gradually things pick up again and as long as we don't have a summer like the last two, in a few months the garden will be packed with diners and drinkers soaking up the sun once more.

There are 2 developments which may yet have some impact on the place, and the jury remains out as to what extent the effects will be felt - 1 is the aforementioned demise of Dave (who by my reckoning had done just over 10 years and was regarded by many as the "real" guv'nor), which I only found out about yesterday. His cellarmanship, and earthy good humour, was excellent, but the beer was fine today and I am confident the lads left have the know-how to maintain casks, and are friendly with punters. The other is a much-talked about refurb, which will necessitate closure for a week or so. I trust they will retain a more traditional feel and won't alienate the loyal customers with some sort of "contemporary" design.

12 Mar 2009 15:06

The Garland, Redhill

I don't usually make the habit of doing more than 1 review of a pub, but as a stalwart of this particular hostelry which I'm happy to call my local, I have the advantage of reviewing its charms on a regular basis, and I feel I should make the exception, especially in view of the change of hands in 2008.
I am heartened to find that judging by the comments made by users of this site, experiences of the Garland have been consistently positive since Stuart & Lesley's tenure began on 1 July. This certainly reflects what I hear on the ground. Bill & Shirley were indeed a hard act to follow, but, albeit with some subtle differences in approach, the new incumbents have proved to be well-up to the job, and I think most would agree they compare very favourably with their predecessors (some might even dare suggest that in some regards, they have exceeded their efforts).
The cask beer range - while perhaps 1 or 2 down on Bill's arsenal of ale a few years back (we'll probably never see 12 available again!), certainly remains strong at an average of 6 of Harvey's finest, and all are kept in impeccable condition. Stuart is an enthusiastic ale drinker himself and knows a thing or two about cellaring.
Although I am yet to have my maiden experience of them, I understand that Lesley's lunches use excellent local ingredients, and stick to the traditional pub fare that most customers prefer in this sort of venue (steak and ale pie, sausage and mash etc). By all accounts the food has perhaps been the greatest advancement over the last 6 months - I've tried some of the titbits from a free buffet kindly laid on for Christmas Eve and they were superb.
The interior has barely been altered and this is sensible given the pub's clear strengths as a more traditional boozer. That said, the dingyness of the past has now gone, with brighter lighting having been installed, and I believe Wi-Fi is now available - so the Garland is not mired in the past altogether! Music has been relegated in both prominence and choice under the new regime, with Stuart's own laptop collection of primarily '60s rock and folk having taken over from the radio and jukebox. I imagine this won't always be to everyone's liking, and the autocracy of the music policy won't be universally welcomed. That said, at least he isn't in to hardcore dance or hip-hop, and hopefully the tendency towards certain regulars' choice of wall-to-wall Robbie Williams and Shania Twain has been banished forever!
The exterior needed much TLC, and it has now been given a complete refurbishment in a sympathetic style, and the results speak for themselves.
The clientele remain of a similar mix of age, sex, socio-economic background as before, and this is encouraging. We could do with more of them, but that is sadly a reflection more of government legislation and trying economic conditions than the change in tenancy.
S & L have settled in well and if there is any discernible overall change it is that they have perhaps taken the pub's atmosphere slightly more upmarket. They are an experienced and intelligent couple who clearly have no desire to cheapen their pub; without being pretentious, they gently encourage those who show a high regard for convivial, respectful socialising (the fact that you have set foot in the place is in itself indicative of a discerning taste!), whilst they subtly discourage anyone openly exhibiting a foul mouth, bad manners or other anti-social traits. You may not meet either upon your first visit, as they have taken on 4 staff who assist in the quieter periods, but all are helpful and gracious.
My only criticism? Pints do sometimes get pulled up a little short; an extra tug on the handpump to top it up fully in some instances mightn't go amiss! But this is a minor issue given the overall success they are making of the place in an increasingly difficult climate. I'd advise any fans of the pub - or anyone who thinks it might suit them - to make the most of it; Stuart turned 60 last September and has said their tenure would be a 5-Year Plan. And we simply can't be as lucky with the next guv'nor as we have been with the last two.

By the write, the basis for its removal from the '09 Beer Guide was the CamRA policy of automatic barring for a year following any change of hands. Understandable, this really does work against those pubs where standards remain high. Indeed, this has prompted me to write to them requesting that in addition to GBG deletions being notified via the pages of "What's Brewing" (circulated to members monthly), pubs considered worthy of re-entry by local branches mid-year also be notified.

16 Jan 2009 14:06

The White Hart, Dorking

A-ha; a genuine local here and no mistake! No pretense, no illusions of grandeur, just a basic, working class boozer which doesn't flinch from down-to-earth, friendly banter, and generally allowing folk to have a ripsnorting good time. A rare pub in that it has (wisely) retained the traditional 2-bar layout and this works nicely, as there is a hatch allowing either area to be seen and heard but they remain two separate areas; one for drinking and the other more of a games area.
Not especially a pub for the beer connoisseur, although the ales seemed to be on song on my last visit (new barrel of Bombardier just installed). Some local chaps were indulging in a Chas 'n' Dave singalong (courtesy of one of those new-fangled jukeboxes that is digital and has access to every hit single since 1952) - okay so it's not for everyone and sometimes this would be too much, but in the White Hart it works and doesn't grate at all.
I absolutely concur with the previous commentator; this is a place where the wee wife would never find you. Don't rule out slipping down this side-street and stepping in for a spot of sneeky suppage!

23 Dec 2008 16:55

The Surrey Yeoman, Dorking

I was familiar with this pub under its Hogshead guise, and for all its faults there was no questioning the quality and diversity of its cask ale range. Furthermore, the pub attracted a broad mix of punters and was never short on liveliness.
As we all know the Hogshead concept died a death when Whitbread sold the chain to Laurel who infamously re-branded it as "Hog's Head", thereby completely missing the point, and in most outlets reduced the beer variety to a shadow of its former self.
Spool forward to 2008 and in the case of the Surrey Yeoman, it has at least regained its former nomenclature. It also remains a vibrant pub which manages to combine a traditional face with a modern heart.
However, contrary to what is claimed below, my last visit found the ale range to be entirely Greene King (and the various brands it has swallowed up pver the years, i.e. Hardys & Hansons Olde Trip, Morlan Olde Speckled hen, Ruddles County etc), which I'm afraid to any serious ale quaffer does not bode particularly well, especially to those of us more used to a more innovative selection of beers, which this pub unquestionably used to offer.
I can only conclude that this is yet another house that has fallen to the clutches of GK, and whilst they are not quite the devil incarnate that some ale aficionados make out, they are not known for offering any choice beyond their own portfolio and as I a drinker who isn't especially fond of their range and the dumbed-down versions of former classics, I fear the Yeoman won't be the magnet is once was for the moder adventurous beer lover.
That said, if youre first priority in a pub isn't the ale selection, this place shouldn't be written off as it still retains much to commend it.

23 Dec 2008 16:39

The Spotted Dog, Dorking

I'm afraid that what ostensibly appears to be a pleasant old exterior that promises similar charm on the interior is somewhat deceiving. The Spotted Dog is essentially quite bland once you venture towards the bar, and a rethink on decor mightn't do it any harm. Perhaps the situation is somewhat compounded by the lack of characterful beers (only the standard Greene King offerings and Youngs Ord on - although I've always found them to be kept well).
In fairness however it is not a bad place and certainly isn't difficult to tolerate on a short visit as part of a crawl. One can perhaps divert attention by indulging in the odd game of darts for a while. But I would personally struggle not to tire of it if I were to remain there all evening. Satisfactory, but unmemorable.

23 Dec 2008 14:02

The Queens Head, Dorking

I am bound to say that I tend to agree with the last comment. The Queens Head is, by most measures, unremarkable, and this isn't helped by there being 2 other Fullers pubs further up the same street (both of which are arguably smarter than the QH).
That said, I would perhaps rate this pub as having a greater sense of natural atmosphere than either of its more well-heeled peers. It is down-to-earth, unpretentious, attracts a slightly more "gritty" brand of Dorkingonian, yet it remains friendly to non-locals and is clean. Also, in my experience it is doing better business on the early shift of a standard Saturday night than either the Bulls Head or the Cricketers. It's the sort of boozer where one doesn't mind whacking on some loud music on the jukebox, watching a bit of sport (which unlike some pubs doesn't seem to intrude here) and possibly even playing a few games of pool (bear in mind I don't normally feel inclined to do that - it's just something about this pub!). It all adds to the general feeling of relaxed enjoyment that I always find here.
Oh, and for those who are worried that I've taken my eye off the ball, I can confirm the ales always seem to be kept well too (very sessionable Chiswick). The beer still always comes first!

23 Dec 2008 13:55

The Old House At Home, Dorking

This is a smart Young's pub, offering a pleasant atmosphere and a good mix of punters. The ale has always been on excellent form in here, although being the usual Wells-Young's portfolio it obviously won't offer up many surprises in variety (you'll need to Kings Arms up the road for that). It is understandably popular and can get pretty lively of a Saturday evening, although the garden is useful to accommodate overspill (people, not beer) in the warmer months and has been used for functions on occasion.
One of the few pubs where one can maintain enough interest to possibly stay for a more lengthy session, although it's always wise in Dorking to move on and sample the delights of nearby competitors, however good this one may be.

23 Dec 2008 13:34

The Lincoln Arms Hotel, Dorking

Well, I've not had a poor pint in the Lincoln (though in fairness I am seldom in there). The last visit at the end of Nov found a pint of Spitfire in good nick, and the usual friendly attitude from the barman. The interior is now fairly traditional, though it attracts a broad mix of clientele, and by and large it is a decent hostelry. It certainly is an improvement on some of the previous incarnations.
Whilst the Lincoln is never likely to reach up to excellence, or retain sufficient interest to make one want to remain there for a prolonged visit, it is a useful venue to stop off at for a quick one from the main station, either en route home or towards the town's more central pubs.
My only criticism from the last visit was the clash of 2 jukeboxes and a big screen all blaring out simultaneously - the rugby was on in one room, music in the back and a different song playing in the bar, and all quite loud. The effect was jarring to say the least and even though the beer was on form, it was enough to drive one away after a while.

23 Dec 2008 13:28

The Pilgrim, Dorking

Like many Dorking pubs, the Pilgrim is not in my view in any way exceptional. However, also like several other of its local counterparts, it is very good, and always well worth a visit. It is at its best at this time of year, as it offers a marvellously cosy little haven away from the elements, and allows one to prepare for the trek into the centre, for those who might be on a town-wide crawl. 3 good ales on offer, and usually at least 1 unusual guest offering. A friendly buzz seems to pervade the place, both behind and in front of the bar, and the interior is rich in character. It has a pleasant patina of reliable settledness about it.
In fact if you don't fancy schlepping into the town itself, you could do worse than pitch up at the Pilgrim for the entire evening!

23 Dec 2008 13:19

The Kings Arms, Dorking

The King's Arms is a beautiful old boozer and is, arguably, the best bet in Dorking if you prefer a traditional interior and a range of well-kept cask ales (usually at least 4 are available and in a town dominated by tied houses this free house is more welcome than ever). It can get busy of an evening, but that is a testament to its abiding popularity, seemingly with both ends of the age spectrum enjoying what it offers. Things get a little louder in the games room at the back but this is sufficiently separate from the rest of the pub for it not to intrude too noticeably.
My one criticism here is that the place does come across as a little, well, shabby. I believe a good lick of paint and general sprucing up of the fixtures and fittings would do no harm to the traditional feel of the place; quite the reverse. It's great that care is being taken with the beers, but a similar does of TLC for the fabric of the pub wouldn't go amiss either!

23 Dec 2008 13:13

The Malt House, Dorking

This place was pretty dire from what little I saw of it, and it has indeed now closed. The rumour I'd heard was that Sainsbury's had bought the site and are negotiating with the council to get a new supermarket built there, claiming that the town is in need of one. I would suggest quite the contrary - the fact that Dorking retains so many individual independent businesses is partly because a large supermarket chain hasn't moved in to kickstart the identikit shopping experience so many towns have now fallen to. But whatever happens, while I accept that it might've been a loss to those who regarded it as their local, the Malthouse will not be missed by many.

23 Dec 2008 12:51

The Cricketers, Dorking

One of 3 Fullers establishments on the same run, but that is not its fault and should be judged for its individual qualities (although comparisons with its nearby neighbours will always be inevitiable). It is perhaps an unexceptional hostelry, but certainly not an unpleasant one. I have found the staff welcoming, the beer in good order, and the punters to be pleasant - generally quite well-heeled locals but not pretentious. Rugby does seem popular but then Dorkers is a bit of a rugger-orientated place; its local team take themselves rather seriously.
This is one of those pubs that works equally well in Summer (when the garden comes into play) and Winter (nice and cosy in the bar), and is unlikely to offend anyone. That said, I fear the Cricketers, like so many boozers in Dorking, will in many people's measure never rise beyond the level of general satisfaction to attain true excellence.

