Pub

After-work Pubs: Part 1

More fun at More London

Nearest Station: London Bridge

Elephant-tastic

Elephant-tastic

Everyone enjoys a cheeky pint or a flirty glass of wine after work, no? You know how it is: you get a group of you from work, you head down to your usual post-work watering hole (“the meeting room downstairs”, as my current company calls it), and you all have a natter and a couple of drinks and then head on your merry ways – unless, of course, it’s a Wednesday, Thursday or Friday night, or any other night of the working week, and things escalate and get messy, and you end up partying hard. Andrew WK HARD.

Thing is, that pub or wine bar you always head to every time someone proposes a drink? Unless you happen to work somewhere really cool and trendy, you would probably never, ever frequent your local watering hole in any other circumstances, because either a) it’s crap b) it’s where your colleagues/directors hang out c) it’s always crowded or d) it’s bloody pricey. No matter how much you avoid it otherwise, inevitably, you always find yourself there, putting up with it until that time when it’s safe to resume your life elsewhere.

BUT: what if you had a choice? What if you were able to propose another location, just to “mix things up a bit”, to “bring something new to the table”, to find somewhere else just that bit less odious etc. etc.? Well, this new series of reviews is just for you. It does not profess to be comprehensive – it is purely based on where I’ve had the chance to go to for my after-work drinks during my potted career around London. It does not profess to offer magical places of alcoholic delight – some locations are just lacking  in good choices, but we just have to shut up and put up with what we have.

So, first off, we’re going to that God-forsaken No Man’s Land: south of the river (I jest, but only because I’m a south Londoner now). More specifically, I’m talking about that stretch between London Bridge and Tower Bridge, including the More London development.

Now, my office and team were pretty small, so I did not necessarily drink with my colleagues as such, but I still arranged to meet with friends and my girlfriend at the time at some of the local establishments for a refreshing, winding down/pumping up drink. Here are some of the places I used to hit up:

Horniman at Hays

Hays Galleria, SE1 2HD, 020 7407 1991, http://www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/thehornimanathayslondonbridge/

Dark woods, chandeliers and ales. Sourced from Horniman at Hays website

Dark woods, chandeliers and ales. Sourced from Horniman at Hays website

This Nicholson’s pub has quite a few great things going for it: riverside location with a sizeable terrace, a rather large and characterful interior, an excellent and ever-changing range of guest ales and, previously, not bad prices. It’s great for sipping a pint of ale by the river, watching the sun set over the City, and having a natter with friends. The food’s pretty decent too, if you’re looking for something British and hearty.

Unfortunately, all of these positives do mean that the place can get horrifically busy in the immediate post-work crush. As in, elbows-out-sorry-don’t-mind-me-as-I-slip-and-slide-my-way-across-your-chest/back-and-inadvertently-fondle-you-with-my-beverage busy. Service does tend to be brisk at the bar though, seeing as they’re mainly pouring pints or glasses of wine, meaning you never have to wait too long.

On the flipside, the crowd does mean that it can be quite a lively place, good enough for getting you buzzing again after a hard day at the office. This is especially true in summer, when the crowds can comfortably spill out to the riverside and enjoy the fresh air.

Typical riverside views from the Horniman at Hays

Typical riverside views from the Horniman at Hays

I do miss being able to go to this pub more frequently. I am just about due a free pint from their discontinued loyalty card scheme – maybe I should see if I can go claim it.

VERDICT – A good place. Decent pub in a great setting. Sort yourself out with a pint of one of their guest ales, grab a table outside and enjoy the view over the Thames. Just bear in mind that everyone else is probably thinking the same thing.

The Mudlark

Montague Close, SE1 9DA, 020 7403 7364, http://www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/themudlarklondonbridge/

Traditional beers on offer, as the ceiling goes. Ha! Sourced from Mudlark website

Traditional beers on offer, as the ceiling goes. Ha! Sourced from Mudlark website

A mudlark is someone who goes scavenging in river mud for any items of value – which, if you strike lucky, can be quite lucrative sometimes – but you certainly won’t find any in this pub, especially not of the traditional type. It’d be a bit smelly if you did get them coming in, so it’s no big loss.

What you get instead is another Nicholson’s pub with lots of character (imparted by heavy wooden beams and pillars supporting a white-washed brick ceiling) and a decent range of guest ales. Nicholson’s seem to do pretty well on guest ales and on ensuring their pubs look like they have lots of tradition and history behind them which, as far as pubs go, is quite a good thing. You expect a pub to have some history and character, otherwise what’s the point? Especially in an area as historic as Southwark, you want something that’s reflective of the surroundings.

