Czech waiters aren’t that bad

Per­haps liv­ing in Lon­don, one of the rud­est cities on Earth, has giv­en us a twist­ed per­spec­tive, but it seems to us that Czech wait­ers are get­ting a bad rep. Here’s a typ­i­cal com­ment from a 2004 col­umn in the Inde­pen­dent:

I thought French wait­ers were rude until I went to Prague. I saw a bul­let-head­ed Czech wait­er ter­rorise a French fam­i­ly, who asked if they could have half a meal for a small child with­out pay­ing the full price. “Is not pos­si­ble,” the wait­er repeat­ed over and over. “Is not pos­si­ble. You bet­ter go now.” Whether this is Czech behav­iour or post-Sovi­et behav­iour I’m not sure, but the phrase “Is not pos­si­ble” seems to be the mot­to of all Czech restau­rants, hotels and taxi firms

On our recent hol­i­day, we had geared our­selves up for sullen indif­fer­ence at best; Fawl­tyesque rude­ness at worst. Would we get shout­ed at? Insult­ed? Ignored?

In short, no. We found all but two wait­ers fair­ly friend­ly. A cou­ple of the bet­ter ones were, well, down­right cheer­ful – almost as if there was a spark of gen­uine human feel­ing behind their pro­fes­sion­al smiles.

It might have helped that we’d mus­tered a few words of Czech (“Hel­lo”, “two beers, please”, “thank you very much”).

Of course, anoth­er pos­si­bil­i­ty is that, hav­ing not­ed the uni­form dis­gust with which their man­ners are regard­ed across the inter­net and print media, some of Prague’s bar man­agers and land­lords have had a word with their staff:

OK, impromp­tu staff meet­ing… I’ve had a crazy idea. I thought we’d try mak­ing our cus­tomers feel com­fort­able and hap­py here. Appar­ent­ly, that goes down well. Weird, I know, but there you go. Let’s give it a try, see how it pans out.”

Inside the mind of CAMRA

We hope CAMRA appre­ci­ates the bril­liant if unsanc­tioned work of its activist blog­gers. All the paid-for PR and press releas­es in the world can’t com­pete with the kind of insight we get dai­ly from Maeib, Tan­dle­man, Steve and oth­ers.

Recent­ly, all three have come into their own, explain­ing the murky world of Good Beer Guide selec­tion to out­siders in posts like those linked above. When we ques­tioned why a par­tic­u­lar pub wasn’t in the Good Beer Guide a few months back, Steve com­ment­ed here, chased up with his con­tacts in the region in ques­tion, and then post­ed a detailed response here. Although Steve is care­ful to remind every­one that he isn’t speak­ing on behalf of CAMRA when he blogs, he cer­tain­ly boosts its image by doing so.

We still don’t under­stand why, in some towns, the GBG lists so many indif­fer­ent Wether­spoons and Greene King pubs; and we’d rather be told, straight up, which are the most inter­est­ing pubs in town, rather than those with the most con­sis­tent beer qual­i­ty (incon­sis­ten­cy is half the fun with real ale, right?); but at least we know now that the deci­sions aren’t made by robots or at ran­dom.

Oxford: smoke, hops and ginger

whitehorsebreweryblenheim

Here are quick reviews of a few beers we enjoyed on a recent trip to Oxford.

1. White Horse Vil­lage Idiot, 4.1%

An attempt, we think, to clone Hopback’s ven­er­a­ble Sum­mer Light­ning, Vil­lage Idiot is actu­al­ly a some­what bet­ter beer. Pale yel­low, crisply bit­ter and slight­ly sweet, it was so full of the flavour and aro­ma of fresh hops, we though it should prob­a­bly count as one of our por­tions of fruit and veg for the day. We guessed at a mix of Ger­man and British hops – if any­one knows for sure, tell us! The nor­mal bit­ter (3.7%) is also superb.

The brew­ery tap at the Roy­al Blenheim has a ludi­crous­ly cheer­ful singing bar­man and 10 real ales in total, too, so well worth a vis­it.

2. Leatherbritch­es Gin­ger Spice, 3.8%

The best gin­ger beer we’ve had yet, where hefty amounts of (can­died?) gin­ger make for a char­ac­ter­ful pint. Often, gin­ger in beer leads to a grit­ty dry­ness but this beer is almost sick­ly sweet. Nor­mal­ly, that would be a real turn-off, but it def­i­nite­ly bal­ances. But, as the expert bar­man at the excel­lent Turf Tav­ern said as he served it, “tasty, but you won’t want more than one”.

3. Ther­mal Cheer, by Isle of Purbeck brew­ery, ?%

This brew­ery seems to favour smoked flavours: all three of their beers that we tried tast­ed like they’d been light­ly bar­be­cued (although their web­site makes no men­tion of this). An acquired taste. This, a dark bit­ter, was the best of the bunch and cer­tain­ly an inter­est­ing exper­i­ment. Did we actu­al­ly like it? We still haven’t made up our minds. We had this one at the Turf but also saw their beers (the bit­ter and “Solar Pow­er”) in a cou­ple of oth­er pubs.

