Pub #11: Real Ale Train, Mid Hants Railway

While not technically a pub, the Real Ale Train certainly qualifies for a blog post within the 100 pubs mission. I went on this wonderful train ride last September, so the blog post is long overdue, but I just found the pictures on an old cellphone.

The Real Ale Train is a service offered by the Mid Hants Railways several times a year for £14 pounds and £2 a pint of ale once onboard. The train is about 4-5 carriages long pulled by an old steam locomotive. The carriages themselves are old / restored, with gas lamps.

The experience of sticking my head out a restored steam train on a cool September evening, while sipping local real ales is pretty special. I tried 4 or 5 different ales. Some were better than others, but at £2 a pint, who cares? There was some greasy food on board as well to ensure one can stand an entire night of drinking while being thrown around on a train. I can’t say much else about the beers themselves as it was so long ago, but here are a few of the beers they had on board.

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Pub #9: BrewDog, Camden, 25 Mar, 2012

After a 14 month hiatus, I’m back to on track with blogging about a 100 pubs. It’s not that I’ve not been visiting pubs all this time. I’ve just not been blogging about it. So I have a bit of a backlog of pubs, and the first one of the bat is BrewDog. Scotland’s largest independent brewery is out to break all the rules and judging by their beers, their bars, the media coverage and their Twitter account, they are succeeding.

This was my second visit to BrewDog Camden, and it was a bright, sunny Sunday afternoon. Camden was busy as usual, with people enjoying the fine weather and the eclectic Camden markets and food stalls. But nearly forgotten was the brilliant BrewDog, situated a few minutes from CamdenTown tube, in the opposite direction of the market. 5 of us headed over there, mostly with the intention of trying out various brews. I had 2 beers – the Hardcore IPA, a 9.2% ABV ale in a 2/3rd glass, followed by a 1/2 pint of the Punk IPA.  (Yeah, I’m a bit of an IPA nerd)

This is a somewhat local bar to Islington, and only about 25 minutes away by public transport. I need to make fore frequent visits to BrewDog over this summer and try more of their great ales.

Pub #8: The Gun, Canary Wharf, 10 Jan, 2011

The Gun in Canary Wharf is hard to find.  A 15 minute walk from the tube station, this gastropub can easily be mistaken for a low-key local.  But when you step in, you’re greeted by a very nicely decorated, restored interior and a dining room with white linen tablecloths that adds the “gastro” to the pub.

There wasn’t much in the way of a selection of ales – London Pride and Adnams Bitter.  A range of imported lagers and expensive looking wines complemented the selection.

The lunch menu is extensive, but as usual there was only 1 vegetarian option for starters and the main course.  The starter, a goat cheese, potato, olive and pine nut bake, was excellent.  It matched the Adnams Bitter (£3.30) very nicely.  The hand cut fries were also excellent, but the main dish, a mushroom and chestnut wellington, was good but not £12.75 good.

According to the interwebs, The Gun has some interesting history to it:  It was originally a favourite of Lord Horatio Nelson who would meet his lover in an upstairs room and popular with smugglers who would distribute illegal imports via a hidden tunnel.  As a tribute (I suppose) the door to the men’s room has the word “Horatio” painted on it.

Overall, a very interesting experience for a first visit to a gastropub, but not a place I want to revisit.


Pub #7: The Island Queen, Islington, 5 Jan, 2011

So after a 3 weeks break over Christmas, my first 100-pub visit in 2011 was the Island Queen is Islington.  That is not to say I didn’t consumerany adult-beverages or visit any boozer establishments over the holidays.  But The Island Queen was the first blog-worthy pub.

I wasn’t intending it to be a pub visit night, or a pub visit week for that matter.  But when Prem called and said we should grab a beer, and said he knew a place I would love, I couldn’t say no.

Like many of the best historic pubs in London, The Island Queen seems to be recently restored and it has a certain period boozer charm.  A few chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, floor-to-ceiling windows up front, and plenty of dark wood gives this place plenty of personality.

