Waiter service in pubs

waiter.jpgWait­er ser­vice in bars is one of those things you often hear British peo­ple com­plain about when they come back from hol­i­day.

Queu­ing at the bar is so ingrained in our cul­ture that the idea of a bloke in an apron bring­ing our drink (and expect­ing to be bloody tipped for it, too, cheeky sod…) is almost as upset­ting as hav­ing to use a fun­ny for­eign toi­let.

But we’d like to see a bit more wait­er ser­vice in Britain, now. More and more, we’re put off going to par­tic­u­lar pubs because we know we’ll have to stand in a crowd for what feels like 30 min­utes, cran­ing our necks, hop­ing to catch the eye of a bar­man. How much more civilised to pay a measly tip for the priv­i­lege of sit­ting on one’s behind while fresh glass­es of tasty beer are brought to your table.

This would also save us the sight of tourists in Eng­land sit­ting glum­ly wait­ing to be served, too. And, vice ver­sa, stan­dar­d­is­ing across Europe would save your con­ti­nen­tals from hav­ing to watch British peo­ple whis­per­ing awk­ward­ly near the door:

I can’t tell if it’s wait­er ser­vice. Should we go up and order? Maybe we should go up. That looks like a bar. Oh, but look, they’re get­ting served at the table. Shall we go up?”

No, Bri­an. That would be a breach of eti­quette, and then they’ll kill us or, worse, laugh at us. Let’s just go back to the hotel and drink from the mini-bar for the next week until the hol­i­day is over.”


Pic­ture by inde­pen­dent­man, under a Cre­ative Com­mons license from Flickr.

Mild is dead, long live mild?

westquay.jpg Hav­ing post­ed yes­ter­day about the decline of mild, we went out to the Foun­tain Inn, Bridg­wa­ter, only to find… mild on tap.

The mild in ques­tion was called “Pint-sized brew­ery mild”, and was a mere 3.3%. The Pint-sized brew­ery in ques­tion turns out to be a micro­brew­ery on Wadworth’s premis­es, at least accord­ing to this old press release from 2004. The idea being that they devel­op new prod­ucts and test them on the mar­ket on a small-scale first.

Any­way, the mild itself was rather drink­able, but not par­tic­u­lar­ly excit­ing in terms of flavour or aro­ma. No hops and a very sub­tle toast­ed malt flavour. Prob­a­bly quite true to the orig­i­nal milds, or at least their incar­na­tions by the late sev­en­ties..?

It’s strange – on the one hand, it’s nice to see the resur­gence of a British style, espe­cial­ly one you can drink pint after pint of with no ill effects. It’s also pos­i­tive to see the Cam­ra cam­paign hav­ing an impact – they’ve real­ly done a lot to pro­mote mild and oth­er endan­gered styles in the last few years, and I do think you see it around more fre­quent­ly.

On the oth­er hand, what if its sole sell­ing point back in the day was that it was weak (there­fore cheap) and inof­fen­sive, taste-wise? Did it pave the way for keg?

There are some great milds out there – Oscar Wilde, from the Mighty Oak brew­ery, is a reg­u­lar favourite of ours – but are these new gen­er­a­tion milds par­tic­u­lar­ly rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the mass-pro­duced stuff that was being downed in the post-war peri­od? Is some­thing like Wadworth’s pint-sized mild a more “authen­tic” ver­sion?

I think I’ll take flavour over authen­tic­i­ty.


The Foun­tain Inn is at 1 West Quay, Bridg­wa­ter TA6 3HL. It’s a Wad­worth house, but was also serv­ing an excel­lent pint of But­combe bit­ter. It’s a very friend­ly place, but in no way “pon­cey”, and worth some of your time if you’re in the area.

The pic­ture is the old logo of the Starkey, Knight and Ford brew­ery, which used to own the Foun­tain.


German pub in London

Zeit­geist at the Jol­ly Gar­den­ers, Vaux­hall, South Lon­don is absolute­ly bizarre and absolute­ly bril­liant.

We fre­quent­ly get “home­sick” for Ger­many, despite being from the UK. When we heard about Zeit­geist through Metro, the free news­pa­per they give away on Lon­don Under­ground, we got very excit­ed. Tonight was our first vis­it. It won’t be our last.

It’s run by two expat Ger­mans from Cologne and offers 36 Ger­man beers, with at least 10 on tap. They took over in Octo­ber 2007 and reopened the pub in Novem­ber. Some of the reviews on Beer in the Evening paint a pic­ture of a pub in the mid­dle of a ter­ri­fy­ing coun­cil estate. Hav­ing grown up on a ter­ri­fy­ing coun­cil estate, I’m less scared of work­ing class peo­ple than some, but the fact that you can almost see Big Ben and MI6 from the pub makes it even less of a wor­ry­ing prospect. It seemed like a per­fect­ly nice area to us.

The pub itself was excel­lent. Def­i­nite­ly a pub, but equal­ly sure­ly a small piece of Ger­many 15 min­utes from West­min­ster. The land­lord and land­la­dy were both dressed in Ger­man foot­ball shirts and the bar­maid spoke to us in Ger­man – that’s the default lan­guage. Dur­ing our stay, the place filled up with expats keen to watch the Germany/Austria match on a big screen.

What about the beer? Well, here’s the menu. Noth­ing stag­ger­ing­ly excit­ing for any tick­ers out there, but all are in great nick, and with most of the com­mon Ger­man beer styles rep­re­sent­ed. We were espe­cial­ly excit­ed to find a decent Koelsch on tap (Gaffel). If you want to know what the fuss is about Koelsch but can’t get to Cologne, here’s your chance to try the real deal near­er to home.