23 Dec 2008 12:46

The Jolly Farmer, Horley

Haven't visited here much recently until last night when a Christmas do was being held at the pub. Although probably not as old as it might like to suggest, I agree that the interior very much evokes a sense of a cosy traditional pub with few pretentions and is ideal for a Winter gathering. It plainly has a good local following (there aren't many other pubs nearby) but this does not mean that non-locals aren't made to feel welcome). Staff are helpful and the food (a buffet featuring chilli con carne, nachos and a cheese board was offered) was both hearty and tasty. The ale selection is limited to three and they are somewhat ubiquitous offerings (Courage Best, Fullers London Pride and Harveys Sussex Best), but the Harveys was kept well and not too badly priced by today's standards (2.60). Some wine was also quaffed and again, the mark-up wasn't too outrageous (less than a tenner for a bottle of '05 Italian Merlot).
I'm not entirely convinced that this deserves the current overall rating in excess of 8/10, but certainly if you can get out there (either by taxi or the innovative "Jollybus" service!) the JF is worth a visit.

23 Dec 2008 12:37

The Bulls Head, Dorking

Formerly a rather good and usually very busy Gale's house, now of course forming part of the ever-expanding Fuller's tied house portfolio - and now the 3rd on the same street following the Cricketers and the Queens Head.
The few visits I've made (Saturday evenings) since the changeover suggest a change in customer pattern; it is no longer thronging at 8PM and indeed seems pretty dead, but suddenly after 9:30 things pick up and people start to venture in. Perhaps the punters are tempted to do a crawl and this pub falls later on in the proceedings (this is actually a good modus operandi in Dorking if you like your ales - I tend to find the town is better for the sum of its parts in that it's good OVERALL, but there are in my view no truly outstanding hostelries there).
Anyway, the beer is in good nick and it remains a pleasant, smart town pub. Well worth a visit; it's just a shame there are so many pubs nearby all offering a similar experience and an identical beer menu.

23 Dec 2008 12:26

The Three Guineas, Reading

Well, yes, no prizes for value for money here, but then again in this day and age it's hard to locate a pub of any kind that has resisted the temptation to inflate the prices at the pumps, and when one realises just how marginal an occupation running a pub as a tenant or manager for a pub co or brewery can be, with a constant squeeze on profits, then maybe it's no surprise.
Anyway, to business: the 3Gs does perhaps deserve recognition for being possibly one of the best boozers for ale selection at a railway station; such pubs aren't usually known for quality but this is an exception. A good 5 were on on my recent visit, and seemed to be popular. Got on well with the Ascot Ales. Although ostensibly the place is quite corporate-looking and is presumably beloved of the big-screen sport viewer and lager-quaffer, clearly this pub has something of a Janus-face, and is quite cannily ploughing two furrows simultaneously, without the two colliding. The al fresco seating has obvious appeal to all, as despite the dubious view, it is a superb sun-trap.
In my book, maybe not a place to while away a whole afternoon or evening, but certainly worth stopping off en route to somewhere else.

9 Oct 2008 16:45

The Check Inn, North Wroughton

The '09 GBG led me to discover this place recently, and in response to the comments below, I should set the record straight and say that guest ales seem to be very much back on the pumps!
Despite Fuller's being a little more flexible than say Greene King or Young's in offering other brewers' beers, they usually only stretch to 1 or 2 alongside their own fairly extensive range. Yet, maybe in response to boycotting by the likes of Hodge1 et al, they appear to have reneged on this policy and are allowing a whopping SEVEN non-Fuller's ales on at the Check Inn! Yes, 8 out of 10 pumps were on, and only 1 Fuller's beer featured on my visit and that was Pride, for the unadventurous drinker. The most prosaic of the guests was Shepherd Neame Late Red; the rest were more interesting and some quite rare for these parts - to find out what I mean get yourself there and find out for yourselves.
The food was limited to sandwiches (odd for a Saturday lunch) but I must say there was a wide choice of fillings, panini or triple-decker options, and they weren't bad. Very jolly barmaid too which helped smooth things along. Mixed clientele. Could easily have whiled away the whole afternoon here but alas, there were other pubs to get to!
My only criticism? As with so many Fuller's places outside of urban areas, the pub was perhaps a little too "townie" for somewhere like North Wroughton. But I suppose it's an alternative to the traditional oak beams and thatched cottage kind of country pub.

9 Oct 2008 16:31

The Carters Rest, Wroughton

I confess to not having set foot in the place until last weekend, and so can't comment on whether there's been any improvements of late, but it certainly was something of a shock to find 8, well-selected and seemingly well-kept cask ales on, in a pub that - forgive my stereotyping - looked like it was more the domain of the working man and cheap lager. Clearly there must be a clientele here who appreciate the licensee's efforts - or at least I hope there is.
Actually this is a classic Victorian town pub often seen in a city, not a small town of Wroughton's size, and one which mercifully has preserved its traditional 2-bar layout. I found the welcome to be pleasant, and despite feeling somewhat overdressed in a jacket and waistcoat, I didn't feel I was being given the evil eye by the more down-to-earth locals!
Well worth stopping off to find if you like a solid traditional boozer and fine ales.

9 Oct 2008 16:19

The Victoria and Albert, Netherhampton

Interesting to read some contrasting views about this pub. I should say I've only found myself here twice; once about 4 years back and again last Monday, courtesy of the Good Beer Guide of course. I ate on the first occasion and found the food to be hearty, a good portion, and very tasty (they employ what looks to be a "chef" as opposed to a cook and the menu looked fantastic - also it has a heavyweight wine list to match; it's a rare boozer that sells '78 Port, '96 and '05 mid-range Bordeaux!). On both occasions I found the beer selection to be excellent, although on the recent visit the conditioning was perhaps a notch off-kilter, but this may be a rarity. The interior exudes well-heeled classic rural pub, logs and dogs, and is most welcoming. There was some local gents clearly enjoying a good session at the bar, and although the landlady/barmaid seemed a little schoolmistressy, she was pleasant enough.
The real chink in the armour at the V & A is the pricing. Luckily, it was my friend's round, but he reliably informed me afterwards that he got stung for a hefty amount just for 2 halves. Perhaps the standard of the cuisine, and the wine, can justify a more generous mark-up, but, good as the ale range was, it didn't justify the prices in my opinion.
In general, a very nice establishment, but maybe just a touch self-important, and more than a touch over-priced.

9 Oct 2008 16:10

Prince of Wales Ham Hill Country Park, Stoke-Sub-Hamdon

I bowled up to the POW on one such windy and chilly day, and whilst I could imagine it would be unrivalled as a classic summer venue, part of me was pleased it was not high season, as one could take in the spectacular views and enjoy the isolated surroundings without constant interruptions from screaming children and the worry of trying to find a seat!
Extremely helpful and friendly staff (the barman helped us rescue a lost Goden Retriever that had somehow found its way to the other side of the fence opposite - apparently lost dogs are a common problem!), and generally a feel-good factor pervaded. Sampled some Yeovil Somerset which wasn't bad. The huge advantage of this place is that it actually deigns to open during mid-afternoons, which so few hostelries nearby bother with. If you're looking for a pub at an ungodly hour, then this could be the one for you. It is also an ideal way to reward oneself after a long ramble through the adjacent country park!

9 Oct 2008 15:59

The Queen Victoria Inn, Priddy

While searching for the nearby Hunters Lodge, I stumbled across this little gem, which although very different from the aforementioned competitor, is a distinctly different experience, and both have merit for different reasons.
Unlike the Lodge which is pared-down, no-nonsense rusticity, the QVI specialises in a more typical, but indulgent rural pub experience. If you are an appreciator of classic country pubs that are warm, welcoming, serving substantial meals, and are full of beams, assorted horse-brasses, breweriana etc then this is for you. On a chilly Autumn day with the log fire roaring (pictured above - I was lucky enough to get a seat right next to it), it is like being given a big comforting hug! Even before entering the smell of the wood burning is immediately evocative of cosy evenings in in friendly surroudings.
Both landlord and punters were very friendly and didn't mind being asked the way to the Hunters. Enjoyed a quick half of the Butcombe Bitter and it was on form. I can't comment on whether this place has lost some magic since their takeover, but it seemed to be making a pretty good fist of things to me. Recommended.

9 Oct 2008 15:49

Hunters Lodge, Priddy

My maiden visit to this establishment has been a long time coming, but come it did earlier this week. A quiet time and a miserable wet day made for little custom, but I daresay that was no reflection on the popularity of the Hunters, as despite its somewhat unbecoming exterior, this back-to-basics pub has much to commend itself, certainly to those who love traditional country pubs and no unnecessary frills.
The interior is simple and has remained virtually unchanged for several decades - an achievement in itself - but is clean and suggests rustic comfort rather than neglect or decay. Although evidently a community local judging by the various local events on the notice board, it appears to be equally at home to anyone gritty farm labourers to genteel elderly ladies - both were seen on my visit quite happily rubbing shoulders.
The landlord, I must say, was not one for small talk and was verging on the brusque, but he was not rude, and clearly knows a thing or two about keeping excellent cask ale - several were on offer direct from the cask (not a handpump in sight). Anyway his kind of character fitted with the general no-nonsense, elemental kind of atmosphere.
We enjoyed good old cheese, ham and chutney rolls which were 1.30 and superb. Sometimes a huge plate of chilli or shoulder of lamb and endless rocket just isn't needed. I imagine in centuries gone by coachmen stopping off for a good pint and decent hearty fare and emerging thoroughly rejuvenated for the journey ahead - as did I.
All in all a time-warped, but genuine, earthy pub with perfectly sound core values, and one which I believe is deserving of recognition (it has won a recent local CamRA award so I'm not the only one who thinks so).

9 Oct 2008 15:39

The Grapes, Oxford

Seemed to slot in nicely en route to other, perhaps more renowned Oxfordian hosteleria. We found it to be the sort of pub that isn't exceptional by any measure and will never be as obvious a destination as some nearby competitors, but that is probably its charm. The Grapes is always worth a quick look in, especially as part of a larger crawl. Reliable GK beers including the slightly more interesting seasonal offering (Bonkers Conkers during September), equally friendly reception from the barman, and generally a solid local unaffected by city centre pretense. Keep on steering a steady course folks, and the punters should keep rolling in.

8 Oct 2008 18:15

The Seven Stars, Bristol

In its Ushers days, the Stars was always an interesting, but somewhat edgy experience. Whilst never witnessed by me, stories of loud lads using pool cues as offensive weapons more than for playing pool abounded. Nevertheless, clearly the old place was steeped in history, and potential, as an unpretentious quality local that could be friendly to the select few who managed to find it.
And for now at least we seem to have another happy ending. Friendly service. Wide range of interesting beers (the Otley Ole was possibly the most unusual yet appealing ale I've sampled in years!). Busy and buzzy. Down-to-earth clientele but no sign of trouble. Bursting with earthy vitality. And it won't fill you up between pubs!
Well done to these folks, they have struck gold.

8 Oct 2008 18:01

The Kings Head, Bristol

A brief drop-in to the Kings Head showed that happily, nothing had changed since my occasional forays 10 years back - indeed, if said forays had been 100 years back, I daresay there'd be little difference! A classic, traditional little local just far enough away from the Centre to be free of obstreporousness and the sort of younger clientele who by and large just wouldn't get it. Very cosy and snug on a chilly Autumn or Winter's eve; shame I was with a mate and not a girlfriend! I found the Governess to be efficient and friendly, as were the locals lining the bar. Here's to the KH remaining this way indefinitely.

8 Oct 2008 17:55

The Bell Inn, Bristol

When the news winged its way eastwards that the trusty Mr Dawkins now had a hand in the Bell's future, I felt a further visit was merited to find out whether his usually winsome combination of unpretentious traditional local and excellent beer house is restoring the Bell to its former glories.
On arriving at Bristol I soon discovered a name-change was planned, to "the Green Man", primarily to avoid the frequent confusion with the nearby Bell on Hillgrove Street. Fair enough I thought, although it did make me wonder what other radical, possibly unnecessary, alterations might be in the pipeline.
Pleasingly, a visit last Sunday proved I have little if anything to worry about. It seems the new incumbents are throwing themselves into things, and seem to be both pleasant, and well-informed as to the good aspects of the pub's past, and what will improve it in the future. Several casks have already appeared behind the small bar - a feat in itself - and the candles were being dished out at nightfall creating that unique mellow atmosphere. Plenty of customers arrived to try it, and seemed to be enjoying what they found, so I suspect Mr Dawkins may well have another hit on his hands here. Best of luck with the forthcoming opening of the kitchen for grub, and the switch in nomenclature - by the way, the new name also represents the fact that all products are to be organic.
The only troubling thing - the prices! Sadly for all the advantages, Dawkins Taverns must represent some of the worst value for money in Bristol, with the cheapest ale weighing in at around 2.70 and the most expensive roaming into the realms of the 3.50 bracket! Perhaps he believes his boozers are SO good the locals will always pay, but in these troubled times of credit crisis and economic implosion, one wonders. I understand some Dawkins places are leasehold, so maybe it's to cover an exorbitant rent. But come on Glen, you're good, but not THAT good! A bit more value at the bar would surely deliver even greater rewards longer-term?

