This one is going to be a little different.
I am departing the Empire. It’s been 2 long months; enough time to see the English landscape go from bleak and frigid to grey and unpleasant. I’ve seen castles and countryside and the insides of pubs, and eaten more roast potatoes than a reasonable person should. But alas, it is all coming to an end. We’ve shared some quality time with some quality friends, but most of these I’ve already written about. Particular mentions go out to Rachel for getting upset that I hadn’t included her in this blog yet and Lauren for being a champ and actually turning up to our leaving do. What a pair of legends. Tomorrow we will be boarding a plane and flying back across Asia to Hong Kong, land of dreams and dumplings.
But all this talk and wild speculation about HK can wait. I was going to spend this post talking about all the rad little castles we visited on an individual basis, but in the end there’s only so much you can say about castles before they start to sound pretty much like identical piles of cleverly arranged stones.
Much more awesome in the flesh.
Instead I’m going to talk about a few places we went to check out, in detail, with names. This is out of character for me, as I’ve generally avoided singling places out lest it sounded like I was advertising them. I’m making an exception for this post, however, as there’s an outside chance I might actually get some travel writing work in the future since I’m now a barely employed freelance writer. I’m also going to talk about beer a bit later on, but only because it’s awesome.
And so, on the eve of our disembarkation I present:
The Non-Exhaustive List Of Stuff I Did In England That Was Reasonably Good Or Notably Bad.
- Red Lion, Shoreditch (London)
Red Lion must be one of the most popular pub names in England. This one stands out because it has a giant skull in the corner. We also bought a bottle of wine for £10 between four of us and got an additional big glass each and a cheese board gratis. Noice.
Fuck yeah giant skulls.
- Death By Burrito, Shoreditch (London)
Shoreditch is the Surry Hills of London. This place is actually hidden in the back of a bar that has a decent selection of craft beers. Delicious burritos but due to their high price they are worse value than an Alan Jones dubstep mash-up.
Also featured surprise complimentary nachos. So yeah.
- Borough Market, London Bridge (London)
Markets were ideal places to score delicious cheap eats in Thailand. London markets like this aren’t as good value but there are still some tasty foods to be found. This one is almost directly opposite London Bridge station and curls around some backstreets. Has a boutique beer store selling bottles at a significant mark- up (wankers).
- The Rake, London Bridge (London)
A small pub down the North end of Borough Market, it’s an interesting little place with a big selection of craft beers which are unfortunately only available in bottles. There are a couple of less common real ales on tap. It’s ok but the clientele is almost exclusively people in business suits and the prices are suited to them.
- The Rosendale, Dulwich (Greater London)
A win by Jenny’s bro in conjunction with his girlfriend. They won tickets for themselves and their guests (that’s us!) to some function or another where the drinks and food were free. That’s enough for an endorsement in any case but the food they were bringing out was fantastic and the beer (a line they were launching that night) was pretty damn agreeable. Worth checking out but I have no idea what prices are like because we bailed once the free stuff ran out. Classy!
A constant onslaught of great canapes and drinks.
- Wahaca, Covent Garden (London)
Delicious and reasonably priced Mexican place introduced to us by Lauren. It’s underground in the sense that it’s below street level and when we arrived there was a line all the way up the stairs. Fortunately we were able to ask them hold a table for us when one became available and we ducked out for a beer before returning at the agreed upon time. I like to think we annoyed all the suckers standing around on the stairs.
Nice one, Lauren.
- The Porterhouse, Covent Garden (London)
Multi-storeyed pub with its own beer varieties and a selection of brews from around the world. Brass pipes feature heavily in its décor choices. The house beers aren’t bad but their “porter” is actually a stout. Jerks.