I had two pints, the first a decent dark porter called Black Horse Porter from the White Horse brewery.  The taste of this porter is superb, rich roasted malts give real depth and body to the beer whilst there is a nice hint of dark fruits which add a little tartness without making the beer in anyway fruity or overly sweet. There is a long dry finish and a really surprising kick of hops which really makes this porter sin.  The other was Czech beer called Kozel, a fine lager that will go well with masala peanuts (now only if I can find a place that server both).  The two pints ran me about £6, and the walk to The Island Queen was a little wet.  A perfect way to begin the new year for a beer drinker in London!

Pub #6: Princess Louise, Holborn, Dec 17, 2010

Princess Louise on High Holborn has to be the most unique pub I’ve ever come across.  The layout has to be seen to be fully comprehended.  The front of the pub has 4 doors that lead to 6 or 7 different bar areas, which are actually “booths” surrounded by intricate etched glass and painted tiles.  In the middle is a long, island bar that is surrounded by another bar that separates customers from bar-tenders.  I’m guessing the separation probably has something to do with social barriers in Victorian London.

The only beer available here is Sam Smith, which many reviews on the web call mediocre, but I call it snooty reviewers dissing inexpensive beer.  The £1.99 Old Brewery Bitter is decent, and the £2.41 Sam Smith Stout is fantastic.  A light aroma of roasted malts and just a hint of chocolate blended in makes this a supremely drinkable beer.

I got here around 5pm on a Friday evening, perhaps the worst time to visit this pub, since it’s located on the busy High Holborn.  The pub was pretty full when I got there and only got fuller by 6:30.  If I revisit this pub, it will have to be on an slow afternoon where I can enjoy a few quiet hours tasting beers and enjoying conversations.

Pub #5: The Famous Cock Tavern, Islington, Dec 15, 2010

I figured I should spend a little more time visiting pubs in the local area.  Also, I’m lazy and don’t want to spend £4-5 to travel to a pub in other parts of London.  So these excuses, and the fact that I was walking by it on the way home, compelled me to stop at The Famous Cock.   The pub is on the corner of Holloway Road and Upper St, right by the Highbury & Islington Underground station.   I’ve walked by it several times and always peered in cautiously.  A sign about a beer garden in the back seemed inviting, but it is very obviously a home for football (Arsenal) fans, as the pub is always advertising upcoming games.

It was a rare sunny Wednesday afternoon in London and I was walking back home from Angel and I stopped in at a whim.  The pub was calm, because of the lack of a football game that day and the fact that it was about 330pm in the middle of the week.   Some easy, adult contemporary rock music was playing from the jukebox and the few flat-screen TVs were tuned to Sky Sports.  There was just a single bar man attending to about a dozen people bar tabs, serving food, clearing up, and generally looking over worked!

There selection of beers included a pretty generic British ales and the imports.  I got a pint of Young’s bitter for £3.45, so the places isn’t cheap.   But it is fine local establishment to visit, when nothing exciting is going on.

Pub #4: North Pole, Canary Wharf, Dec 9, 2010

The North Pole took a little extra effort to locate.  But that’s what makes this local Docklands pub special.  It is barely a 10 minute walk from the busy Canary Wharf tube station (and ever closer to the DLR), but unless one knows a pub is located there, one isn’t going to find it.

It is tucked away in a corner and the narrow door blends in with the rest of the of the exterior decor, especially when the sun’s gone down.  The proprietor was very friendly and broke off a conversation he was having as soon as Reva and I entered to greet us a smile and ask what we’d like.  Oh, this is also the first of the 100 pubs that I visited with Reva.

The inside of the pub is nothing special, with a simple (and some would consider tacky) country themed decor that would seem well suited for any English country-side pub.  A log-fire was crackling in one corner of the room, giving the inside a very warm and homely atmosphere.  We went to the pub around 7:00 PM on a Thursday evening, and there was a good mix of locals and a few suits from the nearby banks/law firms.

I didn’t notice a food menu, but that doesn’t detract from the overall likability of the place.  In fact, if they did have a menu, I’d probably avoid trying anything.  The beer selection wasn’t anything special either, with the usual selection of European imports and a few English ales.  I had the Landlord, one of my usual favourites, for £3.25.  Overall, a very nice local pub and one to keep keep in mind if one is trying to avoid the usual chain pubs and their crowds in the wharf.