We were amused to see British cus­tomers get­ting full glass­es with tiny heads, plus an apol­o­gy the glass wasn’t com­plete­ly full, which Ger­man cus­tomers were served tiny glass­es with tow­er­ing, frothy ice-cream heads. What’s the Ger­man for: “I’ll take mine like a native, please”?

The food was good, too. The menu divides it up by region. Notably, there are at least twelve schnitzel dish­es on offer, as well as Nuern­berg­er sausages and Cologne pota­to pan­cakes.

In short, we’ll be back. This pub deserves to be a big suc­cess.


Zeit­geist is also known as the Jol­ly Gar­den­ers, and is at 49–51 Black Prince Road, Se11 6AB. Map here. Clos­est tube sta­tions are Vaux­hall, Ken­ning­ton, Lam­beth North, and West­min­ster.


Duesseldorf part five – Frankenheim and further pontification on the nature of Alt

frankenheim2.jpgWe’re almost there. We end­ed up hav­ing Franken­heim twice. First, on Sat­ur­day night, after Schu­mach­er and Schloess­er, in a restau­rant / pub called Brauerei Zum Schif­fchen. It’s alleged­ly Duesseldorf’s old­est, going back to 1628. It doesn’t brew its own now, stock­ing Franken­heim instead.

Franken­heim was OK – good malt flavour with hints of choco­late, not much bit­ter­ness. Suf­fi­cient­ly decent to make us decide to vis­it their enor­mous brew­ery tap, which is about 20 min­utes walk from the old town on Wieland­strasse. This place was con­sid­er­ably qui­eter than the old town pubs, pos­si­bly because of the dis­tance, and pos­si­bly because it was Sun­day after­noon, and even the Dues­sel­dorf par­ty ani­mals have to rest some time. We also com­mit­ted some kind of faux pas by sit­ting on a regular’s table. (Why else would they have sat on our table when the pub was two-thirds emp­ty?)

So those were all the alts we got to try. There are a few oth­ers that we didn’t try – Diebels, Gatzweil­er and Rhenania, to men­tion a few. Enor­mous thanks to Ron Pat­tin­son for both­er­ing to put togeth­er his Dues­sel­dorf pub guide, as it cer­tain­ly saved us con­sid­er­able effort in plan­ning this trip.

So, some con­clu­sions. As a “style”, alt is very var­ied – the beers we tried had dif­fer­ent bit­ter­ness lev­els, dif­fer­ent malt flavours, dif­fer­ent bod­ies. It’s cer­tain­ly more var­ied than var­i­ous Koelsches (more on that soon). Our favourites from the trip were Schu­mach­er and Zum Schlues­sel, but this didn’t mean we didn’t enjoy the oth­ers.

We’re look­ing for­ward to a return trip, par­tic­u­lar­ly as Dues­sel­dorf is well-placed to get to oth­er beer des­ti­na­tions (Muen­ster, Cologne, Dort­mund). Plus there’s the draw of the “Sticke” – the stronger ver­sion, pro­duced and sold on two days a year. See this arti­cle on Ron Pattinson’s Dues­sel­dorf pages for more.

But, and this is per­haps the sacre­li­gious part – the alt itself would not be the key draw. It’s not that we didn’t enjoy it enor­mous­ly, but you can get sim­i­lar beers in the UK.* It’s the atmos­phere, the tra­di­tion and the live­li­ness. We’d hap­pi­ly move to Dues­sel­dorf for a year or two to call some of these places our locals.


*To recre­ate the Alt effect at home: Get a nice brown bit­ter that you like, chill it for a cou­ple of hours, and pour it care­less­ly into a 250ml tum­bler so that it even­tu­al­ly set­tles down to half beer, half head. We tried it – it works. A good alt is very like a cold, super bit­ter Eng­lish ale. In our hum­ble opin­ion, this bet­ter recre­ates the alt expe­ri­ence than buy­ing a tired bot­tle of bor­ing Diebels from your local spe­cial­ist beer empo­ri­um.

Duesseldorf part two – Im Fuechsen Alt

fuchschen1.jpgFol­low­ing our drinks in Uerige, we tried to get into Brauerei im Fuech­schen, but just couldn’t squeeze our way in. So we went back the next day for lunch. If you want to try alt­biers in the old town in slight­ly more “relaxed” cir­cum­stances (i.e. seats, more than an inch of per­son­al space) then a meal is def­i­nite­ly the way for­ward.

The alt here was quite dif­fer­ent from Uerige – lighter in colour, and less bit­ter, although there was still a good hop kick. With slight orangey notes, it remind­ed us of Lon­don Pride, although the alt is more bit­ter. We also tried the weizen, Sil­ber Fuech­schen. It’s always inter­est­ing to have a Ger­man wheat-beer that isn’t from Bavaria (or at least doesn’t have that banana yeast in it), and this was very pleas­ant and refresh­ing. Like one of the more inter­est­ing Bel­gian wheat­beers, such as St Bernar­dus. But we still pre­ferred the alt, by nine drinks to one.

As for the food, well, if you like tra­di­tion­al Ger­man food, you won’t be dis­ap­point­ed. Big joints of meat with knives stuck in ’em. Luvver­ly.

Dues­sel­dorf is obvi­ous­ly a bit of a par­ty town. Even in Jan­u­ary in the pour­ing rain, peo­ple were sit­ting out­side drink­ing away, and a few were even… shout­ing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such “row­di­ness” in Ger­many – although, to be fair, the shouters were get­ting dirty looks from most of the locals. We also saw some youths drink­ing bot­tles of Franken­heim Blue (don’t know, didn’t ask…) in the street and then care­ful­ly hunt­ing around for a recy­cling bin. You don’t see that in Leices­ter Square.