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The Castle, Walthamstow

I have lived in the area for a few years and seen The Castle struggle with its identity during that time. It's tried open mic (which was oddly successful), carvery (slightly half-heartedly), weird art (does anyone remember the barbie dolls in perspex cases?) etc etc. The most recent owners have brought some clarity to the situation with a cleaner, albeit somewhat joyless look, and so that at least is something in an area in which a number of pubs (The Windmill, The Grove) have sadly closed in recent years. The investment is welcome.

It's always difficult to draw a perfect judgement from these sites, because people clearly have different experiences of the food and that could depend on a multiple of variables, not least levels of expectation, how hungry you are etc. I've always found it serviceable, but nothing particularly special, and perhaps has a higher opinion of itself than is warranted. Nevertheless, assuming all of the reviews on these sites are genuine (hmmm?) then clearly some people do enjoy the food. Horses for courses, as they say.

A common thread that does seem to run through the reviews on these sites is a general sullenness amongst the staff, including the landlord chap. Perhaps the grey interior has a general dampening effect on their mood, but I've never felt particularly welcome and wonder if I might get more engagement from a vending machine. As I get older I am less tolerant of poor treatment - a smile costs nothing. Even though it might mean a longer walk, more recently I have started to drink in other pubs where the bar staff make more of an effort. And this is the issue with the Castle really - it's obviously trying to position itself as a gastro pub, but the reality is a slap of Farrow & Ball cannot disguise the fact that it is a local pub too off the beaten track to attract regulars from outside the area. It needs to connect with its community and it doesn't, which is sad and possibly quite dangerous in the current economic climate.

As to the issue of kids in pubs - this pub calls itself 'family friendly' and if you advertise as such then you have to accept that families will gravitate to the place. Both the Nags Head and The Village pub have very clearly delineated policies on children (ie, specific areas and times), which means everyone knows where they stand. The pub rule in the case outlined below is a bit random - I've not seen it visibly displayed and I've not seen it being enforced on other occasions when I have been in there. The reaction of the landlord also appears to have been disproportionate. To bar a whole family because a child was walking around a bit seems pretty extreme - and again a potentially damaging business decision in an area where the NCT operates something akin to a cult. The Castle actually has an opportunity to really differentiate itself from the other pubs in the area and grow its market share, but to do that it has to be genuinely 'family friendly' and not just pretend it is when it suits them. The landlord should embody this ethos and behave like people are paying customers rather than fleshy irritants.

So I guess the point is if you want to pretend you live in the nicer part of Islington and are not too bothered about being treated like you don't, then The Castle is probably fine. The food is ok. The beer is cold. The toilets are clean. But if you want a place with more sense of identity and community, then the initial appearance may prove deceptive and ultimately disappointing.

10 Jun 2012 16:40

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AndreGorz has been registered on this site since 10th June 2012