Pub #3: Cittie of Yorke, Holborn, Nov 27, 2010

Having read about the Cittie of Yorke in several places, including on Tasty Fever, I decided I must visit it.  As pubs go, it has one the best interiors I have seen.  The back bar has high sloped ceilings with wooden rafters, stained glass windows, a long wooden bar, huge beer barrels balanced above it, bulbous lights hanging from the ceiling and cozy looking booths skirted by wood arches. All this makes the pub exactly what I image an 1800’s London drinking houses looking like (save the electric lights, of course).  Awkwardly though, there was a Deal-or-No-Deal video game machine in one corner that looks very out of place amongst the magnificent interior.

From the outside, you would be forgiving for not thinking it is a pub worth visiting.  A long corridor as you enter makes you wonder what you’re in for.  The only brew served is Sam Smith, and I found their stout very enjoyable.  The pricing of pints are strange though – the Extra Stout was £2.41 and the Mountain Larger £2.87.  I will have to find other Sam Smith breweries soon to try the others.  I didn’t visit the front bar or the cellar kitchen, which is another excuse for me to go back.

I stopped in around 3:00 PM on a Friday afternoon and the place was very quiet, with just one large group of what seemed like students, at the back.  By 5:00 PM though, it was packed with the office crowd, which is to be expected.

According to the interwebs, a public house of some form has stood at this site since 1430. This history makes visiting London’s drinking houses all the more enjoyable.  At a place like this, a little imagination is all it takes to conjure up a roaring fireplace inside, horses tied up outside while their masters bartered stories while drinking ale from a big, wooden mug.

Pub #2: The Blackfriar, Blackfriars Bridge, Nov 10, 2010

The second stop on my quest to visit a 100 London pubs and write about them was The Blackfriar.  This historic pub (over a 100 years old) stands on the site of a former Dominican Friary.  One end of the building is has a triangular edge, which makes it impossible to miss.

The pub was recommended by Ben, who promised me I’d love the place.  I wasn’t disappointed.  We met there at 8:00 PM on a Wednesday night and there weren’t too many other patrons, which was nice.  The interior is beautiful, with intricately carved wood and marble depicting friars and much more.

Ben and I tried the 4 ales that were available on tap and I particularly enjoyed the Lord Marple.  The other three were London Pride, Landlord, and Hookey Gold.  Since we were there at dinner time, I also tried a “famous British pie”.  The only vegetarian option was the Lentil and Cashew nut tart, which was also really good.

Unfortunately I only had my Nexus One with me so the pictures I have aren’t great.  Next time, I will have to remember to carry the dSLR.

Starting my own 100 pubs mission

Inspired by @abandonedlondon‘s 100 Pubs Project, I decided to start a similar mission of my own.  What better way to get to know London than through its pubs? It also helps that I love beer.  I would walk a 100 miles to to try a new beer, and walk a 100 more to drink a pint with a friend.   Hyperbole aside, my fondness for beer goes back to the first drink I had after turning 21 (yes, I was 21!) during my Ann Arbor summer.  Living in Philadelphia for so many years was a treat for a beer-aficionado with plenty of specialist brew pubs and micro-breweries in the area.  I once brewed my own beer, that I like to say looked like a nicely poured Guinness but tasted like a Bud Light.

I like to experiment with beers and will go out of a my way to try a new one, so now living in Europe (and specifically London) is a dream come true for a beer lover.  I’ve already been to several pubs and tried many ales, but only now decided that documenting my visits on my blog will be a worthwhile exercise and experience. Plus it gives me something to look forward to during my unemployment.

For the purposes of this “mission” (I will be calling it a mission so as to not directly copy Doreen’s title) I will attempt to visit 100 pubs over the next few months and drink at least a pint of beer/ale/bitter/brew.  If I’m feeling spendy, I might get some food too (altho British food…not so much).  I will also write about my visit and hopefully have a picture or three to remember the visit by.  So without further ado, up next is a post about pub # 1.