This is exactly the kind of place that people who hate gastropubs have got in mind: a bit pretentious with a separate dining area where you really oughtn’t just to drink pints. And a maître d’. A maître bloody d’. In a pub. These truly are the End Times.
It has a pretty extensive selection of beer (Sharp’s Cornish Coaster, Adnams Broadside, something from Batemans, Budvar, Bitburger, Duvel, Chimay Red, Meantime Raspberry and Meantime Chocolate, amongst others) none of which is hard to find in London, but which is still not a bad line up compared to your average back street boozer.
We sat outside and drank nice, crisply bitter pints of Budvar under a palm tree, desperately trying to convince ourselves we were warm.
We probably won’t come again — not when there are three or four better la-di-da gastropubs within a 10 minute walk.
Another Red Lion in St James — this one claims to be London’s oldest inn (don’t they all?). It’s hidden up a passage off Pall Mall, and we’ve walked past it loads of times but never gone in.
A gorgeous pint of Tribute made us think that we’d been foolish to ignore it this long. Very cosy, friendly staff, an interesting mix of uber-posh hedge-fund types and very down-to-earth Londoners moaning about the price of a pint.
While we have our favourite pubs, it seems a shame not to explore the vast wealth of boozers in this great city. We’ve hit a couple of gems recently, so we’ve decided that every day this week we’re going to go into a new pub and write about it. Maybe two, if the first one’s rubbish.
Today we’re featuring the Old Coffee House, Beak Street, Soho. This place screams “old-fashioned boozer” at you, with walls covered in brewery livery and various East London references (including letters from David Beckham as a Manchester United trainee… fake or real, who knows?).
Excitingly, they had Brodie’s IPA, brewed by our local microbrewery. Even better, it was in fabulously crisp condition. Friendly staff, nice mixed crowd. Busy, but you could squeeze onto a table. A hit.
Beer in the Evening review and directions here. Randomness Guide here.
When you’ve got a nice office job like us, you have feedback directed at you left, right and centre. But if you run a pub, who is there to give you frank and constructive advice?
Beerintheevening.com and other ratings sites offer some feedback from punters but, in most cases, it doesn’t look all that helpful: “the managers no help, he should get a job at pickfords, cos moving the furiture is all he’s good for”.
Gordon Ramsay’s TV series Kitchen Nightmares might look like yet another example of contrived, confrontational reality drama but, underneath all the shouting and would-be tense music, there is an experienced businessman reviewing his peers’ business practices. The changes he suggests are almost always small things and often common sense but they make a big difference and are exactly the kinds of change someone who’s too close to their own business would never dream of.
For example, Ramsay almost always tells restaurant owners to shrink and simplify the menu. Wouldn’t that same advice translate to a lot of pubs, too: you don’t need five boring lagers, just two. Or, that other classic: “Why are you buying fucking crab from Vietnam when your restaurant is on the seaside?” Pubs in London that only sell beer from Yorkshire (unless it’s a Yorkshire theme pub) are missing a trick, surely? Ditto pubs in the West Country whose only ale is London Pride.
Ramsay also redecorates the restaurants he visits. Invariably, they look tons better. The phrase “fresh pair of eyes” springs to mind. Lots of pubs could do with this: “You know what? You should lose the weird skeleton made of lacquered cigarette ends. It’s quite creepy. And that giant singed teddy bear by the fire…?”
So, who is out there to give the people who run pubs the same kind of guidance?
Just to be clear, we’re not volunteering for the job. We like pubs, but we’ve got no idea how you run one.We’re also not asking Channel 4 to make Ramsay’s Pub Nightmares or the BBC to give us Oz, James and Neil Morrissey Bicker with Landlords.
Last night, I had a pint of Fuller’s Hock in the Red Lion on Duke of York street in central London. Hock is the seasonal special, apparently, and very nice indeed. It’s great to see a 3.5% dark mild in a normal pub — and selling like hotcakes, too.