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

    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.

  9. pro­fes­sor pie ‑tin found crap beer at the Hol­born Whip­pet now that does sur­prise me.

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