Categories
beer and food london pubs Spain

In search of the authentic tapas bar experience: (1) North West London

Olives and Estrella Galicia in a shady bar in London
Olives and Estrella Galicia in a shady bar in London

En espanol

We tend to go to Spain around this time each year. However, due to starting new jobs etc we haven’t been able to plan anything, and so we started thinking about how to replicate some of the best Spanish experiences in London. In particular, we’re on a mission to identify all of the authentic tapas bars in London, ideally gathered together in convenient tapeos (tapas bar crawls).

Let’s make it clear: we’re not talking about restaurants that serve tapas or Spanish food. We’re talking about places where you can have a nice chat over some drinks and a tapa or two. Ideally, we’re looking for places where you can sit up at the bar and listen to old men bickering in impenetrable dialects, to get the real feel of being in Spain.

So, after a bit of internet research, we put together the following tapeo in north west London, an area we barely know.

Categories
pubs

A real ale pub that doesn’t feel weird

Dark Star Espresso Stout
Dark Star Espresso Stout

On a recent business trip to Cheshire, I got billetted in Frodsham. My taxi driver volunteered the information that the pubs in town were decent and recommended the Helter Skelter.

Good call.

It’s pointedly a “real ale pub” but with an extremely mixed clientele and a genuinely relaxed atmosphere. There were lots of lads and ladies drinking lager, some middle-aged couples on a double date, a few old ladies on a night out and, of course, a huddle of men with beards having an earnest conversation over a notebook.

The beer was in astoundingly good condition. Phoenix’s West Coast IPA offered a late taste of summer and lived up to its marketing (a weaker Liberty Ale?) and Dark Star Espresso Stout was sweeter and chewier than from the bottle.

The beer was served with a sparkler, as you’d expect in that part of the world, but here it just seemed to give the head some body without turning it into shaving foam. I’m coming round to the idea.

What is this pub getting right? Friendly staff, for one thing. Lots of information, for another — a board behind the bar with a guide to the colour of the beers on offer is a stroke of genius. It helps that they’re not trying to beervangelise to anyone: there are no scary signs telling people off for not liking real ale, for example, and you can get a pint of Stella if that’s what you want.

And a bit of quiet background music doesn’t hurt, either.

Bailey

Categories
Generalisations about beer culture

Can a pub with football on the telly be any good?

Portugal warming up at the 2006 World Cup in Germany
Portugal warming up at the 2006 World Cup in Germany

CAMRA guides to pubs often praise the absence of a TV screen, and indeed, a big sign outside a pub boasting Sky / Setanta sports and a big screen is usually synonymous with mediocre beer.

I can see why people hate TVs in pubs, because they can distract people from conversation and detract from the atmosphere.

But occasionally, I do want to watch a football match in the pub, and I always have to compromise on the quality of the beer (and pub) to do so.

Has anyone got any suggestions for places in central London that are really good pubs with nice beer that just happen to have a screen? Or are the two mutually exclusive?

I suppose what you need is a pub that has several sections, where you can keep the football in a discrete area, so everyone’s happy.  In Germany, both during the World Cup in 2006 and the European Championships this year, loads of cafes and bars got in screens, but put them outside, helping to create a fantastic street party atmosphere.

Incidentally, Zeitgeist is pretty good for big sporting events, but you have to choose your night carefully, as Bundesliga and Germany qualifiers get priority!

Boak

Categories
beer reviews breweries Spain

Beer in Madrid

spainflags.jpgMadrid is home to some of the best art galleries in the world and some of the best bars too. Best in terms of atmosphere anyway, but the beer is rarely anything to write home about.

Ron Pattinson has put together a guide to bars in Madrid, which includes two brew pubs. As they are handily within a minute´s walk from each other, I tried them both together.

Naturbier is on the busy Plaza Santa Ana, which boasts many other fine cervecerí­as. It has two offerings – rubia (blonde) and tostada (brown, literally “toasted”). I slightly preferred the Tostada, with its heavier malty flavour, but both are excellent – extremely fresh-tasting and refreshing, balanced malt and hop flavours, and none of the unpleasant “homebrew” flavours you sometimes get from brewpubs. Pubs in Franconia would not be ashamed to serve these. Oh, and apparently it´s organic too.

Naturbier also has a great atmosphere – friendly staff and a good mixture of locals and tourists. So you can take your non-beer geek friends too, to experience the madrileño bar culture. It also serves tapas, which is rather pricy (although normal for that area) so I didn´t try any – but they do tend to bung you a plate of olives or nuts.

Magister is just off Plaza Santa Ana, on Calle de Principe. I think it´s supposed to be decorated like a German beer hall, but it just didn´t feel like one. They make a point about giving you free tapas, usually a staleish bit of bread with some meat on it.

They offer a rubia and tostada too, which aren´t as good as the Naturbier offerings — slightly acrid flavour, and didn´t taste as fresh. However, they also offer a “caramalizada” which is a sort of stout, and which I liked. It wasn´t the most amazing stout flavouring I´ve ever experienced, but the body and mouthfeel were bang on, which was a pleasant change from the last three months of lager texture. If that makes sense. Finally, they were also offering a “double bock” at 8.2%. This one was interesting. Like a not very good home brewer’s attempt at a strong Belgian-style ale, with a slightly odd fruity taste. It might even have been off….

Overall I prefered Naturbier for the atmosphere, but Magister is also worth your support if you´re in the area.

Notes

1. Closest metro stations to Plaza Santa Ana are Anton Marti­n and Sol. It’s also about 15-20 minutes walk away from Atocha station, so handy for getting a drink if you´re just passing through. There is left luggage at Atocha station, but it can be a pain to find — it´s at the far end of the tropical garden, away from the platforms, under Sambar Kanda restaurant.