But enough on that. What’s it like to drink at the Mudlark? I’ve always managed to find space to sit down, no matter how busy it got – either in the rather cosy interior or in the equally cosy courtyard outside. Cosy it may have been, but it’s not cheek-by-jowl cosy, so you can still have those intimate conversations. However, it can get a bit loud inside, but not deafeningly so, allowing for you to sit/stand around with colleagues in awkward silence not because you can’t hear them but because you don’t have anything in common with them.

So what I quite enjoyed doing with friends was coming here, having a pint and then following it up with a pie. The pies at the Mudlark are pretty decent and substantial for what they are, and will give you that wonderful warming feeling that is vital for survival in these cold winter months.

Pies, pies and more pies

Pies, pies and more pies

I still pop here if I am meeting with a friend in the London Bridge area – as it’s just around the corner from the station, it’s a perfect meeting spot before heading on home to New Cross.

VERDICT – A good place. Another characterful pub set in decent environs, with a good selection of ales and food that does satisfy. Despite its small size, there always seems to be enough space to squeeze a group in, which just adds to the busy and buzzing atmosphere. And as a stopping point before the rest of the evening, it’s perfect – down your pint, and away you go through London Bridge station.

 

The Shipwrights Arms

88 Tooley Street, SE1 2TF, 020 7378 1486, http://www.shipwrightsarms.co.uk/

Just so you know what it looks like from the outside. Sourced from The Shipwrights Arms website

Just so you know what it looks like from the outside. Sourced from The Shipwrights Arms website

Now this is a pub I did not frequent as often as the Horniman or the Mudlark, even though it was closer to the office.

According to their website, the pub was built in 1884 and still maintains its original tiled murals (ahh see, there we go – the history). Another feature which they’re quite proud of, and which does distinguish it from other bars and pubs in the area, is the high-ceilinged, cavernous space inside, within which the island bar in the middle seems rather dwarfed. It makes it feel rather roomier than it actually is – the place does get busy, presumably from the More London crowd situated just across the road.

The only times I’ve been have been during summer, so standing outside on the pavement in the sunshine has been pretty alright and certainly much more preferable to staying indoors.

So what is it about the Shipwrights Arms that meant I did not go there that frequently? There was no real particular reason, but perhaps there was a first impression that was formed in a very superficial fashion: the clientele there seems to be very male-dominated. Speaking as someone who has worked in the City and now Canary Wharf, to criticise a place for being male-dominated now sounds a bit rich of me… but I guess I like places that seem to offer a wide appeal, not that there’s anything particularly about The Shipwrights Arms itself that necessarily disadvantages itself in that manner any more than the other places. And certainly, the crowd doesn’t seem intimidating whatsoever. It’s just a, you know, standard pub.

Ah well. If you do find yourself at The Shipwrights Arms, you’re not doing too badly. There are far, far worse places to find yourself for a cheeky pint after work.

VERDICT – An okay experience. It’s a standard pub that has some distinctive features. It never struck me as being the most attractive and appealing place to go to, but that hasn’t stopped me from popping in there every now and then. And that’s probably what it’s good for – an occasional change from the usual watering hole. Certainly doesn’t do any harm.

Currently listening to: Andrew WK – Party Hard

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It’s time to get to know your neighbours: getting local at the Royal Albert

Cuisine: British

Address: 460 New Cross Road, SE14 6TJ

Area: New Cross

Nearest Station: New Cross

Tel.: 020 8692 3737

Website: http://www.royalalbertpub.com/

Pricing: Cheap-Medium

Good For: Friendly conversation, Beer selection, Fresh ingredients, Loitering over drinks

It was Star Wars Day recently, if you were unaware – “May the Fourth be with you” and all that – and for some people it was quite a big deal.

My brother told me that he found this awesome pub in our neighbourhood, and that they had been hosting a Star Wars party to celebrate the day.

“How come we’ve never been to The Royal Albert before??”

“Well, truth be told, I have been there a couple of times, and have told you about it before…”

“Oh, really?”

It’s funny how information, no matter how many times shared, is often passed over and only becomes important to you when it becomes relevant. I’ve been exploring around New Cross and Deptford a fair bit, but when I tell my friends and my brother about the places I’ve been to, I can see it doesn’t really register – they don’t have a particular need to come to New Cross and go to these places because, well, they probably have their own favourite locals and when they do come to New Cross they usually just hang out at ours.