8 Oct 2008 17:35

The Bank, Bristol

A pub that failed to reach its potential for many years, it now seems The Bank is bankable! I first visited in early 1996 as a slimline undergraduate on the ever-widening search for decent alehouses away from most other Bristol students, and was both heartened and dismayed in equal measure. An acceptable pint of Ushers Founders, a mellow, dimly-lit cosy interior and a friendly landlord were found, but sadly, no customers, and, hence, no atmosphere. The then incumbent insisted that the surefire secret to winning more customers over was to playing quality music, which to him basically meant Ella Fitzgerald... Great though she was, it isn't an obvious key to city centre success, and seemed to be a strategy struggling even to woo the septagenarians.
Fast forward to 2008 and it looks like the old chap and Ella have long-since departed, in favour of a more youthful, but savvy crew, who have managed to turn the Bank into a pub beloved by the young, but not at the expense of of its traditional charm. A far superior range of ale is now to be had, well-kept; friendly service, and plenty of lively custom keeping it buzzing along without being obstreporous. Popped in on Saturday and stumbled across "The Bank's Big Birthday Blow-Out", heralding 1 year since the latest incumbent's arrival. Lots of 4-to-the-floor dance music; Ella would have been spinning in her grave!
It looks like this Bank is unlikely to need rescuing from the government any time soon...

8 Oct 2008 17:15

The Jack Fairman, Horley

Well, from what I hear, the local clientele might yet again be the flies in the ointment here, at least of an evening. This is a shame, as the Fairman appears to be a well-conceived, quality conversion by JDW, and a perfetly comfortable town hostelry, which can't be said for all their outlets. I haven't deigned to try the food, which at the risk of gross generalisation I expect to be pretty standard microwaved Wethy fare, but both the quality and range of the cask beers was excellent. A very tasty half of the award-winning Triple F Alton's Pride was quaffed - show me another pub in Horley that serves that sort of offering, AND in good nick! Service was attentive, although I should say my visit was at 11AM so in fairness there was little competition (the earliness of the hour also accounted for the half, in case any of you should worry that TWG is reducing his ale intake!).

8 Oct 2008 17:03

The Cricketers, Canterbury

Pleasant enough, especially when one has the opportunity of outside quaffage on the street. Sheps ales on reasonable form, and served with efficiency, if not always with charm. Altogether a solid local and certainly worthy of inclusion on a Canterbury crawl. Whether it has the potential appeal to make it an essential port-of-call when visiting the city, remains to be seen. It has the whiff of a classic if only it could just raise its game a little higher.

6 Aug 2008 14:01

The Parrot, Canterbury

Notwithstanding its consistent failure to breach the hallowed pages of CamRA's Good Beer Guide, Simple Simon's was a worthy hostelry that yielded good, diverse beer, a friendly atmosphere, a charming interior and well-laid out garden, all tucked away in a sleepy little hollow of the city.
Having recently paid 2 visits to its new incarnation which is indeed in the singular not plural, I am happy to report that the majority of these elements have been retained, and it demonstrates that when they see fit (i.e. they are venturing into territory where they are less confident that their own brands will receive rapturous responses), Young's can and will allow more flexibility in their formula, especially regarding choice of ale on the bar. Granted, the variety seen in Simon's day will never be seen again. But at least in addition to the stock Young's/Wells portfolio somehow Hopdaemon beers have clung on. Those sampled were in fine form. Supplies appeared to be limited and pumpclips were being reversed at a rapid rate, but given it had only been operating as the Parrot for a week, I am confident this was mere teething trouble.
The food sampled was also superb, and served by a very convivial manageress, who offered cheese and bacon on my burger for free - then again at 6.45 just the burger would've been somewhat steep. It isn't a pub in the vanguard of great value.
The garden has been overhauled but actually is more comfortable than I remembered it, and will be understandably popular in Summer.
In a few weeks this should be a mmore well-oiled machine and it shouldn't be dismissed purely because of its Young's branding.

6 Aug 2008 13:57

Westgate Inn, Canterbury

'Spoons outlets often receive poor commentaries from BITE users, and being someone who likes to believe in having a more discerning eye (and palate) when choosing a pub, I daresay many deserve their unfavourable reportage. The chain endeavours to be all things to all people, but invariably ends up becoming a jack of all trades and master of none. Nevertheless, I wonder whether in this instance it has received a slightly unfair appraisal? Granted, it is nothing out of the ordinary, and follows the JDW formula pretty predictably. However, that formula does sometimes deliver on certain fronts, and some credit can be given. Here, one will at least find a well-maintained interior (sensitive to the building's original design although I confess that some more 21st century air con would've been welcome - it is a hot spot and no mistake in Summer!), friendly service, and a decent range of ales which I found to be in good order. Butcombe Blond and Oakham Helter Skelter were in excellent shape and despite the heat, temperatures were correct.
This comment is based on more visits than I'd cared to make in 2 days, as it was adjacent to the hotel we were billeted at for a stag weekend. But really, it was not an unpleasant place in which to while away some in-between events hours. Perhaps we were lucky but it did seem slightly more efficient, pleasant and less anodine than many of its counterparts.
I have to agree re the food though: best avoided.

6 Aug 2008 13:47

Thomas Becket, Canterbury

I have only a fleeting visit en route to other hostelries on which to base this comment, but by and large the TB seemed to be a tidy, efficient and frinedly sort of boozer, if perhaps one of the less memorable. Fairly standard decor and layout, and an equally uninspiring ale selection, but in fairness, in keeping with the area and the beer was in good nick. I suspect this is the sort of place which one would include on a city crawl and enjoy for a brief jar, but perhaps not aim to spend an entire evening there? Maybe others will correct me if I am wrong...

6 Aug 2008 13:36

The Bishops Finger, Canterbury

Given the noticeably generous number of ecclesiasts parading the streets of Canters courtesy of the Lambeth Conference recently, I was somewhat disheartened to find none of them quaffing in what surely must be their spiritual home?! But were these holier-than-thou types mising anything? Well, nothing too out-of-the-ordinary. But on balance I'd say that they would've found something worthy of attention. Well-kept Sheps, and a more generous range than some with 4 tapped. Young 'n' feisty bar staff but seemingly efficient and friendly. Food sampled was basic nibbles but good enough. Plenty of space, including a garden which, regrettably, played host to some horseplay amongst my peers - sorry folks, it was a stag do!
All in all well worth a visit, either for a quiet pint at the front or a bigger meeting towards the rear. Though it's always tricky to avoid the nearby Unicorn for too long....

6 Aug 2008 13:31

The Crooked Billet, Colney Heath

Based on a single chance visit last month, I concur with the general opinions below. The pub offers a good range of mainly local cask ales (those which I managed to sample were kept well), and it is clearly a popular destination for foodies. Sadly, the kitchen had literally just closed when we arrived, so were thwarted in our attempt to sample the victuals - but from what I could see on others' plates it all looked like hearty, tasty fare. Well worth a visit, but beware it can be a victim of its own success during busy periods - you may struggle for seating on a wet day when the garden isn't useable.

8 May 2008 12:29

The Sunrunner, Hitchin

I really can't countenance the comment below that states this pub's beer quality and choice is poor. Granted, I have only visited once, last month. However, with a selection of 8 real ales (all unusual options to boot), a real cider, and even some good quality draught continental stuff, (all the casks ales I sampled were in very good nick), I simply can't believe that "tef" was drinking in the same place. Moreover, who can sniff at a pint of Potton Shannon Ale for 1.95??!
I'd also have to question the judgement passed below that suggests the Sunrunner is "yuppified". I considered it to offer 2 pubs for the price of 1: a more well-heeled, cafe-bar style area at the front of house, with a more earthy, local pub character to the rear. Some may dismiss this as a bizarre amalgam, and may prefer a pub to have a single, unified identity. But personally I rather enjoyed hearing the gritty banter of working class locals emanating from the back mingling with the more sophisticated conversation going on at the front. I like to drink amongst both ends of the social spectrum, provuided there is no unpleasantness - which there certainly wasn't here. There was a broad mix of ages and backgrounds, and all seemed to be having a jolly nice time of it.
Better still, the chap who served me was very efficient, welcoming and friendly - perhaps others have been less fortunate and been served by another less-convivial staff member.
Whether you want a more modern cafe-bar look or a more down-to-earth trad regulars' atmos, if you love cask beer, make a beeline for this place and you shan't leave disappointed.

8 May 2008 12:22

The Portcullis Inn, Bristol

Since this outlet was last reviewed, changes have been afoot, and happily, I'm able to report that they are positive, for the Portcullis has been given the Glen Dawkins treatment, which has worked successfully on a number of levels in 3 other Bristolian pubs to date.
The pub has seen frequent changes of licensee, and sadly none has really been able to harness its potential as what could be one of Clifton's best-kept secrets. The Dawkins concept is mercifully unbranded (apart from some subtle fake breweriana woven into the scenery!), and the focus is on a wide range of excellently-kept, predominantly South-West, cask beers, including offerings from Cheddar, Matthews etc (all of which was excellent when sampled recently), which come courtesy of the canny free-of-tie leases that Glen brokers with the owner (in this case, Pubfolio).
He has installed the confident and determined Ned and demure Natalie (whom I believe were previously at the Hillgrove) to get things up and running, and whilst it is early days, it is clear that they have some winning formulae and can only restore the pub's fortunes as a smart local bolthole in the months yet to unfold. Friendly, open, and encouraging, I think this is another likely success story; watch this space.
Steer clear of the gross Avon Gorge Bar and slip over for a sanity injection at the Portcullis instead!

19 Mar 2008 18:24

The Beaufort Arms, Hawkesbury Upton

Popped in whilst en route to the award-winning Old Spot. Whilst said competitor has taken all the plaudits from CamRA, nearby more ruralised options should not be overshadowed, and deserve some positive attention too. One such example in this area is the Beaufort, which is a fairly typical village country local pub, but with a friendly licensee, pleasant clientele, and above all, a superb cask ale range, which included the excellent Donkey Bitter and Moumentale amongst others - all in stupendous nick!
Food looked enticing (good honest grub), but alas no more than crisps were sampled on the day. Maybe another time.
Unusually, this place retains the old-fashioned charms of a 2-bar arrangement, which one rarely finds nowadays but misses all the more when experienced.

19 Mar 2008 18:08

The Old Spot, Dursley

Funnily enough this was slated by a friend of mine for a visit months ago, long-before the CamRA POTY award was bestowed, but for reasons of over-doing the booze elsewhere, the idea had to be shelved! Happily, it came to pass last weekend, and by and large, I found the award to be justified.
Not immediately obvious as a POTY candidate (photos suggest a calm, rural location in a small village but in fact it is a beautiful old pub set in a busy and surprisingly developed setting - a car park opposite, and hideaous modern library and bus station encroach behind it). One also might struggle to fathom its popularity upon immediate ingress; busy, friendly, and clearly with a good beer range, but otherwise it looks like many a town local.
However, once bedded in one comes to realise that the Spot cleverly combines the best of several worlds and the result is a pub that can appeal to a lot of different people for diverse reasons. It seemingly blends urban and rural, drinking and dining, young and old, and good service with relaxed character.
The licensee is an excellent host who we found most genial; regulars were happy to chat but not intrusively. and the menu - modern but using traditional local ingredients, was both tasty and keenly-priced (sampled some gorgeous overnight-hung belly-pork with rich gravy and flavoursome veg for under a tenner).
The true hit is the ales of course, with supremely-kept Uley beers the lynchpin, and an unusual policy of having 4 offerings from a featured brewery each month - Bateman's at the moment. For those who don't enjoy the featured brewery's range, it does rather limit one to the 3 remaining ales for the rest of that month, but at least they're local and won't be found in better shape (who could hate Uley anyway?!).
All in all, a very worthy winner, and certainly a must for any good ale/food lovers who want a comfortable but unpretentious environment in which to indulge.

19 Mar 2008 18:01

The Pontefract Castle, Marylebone

Visited the Ponty on 2 occasions recently, and found it to be one of the best pubs being operated under the old Nicholson's banner, although I should say that none of these have ever disappointed me, and do offer the traditional pub-lover and more discerning beer drinker a more worthy experience than many London outlets.
A range of 4 good cask ales, including the hardly-ubiquitous-in-London Oakham JHB (a personal favourite!), were on and in good nick. Helpful and pleasant service from staff. The food is rather good and well worth sampling - in addition to a menu offering a range of meats, fish and veg dishes, the sausage menu described below is a joy and features a remarkably broad selection of bangers. All the grub is at a reasonable pricetag for this district as well. To complete the picture, the interior combines what appears to be a relatively genuine old character with comfort; in the evenings the upstairs dining room is atmospheric with candles lit on each table.
If one finds oneself tiring of Oxford Street and to be "over-shopped", then slip down the passageway to St Christopher's Place, a charming a well-preserved detour, and go to the pub to get away from it all for a while!