- Look Mum No Hands, London
Jenny’s brother took us here one afternoon and exposed me to some delicious beer varieties that I would probably have never found myself (nice one, Jenny’s bro). A café/bar for bicycle enthusiasts, it has a workshop and merch shop attached. The fact that it has its own merch shop should help give some indication of the sort of place it is. Cycling themed art and sculptures sits around the bright interior as cyclists line the benches and tables using the wifi and drinking warm drinks. Or beers, because the beers are good. Actually a nice place.
- The White Horse, Fulham (London)
Another popular name for a pub (it’s like the British have no imagination), this place is super expensive and has the clientele that can afford it. We only stopped here for one drink. Only gets a mention because they have an excellent selection of beers on tap which apparently rotates. Also has a pleasant street-front beer garden thingo.
- The Ropewalk, Bermondsey (London)
Another street market in London, nestled against against a rail bridge. We only just discovered this place before we left, walking from London Bridge station to The Kernel (mentioned later). I was in a rush to get to some breweries though so we didn’t stop, but it looks like there are a bunch of interesting stalls here. There looks to be a gin bar. Gin is boss.
- Under the Pier Show, Southwold (Suffolk)
When we went to Southwold to visit the beach the wind was icy cold and the sea was a disconcerting shade of brown. The Under the Pier Show made up for it. Located on the Southwold Pier, it’s a series of homemade arcade “games” that are both unique and bizarre. Definitely worth checking out.
- The Four Horseshoes, Thornham Magna (Suffolk)
Apart from existing in a town called Thornham Magna, this place is notable for having the lowest roof beams I’ve seen in any pub – low enough that cushions have been bolted on to them to prevent head injuries. Nice country pub with a variety of Suffolk ales.
- Patch of Stinging Nettles, Burgate (Suffolk)
In sharp contrast to Australia, there’s not much in the way of flora and fauna that can hurt you in England. I did however have the misfortune to brush up against some stinging nettles in the countryside. The pain was pretty meh. In an odd twist of convenience dockleaf, the antidote to stinging nettles, generally grows right next to them. All in all a mildly annoying experience.
- The Square and Compass, Worth Matravers (Swanage)
Cramped little building that would be quite lovely for an outside pint on a nice day. Noteworthy for the miniature museum of curiosities attached to the side of it, mostly made up of things washed up on the nearby beaches (actually moderately interesting). They also brew their own cider, which gets my stamp of approval even before I tell you that it’s not bad.
- The Cider Farm, Bath
Spoke about this place in a previous post. More of a shop than a farm, it can be found on the outskirts of Bath. The staff are friendly and happy to let you sample their varieties, and they have a few. Everything from cherry, strawberry, chili, and loads of others are on offer. Sold at reasonable prices in 2 litre plastic containers for maximum class.
- The West Gate, Bath
It doesn’t look like much from the street but this is a surprising two storey pub with fancy furniture and not outrageous prices. It also stocks beers from the Box Steam brewery which are delicious, steam age themed, and inventive in regards to different styles and flavours. A good selection of beers available on tap.
- The George Inn, Norton St Philip (Bath)
Ancient looking pub allegedly steeped in history, including assassination attempts, murdered monks, and stones stolen from monasteries. We only dropped in for one drink but the resident rad bartender started talking to us and gave us an impromptu tour around the building. It was super badass. It’s a proper inn and so rooms are available – they are pricey but also possibly worth it.
- The Golding Hop, Plaxtol (Tonbridge)
Another tiny place in an old building in the countryside somewhere. They also brew their own cider, which is quite good. Internet reviews warned us about the landlord but he seemed alright. The food wasn’t very good.
- The Mermaid Inn, Rye
Similar in style to the George Inn, although we didn’t get a tour here. Pretty old and apparently reasonably famous. In a town where most homes and buildings are given unique names the place on the opposite side of the street is called “The House Opposite”, so it’s sort of a big deal in Rye. Rye is also an historical coastal town worth having a look around.
I wasn’t kidding.