The mean streets of New Cross, as seen from the Royal Albert's terrace out front

The mean streets of New Cross/Deptford, as seen from the Royal Albert’s terrace out front

But we had some friends over that day for a chilled (and chilly) barbecue; as the evening wore on we decided to mix things up a bit by heading on over to The Royal Albert for a nightcap (and a listen to their folk music evening).

It’s a very atmospheric pub with many what seem to be original Victorian fittings around, giving the place an eclectic and busy character. The mood lighting was just a bit dim, but we were still able to navigate our way safely through the comfy chairs to a table in the corner which had its own jungle surrounding it. By the looks of it, this was also the setting for Yoda’s Love Den the night of the Star Wars party; who knows what happened here then…

"Come into my den you will, mmmm"

“Come into my den you will, mmmm”

The folk music and other ambient sounds were not too loud, allowing for some good ol’ chattage to take place.

Anyway, the selection of beer that they have is pretty extensive and constantly rotating – it was a completely different line up to what I had had previously with other friends. So, this is definitely a place for ale experimentation, something of which I am a big fan of. Unfortunately, it being somewhat late in the evening, my memory of which pints I had is somewhat hazy…

I did get a chance to go again the very next day with my brother and some others, for our very first Royal Albert Monday night pub quiz. As far as quizzes go, it was a rather ‘eccentric’ one – with a paper airplane round, a drawing round, a first-up-with-the-answer round – and quite fun. The questions were a good mix of straightforward and challenging; it was just a shame that there was another team that was smashing those questions (grrr).

But now to food. In the run-up to the quiz, I was feeling just a bit peckish and so elected for something off their starters menu. The dish lucky enough to be chosen by my good self was a potato salad with spring lamb belly and mango salsa – something seasonal and something a bit different, no? And as luck would have it, I chose very well that day, for not only was it a very sizeable meal but it was also an extremely well-thought out and creative dish.

Spring lamb belly - spring is in the air!

Spring lamb belly – spring is in the air!

Crisp potato pieces paired up with tender and meltingly-soft lamb belly pieces were flavoured with a none-too-sweet mango sauce, which worked surprisingly well together; here was a good balance of flavours and textures that spoke well of the kitchen’s skill here. To further validate this opinion, our friend asked for her tuna steak to be just simply seared – and it was done as requested, leaving the steak pink on the inside.

Unsurprisingly, The Royal Albert is now my brother’s favourite pub in the area. I’m glad he’s finally come on board to the idea.

VERDICT – Highly recommended. The Royal Albert is a great local pub, but it also transcends that and could even be regarded as a destination pub in its own right. With real charm, great food and a dazzling selection of beers on offer, it really should get a bit more attention. It shouldn’t just have to wait for someone to walk by it in order for it to be noticed. Will you be heading to New Cross any time soon?

Currently listening to: Our Lady Peace – Middle of Yesterday

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Gotta get down on Sunday: A roast for you and a roast for me at The Pig & Butcher

Copyright of Pig & Butcher. Sourced from Pig & Butcher website

Copyright of Pig & Butcher. Sourced from Pig & Butcher website

Cuisine: British

Address: 80 Liverpool Street, N1 0QD

Area: Angel

Nearest Station: Angel/Highbury & Islington

Tel.: 020 7226 8304

Website: http://www.thepigandbutcher.co.uk/

Pricing: Medium

Good For: Buzzing atmosphere, Filling meal, Smart-casual dining, Beer selection

“The earliest booking I can get for Sunday Roast is 6pm,” my friend’s message read. This was a perfectly good time for an early dinner – but as a lunch (which was the original intention), this was somewhat pushing it a bit.

The Pig & Butcher in Islington is a popular place, no doubt about it. It was heaving with people by the time I got there, and so it was a struggle to get through the closely-packed tables and the pressing crowd to meet my friend at the bar.

The atmosphere was buzzing, to say the least. The sounds of a thousand conversations reverberated off the wooden panelling, the wooden floor, the wooden fixtures and the wooden furniture, making for an exciting feel but also a bit of loud environment for talking. This was a bit of a shame, as there was a lot of catching up that needed doing.

As we waited at our booth for the others to arrive, I was able to sample the very extensive beer list and display some ale snobbery (I am such a sucker for these). The Hackney Brewery Golden Ale was a good choice, being suited for lovely spring evening – not too bitter, with a rounding and warming flavour that enveloped my tongue in a slight hint of sweetness. Now that I read that last sentence, my gosh doesn’t that sound pretentious? If I ever start carrying around a spitting bucket, please do feel free to slap me.

