“A trip to London” my friend Eric suggested, “taking in a few pubs around the London Bridge area.” This seemed like an excellent idea; I had spent most of the week at home doing some decorating, and I ached from climbing up ladders and crouching down to reach awkward spots. Besides, I had not really had a chance to catch up with Eric since my return from Japan, so a day’s drinking in some of Southwark’s finest hostelries seemed the perfect opportunity for a break from the painting and a chance to swap experiences about the Far East, (Eric has visited Japan in the past, so we had a lot to talk about).
After a train journey of just over half an hour, through the pleasant and very green-looking Kent countryside, we alighted at London Bridge. Although it must only be two months or so since I was last up there I was surprised at the amount of alterations that had taken place. The station is undergoing a massive redevelopment programme, the first part of which seems to have been the demolition of the train shed on the “Surrey side”. This left us with an uninterrupted view of the Shard, London’s latest white elephant, (anyone who remembers Centre Point from the 1960’s will know what I am talking about!)
I had brought with us, for guidance, Des de Moor’s excellent “CAMRA Guide to London’s Best Beer Pubs & Bars”, but to start off I suggested we call in at the historic George Inn, just off Borough High Street. Eric hadn’t been there before, despite being a member of the National Trust, and was very impressed with the antiquity and character of what is the last remaining example in London of a galleried coaching inn. As it was only shortly after 11 o’clock, the pub was fairly quiet, and in view of the early hour, and the fact we had the whole day in front of us, I suggested we just have a half. The other reason for this was the George is leased to Greene King, not our favourite brewery, although we did spot a beer from Portobello Brewery, called Star on the bar. We were charged two quid a half, and later found out from looking at the price list, that the George charges a premium for halves, as pints were £3.85. This is a money grabbing practice which unfortunately has become much too common. It made our minds up to drink pints for the rest of the day.
The beer itself was not particularly great, not down to the brewery I hasten to add, but much more likely the end of the barrel. Never mind, we had a good look round before crossing the road and heading through the bustling Borough Market opposite. The majority of the construction work involved with squeezing in the new railway viaduct, high above the heads of the market below, has now been completed and the Wheatsheaf pub which had the top sliced off it in order to accommodate the new structure has now re-opened for business. However, it was not our intention to be drinking Young’s beers as since their move to Bedford they really are a shadow of their former self. Instead we headed for everyone’s favourite real ale pub in these parts, the Market Porter.
The pub was virtually empty when we arrived, in fact this was the quietest I have ever seen it, but then it was just before midday and I was certain that by early afternoon the place would be heaving as usual. With a choice of 12 cask ales on offer it was difficult to decide what to go for. In the end we opted for Signal Mainline from the recently opened Settle Brewery. We had purposely chosen a weak beer to start with, but whilst this 3.6% abv brew was pleasant enough, but a little on the sweet side so far as I was concerned, and thus didn’t really hit the spot. I said that there weren’t many people in the pub, but despite that there weren’t many places to sit down either. I put that down to the fact that tables and chairs take up too much floor space, and when the Market Porter is as packed as I’ve seen it every available square foot is needed to accommodate all the punters. We did however, manage to grab one of the last small tables, together with a couple of stools, in the extension at the rear of the pub. This gave us a chance to sit down, consult the guide and peruse the map, not that Eric could do much perusing as he had left his reading glasses at home!
We could, of course, quite easily have spent the rest of the day in the Porter. After all there were plenty of other beers for us to try, but onwards and upwards we decided to give somewhere else a try and decided on the Southwark Tavern, described in Des’s guide as a “contemporary pub”. The pub is situated right on the edge of Borough Market, fronting on to Borough High Street, and with its attractive tiled frontage, and evidence of its one time owners Meux and Co still clearly visible, we stepped inside. Apart from the dreaded Doom Bar, there were three other cask ales which caught our eye – Stonehenge Eye-Opener, Red Squirrel Jack Black – Black IPA and Wharfe Bank Fair Dinkum. We opted for the latter, a 4.3% cask lager, brewed using Australian hops. It was nice and refreshing and this time really did do the trick. The Southwark also offers a number of keg beers, including several foreign ones, and I’d made a mental note to look at these more closely on my trip back from the gents, but unfortunately quite forgot to do so when the time came.
We thought it wise to get something more solid inside of us before any more beer was consumed, so where better than one of the many food stalls operating in the adjacent market. A freshly cooked, hot, salt beef sandwich, served up in a doorstep wedge of crusty bread with English mustard and gherkins proved just the right amount of nourishment before moving on to our next port of call.
I’d had it in mind to visit Katzenjammers, a German-themed bier Keller sited in the basement of the old Hop Exchange. My son was rather impressed with the place when he and a friend had visited the other year, but after taking a wrong turning and ending up next to the cathedral, I decided to go along with Eric’s suggestion of crossing the river and seeing what was on offer in the City. This fitted in with the vague plan we had of gradually making our way westwards towards Charing Cross station.
(To be continued).