6 Feb 2008 13:42

The Claret Free House, Addiscombe

A selection of 6 ever-changing cask ales taken from across the country is the main draw at what would otherwise appear to be a fairly average sort of venue from its external frontage. Also, one has to say that in this location, the last thing one expects to find is a cracking beer pub! So this lends all the more credit to the Claret for its efforts, and justifies the many local CamRA awards it has won in recent years (the soon-to-be-defunct Beer Circus is the only venue nearby besides Wetherspoon pubs that can compete for beer range).
All in all a decent little local that is convenient for passing pedestrians and tram travellers alike.

12 Nov 2007 13:03

The Downgate, Hungerford

My first and only visit to a Hungerford alehouse to date, and happily I can report no disappointments. Indeed, we found this to be a classic, unspoilt, traditional, welcoming little local that made one yearn for the days when pubs were simpler, community affairs with no corporate pretence or affectation; just a jolly and convivial couple running a down-to-earth, characterful, primarily drinkers' pub.
I've been to few Arkell's houses over the years but it seems to me that their very traditional, steady approach pays off in pubs like the Downgate. The licensees kept the 3 ales on perfectly; the 2B and 3B really were on song. Nice long chat with the landlady. We liked the fact it didn't take itself too seriously; the Union Jack toilet seat was a nice touch and didn't suggest "football chav/Sky Sports" as sadly displays of flags so often do with pubs nowadays.
Mention needs to be made of the location too: set on the corner of the nearby common where cattle can be found grazing freely, complete with outside seating and kissing gate. Excellent.
If ever I'm down that way again, I shall be down the Downgate.

30 Oct 2007 12:40

The Rising Sun, Stockcross

I can add little on the matter of staff and licencee friendliness, other than our reception on a recent visit to this place was both convivial and polite - one of our number was greeted like a regular even though he'd only visited once before.
I also can't comment on food, as we only needed to indulge in snacks (can one recommend a pub on the quality of its "Nobby's Nuts"?! - if so it was top-notch!).
However the obvious draw for an old soak like me is the ale, and being a West Berkshire tied outlet it was well worth visiting for that prospect alone. 4 out of a possible 5 ales on (the 5th had only just gone), and all sampled were as they should be. The Skiff and Maggs Mild were in especially great form and the only shame was that we had to move on before a solid session was allowed to develop!
Clearly one for real ale devotees; maybe one might think twice if going for food or friendliness, but it was popular enough with eaters and seemed to have a good atmos to me.
MUST steak always feature on a pub menu? Surely there are more imaginative options nowadays. Perhaps "anon" of 18 Oct '07 should get him/herself to a Berni Inn ASAP - ooops, they don't exist any more!! Wonder why....?!

30 Oct 2007 12:31

The Coronation, Bedminster

For some reason this pub has been known to me for some years since Hop Back took over, and yet I've never reviewed it. All the same, it would seem that other users have drawn the same conclusions as me. Like most pubs in this district of Bristol, The Coronation is a solid, unpretentious local, tucked away in a close-knit residential area. However, by no means do all pubs serve such a superb range of cask ales, and provide equally worthwhile food to boot.
In addition to what is usually 4 or 5 HB ales (a HB tied outlet is of course very rare in these parts), always well-kept, there is sometimes a guest ale (Downton IPA on last visit), and - the real coup - the once fleeting appearance of the award-winning Janet's Jungle Juice cider now appears to be permanent, as it has now been given its own handpump! JJJ virgins should have a care however, as it is dangerously strong yet remarkably quaffable.
Pizzas are served here and act as classic fodder for soaking up of the excess beer/cider, which one will undoubtedly consume, in the absence of a car at least.
The interior decor is a little dated perhaps, but there's nothing wrong with that and it does help to create a certain ambience for the place.
You can safely ignore the majority of pubs in Bedminster and Southville, but do so with this one at your peril.

30 Oct 2007 12:07

The Miners Arms, Bristol

Visited here on 27 October as it now features in the Good Beer Guide, and is part of the burgeoning but still select group of Dawkins taverns, which had hitherto always been reliable sources of excellent cask ale, sensitive refurbishment and above all, good local pubs. By and large, the formula was clearly in place at the Miners: the ale was well-kept, service good, and although the Dawkins brand was more evident on close inspection of the pub's accoutrements, it remained subtle enough to avoid excess (clever 1930s spoof posters featuring the Dawkins name etc).
Notwithstanding this, I felt it lacked a certain something. For a start, none of the ales on were particularly local, which was a shame (St Austell was the closest!), but that was a minor issue. I think it was just a little too large to engender any sort of atmosphere, unless the place was packed, which at 4PM it certainly was not. This is a personal view, but this one was too much of a barrack room for me; not enough nooks 'n' crannies.
Still, these are minor gripes and overall this looks to be another success story for the good Mr D and Co.

30 Oct 2007 11:43

The Victoria, Clifton

Re-visited this pub last weekend, having last been there in 1998, and although it had been a sound little tucked-away local back then, I generally found it to have been much-improved under the Dawkins banner. It was a thriving local, very busy, and serving a good range of real ales in reasonable nick. Contrary to the report below I found both customers and staff to be polite enough, although we had to stand outdoors due to severe constraints on floorspace.
I felt that the character of the place had been enhanced and brought to the fore, with a sensible limit on "modernisation" and "branding". If Glen Dawkins continues in this vein, he and his punters should have a bright future ahead of them, but we have all seen small pub chains grow too large, and their ego and self-importance grows with them. Provided he concentrates on local back-street pubs with convivial chat, excellent ales free-of-tie, and sensitive makeovers with minimal branding, and keeps the number of outlets to a select few, this concept has much to commend it. Time will tell.

30 Oct 2007 11:25

The Horseshoe inn, Ebbesbourne Wake

Happily, I am able to comment on the food here: and yes, put simply, it is bloody marvellous! The evening meal we enjoyed was very hearty and not bad value, and there was an excellent range of choices; we must've taken at least 10 minutes to decide each course! Pat was a homely and welcoming hostess, and her breakfasts were of equally high quality. We ate in the "new" conservatory but it lacked no character and has a view on to the charming little garden, complete with the odd chicken wandering about on its rounds.
We were fortunate enough to be staying, and I can only report the accommodation as very generous. For a modest sum we got a self-contained wing of the building, including a large country-cottage style double bedroom, landing and huge bathroom, which should inspire even the most unwashed of folk to get cleaned up!
However, for anyone who is not just a rural character pub and grub fan and is a beer enthusiast also, the real story at the Horsehoe is the ale: Tony, who is an acquired taste on account of his "does he mean to be offensive" brand of sarcasm and his apparent deafness (I had to shout my orders!), is nevertheless an excellent publican and he keeps a very tight ship cask-wise. Bowman's Swift One and Ringwood 49er were superb. Once one gets used to him, Tony is in fact a rather dry and amusing chap; stick with him.
Together this couple run an excellent pub that seems to score highly on most key areas. You will need a car if coming any distance, but make it an overnight stay and enjoy it to the full without the need for driving on the same day.

15 Oct 2007 16:40

The Green Dragon, Croydon

This establishment has been known to me in both its current and previous incarnations as a Hogshead (or should that be the hopelessly miscued "Hog's Head" since Laurel took over?!) for some years and yet inexplicably I appear not to have rated or reviewed it.
By way of rectifying this, I'm happy to report that despite seemingly being under the same ownership of the dubious Laurel Pub Co, this pub has seen something of a renaissance since it changed its name to the Green Dragon (the original GD used to stand in a fine building on the site of what is now the Black Sheep Bar - at last some recompense for that loss!), and I suspect this could well be down to the company allowing the manageress a fairly free hand as to how to run it.
Having redecorated the interior almost annually in regressively poor taste, and wound down the once proud selection of cask ales to a mere 3 ubiquitous options, the pub now sports a range of at least 5 beers (they have even reinstated the stillage at the rear which dispenses Hog's Back TEA - a real rarity in these parts), and although it retains essentially the same layout as before (a large pub with various nooks and crannies including pool table and games machines), the decor is now far more appropriate. Even the food looks somewhat less plasticated than it had become in the darkest Pig's Cranium days.
Consequently the Dragon now attracts a broader mix of customers, spanning differing ages and backgrounds, and has not become a repository for any anti-social types. Of an evening perhaps the younger clientele dominate, as a DJ and live music is sometimes offered, but this doesn't detract from the pub's overall quality and indeed adds a much-needed resort for such things; it is nice to be able to see some live band or listen to a DJ whilst supping on good beer. Moreover, I always find the service to be superb.
Well done guys; I hope you can maintain the balance that you have struck so far.

2 Oct 2007 13:05

The Hampshire Bowman, Dundridge

By way of an update to my last review of almost a year ago, having since visited the Bowman in its extended form I can only endorse the comments made by CJG and others. Although it is in stark contrast to the original bar, in being contemporary, clean, and clearly with a focus on a restaurant ambience, the extension and new bar only serve to add a new dimension to the rustic character of the old pub, and in no way detract from that or diminish its genuineness. Indeed, it can be hailed as a great success, and dare I say that it does seem to attract a slightly wider clientele than before?
Another aspect that has inevitably brought forth the more discerning punters has to be the arrival of the Bowman Ales, for which this pub is in effect the brewery tap. These really are superb and can be found in excellent nick here from the cask. It is one hell of a phoenix that has arisen from the ashes of the once-proud Cheriton Brewhouse.
I should also mention that I found the food to be on equally form when I last ate here in June. Rarely do I see fit to do this, but there is sufficient justification for an increment in my numerical rating in this case!

2 Oct 2007 12:50

The Half and Half, Croydon

All you fans of Graeme Harker's Flying Beer Circus - and any users who remain keen to make a maiden visit -should be aware that it now seems likely that it may finally be flying off for good by the close of Oct '07, subject as ever to the vagaries of contract exchanges and so forth, and Graeme intends to pursue the next phase of his life in Spain. So Circus virgins: do try and get in there and see what the fuss has been about! Regulars will of course have the short-lived luxury of being able to get in as frequently as possible before it passes into the Annals of Pub History, where it will no doubt take an illustrious and memorable place amongst the town's more discerning and literate cognoscenti.
Whilst most will be secretly praying for a last-minute delay or reprieve for our own wicked indulgence, we should all thank Graeme for his superb contribution to Croydon pub life since 2004, and wish him well in whatever glistening form his new venture takes down in the Costa del Cerveza.

2 Oct 2007 12:21

The Coach and Horses, Compton

I am surprised to find that this has only rated 4.2 on BITE, albeit by only 3 visitors. I last visited this place in 2003 and found it to be a corking little local in a beautiful village that had managed to retain a genuine sense of community about it. IT served an interesting range of beer, all well-kept, with a varied menu that looked like it would be worth sampling, and contrary to the anonymous commentator below, I found it to be most friendly. Happily, upon a return visit last weekend I found the same worthy features in place. The ale was very good, the food superb (my girlfriend had possibly the largest haunch of ribeye steak I'd ever seen and I had probably the best fish pie I've tasted in a pub), and the folk on both sides of the bar were very amenable. Despite making a rather cheeky request for table service, the lady serving was happy to fetch more beers from the bar and bring them over, which I thought was worth noting.
A cracking little place for a mellow Sunday afternoon session. Careful though: it is open all day.

2 Oct 2007 11:58

The Royal Oak, Hooksway

There's little doubt that this pub is, on paper, excellent: a good selection of real ales, good honest food and the place oozes with character.
However, notwithstanding this, regretfully, I have to report that I have frequently found the opening hours to be very difficult to interpret (opening in the evenings in "Summer" but not "Winter" with no indication of actual dates), and are far from generous. Moreover, on my last visit, I arrived some 15 minutes ahead of closing time (billed as 2:30PM on both the GBG entry and the front door), only to be told in no uncertain terms that they had "finished" and that we would not be served. Somewhat bewildered I glanced at my watch by way of reminding the licensee of his published hours, but to no avail, as it was made very clear in a polite but firm manner that we would be getting no service, despite there being two custoners still at the bar enjoying drinks.
Perhaps I'm being unreasonable, but I really do expect licensees to keep to their advertised hours. Had we been within 5 minutes of closure on a slow day then okay, but with a full quarter of an hour to go and having driven some way to the remote location of Hooksway, I was profoundly disappointed by this attitude.
Full marks for this place in principle, but nothing out of ten for flexibility. Sadly, I shall not be visiting again in the foreseeable future, especially with the plethora of excellent free houses in the area, which are willing to serve during their appointed hours.

