Distinctly lacking in lustre

Fuller's Traitors' Gate Pumpclip.

Now we think of it, lustre is a good word for that elusive ‘magic’ that can make a pint of beer especially enjoyable, and it’s certainly a classier term than ‘zing‘. We’ve just spent several days in London for research purposes and, because the research dictated where we drank, we experienced what you might call a Tandlemanian interlude, finding lustre, zing or whatever you want to call it, in short supply.

Arriving late on Tuesday, we went to the first pub near our hotel to catch a couple of pints before closing time. There were a few ‘craft beer’ signifiers — trendy new breweries on the keg fonts, bottled foreign beer, weird wallpaper — but, within five minutes, we’d been served a kegged British lager well past its best and a pint of warm, lifeless stout. Nothing we tried — even beers we know are good — tasted right. We left wishing we hadn’t bothered.

On Wednesday, we had a few beers with CAMRA founder Michael Hardman at his choice of venue, a Wetherspoons in central London, handy for his train home. Michael found one of his favourites to drink and stuck with it, though it wasn’t to our taste. Instead, we tried almost every other cask ale on offer, eventually deciding that the Adnams Explorer was pretty good, especially compared to the knackered, buttery Greene King IPA and various burnt-toast flavoured novelty Christmas ales.

On Thursday, we met a big party of mates most of whom prefer ‘normal pubs’ without ‘weird beer’, that aren’t ‘in the middle of nowhere’. We sneakily suggested the Wheatsheaf, which was once Becky’s Dive Bar, so that at least we could get a proper look at the place and try to soak up the atmosphere. It still pongs a bit, especially towards the back, and, again, we slogged through several warm, worn-out, slightly vinegary cask ales, growing increasingly miserable as we did so. One particularly charmless brew tasted like nail-varnish remover. (Though Michael Hardman told us that Becky’s beer was always dreadful, so perhaps this was a fairly authentic experience?)

On Friday, we had the same dilemma, with a different bunch of mates, and so ended up at Ye Olde Watling, erstwhile City of London base for the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood. The pub is pleasant enough, and Bow Lane is incredibly cute, especially at this time of year, but the beer… well, we’re getting tired of writing about tired beer, but you get the idea. Let’s just say that neither Adnams or St Austell are being done any favours by the way their beer is served in this pub.

It wasn’t until the last leg of the trip, waiting at Paddington to come home to Cornwall, that we had a pint which set the heavenly choruses singing: Fuller’s Traitors’ Gate at the Mad Bishop and Bear. That was followed by the best pints of London Pride and ESB we’ve had in some time — bright-tasting, clean, popping with flavour in every corner of the mouth and away down the throat. It was a relief, to be honest, as we were beginning to think it might be our tired palates.

Next time we’re in London, research be damned: good beer will come first.

16 thoughts on “Distinctly lacking in lustre”

  1. Nothing worse then building yourself up to a weekend of superb beer to have it dashed by lack lustre offerings and don’t get me started on Christmas novelty beers…

    Btw, “Tandlemanian Inteude” love it
    Cheers

    1. That’s exactly what got to us: it shouldn’t take research and ‘in the loop’ knowledge to find a good pint of mainstream beer in a nice looking pub.

    2. I would say the experience of going in random pubs (but ones you have some expectation of being decent) is better in other parts of the country than you and Tandleman describe in London.

      Prof Pie-Tie has a point about the transient nature of customers and bar staff removing much of the incentive to improve standards.

      The same is true of some of the obvious tourist honeypots in holiday resorts.

  2. Was the Wetherspoon the one by Baker Street? The description almost perfectly matches my experience there on Friday morning, down to the selection of beers. It’s often really poor in there.

      1. Explorer and the Xmas ales were still on on Friday lunchtime, so that’s what gave it away :) It’s a lovely building, but the beer is often tired. The one next to Liverpool Street is good, as is the huge one down Bishopsgate, in my experience.

  3. Glad you had some good beer at Paddington. I usually stop in for a pint before getting a train back out west. It’s usually in tip-top condition. I’ve had fantastic guests in there as well as the Fuller’s offering including one of the best pints of Tribute I’ve ever had.

    Shame it’s not really anyone’s local, as you’ve found, you can do a hell of a lot worse in London.

  4. i think you should research which London pubs are good before you come to London rather than trying the tourist approach.I am not in anyway defending London pubs bad beer is bad beer wherever you get it .still, you will have been impressed with the cheap prices. cheers

  5. Just got back from a most enjoyable day out in London. Has some cracking beer, none of it cask, including Pilsner & Black Lager in Zero Degrees Blackheath, Pilsner & Oktoberfest in Meantime Old Brewery Greenwich and some quite tasty Krombacher at Zeitgeist, near Vauxhall station. The weather was cold, but bright and sunny, and we enjoyed a very pleasant walk through Greenwich Park and down to the river, before catching the DLR and tube into Central London.

    Normally I would drink cask, but sometimes it pays to experiment a little and try something different. I’m glad we did. Sorry to read your experience was not as good. I have experienced the same sort of thing in the past and sometimes it’s just down to shere bad luck.

  6. I think part of the problem is that many Central London pubs have both transient drinkers and bar staff – neither of whom appear to give a toss about the quality of beer that’s on offer.

    I recently paid an eagerly-awaited visit to the Holbon Whippet after viewing its website and reading some reviews all of which were positive.

    I found what appeared to be a mini All Bar One created out of what looked like a just-vacated Topshop with crap beer and uninterested staff.

    4 ‘o’clock in the afternoon and they hadn’t even bothered to wipe down the tables from the lunchtime trade.

    Youngs Bitter, which used to be fantastically consistent, is more often than not dreadful these days and even the usually reliable Fullers varies hugely in quality.

    As much as some sandalistas deride keg craft beer whenever I drink it in the States it’s always in top condition.

  7. I’ve just returned from a weekend in London to meet up with friends and managed to annoy them quite a lot by insisting, this time, that we all
    meet in a pub I’d read loads about rather than our usual. This pub’s location wasn’t convenient to any of us, yet I assured them it would be worth it.

    The beer was…all right. But the place was full of too-cool-for-school idiots in skinny jeans and ironic hats, there was nowhere to sit and it was freezing. Really really freezing.

    We stayed with our coats on for one drink then moved on, to a pub which, I announced to my friends, had an ‘excellent reputation’. Again, the beer (from the pub’s own brewery) was OK and it was nice to try something different, but it wasn’t mind blowing and not particularly worth the effort.

    By this time my friends were scowling at me, so we got on the tube and went to the pub where we normally meet for a sit down, a chat, some well kept decent beer and some chips. Which is what we should have done all along.

    The problem with going to cities you don’t often visit is that there’s a tendency to get overexcited. Research before you go generates a huge list of pubs and beers to try in a short space of time and logic and comfort goes out of the window. It’s far more important to spend quality time in a quality pub with people you like, rather than rushing around visiting places touted as the next big thing just so you can cross them off the list. So my friends tell me, anyway.

  8. London’s the sort of place where I let other people make the mistakes and I learn from them. Sounds cynical but there’s just too many pubs and too little money in my bank account to experiment on a grand scale with a try your luck approach – much as I love discovering new pubs.

    I was in London last week and went to 10 pubs – every single one “spot on” and with great beers, well served. Of course they were all well researched before hand and to this extent maybe I was being unadventurous – but I didn’t leave any pub feeling underwhelmed and livibng up north means that I don’t get as often as I want to in these pubs anyway.

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