4. Cotswold Brew­ing Com­pa­ny Wheat, 4.2%

Also at the Turf Tav­ern, this unfil­tered kegged Ger­man-style wheat beer has alert­ed us to the exis­tence of yet anoth­er inter­est­ing British lager brew­er. Sad­ly, it wasn’t all that fresh, but the local stu­dents were mad for the stuff and its under­ly­ing qual­i­ty shone through. If, like us, you’ve ever thought Ger­man wheat beer would be improved with a bit more bit­ter­ness, then this will be just the job. Hope­ful­ly we’ll get the chance to try the rest of their range some­time soon.

We got some ideas for which pubs to vis­it from the Good Beer Guide, Maeib’s pub crawl post and whole bunch of oth­er web­sites. There are a fair few decent places to drink in Oxford!

How much!?

The Rake at Bor­ough Mar­ket can be hard work. We’ve found it’s more-or-less bear­able between 2 and 4 in the after­noon, though, which is when we hap­pened to go for a pint on a recent after­noon off.

We’ve writ­ten about the Rake lots of times before, but one thing we’ve always shrugged off is the price of the bot­tled beer. Our view has always been that imports should cost more and that it was worth pay­ing the inflat­ed prices to be able to drink hard-to-come-by beers some­where oth­er than our front room.

This time, though, even we were astound­ed to find our­selves pay­ing £9.50 for just over one UK pint of Stone Cali-Bel­gique IPA.

Yes, this is some­thing to do with the exchange rate; and, yes, the very nice bar man­ag­er did warn us before open­ing the bot­tle; and, yes, it was a very inter­est­ing beer. In short, we’re not real­ly crit­i­cis­ing the Rake for charg­ing what they need to – they’re run­ning (an appar­ent­ly very suc­cess­ful) busi­ness, after all.

What it did make us ques­tion is our own pri­or­i­ties. Should we take such a pro­hib­i­tive price as a sign that we ought to focus our ener­gies on drink­ing local beers, at least until the dread­ed Crispy CrunchTM is over? After all, it’s not as if we can’t get insane IPAs or stouts full of cit­rus hops in the UK these days.

The Stone Cali-Bel­gique IPA is their stan­dard IPA made with Bel­gian yeast. It’s almost an edu­ca­tion­al tool, demon­strat­ing what dif­fer­ence a brewer’s choice of yeast can make. It tastes spicy, flo­ral and sug­ary, with reminders of Duv­el and Hoe­gaar­den. Prob­a­bly not worth £9.50, though… Thom of the Black Cat brew­ery reviewed it here and didn’t like it much.

Country pubs and Butcombe IPA

As we’ve men­tioned before, the pubs in my home town aren’t much to get excit­ed about, but there are some nice places hid­den out in the coun­try­side.

sunshapwick

As we’ve men­tioned before, the pubs in my home town aren’t much to get excit­ed about, but there are some nice places hid­den out in the coun­try­side.

The Red Tile at Coss­ing­ton, for exam­ple, is a per­fect cosy coun­try pub. On Box­ing Day, it was busy with din­ers (there’s an unpre­ten­tious pub menu) but I man­aged to find a cor­ner in which to enjoy a pint of But­combe Brunel IPA. I’m a fan of Butcombe’s beers but I’m hap­py to admit that region­al chau­vin­ism makes it hard for me to be objec­tive. But­combe ‘ordi­nary’ is brown, very bit­ter and slight­ly sul­phurous. The IPA is quite dif­fer­ent – less bit­ter, if any­thing, but with a warmer orange colour and pro­nounced flow­ery hop aro­ma. A good exam­ple of the Eng­lish ses­sion IPA.

Also worth a look is the Bur­tle Inn. This pub is even cosier: dark, but not gloomy, with light from wonky 18th cen­tu­ry win­dows and sev­er­al fierce wood fires. Although the staff looked exhaust­ed and the pub’s sup­plies were deplet­ed (“We’ve only got parsnip crisps left”) the real ales were in good nick and were also avail­able hot and spiced! In Lon­don these days, we take it for grant­ed that a pub will have Czech lager, wheat beer and Leffe on tap, but it’s less com­mon in the depths of the West Coun­try.

Final­ly, there was Crown at Cat­cott, which my Dad called “old Fred Vernon’s place” after a land­lord he remem­bered from his youth. It’s up a wind­ing track on a par­tic­u­lar­ly windy spot on the Som­er­set lev­els, so its burn­ing fires and low ceil­ings were very wel­come. There was a selec­tion of West Coun­try ales on offer from larg­er brew­ers like Sharp’s and But­combe. The But­combe ordi­nary was, well, extra­or­di­nary – per­fect­ly fresh and in such good con­di­tion that the head didn’t move even in the stiff breeze whistling under the old wood­en door.

In short, if you’re in Som­er­set, ditch the towns, get your­self a des­ig­nat­ed dri­ver and go on a crawl across the lev­els. It’s like­ly to be a lot more fun than Bridg­wa­ter, Taunton or Yeovil.