2 Oct 2007 01:24

The Orchard Inn, Bristol

This is somewhere that is easily overlooked, and I confess that having never managed to get to it when I lived in Bristol 12-9 years ago, the Good Beer Guide finally persuaded me last weekend.
And there were no disappointments. A simple, but clean and decent local (no obvious residential community nearby but it seemed to have drawn a goodly crowd all the same), the Orchard was a classic. 4 interesting ales from South West brewers on (mine was in great shape by the way), and a cider too. Friendly efficient service from the barman, and it was great to go out on a balmy afternoon and sit on the seats, wall and wall opposite (as some were) and relax.
Maybe on a wet inhospitable day this would seem like a less obvious choice but really, for you traditionalists, this one is worth seeking out.

26 Jun 2007 16:50

The Post Office Tavern, Bristol

I am bound to say that since my last visits (back in 1997/'98), this pub seemed to lack a certain something on my recent re-acquaintance. The clientele remained largely the same in terms of socio-economic background (yes, older, yes, middle-class, but actually I prefer that to young chavs!), but the licensee (pleasant cove though he was) had taken away some of the elitism that used to prevail in years gone by - and perhaps that is a good thing. It was certainly a more down-toearth reception here than before. A soild, dependable local.
As for the ale, there were fewer to choose from than I remembered, and the choices were more ubiquitous, but the quality? It could not be doubted; those sampled were impeccable. The pizzas still looked fab as well so essentially, this place retains its worth, just with a slightly more pared-down, less smug, view of itself. Do visit.

26 Jun 2007 16:43

The Victoria Inn, Westbury On Trym

A cracking little local that has all the picturesque charm of a village hostelry, but that certain slickness that one sees of a more urban establishment.
Very friendly licensee, food looked good (well-priced steak fillet at under a tenner, though didn't sample), and most significantly, a full and well-conditioned range of Wadworth beers. The Bishop's Tipple was in exceptional form on draught, notwithstanding it not being the beer we all remember.
This is a tucked away, but utterly worthwhile divertion if swanning about W-o-T.
I take the point about decor though; it is tidy and clean, but the '70s/'80s (generous?!) burgundy upholstery and slightly overbearing sub-dado-rail tartan (yes, tartan!) wallpaper has perhaps run its course. A subtle makeover would make the Victoria realise its full potential.

26 Jun 2007 16:37

The White Horse, Westbury on Trym

For some reason this pub never quite made it onto my radar as a Bristol undergraduate in the '90s, for which I have little excuse as I managed to get to the POT at WOT, POW and Black Swan.
Anyway, this place's interior, and the well-kept ales drawn from cask, are the 2 major draws. There is a fabulously well-preserved serving hatch at one end from which one can sample the wares (about 3 ales on at my last visit), and good rolls provided too (thick chunks of extra-mature cheddar...mmmmm!). My current lack of previous attendance precludes me from going into any greater detail, but from what I've seen so far this place has a real enduring charm to those who relish a traditional pub.
And to think that it was earmarked for a ghastly redevelopment in the '70s. Thankfully the council saw sense on this one at least.

26 Jun 2007 16:33

The Prince Of Wales, Westbury on Trym

Hadn't visited this place since 1998, but happily I found it to be in much the same condition - that is to say very worthy - only last weekend. Particularly well-kept ale in the form of Butcombe Gold, good service from - yes, as a male I have to say this - a very eye-catching barmaid. But fortunately the Prince's charms go deeper than the transient appearance of a young staff member. Really quality community local, all enjoying the rugby when I was there. Comfortable and welcoming, this is worth a visit, although not at the complete expense of attending to various other Westbury pubs which are equally in need of inspection.

26 Jun 2007 16:28

The Red Cross Inn, Reigate

This pub has had a chequered career, veering from being the worst in town to the best, then to the merely indifferent in recent years. I heard about the change of management, and on a recent visit I found the place to be improved, no question. A range of 5 real ales now back on (albeit not an especially groundbreaking selection), the interior was clean and pleasant, and a lively, if rather obviously middle-class, crowd was in evidence. It seems that the new licensee's very well-publicised commitment to higher standards, centred on barring under-21 drinkers and discouraging others who may be potentially troublesome, is working, and it has created a smart and stylish town pub, very much of a "Reigate" breed.
That said, whilst there one of my friends was told by a barman in no uncertain terms to mind her language. I accept that foul-mouthedness and bad language is not to be encouraged, especially in excess and if born of inebriation, but in this instance it was not unduly anti-social, and I confess to finding this slightly precious. Moreover, it was done in a very curt and condescending manner indeed.
I see that the new people are South African? This chap certainly was. Whilst gross generalisations on lines of nationality are far from fashionable these days, I am bound to say that I am yet to find a South African staff member to be anything other than charmless and abrupt, and it continues to perplex me as to why so many of them end up in the British hospitality industry! Sorry, but I speak as I find.
The improvements here would be so much more worthy if a little more charm and warmth were to emerge from behind the bar.

30 May 2007 14:44

The Nutley Hall, Reigate

By way of an update of my comments of 10 Oct '06, my last visit found this pub still serving good ale, still lively, and in good nick. Yet I spotted none of the usual faces that have frequented the place for many years (odd considering it was a Saturday night), and moreover, those that had replaced them were blatantly representative of, shall we say, a certain minority! I have no issue with gay pubs, but the Nutley is emphatically not such an establishment, and I doubt that the licensee would see it as such. Whilst all should be welcome, such flagrant display of camp does, rightly or wrongly, put more moderate locals off and I fear this might be the case here if this crowd persist in using it.
This is one of the last honest locals left in Reigate, and I don't want to see it become a pub for a minority group only at the expense of a broader clientele. Maybe I'm way off beat here, but the signs of a narrowing customer base - whatever their sexuality and appearance, can never be good in my book.

30 May 2007 10:36

The Garibaldi, Redhill

In furtherance to my comments of 9 Oct '06 I should say that since then some investment has been made in cooling equipment, and whilst the quality of the ale here hardly sets ones palate on fire, it is now acceptable and the efforts are showing. Fewer beers are served now, which is probably sensible given the relative lack of local interest, but nevertheless London Pride and Hog's Back TEA usually make an appearance.
Mention should also be made of the licensee who is jolly and engages well with all customers. I think her efforts have paid off as the pub does appear to attract more regular custom than before, and I would go as far as to say it is now a genuine local that is ticking over nicely. When busy, it has a certain warmth to the place.
On a recent darts tournament free sandwiches and nibbles were dished up at 10PM, which perhaps is an indication of the improvement in attitude here.
Well done, keep improving.

30 May 2007 10:28

The Old Chestnut, Earlswood

By way of update to my review of 12 Oct '06 I should echo the sentiments of Lady1 and say that happily, the Chestnut does now appear to be in the right hands, and has seen a surprising epiphany in recent months.
Whilst it remains an undeniably basic local, with an emphasis on Sky TV and sports, mention must be made of 3 things that have worked wonders in improving the fabric of the place and broadening its appeal: the decor, the beer range and the staff.
The pub has been sensitively overhauled and the phoenix that has risen from the ashes is clean, modern, airy yet not lacking in warmth. No longer is this place a '70s relic.
Next, the licensee, Rick, appears to be desirous of engendering more interest in local beers, and he now serves a well-kept range of ales that are rarely seen locally; Pilgrim Progress, Hog's Back TEA and Hobgoblin Best have all featured lately. Whilst many locals might not favour these over flavourless fizz, hopefully the word will get out and a broader set of drinkers will start to appreciate what is now offered.
On top of this, apart from the congenial Rick and his wife(?), I have found all the young bar staff to be friendly and efficient, and happy to engage with all customers regular or otherwise.
So all in all, a significant improvement, and it just goes to show what can be achieved in a short time by the right people. I hope they stick at it and that their efforts are rewarded by greater custom in future.

30 May 2007 10:22

The Flying Scud, Redhill

This pub has been known to me for 28 years but until recently I'd only ben in it twice. Heard it was under new management and that they intend to modernise the place. I'm all for traditional interiors but the 1970s lino bar and pseudo-trad horsebrass combo really does need some updating! Apparently this is to take place after the Smoking Ban for obvious reasons, so time will tell.
However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Scud now stocks some mmore diverse beers in addition to the bog standard Courage Best - Hook Norton Best, Wells-Youngs Bombardier and Hop Back GFB have all been noted recently. Granted, the quality of some of these was dubious, probably due to the lack of interest from the current regulars (mostly leather-clad biker types which Redhill still specialises in!), but that may change if their reputation and appeal broadens over time. Moreover, the lad bhind the bar was very keen to receive feedback and when told one of the ales was off, he immediately set about changing it and offered a free sample of the new beer by way of quality control!
Can't comment on food, and perhaps the wine needs attention in future too! However, I suspect the new licensee's heart is in the right place and the Scud may at last be going in a better direction.
Watch this space.

30 May 2007 09:48

The Chequers, Laddingford

I confess to not having visited this establishment for some time now. However, the foregoing reviwes clearly indicate it hasn't changed since, and I feel it deserves an endorsement from me anyway.
The service was friendly, and the ales, whilst nothing unusual was being served that day, were undoubtedly in excellent nick. Its interior is of the traditional country pub horse-brass school, but from what I could ascertain this appeared to be fairly genuine and does tally with the overall tone of the place.
Yet another corker nestling in the Kentish countryside that needs visiting. I suggest you all take a week off your respective day-jobs and spend it trawling through the county's innumerable licensed gems; you won't regret it (assuming someone else is driving!).

22 May 2007 10:33

The Bookbinders Ale House, Oxford

Last visited on 31 December whilst idling my way around Jericho looking for inspiration. Not sure I found that at the Bookbinders, but I did at least find a decent backstreet local boozer that was surprisingly pleasant.
Ale-wise, it seems that "the Oxford effect" has again had sufficient cachet to persuade the usually notoriously-protectionist Greene King to allow this pub to serve 2 or 3 guests as well their own portfolio, which is a significant draw to the beer connoisseur all too used to GK offering their own fodder only. The beer was kept in good nick, and dispensed by friendly staff to boot; something which we cannot take for granted.
I don't know its history, but it certainly looked to have been rather deliberately "oldie-fied", with horse brasses, nick-nacks, old pictures and even barrel seats all in place. That isn't to say that it wasn't comfortable, though. I recall this pub was used in the pilot episode of the infamous "Inspector Morse" series, and despite being under what most would assume as the better husbandry of Morrells, it looked considerably more bedraggled that it does now. A lot has changed since 1986, and generally I think it's been for the better. One can imagine the dearly departed sleuth tucking into a nice pint here to help him "think"!
Not No 1 BITE material, I would've thought, but a worthy venue nevertheless. As part of a local crawl taking in the Harcourt, Radcliffe etc it could be very useful.

27 Feb 2007 15:57

The Rose and Crown PH, Oxford

It seems awfully remiss of me not to have passed comment on this excellent little bolthole just far enough away from the madding crowds of the centre before. I am rectifying this without further ado as it deserves a positive appraisal.
Ales are always excellently-kept, and really some of the best Adnams can be found here (not always in Suffolk!). This is a key draw.
However, I agree entirely with earlier comments about the conviviality of the landlord; a quintessential tavern-keeper who after a certain hour can be found manning the front door, but with a sort of gentlemanly charm that every overcoated "doorman" elsewhere seems to lack, more's the pity. He's simply there to dictate the pace of things as the night draws on, not to deny ingress or egress. There's no trouble here!
The pub itself can get a bit tight but that's testament to its deserving popularity with the young and old, town and gown. It excels in Summer when one can get out to the rear garden and while away the sundrenched hours with friends.
All in all a splendid little place. It would always have a chance of being a nice local, but having it in the right hands really takes it up a gear. I hope the current incumbent never sees fit to depart.

30 Jan 2007 17:41

The Lord Nelson, Ipswich

I think the prominent wooden casks might mask the fact that the beer is actually dispensed from standard metal casks beneath them?! But either way this hardly matters, for ale direct from any cask is a wondrous thing, and not always to be found in many boozers. I should say that the Nelson's ales were all in top condition on my recent 2 visits; a sound range of 4 Adnams offerings.
Friendly staff, especially the landlord who struck me as something of a character, and it is populated by a convivial bunch of mostly well-heeled townsfolk. Lots of couples enjoying what looked to be decent food. Conversation is also buoyant, with a pleasant hubbub going on, except perhaps for quiz time, which was taken very seriously and silently!
A cracking little local and worth popping in if you're on your way towards the Marina area. It was a shame that in my recent sojourn to Ipswich this was the only Good Beer Guide-listed pub I had a chance to try!

