Sunday, 6 June 2010

Underneath the Arches

The beauty of the close season is being able to do all all those little things that you can't normally do on a Saturday when travelling to the football - wander round the shops at leisure, do a few household chores, visit some pubs and generally chill out.

And since there was no engineering on the Jubilee line for the first time in ages, Liz and I took the opportunity to wander down to Borough Market, close to London Bridge.

Before doing so though we took a wee deviation - exiting the tube at Bermondsey we wandered along to some railway arches close to Druid Road. One of these arches now being home to one of the newest breweries in London, the Kernel Brewery.

(left) Evin and bottles of his various brews

I first heard about this new brewery when I saw some of their bottles at the Sourced Market at St Pancras station - which has a surprisingly decent range of bottled beers - and some subsequent googling provided a bit more information than their minimalist labels had.

The brewery was more or less set-up at the start of this year and most of their produce is bottled though some has been casked and may be appear at the Brew Wharf.

The brewer, Evin O'Riordan, and his partner were happy to offer tastings of their porter and extra stout - the latter a little young according to Evin but both were very tasty - they also do a pale ale and an IPA which I will be trying soon.

Sharing the arch with the Kernel Brewery is the Ham and Cheese Company who find the conditions there perfect for storing cheese.

There was also a cheese maker, William (Bill) Oglethorpe, handing out some samples of some lightly fried cheese - I've never been much of a cheese fan (I prefer it cooked rather than raw) but this was beautiful and certainly complemented the beer.

Bill also has a stall at Borough Market - Kappacasein - where he sells toasted cheese goodies. You can see how he makes the cheese in the arches here.

After buying a few bottles of Kernel beer, Liz and I walked to nearby Bermondsey Street where we had breakfast at the Bermondsey Kitchen.

Liz had eggs Benedict whilst I had their set breakfast - Gloucester Old Spot bacon and sausages, black pudding, poached egg, fried new potatoes, roast tomatoes, wilted spinach and roast field mushrooms.

Of course this is all a bit more up-market than I'm used to - wilted spinach in a fry-up for goodness sake - and at just under a tenner much more than I'm used to paying at the greasy spoons around Kings Cross and Euston. But it was good.

We wandered past London Bridge where the tallest building in the UK - the Shard - is currently being built. Once complete in 2012, it will dominate the London skyline. It's pretty huge as it is.

(right) The core of the Shard being constructed

We arrive at Borough Market and pop into Brew Wharf for a couple of beers but they were only just getting their tills sorted as it was only just noon.

I'm not been here for a few years as the place is rather soulless and the beer was utterly mediocre but recent reports suggested it has much improved so time to give it another try.

In ticker mode, I have a half of each of the two beers on offer - a 4.4% Hopster and a 3.5% Caulfield Rye of which the latter was the pick of the bunch despite being the weaker of the two. At £3.90 a pint though it is not a place to have too many beers.

From here it was a short walk to the Rake where I tried a half each of the Otley O-Mai and Burton Bridge Walker's Way - the latter commemorating the New York mayor who organised a beer parade in 1932 which helped to bring an end to prohibition. Well done that man!

The final port of call for the day was our old favourite, the New Forest Cider stall, which is a great place to stop and drink cider whilst watching the hordes of tourists and shoppers wander round the market.

Today owner Barry has put on a few perries on in addition to his own wares - a bit of a mini-festival in fact - so I start on a couple of those whilst Liz has the champagne-style cider.

You tend to see a few regulars here, mainly locals, including the old guy who despite coming from Deptford has a Geordie accent from when he was evacuated to Hebburn in the war. Most peculiar!

(left) Into the cellar with you my lovelies...

The general view amongst the cider-drinking cognescenti present today, including barman Paul who is never shy of expressing an opinion or two, is that the Kingston Black is not up to it's usual standard so I move on to the dry cider. Good value at £2.50 a pint.

Barry takes a few minutes out to have a sit and a chat, telling us of how he came to be in the cider game.

You can tell he is a man who enjoys his work - pressing cider as well as sourcing other cider and perry from around the south-west. And now he's got a bittern just round the back of his orchards - a lucky chap indeed.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

The Boys Are Back In Town

I normally hate going out on Sunday nights but this is the bank holiday weekend and so I convince myself that it's more of a virtual Saturday.

Liz has gone off with her chums to see Rotherham battle it out with Dagenham at Wembley for the right to play in League One. I've had a few texts asking if I was going and wishing Liz luck but for me the season is well and truly over and I'll not be there. Besides, I have other plans.

They started with a visit to the Southampton Arms in Gospel Oak, an area of north London stuck between Kentish Town and Hampstead which I'm not very familiar with.

The pub has recently popped up on the beer radar recently as having a great choice of beers and ciders - so Steve Duffy and I popped in earlier last week when he was in town and we were impressed. I decided to make another visit with Geoff, our Argyle chum, who was also keen to try it.

Five ciders were available including the lovely Yarlington Mill from favourite Gwynt y Ddraig plus about six beers from various microwbrewers including Whistable Oyster Stout, Otley 01 and Runner, a beer from the Truman Brewery.

Truman's was a major brewer based in Brick Lane but after over 200 years of brewing it closed down in 1989. Now a couple of East End beer enthusiasts have resurrected the name and their recipes and are brewing at the Nethergate brewery (though they aim to return to London). Runner is their first production run - a darkish session beer which was very nice. Watch this space.

For me, there are a couple of minor niggles with the Southampton Arms - unless you ask for a straight glass you'll be served in a jug and they also seem to encourage piano players to come in and tinkle away annoyingly.

From here it was a short walk to the Junction Tavern which was having their 13th beer festival over the course of the long weekend. The place was packed when we got there and all but one barrel on their stillage had been drunk with just five beers on draught.

After a couple of pints I leave Geoff and head on down to Camden for the main event of the day - the mighty Punishment of Luxury are playing the Underworld.

My sister and niece have come down to stay with me for the weekend so that they can go to the gig but they preferred shopping and a tapas bar to drinking with me so we all meet up outside.

This is the band's third London gig in less than a year and I still can't believe that they're back together. They're busy setting up as we enter - no roadies to help them out, they've got to do their own humping.
(left) Jimi Giro and Nevilluxury

I have a quick chat with bassist Jimi Giro who tells me he hadn't got home to Newcastle until 4am that morning after playing in Southport with another band. That's rock and roll, I tell him sympathetically.

The set-list is much the same as for the other gigs though they've clearly been rehearsing as they've tinkered around with the arrangement of a few songs.

There didn't look to be much of a crowd at first but people soon started to move down to the front of the stage and towards the end the crowd were really jumping.

Someone threw an empty plastic glass that bounced off singer Brian Bond's head but he barely flinched and carried on like a true pro. I'm sure he's had much worse thrown at him 20-odd years ago.

The band encored with two of their singles - Jellyfish and what the band described as their one ballad, Brainbomb, which was anything but. The only way to finish their set.

During the gig Brian announced that their album, Laughing Academy, is to be re-released later this year which is great news.

They have another gig in December this year - this will be in Stockton and has been arranged by Mission Impossible editor, Steve Harland, who is also a huge fan of the band. I only hope it coincides with a home game or something will have to give...