Friday, 25 October 2019

Saturday afternoon & evening in London

The boy and I were in London on Saturday afternoon, along with a million or so other like minded individuals, expressing our solidarity with the "People's Vote" campaign. We arrived a little late to join the march itself which, as with previous demonstrations, ran from Park Lane to the Houses of Parliament, so we sneaked our way along the Embankment and slowly wormed our way through the crowds that had gathered in Parliament Square.

We listened to some rousing speeches as speakers from the world of politics, entertainment as well as ordinary folk, addressed the crowd warning of the dangers associated with Britain’s departure from the European Union, whilst campaigning to give the electorate the final say on any deal the government might come up with.

After standing still for an hour and a half, wedged in amongst the mass of  demonstrators, we decided it was high time to break free and head off for a drink and a bite to eat. I had several places in mind, but wanted to get away from the crowds that were milling around Parliament and Whitehall. 

We headed off in the opposite direction, past Westminster Abbey and towards St James’ Park underground station. We were making for a pub which is an old favourite of mine, but one that I hadn’t visited for many years. The pub in question was the Star Tavern, tucked away in a back-street mews just off  Belgrave Square.

We exited the underground at South Kensington, due to what looked like an over-crowding issue on the Piccadilly Line, and took the bus instead. We alighted at Knightsbridge, opposite Harrods, and then made our way in foot to Belgravia.  We passed through what was obviously a moneyed area, with Rolls Royce’s and Bentleys seemingly ten to the dozen. Matt noticed in one estate agent’s window, an apartment advertised for rent, at the unbelievable rate of £33,500 pcm!

We approached the Star from the north with a real sense of anticipation, as many years had passed since my last visit. The lad was hungry; I just wanted to sit down and take the weight off my feet. I was delighted to discover that nothing much had changed at the Star over the past couple of decades and even better, the pub wasn’t heaving. Following the previous demo, back in March,  I’d visited the Anglesea Arms, in Kensington, and found place absolutely rammed. I had difficulty in just getting a drink, and there was no chance of sitting down anywhere, let alone enjoying a meal.

The Star was the complete opposite and every bit as good as I remembered it. There was plenty of room and also several spare tables. The choice of beers in this longstanding Fuller’s pub and perennial GBG entry, were Pride, ESB and Seafarers. I decided to live dangerously and go for the ESB, although I have to point out, I am not a fan of the chalice-like glass it was served in. The beer was good, but perhaps a little lacking in condition. This was why I only scored it at NBSS 3.0.

I was relieved to see menus on the tables and the pub still serving food. Father and son both opted for the Chalcroft Farm beef burger and triple-cooked chips –  does that make them three times as scrumptious? The burgers were good, and sufficient to satisfy the poor hungry 27 year old, who “Hadn’t eaten since breakfast!”

I would have been quite happy to remain at the Star for the rest of the evening, but the lad was getting itchy feet. I treated self to a further half of ESB, and took a look at my phone, before deciding to head for the rather upmarket Alfred Tennyson, gourmet pub. This was listed as stocking Pilsner Urquell on draught, so we thought we’d give it a try, but on arrival, and debating whether to step inside or not, I noticed the next road was Kinnerton Street, a road which rang a bell in my “pubs I have known” memory.

This tucked-away, narrow mews is home to the Nags Head, a tiny and unspoilt two bar free house. I visited the pub many years ago, and have been racking my brains to try and think when and, more importantly, what prompted my visit. I recall visiting another unspoilt pub called the Antelope, but looking at a map, this establishment is to the south of Belgrave Square.

Whatever the reason I was glad I remembered the Nags Head, which was just a short walk away from the Alfred Tennyson. We entered the upper, front bar, noticing a separate bar at a lower level. There was plenty of room where we were, so we stayed put, taking note of the set of  attractive, pink ceramic hand-pull, mounted on a pewter plinth. It is claimed that the bar counter is the lowest in London.

The walls are decorated with a motley collection of paintings and photos, together with a collection of assorted memorabilia. The latter includes a “What the butler saw” machine. The whole place really was like stepping back in time. There were five Adnam’s beers available, including their “Dry Hopped Lager.” I wasn’t aware that the latter was a cask ale, but Matt decided to give it a go, whilst I stuck with the Southwold Bitter. I scored this as another 3.0 NBSS.

I took a few photos, as discreetly as I could, given the prominent notice
displayed next to the bar, announcing that mobile phones were banned - shades of Sir Humphrey Smith (see below). After the young couple sitting next to the fireplace left, we had the bar to ourselves. There seemed quite a few people in the lower bar, but after finishing our pints, we decided it was time to make tracks.

We walked along to Hyde Park Corner tube station, and took the Piccadilly Line to Leicester Square. This deposited us conveniently close to Charing Cross station and also to our final pub of the evening.

The Chandos needs little in the way of introduction, but this Sam Smith’s pub is probably too convenient for the train home, and consequently I have taken advantage of its proximity on numerous trips to the capital. It was busy on Saturday, but despite this we still managed to find a couple of seats.

Matt ordered a pint of Pure Brewed Lager, but it had ran out. He was offered the slightly weaker Taddy Lager instead, describing it as very good. I of course, went for the Old Brewery Bitter, and can report it was excellent. It was by far the best pint of the evening, bright, well-conditioned and topped with a thick creamy head. It was definitely worthy of a 4.0 NBSS.

As mentioned, the pub was busy, but I saw plenty of people using their mobile phones in direct contravention of Sir Humphrey’s ban on electronic devices. For all I know, one or two of them might even have been swearing, thereby contravening another edict, but with no sign of the reclusive brewery boss to catch them out, they obviously got away with this.

After finishing our drinks, we walked over to Charing Cross and caught the 21.30 train back to Tonbridge, after an interesting day out in the capital, and some equally interesting, classic London pubs.


Liam K said...

Haven't been to a few of those pubs in a while and hopefully will be doing so at or after Christmas.

Only thing confusing me was how you went from st James park to South Kensington when you could have gone circle and district to Sloane sq and been only a short walk or bus to the star. Was the line suspended/closed?

Paul Bailey said...

Hi Liam, looking back, I mis-read the map. Knightsbridge looked the nearest, but as you point out Sloane Square might have been better.

There was some sort of problem at South Kensington, as District line services were terminating there and everyone was being directed down onto the Picadilly. With a constant stream of people, all making their way towards the down escalator, I had visions of a crush situation developing on the platform. We therefore did an about turn, and took the bus up to Knightsbridge, as described.

When I lived in London, during the late 1970's, I would often meet a friend at the Star, for a few after-work drinks. In those days I would walk from Victoria, as that was where my train home departed from.

As reported, the Star remains unaltered, and as good as it was 40 years ago, so I'm sure you will enjoy your Christmas-time visit.

retiredmartin said...

Always good to read your honest beer scores, Paul.

London Pride, Adnams and Landlord are all good beers and regular sights in London but I'd be amazed if they sell at half the volumes they did 15 years ago before craft.

Of course, a decent beer at NBSS 3 in a classic pub is still a wonderful thing, but I doubt we'll ever have a pint of Fullers that makes us go Wow again.

The night before your visit I was in central London at the Cock, another Sam Smiths pub with exceptional OBB. Just shows 😉

Paul Bailey said...

I'm not sure about Timothy Taylor's Martin, but both Adnam's and Fuller's have branched out into "craft" in their own way. Their overall beer sales are probably much the same, but the importance of their "traditional" brands will have been diluted.

It depends on what we're comparing these regular brands with, but I've certainly had some excellent Adnam's, particularly on visits to Norfolk.

I read your report on the Cock, although I wasn't aware of its existence. (I must be slipping as I thought I knew all Sam Smith's central London outlets). Judging by one of the comments, it seems Sir Humphrey's enforcers are keeping an eye out for even the most benign electronic devices. I don't think you can stream live football on a Kindle, but I might be mistaken!

retiredmartin said...

I'd never heard of the Cock, either. Odd given it's yards from Oxford Circus.

I think Cask quality in London has suffered more than in rural Norfolk due to range expansion and shifts to cider and Peroni, though I've had plenty of dull ale along the Norfolk coast 😉

JPM said...

Thanks again for another good read, Paul. I'm sorry that Mrs. E and I were not able to join you on the demo.

Incidentally, if "the people" really are "crying out" for a General Election, then why weren't there a million of them in London demanding just that? And if we can have three flaming General Elections in just four short years, then why are three referendums in forty-four years too much to ask?

Some things just don't add up do they?

Paul Bailey said...

No JPM, some things definitely don't add up. Johnson only wants a General Election because of Labour's poor showing in the polls - surely it's time now for the party to ditch JC?

On the other hand, the PM and his cabinet cronies are running scared of a second referendum because they know people were duped and lied to first time around, and that it is impossible to deliver the fantasy Brexit they promised.

Of course, there is another reason why Johnson and the ERG are so desperate to leave the European Union, and that is the EU's new tax-avoidance laws kick in at the beginning of 2020, and they won't be able to hide their ill-gotten gains!

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