“Kids running round screaming”

There’s a long-running graffiti debate on a cubicle wall in the toilets at the Pembury Tavern in Hackney, East London — some day, I’ll transcribe the whole thing.

One comment blames the pub’s “downfall” from an apparent heyday in the 1980s on “bearded CAMRA members”, which has prompted someone else to reply:

“No, not the CAMRA c***s — the f*****g child-friendly c***s.”

That’s just one bit of evidence of how angry the subject of children makes some people. Angry in an English way, that is. No-one says anything or complains — they just sit rolling their eyes and tutting. In Britain, there really does seem still to be a belief that kids should be “seen and not heard”, hence the ultimate passive-aggressive sign, popular in pubs a few years ago:

Quiet children welcome.”

Let’s translate that:

“Children who behave like children not really welcome.”

Why should kids have to stay at home? Or, worse, sit on the step outside with a Panda Pop waiting for their parents to emerge? Or, worse again, sit in the pub in absolute silence, bored to death, in case they annoy a nearby curmudgeon and embarrass their parents? I don’t have kids of my own, but I don’t find it hard just to ignore them. I just concentrate on having a nice time with my friends, engage in a conversation, read a book, or whatever, and soon forget they’re there.

Sometimes, it’s even nice to have them around — like in the Pembury, in fact, which can be a little sterile otherwise.

Barcelona Brew Pub

Blackboard in Barcelona brewpub Beer Nut and several others have been there before us, but we had to try out Barcelona’s two brew-pubs, starting with Cervesera Artesana.

As a place to hang out, it was perfect — lively, but not crowded, and very friendly. And it’s always nice to see the brewing kit on site.

But what about the beer? There were four on tap: wheat, honey, black and “tostada” (brown ale, basically). All four were interesting, and all four were served way too cold. Once they’d warmed up a bit, we were able to taste them better.

Wheat — peculiar, being thin and rather lemony, with an almost lambic quality — but, at the end of the day, quite pleasant and refreshing.

Honey — again, thin, but not unlike various (nondescript) summer ales we’ve had in the UK, without an overpowering honey taste.

Black — now we’re talking — American porter-like, with a massive amount of hop flavour and bitterness. Cascades?

Tostada — the best of the bunch, and the most popular with the regulars. Again, tons of hop aroma and flavour, and a lovely red colour. Not the best beer in the world, but certainly one of the better beers in Spain…

Sadly, the enticing sounding Iberian pale ale (IPA) and Iberian stout weren’t on.

Nice place (singular) to drink near Paddington Station

On my way down to the West Country last night, I ended up stuck at Paddington Station for a few hours. London stations are generally horrid, and pubs in London stations are both horrid and depressing. The Mad Bishop and Bear at Paddington made a refreshing change in that it was actually pretty good.

Not just “good for a station”, but better than a lot of other ordinary pubs in London. It’s not the kind of place you’d want to spend a long Sunday lunchtime — the noise and smoke from the station are annoying, and the music is too loud — but it’s fairly big and comfortable, unlike the usual cupboard with three chairs (viz. the Mash Tun at Victoria, if that’s its name).

Perhaps part of the reason why it’s a cut above is that it’s a Fuller’s pub, with the full range of their beers, all in tip-top condition. Like Maieb says, the stuff in bottles looked a bit cold, but the stuff from the cask was great. I had a very pleasant pint of Seafarer (“fake” Gales, 3.8% — malty, dark, and very different to Chiswick, Fuller’s other session bitter) but was excited to see St Austell Tribute on the pumps too, and Brooklyn Lager in the fridge.

Perhaps most importantly, though, there is an enormous departures and arrivals board hanging over the door, so rather than join the scrum on the concourse, I could just sup my pint and wait until the last possible moment to board the train. Lovely.

I say “fake” Gales because the brewery doesn’t exist anymore, and Gales never brewed this particular beer when it did exist. Odd.

Weird cider/beer hybrid

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The latest issue of Marketing magazine brings news of the launch of an appalling-sounding half-beer/half-cider chimera from one of the big international brewers. It’s made with cider, barley malt and “sparkling water”. I can’t be bothered to give this foul-sounding product any publicity by naming it… so I won’t.