30 Jan 2007 17:22

The Swan, Little Totham

One can argue all one likes as to whether ANY pub is suitably worthy of formal accolades, be they CamRA or otherwise. Indeed, National POTY is a tall order for any outlet; absolute perfection is certainly hard to envisage especially when every punter's perspective on perfection is slightly different.
But aside from that, I would defy any seasoned pubgoer who appreciates an excellent range of extremely well-kept ales, a traditional but clean and cosy interior, a pleasant rural location, and most of all a very welcoming, warm and genuine attitude from staff, not to feel that they had struck gold here. Surely these features are the crucial tenets of satisfaction for the true honest country pub lover and aren't that hard to come by? Fortunately the first 3 can be found readily enough nationwide, but the sort of sincere and hearty reception that one should receive here is sadly not as common a feature in our pubs as it perhaps could and should be. And it is this, not even the cask ale range and quality, that really marks the Swan out from its similar counterparts. They take it for granted here, but you should not.
Mr X (below) was absolutely correct: John and Val have seemingly worked wonders over the last decade to create a truly special community local that is just as friendly to strangers as it is to regulars. When I visited I was after a while the only person in (it being 2:30 on a Monday afternoon!), yet the barmaid ensured that pleasant conversation (and beer) kept flowing. Later on, J & V appeared with just as keen a welcome, and of course Gavin their son, who I'm very happy to report is doing fantastically in maintaining all the good work his parents have put in. I wish him all the best in continuing the tradition.
I was also lucky enough to meet a few equally sociable and likeable regulars who appeared after 3 (it wasn't empty for long!), who clearly adored the place for all the right reasons. Quite simply, I felt that I had been quaffing here for a lifetime and yet I'd only known these people for 3 hours.
Those of you familiar with my postings will note that they tend to be characterised by much pontificating about beer quality. But the fact that I have focused so firmly on service and hospitality in this case should give you an indication as to how worthwhile a visit would be. In the end one can tear oneself away from most pubs, however good, but trust me, you will really struggle to do so here.
In fact, ignore everything everyone has said here including me, and let the slew of awards, local, regional and national, do the talking. They are for once pretty much on the money.
Note: no food Monday lunchtimes so I missed it, but I'd be amazed if it wasn't fantastic! Also, there is a beer festival Sat 17 to Sat 24 Feb, although frankly it is a permanent fest here anyway!

30 Jan 2007 17:13

Sankey's, Tunbridge Wells

Recently refurbished and whilst still somewhat gimmicky, this venue does exceed expectations of those who dismiss it as just another theme bar, as it has maintained a certain eccentric cachet of its own which makes for a far more memorable experience.
Sankey's of an evening tends to attract a predominatly youthful crowd, and it certainly is popular. However, it is not a pub that limits itself to the loud and lager-fuelled youth market; it has much to commend it to older and more discerning visitors as well.
The beer selection should be noted; aside from some of the usual mass-produced and over-priced fare there are some unusual imported European beers on tap (Erdinger Dark as mentioned below is a good example). As for real ales, there are only 2 pumps, but both are occupied with interesting offerings not easily found elsewhere in the town: usually Larkin's Traditional from only a few miles away, and a left-field guest (Dark Star Espresso Stout on offer on my recent visit). Needless to say both were very well kept.
This is a really lively venue and it certainly exudes a feelgood factor; relaxed without being down-at-heel, and smart without being snooty. I should also say that the service I received, despite it being a very busy Saturday night, was excellent and one shouldn't have to wait that long for attendance.
Well done.

24 Jan 2007 13:09

The Rose and Crown, Tunbridge Wells

My maiden visit took place recently, primarily on the strength of its entry in the '07 Good Beer Guide. Whilst I would not give this place such a damning report as some previous visitors have seen fit to do, I must confess to having been somewhat disappointed.
Personally I don't mind a pub favouring older clientele, being local-orientated or perhaps slighly rough 'n' ready. Indeed, it is clearly a traditional style boozer that is surely meant to appeal to those who prefer that environment.
And to be fair, the few punters present were actually surprisingly mixed in terms of age (albeit they all looked to be "characters"!), both they and the barman were friendly enough and the place was in reasonable nick, if a little tacky in interior decor terms.
However, unless I was particularly unfortunate, there was little sign of an interesting ale selection, which when one visits a pub with this specific expectation in mind is a little deflating. Okay, the Greene King IPA was actually well kept, but that was the only choice and any self-respecting cask ale quaffer would expect much more. Also there only appear to be 3 pumps, so how the Guide could list at least 4 beers is a mystery!
Might be okay for a quiet pint if you happen to be a traditionalist who doesn't mind the ale situation being a bit routine. But I won't be struggling to get back there as aside from the promise of varied beers, the place was simply average; unexceptional. A shame really as it has much potential.

24 Jan 2007 12:55

The Grove Tavern, Tunbridge Wells

A hole? The visitor in early November last year who chose to remain anonymous (at least have the courage of your convictions and post your name when passing such negative and unsupported commentary!) seems to have either been extremely unlucky, or more likely, severly misguided. Perhaps he (for I suspect it is a male commentator) simply prefers trendy modern chrome and lager-bound town centre venues and the likes of this tucked-away local ale pub don't fair well in his limited spectrum of appreciation?
In any case, I am here to tell you folks not to be swayed by such a damning indictment, for I and many others found the Grove to be a thoroughly charming local, characterised by a mix of friendly people, a jolly landlord, and a homely cosiness. Admittedly when busy it can be tight, especially with pool taking a large chunk of the floorspace. However, I did not find it significantly detrimental to my enjoyment of the conviviality, and of course the excellently-kept cask ales. 3 are available, which on my recent visit included Rother Valley Smild (superb condition!), Harvey's Old and T Taylor Landlord.
The idea of living just round the corner in one of the grand properties on the Grove Park and popping in here regularly is very appealing, and I hope you will agree when you visit.

24 Jan 2007 12:39

Ubiquitous Chip, Glasgow

Yes, more of an antidote to proper pubs really - and who wants that?! A cracking vantage point, especially on a balmy summer evening, but if you're anything like me this isn't a place to linger. Entirely faux and self-important, with prices to match.

7 Dec 2006 17:32

Tennents Bar, Glasgow

I have to date only visited here once, and quite by accident during a stag do, having got ahead of the action early. But I've no regrets. Although only early on in the evening it was already buzzing, admittedly with a primarily youthful audience, but certainly not to the exclusion or detriment of older visitors. Hard to get served, but then again that was a testament to its popularity rather than poor attendance by the staff.
Without doubt a place for you with your mates and/or your missus, this has a little something for everyone.
Most impressively, there was a fine range of real ales which I happily worked part of the way through in the short time I was there. I also endorse earlier comments about value - price really isn't a problem here.
A really no-nonsense boozer that has genuine across-the-board appeal, even if its kerb appeal is less-than-arresting.

7 Dec 2006 17:29

The Horseshoe Bar, Glasgow

Indeed. A Glasgow institution, with its astonishigly well-preserved and intriguing interior features, this pub also offers well-priced good ale (up to 3) for the beer connoisseurs amongst you. Food sounds good although as yet I've yet to indulge.
The only downsides are that, inevitably, it can get very busy and one can twist and turn right round the horseshoe and still find nowhere to prop up, and also the condition of the toilet left a bit to be desired on my last visit!
But still a must, either for the entire evening or as part of an enriching crawl around the centre!

7 Dec 2006 17:21

The Blackfriars, Glasgow

I agree that as an antidote to the restrained mellowness of its nearby neighbour, the Blackfriars fits the bill. It is always lively of an evening, thriving on a mixed clientele that seem to lap up the various services that the pub offers - live music, good food (available even at ungodly hours!) and a range of interesting ales. It has all the positive aspects of a "trendy" corporate chain bar, but retains all the worthwhile features of a more traditional pub, and this broad approach appears to be working.
For all that, the quality of the ales on my last visit was undeniably poor, which was a huge disappointment as previously they'd always been on fine form, but this was a long time ago and I am for now happy to assume it was an unfortunate aberration rather than the norm.

7 Dec 2006 17:13

The Babbity Bowster, Glasgow

I take the point about the Babbity not being the most cosy or atmospheric of pubs; its decor does imply smart urban bistro rather than solid boozer, and although clean and tidy it can be somewhat anodine.
That said, their food is worth a punt, and moreover the ale selection is, usually, both varied and well-kept. I have to question the comment from ericmarco below which states that their ales are all keg; granted they are dispensed from fonts rather than handpumps which can be deceptive (especially to drinkers from England & Wales where ale is usually found off a handpump or off cask), but in Scotland real ale is frequently to be found being dispensed from taps either by means air pressure, gravity or more rarely, electric pump. All these methods can easily be mistaken for standard keg taps and drinkers should be careful to ask if in doubt. As far as I'm aware, the Babbity's beers are the real thing and are no worse from not being hand-pulled. The Peter's Well that I've sampled here was extremely sessionable.
Personally I think this is a classic Summer pub: one can get together with a group of mates, pitch up in the very pleasant beer garden (indeed a rarity in Glasgow) and while away the time in suitably mellow fashion. Try it next year and enjoy.

7 Dec 2006 17:05

The Bon Accord, Glasgow

I have to confess to not having visited Glasgow for some time, but I felt I should throw some positive comment in the general direction of some of the city's finer hostelries, if only to demonstrate to closed-minded English ale lovers that similarly great pubs and beer can now easily be located north of the border!
This is a must-visit for any visitor to the city who appreciates a traditional yet lively atmosphere, friendly service and above all, a superb selection of real ales. It is cosy and comfortable. The ales are well-priced, and whilst some have been served through sparklers unnecessarily, neither my friends nor I suffered a poorly-kept pint. This largely depends on luck, I suppose.
I think this is justifiably a jewel in the local CamRA's crown. The downside? The less-than-convenient and less-than-appealing location - jammed in against various grey monoliths. Not a place to expect a great boozer but well worth the detour away from the main centre.

7 Dec 2006 16:55

The Pickerel Inn, Cambridge

A very respectable outlet that largely deserves the positive reviews it has received lately. Aside from having a cracking location near the river, it has a charmingly beamed interior with numerous alcoves and nooks that can get crowded, but in less busy periods their true relevance and appeal can be enjoyed. They also enable the pub to house various different types of customer at the same time.
The food looked generous in size and reasonable quality, although I should say that I personally didn't sample any.
The ale is a real draw here for those who are "proper" beer lovers: a broad selection of 4 well-kept offerings including 2 from the superior Woodforde's brewery, a GK offering (ubiquitous IPA) and Theakston Old Peculier. The only problem? All were dispensed through sparklers seemingly by default, and with the exception of the Theakston, this method was not appropriate as it gave an unpleasant soapy head and the full flavour was not intact. I asked a couple of times for the sparkler to be removed, and whilst it was done, I was given a slightly quizzical look by one barmaid, and a dismissive one from the other. A slight taint on an otherwise good pub for beer and well worth using as part of a central crawl - especially as it isn't exclusively GK like so many of its counterparts.

7 Nov 2006 14:03

The King Street Run, Cambridge

My first and most definitely last visit was made last Saturday whilst on a Stag Do. Unfortunately it had been decreed that the Champion of the Thames was to be leapfrogged in favour of this dive, which was mainly on grounds of its larger floorspace, as there were 15 of us. I was glad that I got ahead and sneaked one in at the Champion anyway.
The beer: 4 possible pumps, only 1 functioning. At least I can say that the Fuller's London Pride was served well enough, but the plastic pintglass ruined the effect for me. Presumably plastic was being used on grounds that the firework display was happening on the common, but they're hardly adjacent and I fail to see the relevance.
The pub is housed in a rather charming building, but don't be deceived if you're a traditional pubgoer hoping for a classic sedate and stylish Cambridge experience: it is dark, dingy, VERY smokey and seemingly themed, along the lines of loud rock music, motorbikes etc etc. It does possess a "character" but it is not in any way organic, genuine or pleasant. I'm all for earthy backstreet locals, but this is simply too grungey for the likes of me, and asks for far too much forbearance if one is forced to have a second pint there as I was!

7 Nov 2006 13:53

The Free Press, Cambridge

This pub offers a very civilised, traditional and downright comfortable experience. The Free Press is clearly favoured by the rich variety of dignified locals, and Bohemian students, some of which still wear bowler hats and black ties in place of rugby shirts.
The atmosphere is pro-conversation, and creates a marvellously mellow setting to enjoy a few of their excellently-kept ales. Yes, even the Greene King beers were superb; the Mild was especially pleasing. They also had 1 guest not from the ever-burgeoning "imported" GK portfolio; on this occasion it was Brain's Rev James which was extremely good.
The food looked rather special too, but alas having had a large breakfast I was not quite ready to tackle it on my last visit!
I should also say that the young lady who served us was both efficient and friendly to strangers and regulars.
The sort of pub one can go into on one's own without any fear of appearing out of place or strange, with a good book or a newspaper, and while away a couple of hours.