- The Portrait, Sidcup (Greater London)
One of the local pubs in Sidcup – the place we were staying with Jenny’s parents. Shuts early, which kind of pissed me off one time. It gets a mention because we went up to pub trivia there a few occasions. English pub trivia is difficult, mostly because there’s a heavy lean towards English content. They also do a deal which includes a reasonable bottle of wine and some severely average nachos for £10.
And now we appear to have finally arrived at the promised beer sub-section/rant!
The Beer Part
As I have been known to say, I have developed into an unashamed beer wanker. Instead of drinking $3 schooners of Carlton Draught down the pub, I’d prefer to go to some wanky place full of beards and drink some Pale Ales imported from the US. I’d rather travel out to a small brewery in Western Sydney only open during the daylight hours on a Saturday to drink their hoppy wheat brew instead of having another glass of Tooheys New, which frankly tastes like arseholes thanks very much. As I alluded to in a previous post, whilst I (really) really enjoyed my time there, those few months I spent in South East Asia were completely bereft of quality beers and I was looking forward to the promise of awesome options in England.
But wait! Controversy! The thing is, English beer frequently isn’t awesome. Did you know they drink Fosters here? In fact, it’s usually available on tap in most establishments. Insanity. It’s almost as crazy as all the pubs closing at 11, which is apparently perfectly reasonable to your average Briton. Granted, Fosters isn’t an English beer, so I can’t hold that against them. Their own attempts at making beer are notably better, but in many ways still a disappointment.
When they aren’t lads quaffing lager, the English love their “real ale”. Apart from being a bit smug, the term “real ale” is a little bit misrepresentative of what I’ve come to expect from regular ale. This is the stuff usually served at room temperature and with zero head. I could forgive these curiosities, but the real problem is that real ale is boring. There’s barely a noticeable variation in flavour between bitters, pale ales and IPAs in the real ale universe. Stouts and porters are inescapably different, but you get the impression that’s it’s only begrudgingly so.
The usual suspects producing real ales like to give their products lofty descriptions like “floral aromas”, “biscuity finish”, and “notes of citrus”, all of which sounds like a rainbow assault on your tastebuds but is actually little more than a load of wank (and I’m an expert in wank). Fortunately there are exceptions to the rule, and quality beer can be found if you know what you’re looking for.
I do this for you, Mum, in preparation for the inevitable future time you are stuck in London and refuse to drink another fucking shitty real ale, goddammit.
Both of these breweries have been personally sampled by me and are given The Favourite Son’s Great Big Wank of Approval.
- The Kernel Brewery, Bermondsey
Producing arguably the best beer in London (that I was exposed to anyway), this place sits under the main railway line coming into London Bridge from the South. The set-up is mostly storage area with a few benches crammed in amongst the shelves of ales. On Saturdays it opens to the public and those who enjoy a bit of flavour in their brew pile in to sample as many of the bottle-conditioned brews as they can. Their varieties seem to be constantly changing, as they apparently brew up batches with different combinations of hops every time. It’s all delicious, and there are discounted prices if you drink-in. It’s also BYO food and if you forget to pack a lunch there’s a cool little cheese and cured meats place next door that will fix you up a plate.
Did I mention the beer was good?
- Partizan Brewery, Bermondsey
Walking distance from The Kernel and under the same stretch of railway bridge, although an apparently smaller operation. Also only open on Saturdays but open later than The Kernel (till 5 pm) so you can mosey down once you get booted from the previous entry. Usually not as large a variety as at The Kernal but close to or equally as good. They do have fancier labels, though.
I should mention here that not everything that is considered a real ale is terrible, (just most). If you can get your hands on the aforementioned ales by Box Steam Brewery, East London Brewery, Adnam’s Brewery, or Bath Ales you will be in a for pleasant experience. Undoubtedly there are others around, but making sweeping generalisations and feigning indignation makes for a better blog post. Adnam’s is probably the closest to what real ales both are and have the potential to be, well done those guys.
Off to Hong Kong now, expect some decidedly less England focused posts in the future.