The interesting thing is that they claim to have devised the product based on research which shows that a significant number of women “don’t like beer and distrust the quality of wine in bars”.

For one thing, I’m not sure that the logical conclusion from that research is: “I bet those same women would just love a weird cider-beer hybrid!”

But I’d also observe, paraphrasing their line, that there are many people of both genders who “don’t like wine, and distrust the quality of real ale in pubs”, which explains the popularity of bland lagers and Guinness in the UK. Too often, the choice is between a corporate product which is boring but consistent, and a “real” product which stinks, tastes bad and looks bad because it’s not been well looked after. You can’t blame people for going down the bland route when that’s the choice.

In both cases, the solution is probably campaigning to improve the quality of the wine, beer, cider, whisky or whatever, in bars and pubs.

One way to do that would be for CAMRA to make the criteria for getting into their Good Beer Guide slightly more strict. At the moment, as far as I can tell, it lists every pub with any kind of cask ale on offer, although they say “only pubs with a consistently high standard of real ale are considered for entry”. Sadly, my experience has been that quite a few unwelcoming, grotty, smelly pubs get in because they’ve got an old, rank cask of Greene King IPA on one pump at the bar.

Beer bars in Brussels: Chez Moeder Lambic and A La Mort Subite

Isn’t it funny how bad reviews of a place can influence you much more than good reviews? You can have a page of excellent reviews, and yet one bad review will give you serious second thoughts about whether to go.

Both Chez Moeder Lambic and A La Mort Subite seem to suffer from a few negative comments about the service. Not quite sure why, as we had a great time in both and have no complaints about service or anything else.

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First CML. This is a very small bar out in the “St Gilles” region of Brussels. It’s actually only about 5 minutes on the Metro system from Gare du Midi. Directions below, once again courtesy of Andreea. It has around 200 beers in bottles and around 7-8 on tap. No food other than several types of Belgian cheese (served with bread). We think cheese is a perfect snack to beer so we were more than satisfied.

It’s dark and cozy, and we found it very friendly. It wasn’t busy until about 10:30 (though this may be because an August weekend in Brussels is very quiet indeed!). The bar staff seemed happy to offer recommendations, and warned us about the Brussels cheese (it’s very salty and smelly).

We also loved the decor – it’s a real temple of beer, with hundreds of beer bottles, adverts etc tucked into its tiny interior. Also, less congruously, loads of mouldy comics in the windows. Fabulous place. Definitely recommended.

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A La Mort Subite is cavernous by contrast. We almost didn’t go – freshly sore from the Restobieres experience, the idea of more rudeness / bad service didn’t appeal. Plus it was very busy. However, we did go, and we loved it.

Firstly, it’s really beautifully decorated – allegedly the original 1928 decor. We couldn’t stop taking pictures (no doubt contributing to its “touristy” reputation in the meantime!)

Our waitresses were both extremely friendly and attentive, so absolutely no complaints about service.

The beer selection is not huge (probably around 30 beers?) but a lot of these are on tap and in excellent condition. I had a couple of beers here that I’d previously not been impressed by – Chimay triple and Mort Subite Geueze – both of which tasted much fresher and tastier than I’d remembered.

This isn’t the place for the serious beer geek wanting to sample Belgian obscurities. However, it’s a lovely place to hang out for a few hours drinking good quality Belgian brew.

Notes

  1. Chez Moeder Lambic is at Rue de Savoie 68, 1060 Brussels. To get there, take the Metro / Pre-Metro to Horta. (The “Pre-Metro” is an underground tram). Once at Horta, left out the station down the hill to the crossroads / roundabout, left and left again so you’re going up a road almost parallel to the one you came down. You should see a huge municipal building at the top. Cross to the right hand side of the car park, and CML is about 10 metres further on (look out for the red neon sign)
  2. A La Mort Subite is at Montagne-aux-Herbes Potagères 7, in the middle of town, around 5 minutes walk from the Grand Place. There’s a map on their website.