7 Nov 2006 13:45

The Champion of the Thames, Cambridge

I had a brief but very positive experience of this little gem, when it was packed to the rafters due to the nearby firework display on Midsummer Common. Excellent service was given notwithstanding this - the landlord caught my eye on entering and took my order from afar, thereby avoiding me having to push past the crowd to get served. Good man.
It seemed very friendly, populated by a mixed bunch, not only local drinkers. The beer is necessarily-limited as it is a GK house, but they were offering the rather more unusual "LBW" ale which was more interesting than the usual bland GK options. Well kept too.
Traditional is the order of the day, with plenty of genuine character and a warm welcome to enhance it. Cosy in Winter evenings.
If I lived here, which sadly I don't, I would make this a regular stop-off point.

7 Nov 2006 11:08

The Baron of Beef, Cambridge

Rather lacking in character despite it's distinguished name, and I have to concur that the nearby Pickerel offers far superior charm and character, in terms of beer range, service, and interior decor.
The large screens showing the latest footie match seemed to over-dominate, and the long narrow bar lined with local lads and limited space beside it doesn't make for a particularly conducive pub experience, especially in a larger group.
That said, the Abbot Ale was well-kept and possibly one of the best I'd had in a while. I hope that is the norm as it was really the Baron's saving grace.

7 Nov 2006 11:02

The Kingston Arms, Cambridge

This pub exudes a certain townie atmosphere and I am bound to say doesn't immediately present anything unusual on first impression. However, to the committed ale connoisseur it is a beacon of excellence, not only with its 10 real ales and now 1 real cider lining up on the bar, but also for its complete lack of draught lager: drinkers of the fizz will need to resort to the bottled variety, or better still abandon it altogether and sample some of the fine ales. Wine is also a popular alternative.
The Kingston will always get my vote for the beer alone. As yet I haven't tried the food, although the menu looked interesting and portions appeared generous.
However, what prevents me from awarding the full marks is the general lack of organic atmosphere here. On my visit the pub was busy enough with a mix of locals at the bar and students/well-groomed young couples around the tables. But compared to somewhere like the Cambridge Blue this just seemed to be bereft of charm. The 2 staff, whom I suspect were of Polish origin, were efficient enough, but lacked enthusiasm and charm, and one wonders whether they are always that way. The lady seemed especially narked at having to be working and was generally very touchy, both with her fellow barman and customers. Woe betide the young lady who spilled red wine on the floor! In a pub that is in the vanguard of discernment in drinking terms, and obviously keen on good food, I was surprised at the apparent lack of interest in such areas from the staff.
All the same, a very worthy establishment that should be visited whenever possible.

7 Nov 2006 10:57

The Cambridge Blue, Cambridge

My maiden visit to many Cambridge pubs was made over the last weekend, and as a lover of traditional, simple pubs with interesting and well-conditioned cask ale and excellent home-made food, I was inevitably very impressed with the Cambridge Blue, which scores very highly on all these aspects which should be dear to most discerning pubgoers and drinkers' hearts.
The atmosphere is rather Bohemian, being in the heart of a district favoured by (but not dominated by) students, and is accented towards lively conversation, assisted by a mobile phone ban. Numerous items of boating memorabilia abound, without coming across as "themed". The non-smoking environment is a reality that all must face soon, and for an outlet that welcomes a diverse range of customers from single CamRA members to well-heeled families, this can only be an advantage.
Who needs fags when there is so much great beer on draught?! 7 handpumps were dispensing a wide range of mostly locally-sourced ales, and all were on superb form. Expect the likes of Woodforde's Wherry, Oakham JHB, City of Cambridge Hobson's Choice, and Elgood's Black Dog to appear.
Food was popular with all, understandably as it was home-cooked and of a high standard. I honestly had one of the best steak and ale pies I've ever sampled here, and I've had plenty! No pettiness about this either: we were allowed to eat at the bar.
To add to this already sound basis is a very convivial welcome from the licensee and his wife, and their staff, who are efficient and willing to engage in chat if you're propping up the bar.
On the matter of being family-friendly: don't let this put you off if you're like me and prefer a pub to be free of ill-disciplined marauding toddlers. All the children present were dining at the rear away from the bar area, and in any case were on best behaviour on my visit, and the pub does state it welcomes "well-behaved" kids. That was a real novelty.
All in all a cracking little backstreet local that is well worth discovering if one wants to get away from the town centre dominance of routine Greene King pubs.

7 Nov 2006 10:45

The Wharf House, Oxford

By most young folk's measure this sort of pub would be consigned to the history books, for it openly and proudly eschews all that is contemporary and corporate, but for many (and not only weirds with beards; I'm a clean-shaven 29-year-old!) it is a welcome departure from that transient, superficial, themed High Street nonsense, and thankfully both the chavs and regatta types seem to avoid it, partly due to its tucked-away location.
The focus is firmly on traditional, but simple values: a range of intriguing and well-kept ales, banter (not only between punters but also with the eccentric but rather shrewd landlord), and a no-frills, totally genuine and unpretentious atmosphere. Yes, maintenance of this rare 1820s building could be higher on the list, yet it somehow adds to the overall charm of the place. The licensee isn't TRYING to create a back-to-basics pub, it just IS! A real community place, that happily most tourists stay away from, but only because they believe they'd receive a poor reception.
And one doesn't even have to be a Marxist to drink here!
However, if I recall correctly when I visited in May, the landlord told us that he was going to be moving on in a few months - I think the decision has already been made and he isn't up for persuasion. I can't think that this place could ever stay the same after the present incumbent's departure...

30 Oct 2006 18:03

The Lamb and Flag, Oxford

Whilst a good freehouse in the habit of serving a wide range of cask beer is hardly a rarity in these parts, it is nevertheless always worth commending to those who rate ale quality as a major draw when the time comes to peruse the clues to choose whose booze to use.
The Lamb offers an intriguing range of ale, and much of it from outside the immediate area - indeed, more of a west-country flavour seems to dominate here. Notwithstanding the distance travelled, in my experience it came up trumps with each sample: Palmers Gold and Skinners B Stogs in particular were on flying form.
I also ate here on my last visit in May: not the best Ploughman's ever, but it was a generous portion, and clearly used good quality ingredients, which bodes well for the menu at large.
Friendly, spacious, maybe a little lacking in atmosphere, but then one can always pop over the road to the Eagle for that. I thought this was pretty encouraging stuff.

30 Oct 2006 17:50

The Head of the River, Oxford

Sometimes a victim of its own success in Summer, with its prominent and picturesque location on the bridge, but there should be enough space if you look hard enough.
Granted, the Head's food and drink is over-priced, and could so easily be the sole preserve of the hooray henry set. It is well-heeled and accented towards the middle-class, but without undue pretense, and I find it as welcoming as the next pub in the city. It lacks the earthiness of some say, some of the Jericho offerings, and is certainly more suit 'n' boot than cap 'n' bicycle. But it is a sound city pub and the ale is exceptionally well-kept, which takes it a long way with the likes of me. The Discovery here is indeed superb and can't be beaten on said summer days.
Depending on one's mood of the time, and the weather, this is worth keeping in mind.

30 Oct 2006 17:41

The Harcourt Arms, Oxford

The term "back-street local" is probably entirely accurate, but I realise that this description can conjure up images of peeling paint, gruff, insular locals, poorly-kept beer, a loud jukebox and possibly unspeakably filthy toilets. Let's be clear: this is NOT the case here.
Yes, the Harcourt has a comfortable patina to it, it is no frills and lacks the pretense which has crept in in more mainstream Oxford boozers. But mainly it must be commended for its friendliness, well-conditioned cask ales, and sheer honesty. There aren't many places as unspoilt as this, even in Jericho, and for those traditionalists who prize good conversation, atmosphere and ale above image, bright lighting and fizz, this is a must.

30 Oct 2006 17:35

Far From the Madding Crowd, Oxford

For what it's worth (and that mightn't be much seeing as I've only visited this place once to date), I can appreciate why some felt it might've been a chain outlet, but really this is surely off-set by the large and broad range well-kept cask ales, served with aplomb by a largely friendly set of bar staff. Granted, if you're not a real ale buff then perhaps this pub might seem less than exceptional, but it is a lively and spacious outlet with a genuinely mixed bag of punters enjoying its wares. It is certainly more than worthy of a stop on any Oxford crawl; indeed, quite a lengthy stop if you want to sample a decent number of the beers.

30 Oct 2006 17:30

The Eagle and Child, Oxford

The Eagle & Child does naturally trade to some extent on its illustrious history and it is probably one of the most famous pubs that will likely be known to non-Oxfordians. However, happily it doesn't overplay this and I just found it to be a comfortable, cosy, mellow little place with plenty of alcoves and cubby-holes in which one can deposit oneself free from interference. Personally I'm a bit of a bar propper normally, but here it seems more sensible to be seated.
In my limited but pleasant recent experience, I found the cask beer to be acceptable, although not excellent (in fairness this might've been owing to the excessive heat on the day of my last visit). I have indifferent memories of the service although that is perhaps good news; if it had been appalling it would've stuck with me. Didn't sample the food - I hear it is reasonable.
All in all a worthy little nook, certainly one to consider on a pan-Oxford crawl. Anything one feels this pub might lack will surely be compensated for elsewhere.

30 Oct 2006 17:18

The Coach and Horses, Harrogate

Definitely one of Harrogate's gems, only surpassed in my opinion possibly by the Old Bell.
In my occasional experiences here I have always found friendliness from a mixed, although generally well-behaved bunch, and very nicely-kept ale: the Daleside offerings are in good nick and should be sampled (they haven't had to travel far so I should hope so!).
I haven't eaten here since the '90s so shouldn't comment on the grub, but what's been said below looks promising.
For reasons I'm not entirely sure I can define, this is a cracking "afternoon" pub; one can really get comfily ensconced and dig in for a mellow session.

30 Oct 2006 17:06

The Old Bell Tavern, Harrogate

Harrogate is a town I visit only infrequently, but I always ensure that when I do, I manage to get into some of its better hostelries, and there are a few in my book. However, I was more than pleased to find this pub had opened up just round the corner from where I stay, in what used to be a toffee shop (one of the few retail outlets in the town that is not given over to antiques and genteel furniture!), for it is possibly the finest in the area now.
Naturally it depends on one's view of what constitutes a worthy pub, but who, amongst the more discerning pubgoers and drinkers at least, would not appreciate 10 fabulously-kept cask ales, decent home-cooked food, a lively and friendly atmosphere and a traditional interior that still can feel comfortably contemporary?
The ales are the crowning glory, but fear not: it isn't populated solely by CamRA members! Unlike many pubgoers in the south, drinkers up north still see ale as a natural choice at least equal to lager, if not its superior, and it's quite common for young lads to come here and get cracking on the handpumps without being connnoisseurs (in some beer-heavy pubs in the south the real enthusiasts tend to be real devotees, not casual buyers). All are kept perfectly and many are locally-sourced. The Roosters here really is on form. Failing this, the imported draught lagers are worth trying.
Food is good, although I can comment less here seeing as how liquids tend to dominate my attention before solids!
In many ways the Bell balances the two worlds of trad and modern without ever letting them collide. Some might say it's a bit sterile, for having only been open for 4 years it has yet to develop that certain patina and lived-in quality that more established pubs tend to purvey. But really I think that the benefits more than outweigh this minor criticism. Life's what you make it, and if you're in here with a sound crowd of people, probably of all ages, sampling the varied beers, I think you're bound to come away feeling more than satisfied.
And yes, it is a Market House Tavern, and is non-smoking, but like it or not, that is something we'll all have to get used to by next Summer, so we might as well start adjusting now.

30 Oct 2006 17:01

The Black Boy, Winchester

An absolute delight to its many locals and visitors, the Black Boy carries of a genuinely characterful, rambling and intriguing interior atmosphere, enhanced by an excellent range of well-kept cask beer and in my experience very friendly staff. Maybe the food isn't as competitive as it could be (I'd have to defer to others who have tried it), but if you're less of a foodie and more of an ale aficionado who can't get enough of honest traditional boozers in pleasant locations: look no further. This place has all you need to get by and more.

27 Oct 2006 12:45

The Bishop On The Bridge, Winchester

I take the criticisms about this place regarding sterility; like so many Fuller's outlets it is immaculately decorated, mixing traditional with modern, and it is undeniably clean. However, it does seem to lack a certain organic character, and it almost feels like a London pub in a provincial setting.
But for all that, on my ealier visit the ales were well-conditioned (despite a heatwave the Discovery was spot on), and in such hot weather the Bishop comes into its own with its rear garden, positioned by the river. Unsurprisingly it fills up quickly so you'll need to get in early to grab a seat. This dimension renders a pub which otherwise would be unexceptional far more memorable. Certainly a must on any ale-orientated Winchester crawl.

27 Oct 2006 10:59

The Keepers Arms, Trotton

This pub commands attention, not least because of its location nestling in the rural hinterland of E Hants, but because of its fascinating interior. The place is crammed with the landlady's assorted artefacts gleaned from years of globetrotting, and whilst one might question whether the displays amount to good taste, the huge variety of bric-a-brac is always a talking point. Some of it looks entirely useless and one suspects it's largely tat, but amongst it there could well be some priceless antiquities!
Aside from the decor, it should be said that this pub attracts a broad customer base, with many young folk enjoying its wares as well as older visitors. The ale (Ballard's) is well-kept, although an increased range mightn't go amiss; I would say this place could handle it.
The food is pricey - don't confuse the starters for mains on grounds of pricing alone. Nonetheless, it is home-cooked, adventurous, and of a high quality. The Keepers attracts numerous eaters so I wouldn't let the price get in the way.
All in all this set of characteristics really makes this one stand out, in an area already blessed with many good freehouses.

27 Oct 2006 10:53

White Horse Inn, Rogate

I must say I was disappointed to hear that this had been taken over by Harvey's a couple of years back, as it was reputed to be an excellent freehouse. Being an ale devotee it is always welcome to find variety as well as quality on the pumps.
That said, it would be churlish and perverse to moan about a pub falling under the auspices of Harvey's, who brew superb ales, and whose licensees tend to keep a good pint. The White Horse is no exception. All beer on my last visit was in great form, especially the Olympia, so well done to the cellarman (or woman).
It is a spacious pub that clearly welcomes both locals and passing trade, drinkers and eaters. Both staff and punters, whilst both were young (one doesn't expect much of youth in the friendliness stakes these days), were very outgoing and welcoming towards us. One young chap even decided to score for us whilst we played a darts extremely badly! Can't fault that sort of effort even though he had the appearance of a chav and was quaffing the fizz!! This at least shows it's not all about older CamRA members with beards!
I suspect this has the capacity for broad appeal and so if you're passing through on the A272, give it a go.

27 Oct 2006 10:46

The Royal Oak, Lasham

Earlier commentators have covered the essence of this classic unspoilt village gem that looks as if little has changed for many a year, and all to the good.
I have visited on quiet afternoons but it was a) open (which one can't always rely on with rural pubs), and b) friendly. The staff were on hand to take one through the broad range of well-conditioned cask ales, which are guaranteed not to disappoint the true beer lover.
I haven't eaten here, but I daresay it's worth a punt.
The garden is mature and charming, especially when weather permits an outdoor session. The pub is at the centre of things and is close to the local church, itself a picture.

27 Oct 2006 10:37

The Hawkley Inn, Hawkley

I have managed a single visit since it changed hands, and happily I am able to report that the classic country ambience and organic character of the place hasn't been altered.
The Hawkely Inn is possibly the most confounding in terms of location; I have visited on a variety of occasions and each time I have got completely lost before finally stumbling upon it more by luck than judgement. However, it's always busy with locals (for it is a sound village local) and visitors, which suggests a) that I am crap at finding my way around and b) in any case it is worth sticking with it to reap the rewards!
A superb range of cask ales are offered on pump, which are always in excellent nick. Many Hants beers are available and this makes this an essential for real ale aficionados. It certainly USED to sell a real cider, Swamp Donkey I think, but that might've gone under the new regime.
Perhaps equally worthy of mention is their food, which is hearty, wholesome and made from predominatly local ingredients. During much deliberation over the varied menu I was bribed by the eccentric barman (presumably the new licensee?) to go for the Sussex beef casserole, for the princely sum of 20p! I gladly accepted as I was already 99% sure that would be my natural choice anyway! And I was in no way disappointed. It is on the pricier side, but then again find a country pub in this part of the world which isn't these days.
This is unpretentious, attracting an earthy brigade of locals with dogs, and ensures the pub retains its wholly natural feel. Top notch in every category that the traditionalist pub visitor will hold dear.

27 Oct 2006 10:32

Royal Oak, Fritham

Superb...Magical...Excellent...Just some of the superlatives already applied in earlier descriptions of this pub. And all are accurate. The Royal Oak is tucked away in an unspoilt rural location with winsome views across the Hampshire countryside from the large rear garden, which helps to soak up the overspill in hotter weather, for the pub itself is charming and cosy, but not large.
It is run with huge efficiency by 2 ladies who know their beer, which is always a pleasure to see. THe ales are served directly from the cask and are predominantly locally-sourced (Ringwood, Itchen Valley, and the old Cheriton brews have all been caught here in recent times). So this alone makes it a must for the ale lover.
But beyond that, it also specialises in basic, but tasty pub fare that exploits good quality ingredients to maximise flavour. Portions are also generous. Try the cheese ploughman's, for an example.
There's little doubting that the pub is preferred by well-heeled locals and visitors who tend to have a discerning eye and naturally gravitate to such outlets. But to say all are of the hunting fraternity is a little misleading; I have always found the clientele to be friendly, and of a broad mix of age, gender, and dress-sense. I can't recall the bar being surrounded in a surfeit of tweed last time I visited in April.
I should also mention that the interior is equally favourable on cold Winter days as it is in hot Summer days.
Although not a complete all-rounder, this comes pretty close and its unique character ensures this ranks very high in my book.

27 Oct 2006 10:23

The Flowerpots Inn, Cheriton

It was disheartening to say the least to hear of this pub's longstanding relationship with the Cheriton Brewhouse coming to an end earlier this year, and that in effect Pots Ale - one of my personal favourites (and I drink a lot of different ales!) - is no more, along with Cheriton's other excellent offerings.
However, it is encouraging to hear that the pub has set about re-starting a new brewery, and that its first fruits are equally worthy as their predecessors, and I hope to try them either at the Flowerpots or at a festival very soon.
As for the pub itself I understand that nothing has changed, and it retains a glorious country cottage feel that welcomes both locals and its many visitors, who may also make use of the unusual camping facilities at the rear.
It is certainly not a "Butlin's" type place, however: it is excellently-run, serving its well-kept beer from the cask, and superb food to boot. In Summer it is just idyllic to sit on the outdoor benches at the front and enjoy a drink, followed up with some Jude's ice cream...
This really is a classic country pub that seems to cover all aspects which the discerning and traditional pubgoer would value, and balances them to perfection. On the presumed understanding that the new beer is as highly-merited as before, I shall award it the full compliment of marks.

27 Oct 2006 10:13

The Hampshire Bowman, Dundridge

I am not yet au fait with the alterations mentioned below, although it would appear that by and large it's business at usual at the Bowman.
I can appreciate that this will not appeal to everyone; whilst the pub is undeniably rustic, honest, unpretentious and in a beautiful countryside location, some more particular customers will find it perhaps too dirty, rambling and generally grubby for their liking. Withot wishing to seem snobbish about the matter, I for one have sometimes found the clientele to be somewhat rough and ready.
However, if you are a lover of no-frills country pubs that run entirely on genuine enthusiasm and good local banter, then this could be for you. As a cask ale enthusiast you are guaranteed a joyous experience, with numerous ales being drawn from the casks. A large garden can provide a glorious summer experience, although inevitably it can get busy and ill-disciplined children can be an issue.
A bit of a "marmite" pub. But by and large, I like it.

26 Oct 2006 18:04

The Five Bells, West Chiltington

I haven't, regrettably, had a chance to visit the 5 Bells for over 2 years, but I feel that in view of what has been said below, the experience has not altered. It is run by a very outgoing and hearty landlord, who has made significant improvements to the pub in recent years by adding accommodation via an extension that was fully in-keeping with the pub's exterior.
The location is not in truth far from civilisation but it does feel marvellously isolated and rural. It offers a selection of 5 cask ales (always well-kept in my experience even in hot weather; the heatwave of '03 seemed to present no problems), and an excellent menu of high-quality food, much of the ingredients being locally-sourced. The fish dishes, in particular, are really excellent. It may be the case that veggies are poorly catered for; frankly I have little concern on this front being a confirmed omnivore. I can at least vouch for the quality of the vegetables served with meat or fish dishes!
The pub is well-heeled, tidy and clean without being at all antiseptic or pretentious. A lively mixed crowd seem to populate it, and all in all this is a worthy outlet to visit if you're in this area.

26 Oct 2006 17:58

The Red Lion, Turners Hill

This really is yet another stronghold in Harvey's arsenal of honest, traditional, unspoilt local pubs which serve their wonderful range of beers to perfection. I have only managed to visit once so far a year ago but that and the comments made below by more recent visitors who found exactly the same experience as I did affirms that my opinion of it remains valid. A real classic conversationalists pub, set in a cosy environment which although has been shaped by locals is more than welcoming to passing trade. The landlord is a very jolly cove and he will appreciate you appreciating the quality of his ale.
This is a gem and should be treasured by all for whom this sort of pub matters.

26 Oct 2006 17:47

The Blue Ship, The Haven

Haven't been for a while, but the simple, quaint and characterful earthiness of the place left a marked impression. Hall & Woodhouse ale isn't the most exciting available to the adventurous beer-quaffer, but off the cask it has some added charm. A goodly mix of farmers and other locals sit in the tap room and it would be difficult even for the most hardened of anti-social types not to get drawn in to the lively debate that will undoubtedly ensue during your visit.
Genuine and unspoilt, the Blue Ship creates an atmosphere that pubcos and national breweries can only dream of mastering. Keep it up.

25 Oct 2006 18:01

The Three Moles Inn, Selham

Yes, there's no doubting that this is a genuine pub run in a distinctive style that suits it perfectly. It's a family affair here; Val the homely landlady and her son who ably assists her clearly have a very focused vision of what the pub should be - and that is a local, cosy and convivial atmosphere created in what could just as easily be your front room, with a heavy emphasis on a broad selection of perfectly-kept real ales. They don't feel the need to compete with other rural outlets by providing hot food, and other supefluous features which their hearts simply wouldn't be in.
Without being at all pretentious or snooty, this pub is pitched carefully to appeal to the kinds of customer who would appreciate it best. Those who favour lively, involving conversation, whilst tasting superb and unusual ale (name another pub that serves Skinner's Betty Stogs as a regular in Sussex!) in a welcoming environment should seek this out ASAP. Its isolation is perhaps more of a blessing than a curse.

25 Oct 2006 17:57

The White Horse, Maplehurst

I haven't visited for some while, but this pub was a definite mecca for ale enthusiasts, with a constantly changing rota of interesting beer; Archers and Weltons featured prominently. Friendly, civilised and articulate chat between punter and staff abounded.
Although bar food is served, this isn't really what you'd call a foodie pub and it mightn't be the best choice if you want to take your familyout for a good meal. Really, it is most favourable to discerning drinkers who appreciate the efforts that go into the cask ale provision.

25 Oct 2006 17:47

The Malt Shovel, Horsham

Haven't been since the eccentric landlord's demise last year. It always used to be the best pub in town for ale selection, featuring an interesting mix of beers sourced from across the nation. However, they were not always well-kept, and there was room for improvement. I shall be interested to see how it shapes up in under the new regime.

25 Oct 2006 17:43

The Black Jug, Horsham

A very mixed bag of reviews for the Black Jug so far. I am not sure that this is such a surprise.
It is a clean, spacious, lively and civilised establishment that has the capacity to appeal to a good cross-section of punters, old and young, foodies and drinkers (basically the typical Horsham mix of people). I think it genuinely attempts to offer a contemporary environment wrapped in a traditional exterior.
But for all this, it is perhaps a jack-of-all-trades and master of none. The food in my experience (not recent; maybe 1-2 years ago) is of a good quality, and offers a varied menu which can appeal to different tastes. However, there is no denying that certain dishes are better than others, and some are dreadfully over-priced. Moreover, it just isn't that convincing as a restaurant.
This brings me to the drinking side. For a town that lacks good freehouses, the ale enthusiast will be heartened by the range of 5 beers on handpump here, and contrary to the disparaging comment below, they have always been well-kept in my experience. However, the prices are ridiculous. This pub was charging 2.80 for John Smith's Cask of all things 2 years ago! They also have a cracking selection of whiskies, but again, don't expect much change out of a tenner for a single single malt.
The bar is served by several lively young things who beaver about, presumably with eager intent, yet it still seems to take some 5-10 minutes to get served at busier times. That is the other thing: the BJ gets so busy it is neither a pleasant place to eat or drink, and after a while, you'll just want to move on.
There is a good blueprint here, but at present it just hasn't quite got the balance right. Maybe having a captive market who are prepared to pay more than they should has rendered the management somewhat blase, and they could do with some healthy competition. You're not quite as good as you think you are!

25 Oct 2006 17:40

The Elsted Inn, Elsted

Well-kept Ballard's in particular. This is a more drinker-orientated, less picturesque but I suppose less prissy counterpoint to the Three Horseshoes up the road. Very different, but in a good way. Clean, neat and not without atmosphere thanks to the lively local customers, this is worth a punt, especially en route to any one of the many other classic freehouses in this area.

25 Oct 2006 17:26

Three Horseshoes, Elsted

It is an affluent area in which this pub nestles, and so one has to expect a few range rover drivers. However, notwithstanding the generally middle to upper-class background of some of the clientele, this pub is none the worse for it, and it remains thoroughly charming. There is much room in my heart for earthy, honest, no-frills boozers, but equally there must be high regard for civilised picturesque rural pubs that pride themselves not only on their beer (there is usually at least