Stumbling Upon The Four Thieves, Battersea

We couldn’t resist following an official-looking brown tourist information sign pointing to ‘Brewery & Distillery’.

Having set out with no particular plan in mind other than to find (a) beer we can’t get in Penzance and (b) somewhere to enjoy lunch with baby-laden friends we trusted Clapham, in south west London, to provide. The sign actually directed just across the border into Battersea, to the Four Thieves.

This pub occupies a huge building — a former music hall — with decorative tiling throughout, high ceilings, dark corners, a jungle-like ‘gin garden’, a back room with breakfast buffet, a games room with arcade machines and ‘interactive experiences’, and, of course, a substantial glass-fronted brewhouse.

It’s got a touch of the 2005 about it — that curlicued boutique-hotel styling that was all the rage before the industrial look took over — which, frankly, made rather a pleasant change. (Or maybe we’re just getting old.)

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All over Battersea, some hope and some despair

The weekend before last, we needed to get out and about and stretch our legs, and what better way to do it than a pub crawl in South London?

Walking from Pimlico and through Battersea Park, the first pub on our hit list was the Merchant, a sister pub to the Florence. It has a similar range of bottled beer and, on tap, their own brew and two from Sambrooks. What we said about the Florence applies pretty much word for word here, although it was a bit cosier.

The Goat on Battersea Rise wasn’t on our list but we were intrigued by the building (see picture above) — what exactly is a Temperance Billiard Hall? Inside, it reminded us of a German bierkeller, with low lighting and cosy spaces. Unfortunately, the ale was absolutely appalling. Brains Party Popper and Ryedale Winter’s Tale both tasted like buttery popcorn with a hint of cardboard. A bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale rescued the day. The staff could not have been friendlier and with such a great building, it’s a shame no-one was actually tasting or looking after the beer. Nonetheless, we bet it’s heaving on a Saturday night.

Then on to Northcote Road, famously home to dozens of dull bars, and into Clapham. We popped into the Holy Drinker which boasts a large range of beers but were baffled to find that they were all in bottles. That and the fact that the bloke on the bar didn’t bother looking up to say hello made it very easy to turn round and walk out. It’s odd — we’re always banging on about how pubs should have more bottles, but if all they have is bottles, we can’t really see the point.

Finally, to the Eagle Ale House on Chatham Road, which we loved, mostly because we got to sit next to and play with the open fire. Meantime Cask London Pale Ale was also a bit of a draw (“we’re the only place they sell it to as a regular”) and was fabulous. The barman absolutely insisted on serving it with a sparkler even though we told him not to go to the trouble of attaching it (“it needs it for the body”). None of the other beers (Loddon Hoppit, Downton Quadhop, Ringwood Best Bitter) were really very interesting but all were in very good condition.