In any case, the pretentiousness was not allowed to blossom, as the rest of the crew arrived and we got down to the business of ordering. Sunday Roasts all around – what else could it be on a Sunday?

Roast beef - all juiced and raring to go

Roast beef – all juiced and raring to go

I managed to get a good glimpse of a friend’s roast beef, as it was mistakenly placed in front of my salivating eyes. As you can see from the photo, it looked ridiculously juicy and almost creamy looking – it was an enticingly pink colour all throughout, but still had a tasty-looking charred exterior. As it was taken away and given to the right recipient, I could feel the food envy building…

Roast lamb - meek and mild

Roast lamb – meek and mild

But as my roast lamb arrived, the envy dissipated and was replaced with pride. Again, pink all throughout, with a layer of charred fat and skin looking extremely juicy and devilish. But whilst the lamb was juicy and really flavourful, I did find it a bit chewier than expected – it wasn’t as melt-in-the-mouth as other lamb I have had, and so it did put my jaw to work. As for the vegetables, they were cooked just right and had a satisfying bite to them, but could have done with just a smidgen of seasoning to liven them up a bit (my family’s local in Surrey actually goes the extra mile and has a selection of maple-glazed vegetables, usually parsnips, carrots and squash, with lightly-pickled red cabbage). However, the potatoes were superbly crispy, and the Yorkshire pudding was fluffy, doughy and crunchy, all at the same time.

Feeling the food envy come back, I desired to try the beef and so managed to swap some lamb with a friend – and yes, that small mouthful of beef was as good as it first looked. Perhaps next time I will have to go for that.

Surprisingly, we were not all completely stuffed with those hefty roasts: there was still space for dessert! Or some dessert at least – there were six of us sharing three desserts (the girls were watching their petite waist lines; me, not so much).

A sweet way to end the day

A sweet way to end the day

We had the parkin with toffee sauce and clotted cream (a luxurious sticky toffee-type pudding without the dates; the clotted cream added good richness to the slightly-thin caramel sauce), the apple & rhubarb crumble with vanilla ice cream (lots of crumble which I always enjoy, along with soft and sweet apples and rhubarb) and what I think was the malted chocolate mousse with hazelnut praline and milk sorbet (I remember this less well, as it was at the far end of the table).

It was, all in all, a leisurely (and very) late Sunday Roast lunch, perfect for a group of friends to meet and catch up over. We therefore rolled our way out of the Pig & Butcher, big and contented smiles on our faces, ready to face the oncoming night and the dreary Monday morning that it heralded.

VERDICT – A good place. It had a nice feel about it, as befitting a rustic city pub in the middle of classy Islington, and the busy atmosphere definitely contributed to the vibe (if you don’t mind the noise, at least). It was a good solid Sunday Roast, which whilst not the best I’ve had, would be more than enough to tempt people out of their homes and away from their own home-cooked versions. It’s definitely a place to check out for the rest of the week.

Currently listening to: Our Lady Peace – Middle of Yesterday

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Two Stones, One Dog: The Dogfather at The Sun & 13 Cantons

Copyright of The Dogfather. Sourced from The Dogfather website

Cuisine: Hot Dogs

Address: Usually North Cross Road Market; two-week residency at The Sun & 13 Cantons, 21 Great Pulteney Street, W1F 9NG (NOW FINISHED)

Area: The Sun & 13 Cantons – Soho

Nearest Station: The Sun & 13 Cantons – Oxford Circus/Piccadilly Circus

Tel.: The Sun & 13 Cantons – 020 7734 0934

Website: http://www.dogfatherdiner.com/, http://www.sunand13cantons.co.uk/

Pricing: The Dogfather – Medium, The Sun & 13 Cantons – Cheap-Medium

Good For: The Dogfather – Lunchtime fix, Filling meal, Interesting toppings. The Sun & 13 Cantons – Loitering over drinks, Friendly conversation, Victorian setting, Natter with mates, After-work drinks

Some time ago, in the not-so distant past but still beyond the mists of memory, I’d heard tales of a brilliant hot dog dispenser going by the name of the Dogfather, who based himself in the relatively unknown – to me, at least – market of North Cross Road. Not being a Londoner at the time, the thought of making a trip into deepest and darkest South London was a bit daunting for me. Now, as a South Londoner, the thought of making a trip into deepest and darkest Dulwich is still just a bit daunting for me. So, when the Egg Boss tweeted that his good friend, the Dogfather, was just about to set up shop for a couple weeks’ residency in November 2012 at the curiously-named Sun and 13 Cantons pub in not so deep and not so dark Soho, I realised that this was my shot for glory.

