london pubs

The pleasing perpetuity of the Porterhouse

The Porterhouse used to be good. The other side of a UK ‘craft beer revolution’, and of a pandemic, does it still have what it takes?

Last week I was in London for work and wound up in Covent Garden with a couple of colleagues looking for somewhere to have a drink.

The Porterhouse leapt to mind, mostly because at the moment it’s really difficult to guess where will be busy and where won’t, and The Porterhouse is, if nothing else, enormous.

We also haven’t been for a very long time, and I couldn’t resist the urge to check in and see if this relic from our early beer ticking days was still doing its thing.

It’s interesting to compare my notes with what we wrote almost 15 years ago. Even then, we were describing it with warm nostalgia.

We first drank there in the early noughties, no doubt also for some work do or other, and kept going back.

It was one of the few places in central London you could get German and Belgian beer and we were trying pretty hard to tick Michael Jackson’s 500 Great Beers.

It was ways worth fighting through stags, hens and lads to get to the bar. As we wrote:

…it’s a beer-centred venue which could survive perfectly well if it didn’t bother dishing up any decent beer at all.

And now? Well, it really is much the same – a party pub with a beer list that’s better than it ought to be.

A photo of the paper menu
The beer list at The Porterhouse in January 2022

It’s been updated to reflect current tastes. There are a lot more British IPAs, for example. 

There are now two lager options, Temple Lager and Hammer Pilsner, both of which are more characterful than Chiller ever was. More importantly, they’re also branded to look like they might have been made by a medium-large British craft brewery from about four or five years ago. If you like Camden Hells, you might also like…

I only had limited time, so I skipped the various pale ales and went for continuity. Plain Porter (4.2%) is a really great example of this style – a slightly smoky, easy drinking, toasty beer with a hint of bitterness for a finishing flourish.

Oyster Stout (4.6%) is a little mellower, with a subtle sweetness that suggests richness rather than being cloying.

It takes a lot of work to make a central London business stick – it changes constantly, and always has. But now The Porterhouse has made it past 21 years, perhaps it’ll be there as long as its neighbour, which was founded in 1798.

9 replies on “The pleasing perpetuity of the Porterhouse”

Ah I love that Oyster Stout, but I only go to the Porterhouse about once every 5 years because it’s usually so rammed (and because the Harp just up the road normally diverts my attention) – but each time I go I have that Oyster Stout and wonder why I left it so long! Must try a re-visit sometime soon.

I was about to make the same comment about XXXX missing from the tap list! Good to hear it’s on bottle. But in reality I’ll probably stick to Oyster Stout next time I’m in.

There’s a similar vibe at Fraunces Tavern, at the southern tip of Manhattan. Always crowded and serving far better beer than it really needs to. Although now that I look into it, I guess it’s not officially a Porterhouse property? It just always has a lot of Porterhouse beers on tap. (The official Porterhouse bar is just down the street.)

I don’t really understand the economics of importing small quantities of craft beer to stock a couple of bars in NYC, but the beer is very good so I’m not complaining.

That would be a 440ml can of XXXX rather than a bottle.

James, I’m pretty sure the Fraunces is fully owned by the Porterhouse. It looks like they’ve knocked through into the building backing on to it. They did the exact same thing in London several years ago.

PH Oyster has strangely disappeared from the taps here. They introduced a new stout called Stout which is the same beer minus the molluscs. I don’t know if that’s going to be a permanent arrangement.

One of the things mentioned in Roger Protz’s obituary for Oliver Hughes ‘Independent Irish brewer who set up the successful Porterhouse group with pubs in Ireland, the UK and New York’ was ‘In London they came across the groundbreaking chain of Firkin brewpubs run by David Bruce. … Oliver said the Firkins were the model for the future Porterhouse pubs.’

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