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.)

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Stum­bling Upon The Four Thieves, Bat­tersea”

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.

A crawl in Clapham

We’re not going to let the fact that most of the tube does­n’t work at week­ends at the moment stop us from explor­ing. A cou­ple of Sat­ur­days back, we decid­ed to go to Clapham and inves­ti­gate some of the inter­est­ing sound­ing pubs men­tioned in var­i­ous guides and web­sites.

What did we know of Clapham before this vis­it? Well, it used to be home to around 300 dread­ful stripped-pine and chrome con­tem­po­rary bev­er­age appre­ci­a­tion spaces – the kinds of place which we sus­pect soured a lot of CAMRA types on mod­ern pubs for good, with their cold atmos­pheres and selec­tion of iden­ti­cal and bland ‘world lagers’. On the high street, at least, those are still in abun­dance, but now look­ing increas­ing­ly care­worn and old-fash­ioned. All the men were wear­ing lit­tle hats and skin­ny jeans; the girls were in Uggs. Style over sub­stance.

Off the high street, how­ev­er, there’s plen­ty to enjoy – the kinds of pubs which fall between full-on trendi­ness and cater­ing pure­ly to old men.

Summer Lightning and Downton German Pale Ale Face/Off
Sum­mer Light­ning and Down­ton Ger­man Pale Ale Face/Off

Our first port of call was the Mason’s Manor Arms, which is in the Good Beer Guide and has been for years. It made the trek worth­while. It’s a small, cosy pub set back from the street behind a small beer gar­den. The only con­ces­sions to 1990s-style Clapham trendi­ness are some well-worn sofas and a rather nice con­tem­po­rary frontage. All the cosi­ness in the world can’t make up for ter­ri­ble beer, but the Mason’s Manor has noth­ing to wor­ry about on that front. Their Sum­mer Light­ning was astound­ing­ly good. Down­ton’s Ger­man Pale Ale, their cur­rent guest ale, was a fas­ci­nat­ing, con­fus­ing and deli­cious beer, evi­dent­ly brewed with all-Ger­man lager-type ingre­di­ents and fer­ment­ed Eng­lish-style. Sim­i­lar to Sum­mer Light­ning, but fresh­er and crisper. Tim­o­thy Tay­lor Land­lord and Ring­wood Bit­ter were also on offer and beyond crit­i­cism in their fresh­ness and con­di­tion.

The Bread and Roses
The Bread and Ros­es

Com­fort­able as we were, we man­aged to haul our­selves up and out to make it along the road to the Bread and Ros­es. Now, on paper, this sound­ed like our kind of place: a pub run to raise funds for left-wing caus­es which offers a large range of guest ales and spe­cial­ty beers. And it exceed­ed expec­ta­tions.

First, the inter­est­ing beers on tap: Sharp’s Doom Bar, Sharp’s IPA, Puri­ty Pure Gold, Bud­var, Bud­var Dark, Sier­ra Neva­da Pale Ale, Stiegl (from Aus­tria), Erdinger Weiss­bier and Mared­sous Blonde. Then in bot­tles: Maisel’s Dunkel­weiss, Brook­lyn Lager, Brook­lyn Choco­late Stout and Anchor Steam. Noth­ing we had­n’t tried before, but lots we were pleased to see on offer and, once again, all those we tried were fresh and tasty. We also liked the fact that there were lots of explana­to­ry notes on the pumps and boards to explain what the var­i­ous beers were like, and there were also sug­ges­tions on the menu as to which wine or beer would match with the food.

The pub itself is an old Vic­to­ri­an build­ing decked out in late 90s trendy pub style, except that it also has paint­ings of left-wing ora­tors in 19th cen­tu­ry Lon­don, big screen foot­ball, copies of the Lon­don Drinker and numer­ous oth­er things that under­cut any sense of pre­ten­sion. Why is this place not more famous? Why was it not crammed? Maybe being nei­ther whol­ly trendy nor designed for old men makes for a hard-to-sell pub? It makes a point of being child-friend­ly, so per­haps that scared the GBG off. And, of course, it’s not right next to a tube sta­tion.

One caveat: the food was great and cheap (espe­cial­ly giv­en the qual­i­ty) but took a while to arrive (35 min­utes) so don’t build your vis­it around a meal.

Our crawl was cut short at this point when we moved on in the driz­zle to find that Micro­bar does­n’t open on Sat­ur­day after­noons. Anoth­er time. Clapham has a lot to offer, and we’re com­ing back for anoth­er ses­sion!

Notes

Both the Manor Arms and Bread and Ros­es are on Clapham Manor Street. The near­est tube stops are Clapham North or Clapham Com­mon; alter­na­tive­ly, trains to Clapham High Street leave from Vic­to­ria and Lon­don Bridge approx­i­mate­ly every half an hour. Micro­bar is tech­ni­cal­ly Bat­tersea, rather than Clapham, but it’s a fair­ly short stag­ger from the Bread and Ros­es; if you go along the Wandsworth Road you’ll pass the Plough Inn, now a Young’s pub, and an old, defunct brew­ery that goes back at least to 1869, before being bought by Sim­monds and then Courage. Google map here, show­ing all the loca­tions men­tioned.