It was therefore very fortunate that I’d chosen the first Tuesday of the Dogfather’s pop-up to be suit-shopping day on Oxford Street with mia madre. Keen to get more freebies out of her (what a son I am), I suggested that maybe we re-visit her childhood memories of eating copious amounts of hot dogs back in the Philippines by, well, eating hot dogs in Soho.

Now I’d never heard of the Sun and 13 Cantons pub before, but I think that they now have a new customer – thanks going to the Dogfather for getting me through the door. It feels like a typical London inner-city pub, what with the big windows, wooden flooring and high tables and chairs in the main bar. But it’s the addition of a ‘dining area’ of sorts at the back with lots of mirrors and marble-top tables makes this place stand out a bit in my mind. Not only does lots of places to sit = good place for a natter with friends, but I like the Victorian vibe this room really gives off. Should I mention the decent range of beers and the cute bar girls who are happy to chat? Think before I speak? Oh, too late…

The haute dogs on offer

Mia madre chose the Dogfather (chorizo clices [sic], grilled onions, melted mozzarella, roasted red pepper marinara, chopped jalapenos, grated parmesan and a beef dog). I wanted the Slum Dog of which I’d read much about on the internet, but as it was not available that day I settled for the Snoop Dog (streaky bacon, BBQ sauce, cheddar slices, grilled onion, cream corn mayo, green onions, chopped jalapenos and a beef dog). It took some time for them to arrive, even though we were one of the few dining groups there. And when the dogs did arrive, the accompanying fries were just warm and unremarkable. I attributed these timing issues to the teething problems of settling into a new residency i.e. still getting used to a different kitchen/staff etc. (things that a residency is valuable for teaching) but we were still a bit disappointed.

Mr Snoop Dog and his friends the Fries Gang

Now as for the dogs… curiously enough, mia madre declined to offer me a bite of hers, which suggests that she enjoyed it enough to not want to share (more on that later). I similarly enjoyed my Snoop Dog, as all the flavours melded together pretty well, demonstrating excellent teamwork and maximising of strengths. However, the melding also helped to hide the fact that some of the individual components were not quite there in terms of quality: the streaky bacon was the right level of saltiness but not crispiness (my ex was adamant that the only reason streaky bacon existed was to be fried into crispy crunchiness); the cream corn mayo was, in my opinion, rather lightly applied, and by itself did not distinguish itself from any other mayo I’ve had; the bun did the job adequately if not spectacularly; but most importantly, the beef dog in isolation was… okay.

Snoop Dog lookin’ right at ya

By no means was it bad (I can think of many, many worse examples… don’t make me go there), but in the face of competition from the likes of the Big Apple Hot Dogs, I just felt that the beef dog just didn’t really hold its ground. There was just something lacking, a particular spark that would motivate me to make the trek to the Dogfather’s spiritual home in North Cross Road. I would happily have the Snoop Dog again if it were given to me on a plate/camping tray/plank of wood, but if you just handed me the beef dog by itself… oh, I’d still eat it.

Mia madre, after some reflection, came to a similar conclusion, and as an out-of-towner she is even less likely to want to make it over to Dulwich. Which is a bit of a shame, as I wouldn’t mind having her along as a companion for when I try to hunt down the renowned Slum Dog, and see if the Dogfather is really in his prime on his home turf.

VERDICT for The Sun & 13 Cantons – A good place.

VERDICT for The Dogfather – An okay experience.

I enjoyed my lunchtime in the Sun and 13 Cantons, and if I am in the area again I will readily go back there for a drink. As for my first experience of the Dogfather? I did enjoy it, but the hype I’d read about it had given me extremely high expectations which were unfortunately not met; whilst some of it may be down to the teething problems of setting up a residency (but hey, these things are not just great business opportunities but also valuable learning experiences), at the same time the individual ingredients in the Snoop Dog did not wow me. Still, the man has built up enough of a positive reputation, so he must be doing something right. Maybe one of these weekends, when I have the time, I will get down to North Cross Road to dine on the Dogfather’s own terms, on his own turf.

Currently listening to: La Ruda Salska – Du rififi chez les branques

Categories: Hot Dogs, Pub | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments