Tuesday, 26 June 2012


With the burger assault on London clearly not abating, I visited another semi-permanent, fully trendy burger bar in Shoreditch. Box Park, straddling Shoreditch High Street station, is a long term, pop-up shopping mall and food court, with those involved given solid, compact and unglamorous booths to strut their stuff. Downstairs is top end high street fashion; upstairs is a collection of cafes and restaurants, mainly small chains and independents. In amongst some appealing places to eat is Bukowski, a burger and fries joint that sticks to the brief – no messing around with fancy sides, no desserts, quick service and cheap prices.
         I say cheap – the ‘purist’ burger is £5.50 and well worth it, the large chips (£2.50) are both actually large and fantastic. None of the burgers break a tenner, most quite comfortably, and all are of good quality. Some may still find the prices steep at what is essentially a glorified Ikea cupboard serving fast food, but compared to prices and standards further west, this seems accessible and fair.  
          Triple cooked, beef dripping chips are the highlight of a menu which is high on flavour and a little way short on texture. The straight up ‘purist’ burger was meaty and rich, and the flavour of the beef was dominant as you would hope, but the meat was a tad dry and too compacted, the bun too reminiscent of a dry cake. A £9.50 rib burger was tasty, but the smoked cheese overpowered the meat and there was not enough of the promised maple bacon jam. The accompanying Waldorf coleslaw was delicious but little consolation for those expecting burger induced fireworks for their tenner. A Mexican style pulled pork bun was big on flavour, but too uniform in texture, depriving us of the pleasure of chewing on dry, charred bits of pig for the sake of easily swallowed but easily forgotten tenderness.
So to the beer. 3 different bottles of Hopdaemon as the only options is a pretty odd choice, but actually not a bad one. They clearly like these beers and it is easy to see why – the Green Daemon lager is a brilliant, refreshing and quenching accompaniment to salty, rich food, and mine was gone in minutes. Bigger and bolder is Shrimshander IPA, its dark amber depths delivering punchy, slightly sweet citrus upfront with big amounts of hop bitterness and alcohol at the finish. This is great with the pulled pork and with the cheese on the rib burger. A slender list it may be, but far superior to the macro lager most chain restaurants will offer, and at £3.60 for 500ml bottles it is really good value. Cocktails are a fiver and very decent, but again only a few options are offered. Bukowski is yet another quality, affordable place to eat with craft beer on the menu, and although not the best burger in town, this is something to be happy about.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Craft Beer at the Zoo

The summer promotion of ‘Zoo Lates’ - an adult only open air bar, nightclub and food market set within the confines of London Zoo - is a slightly odd, but thoroughly enjoyable way to spend an evening. You can tuck in to some Polish pierogi or Mexican tacos, sipping a large plastic glass of Pimms, all while watching lions have their dinner and stick insects making sweet sticky love. It is not a reserved and peaceful occasion to marvel at nature’s most wondrous creations – it is busy and boisterous, with animal costumes, face painting, a disco and a carousel in full flow, all with hordes of participants. Remember this is adults only, with ready access to alcohol.  
               Right in the middle of all this commotion (just out of earshot of the tigers) is a self-described ‘real ale bar’, a beer festival style tent with several casks lined up to dispense beer via gravity, and a couple of keg lines. The tent and garden are given identical space to the directly adjacent Pimms bar, which was predictably busier but not hugely so. The beers on show were impressively sourced – this was not a random selection of well-known ales you might find in the supermarket. It was focussed on London’s finest (I believe this was set up in conjunction with the London Brewers Alliance) with Redemption, Fullers, Camden Town, Meantime and Sambrooks all available on a visit earlier this month, and more promised for subsequent events.

            The Redemption Trinity I had was perhaps not the finest version I have tried (tasting slightly  dull), but it was well conditioned and still a cut above the usual stuff available at events and tourist havens like this, and at £3.50 was fairly priced given the location. The range is solid, with plenty of opportunity to match pale and dark beers with the variety of food on offer, and the keg option is great for those looking for refreshment in the evening sun. The point here is that this is a pleasing development – first and foremost to see London craft beer being championed to a clearly affluent, touristy crowd - but also to see it done at the type of event where the usual offering is mainstream lager at exaggerated prices. I would like to see craft beer appearing and thriving in new & different environments from bars and restaurants, like theme parks, hotels, theatres, concerts and stadiums. This feels like progress is being made towards that end, and being welcomed by the public. It seems unlikely that something of this nature would have been in palce a few years ago, which is a positive and exciting sign for London's breweries. 
Has anyone seen craft beer/real ale being served in other interesting locations?

Zoo Lates is on every Friday in June & July

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Dalston Drinking

The Fox, The Railway Tavern, L'Entrepot

Cheap rent and an industrious spirit have long been at the heart of East London’s reputation for innovation, trend setting and start-up businesses. While street food, cocktail bars, clubs and niche industries have thrived in the last decade, until recently brewing and craft beer were significantly underrepresented in the area. Apparently there were a few people looking to correct that situation, and in a very short time the area has welcomed East London, Redchurch, Beavertown, London Fields, and Hackney Brewing amongst others. The craft beer pub landscape has also seen some recent additions, as imperial stouts and IPAs start to compete with ginger mojito’s and espresso martinis on a Thursday night session. The variation and novelty of craft beer which appeals to drinkers is matched by the appeal to proprietors, who can cash in on the acceptance of high prices and increased marketing savvy of the brewers.
        With less of a commuter presence and a more localised, community feel than Shoreditch to its immediate south, Dalston has long been a good place to drink and eat. It just got markedly better, with The Fox reopened and refurbished as a ‘Craft Beer House’. An unfortunate location has this proud looking building on a rather ugly stretch of Kingsland Road, the contrast felt sharply on entering the handsome, comfortable and spacious bar/dining area. It feels like a proper pub – lots of dark wood and a simple, raised bar overlooking the basic space. The beer selection is very kind to lovers of pale, hoppy beers – American kegs with some big hitters in Sierra Nevada and Anchor Steam cry out to be consumed, and Bernard have a 3-tap permanent font to themselves. British beers take the limelight on cask, with more light and hoppy styles on show from some excellent microbreweries like Bristol Beer Factory and Dark Star. Some darker stuff would please a few more people, and I would really like to see a focus on London beers on draft, as opposed to just in the fridge (though there are several to be found here). This is not the biggest or rarest selection in town, but it was carefully selected and had quality and reputation as a running theme.
        The short, snacky menu looks ideal for the mood and style of the pub, and on our visit the chips were damn good, the first real test of any pub kitchen. A great draw here is a small but nicely kitted out roof terrace, a quiet sanctuary for a contemplative pint in the warm air, or just a great place for a cigarette, if you have not been converted to clean living by the smoking ban. This feels like a fantastic mix of the traditional and the modern, with the focus on quality beer not overriding the desire to provide a relaxing and sustainable drinking environment for anyone who might fancy a tipple, whatever that may be. The obvious concern to mention from our visit was that it was nearly empty, a symptom perhaps of the location, but hopefully something which can be remedied by the launch of a proper website and social media presence.  
         This is a destination pub by itself, but if you were in need of an excuse, The Railway Tavern is a short walk away and is also worth a visit. This pub comes from the clever people who own the Pineapple in Kentish Town, one of the best in an area full of great drinking spots. On a quiet, attractive residential road a few minutes from the epicentre of Dalston, it is a compact space, with a shallow bar at the front supplemented by some appealing nooks and corners. Good to look at from both inside and out, it has a lazy afternoon feel about it, as though its pulse never quickens and voices are rarely raised. The emphasis is on cask beer, with 6 hand pumps dispensing real quality, with Brewdog, Dark Star, Thornbridge and some local stuff from Sambrooks on show on our visit. Adnams Ghost Ship was particularly good, and some Meantime keg lager was also appreciated, especially with the decent enough Thai food being served up at sensible prices. The general impression here is that you get what you put in – they provide a chess set and some board games, some decent beer and comfy seats. If that isn’t enough for you then hit one of the livelier, louder bars a few hundred yards away. But if what you want is a pleasant, unobtrusive place to meet a friend or read the paper, then look no further.

        Also worth mentioning if you are in the area is the fantastic L’Entrepot, a new wine bar on Dalston Lane. Set back from a dull stretch of road, this wine shop, warehouse & bar hybrid looks clean and fresh inside, cavernous and industrial yet sleek and accommodating, while also providing big park benches on the street for summertime drinking. A broad and interesting menu of concisely described wines by the glass, all at affordable prices and all very nice, is bolstered by a range of beers from Kernel and Redchrurch. A simple, appetising collection of small dishes to accompany the wines and a knowledgeable staff make this establishment a great place for something different, as you are unlikely to find somewhere quite like this (or as good) in other areas of London. Very cool and very impressive.