Friday, 7 March 2014

The Bree Louise

The other week I visited one of London’s best known real ale pubs for the first time. Tucked away down a side street alongside Euston station, the Bree Louise offers one of the widest ranges of cask beers and traditional ciders in the capital, but the pub has not been without its share of controversy since opening in its present guise. I have read many reports about the place; the majority of them quite critical in particular with regard to the quality of the beer. Because of this there was no way the Bree Louise was ever going to be a destination pub, as far as I was concerned, but when I found myself in the Euston area in need of a pint and a bite to eat I thought I’d call in to see what all the fuss was about.

I was in London for a concert given by the lovely and multi-talented, singer-songwriter, NerinaPallot; more about Nerina and the concert later. The concert was taking place at Old St Pancras Church, a small, historic working church, just behind St Pancras station. I wanted both some solid and liquid refreshment before the gig and after scanning various websites and pub guides and weeding out the pretentious and the over-priced, I settled on the Bree Louise.

I managed to leave work early, catching a direct train from the small village where I work, to London Bridge. After a short tube journey I arrived at Euston just after 5pm, and had little trouble locating the Bree Louise. There were quite a few people sitting on the covered benches outside the pub, which had me wondering whether or not there would be room inside, but I needn’t have worried, as whilst the pub was quite busy it was in no way bursting at the seams. I spotted a small table, claimed it by dumping my bag and my coat on the chair and made my way to the bar, somewhat perplexed as to which of the 17 or so beers to go for.

I had noticed the majority were on gravity, kept in several racks of casks behind the bar, in the right hand section of the bar. Noticing that several casks were stooped at a fairly steep angle, and thus approaching empty, I decided to give this part of the pub a miss, so instead I moved across to the bar on the left, where the beers are on hand pump. The friendly and helpful barmaid offered me a couple of tasters, and in the end I plumped for a pint of Stod Fold Gold. As its name implies, this was a golden ale, 3.8% in strength, with a nice bitter finish. I later discovered the brewery are based in Halifax, West Yorkshire. It hit the spot, and I retired to my table and had a good look round at my surroundings.

“A bit dated”, would be my summing up of the décor. Covering the walls with umpteen pump clips seems very 80’s, if not even older, but what was worse was the location of my table. Being close to the ladies loo, my nostrils were assaulted by a strong smell of disinfectant every time the door was opened. Not pleasant at all, although it could have been worse I suppose! There was no chance of moving elsewhere, as the pub was starting to fill up quite rapidly. In addition I planned on eating and so needed to remain seated.

Perusing the menu, the pies sounded quite appealing, even though cooked meat and gravy contained in an earthenware dish and topped with a layer of puff-pastry, does NOT constitute a pie in my book! Upon ordering, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that as a CAMRA member I was entitled to a £2.00 discount. This was in addition to the 50p a pint reduction I had already taken advantage of. Before my pie arrived I ordered another pint; this time opting for another Yorkshire beer, the 4.0% Pennine Real Blonde. Imagine my disappointment at seeing it being poured from one of the casks, despite there being a hand pump advertising its presence!

My worst fears were confirmed when it was placed in front of me, totally lifeless and flat as the proverbial witch’s tit! It wasn’t off, but with virtually zero condition, it wasn’t particularly enjoyable either. Without the 50p CAMRA discount, this beer would have cost me £4.10 a pint; a high price to pay for such a lacklustre drink. My chicken, ham and leek pie was OK and although it was rather on the salty side it filled me up and left me ready to face the world and make my way to the concert venue.

As mentioned earlier, the concert was held at St Pancras Old Church; a beautiful old working church behind the vast modern extension to the rear of St Pancras station. With seating for just 120 people, it provided a cosy and intimate setting for Nerina Pallot to entertain and captivate us with her inimitable and faultlessly performed, self-penned compositions. Nerina is probably best known for her 2005 hit, “Everybody’s Gone to War”, and the video which accompanied the song. This featured an overly realistic and slightly disturbing food fight, staged in an American supermarket, but Nerina has received quite a lot of airplay for her more restrained compositions as well. Alone on stage, in front of the altar in the candle-lit church, playing either piano or acoustic guitar, she enthralled us, putting on a performance to remember for a long time to come.

The concert, of course, was my main reason for being in town that night, but the following day I couldn’t help reflecting on the Bree Louise. I can see why it provokes such strong feelings, and I can especially see why fellow bloggers, such as Tandleman have come out against the place. Having been there now, I don’t think I would go back. I’ve always been more than a little suspicious of “beer exhibition” type pubs, as not only is too much choice not always a good thing, but too much choice inevitably means the pub is over-stocked, and the slow moving lines will therefore be way past their best.

On the plus side the place was convivial, with friendly, knowledgeable and attractive barmaids. It was convenient to where I wanted to be, bustling and with a good atmosphere. The food was filling and good value for money, but that’s where the good points start to be out-weighed by the bad ones. I can live with the dated décor, but toilets which open straight into the bar area are a definite no-no, so far as I am concerned. Even more of a no-no is flat, poorly-kept beer which is totally lacking in condition. Insult is added to injury when the beer is sold at a premium (over the top!), price. Gravity dispense beer is fine when it involves storing and dispensing the beer in a temperature controlled room; as is the case with the Halfway House and the Old House, back in my neck of the woods. Having several racks of casks on show behind the bar of a busy city centre pub is not a good idea, even though it might look all rustic and twee.

The pub obviously has its legions of devotees, as witnessed by the number of customers who had crowded in by the time I left, so it must be doing something right. For me though, the place just doesn't click, so no, I won’t be going back!


BryanB said...

You're not the first person to conclude that the Bree Louise has a touch of the Emperor's new clothes about it, I'm afraid. The gravity stuff is good if it's fresh, but my experience was you're better off with the handpumps. And sometimes it's better to sit outside, away from the smell of the drains!

That said, weren't there reports that the place would be demolished for HS2? In that case, I can understand a certain reluctance to spend money updating the plumbing.

Paul Bailey said...

I haven't seen the plans for HS2 Bryan, but given the proximity of the pub to Euston station I'm not surprised that its days may be numbered.

Tyson said...

It is due to be demolished for HS but it's been like that for years, so no excuses. And the pies are not pies. You wouid have been far better to go to the Euston Tap: great beer at great prices and great piza.

Martin, Cambridge said...

Interesting read, and I've had similar experiences at the Bree on 2 visits, including one after the Cup Final last week. On both occasions I had one mediocre and one good pint on gravity. Beer turnover shouldn't be a problem, the pub was heaving both times.

The landlord offered me a change of 1st pint when I mentioned condition to the staff, but his surprise at my comment persuaded me to finish it, and the 2nd pint from Brains was good. The pub has real character.

I completed my celebrations in the Tap, where I had a frankly marvellous pint of something Marble in the slight drizzle. It was good value for the ABV and I couldn't even tell you if it was cask or keg. The Tap never disappoints.

Paul Bailey said...

Martin, I know lots of people rave about the Tap, but if you get more than half a dozen people in there then it's packed out. I also don't like not being able to read the chalkboards, because they're behind the bar, and my eye sight isn't what it used to be.

The beer may be great in the Tap, but it reminds me of drinking in a public convenience!

Tyson, I'd already commented that the pies in the Bree aren't proper, but as I said in the post, they filled a gap. Perhaps someone should start a campaign for real pies?

With the Con-Libs determined to speed things up with HS2 (if you'll pardon the pun!), it looks like the Bree Louise's days are numbered anyway.