The Plank & Leggit, Sawley, July 2018

This is another of those occasions where we don’t get to choose the pub. We’d been out walking with friends around Shardlow and Castle Donington earlier in the day, and were due to meet more friends here early in the evening. We abandoned the second part of our walk due to the scorchio temperatures and headed to the pub early. Normally this is a cause for celebration. In the case of a Greene King “IPA” establishment, it’s a cause for lime and soda.

So we sat back with some refreshing not-beer, and planned some future walks whilst waiting for other friends to arrive. When they began to arrive, I headed to the bar to order food, and another tasty pint of lime and soda.

Tonight’s dinner was “Route 66”, a burger topped with cheese, BBQ pulled pork rib meat, 2 hash browns and a free-range fried egg. Reasonable fodder, nothing special. Enough to replace lost calories afer a warm walk in the heat of the day…

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Another of those pub visits where you know that all of the beer that you own has been looked after far better than the dull casks delivered here each week.

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The Bill Murray, Islington, June 2018

It’s Edinburgh preview season. And fortuitously I’m in London for work, although the fortune comes at a cost, five days of training and two exams, the second of which is two and a half hours long. I keep vowing to stop doing exams, and one day I will eventually keep that vow. This week however, I have a daily cycle of 20 minutes of sweaty tube journey, 90 minutes of learning, 15 minutes for a coffee, 90 minutes of learning, a sandwich in the park, 90 minutes of learning, 15 minutes for a coffee, 90 minutes of learning,  20 minutes of sweaty tube journey.

Anyway, on to the pub for a double bill of Edinburgh previews, a relaxing evening instead of doing mock exam papers. The Bill Murray is somewhere I’ve heard about quite a bit since I’m very much a follower of the live comedy “scene”. It’s a short-ish walk from Angel tube station (home to the UK’s longest escalator – one for you pub quiz fans).

Something that usually happens on these pub comedy nights is that you will bump into one or more of the acts at some point. This was in full effect tonight, as I followed opening act Sofie Hagen into the venue, and Mark Watson was hanging around at the interval before his set, and chatting with the audience. This is a proper preview experience, a small room in a pub, tiny stage, microphone, and a few lights. And the acts walk on from the back of the room, there’s no backstage area behind that curtain on the right hand side.

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On a warm night in London, a beer was needed to keep refreshed during the evening. Beer at comedy venues is generally pretty awful. The Soho Theatre try and break the mould by getting some reasonable cask ales in, but they need a crash course in how to look after cask ale, since it almost always suffers from mistreatment. And the way that the bar staff treat the beer engine, you’d think it was a piece of gym equipment with 50kg on the end of it. And they certainly don’t embrace the sparkler.

So it was a nice surprise to find a St Mungo from Glasgow’s WEST brewery, who produce all of their lagers and wheat beers in accordance with the Reinheitsgebot, the German Purity Law. A Munich style lager with a sweetness to it, and one of the best comedy venue beers that I’ve had. That is damning with faint praise, but it was good.

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As was the comedy. Sofie Hagen is trying out material for her 2019 Edinburgh show (nothing like being prepared), so the set was a proper tour through random bits and pieces that may or may not form a show one day. Mark Watson will be in Edinburgh in August (and likely touring after that), so his show was much more polished, although it got a bit derailed by someone finding a folder for him to balance his wine glass on (you had to be there). The show covers a few topics, but there is much about family and his recent-ish divorce. If I were in Edinburgh I’d be going to see the finished version, and hopefully we will catch it in Leicester or somewhere else local next year.

Bucks Head, Camden, June 2018

Hot town, summer in the city,
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty.

Yes, it’s summer and I’m in London. After a lovely weekend away camping, it was back home and then off to the station to catch a train down to that London. I’m here for a week. Five days of 9-5 solid training course on quite a dry subject. With two exams, the second of which is 2 1/2 hours long.

What this does mean is a run of blog posts, because I have to go out and have dinner each night, and to stop myself going insane there are a couple of comedy gigs lined up too, my reward for revising and doing mock exam papers most nights.

I’m staying in Camden again because I’ve stayed here a few times before, the hotel is reasonably priced (for London, and it meets corporate pricing requirements) and the Northern line is handy for travelling for the daytime activities and evening ones (although I hadn’t spotted that the station is exit only in the early evening whilst they are upgrading escalators).

I picked a familiar pub for dinner, The Bucks Head. Nice and close to the hotel, we were here in November for a drink, and the menu had some interesting items on it. And the football was on. The World Cup has had some cracking games this year, and this was my first chance to watch one down the pub.

Drink first, and another “same as last time” beer, LPA – London Pale Ale by Southwark Brewing Co, a simple session ale with a gentle hoppy hint hidden in there somewhere. And some happy Colombian fans (I think Yerry Mina had just scored).

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The super smoked meats pizza was calling me. Pulled pork? Yes please! Slow cooked hickory smoked brisket? Yes please! “Sauce drizzles” of cheese, teryaki and BBQ? Probably. “Superfood side salad” – probably a good idea to have something a bit healthier. Apparently it was the last pizza in the kitchen tonight.

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The pizza didn’t quite live up to its billing. More meat was required, the teryaki didn’t seem to make it on, and the “cheese sauce drizzle” was just weird. It needed some vegetable matter.

The superfood side salad was hardly that. A few slices of cucumber, avocado, tomato, onion, pepper and a few leaves is not exactly the greatest side in the world. Bit of a rip off and lacking super.

The atmosphere inside wasn’t the greatest, so I decided on plan B, and headed off to Brewdog to watch the second half.

The Catherine Wheel, Henley-on-Thames, June 2018

Is this the worst Wetherspoon’s in the country? In my experience so far, yes. We arrived on a Saturday lunchtime, and it was reasonably busy, but not totally packed out, a bit of a surprise as the World Cup is on and they were showing it on their various long in the tooth TVs with BBC News idents burnt into the screens.

It’s a massive pub/hotel, big enough to have two separate bar areas. They serve mostly different beers too, save for the flavourless big lager company “lagers” which appear on both bars. That looked like a good sign.

It was not. At the right hand bar (as you enter), three pints were ordered. First one looked like chicken soup (and wasn’t a NEIPA), so it was rejected. The next one was full of nasty floating lumps. No thanks. The third one was at least clear, but very musty.

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My pint came from the left hand bar. JDW Devils Backbone Four Point Blanc, a session IPA hopped with Hallertau Blanc Hops brewed exclusively for JD Wetherspoon at Hook Norton Brewery. Again, it was not the greatest, this pub really need to go on a course to learn how to look after cask beer.

Food wise, well, it’s a Spoons, so it’s the same food that you get in every one. Ham and cheese panino with a smattering of chips. Fodder, nothing more.

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There are so many great looking pubs in Henley. We opted for the tried and tested Spoons, because they are usually reliable. Today that was not the case. Next time we will research in advance, and choose before we go, so we don’t make the same mistake.

Normally I would tag in a venue on Twitter when posting, but since they rather bizarrely shut down all of their social media accounts in April (definitely something dodgy behind it rather than their lame excuses), I can’t do that. So I think I’ll tag it with #avoidthisspoons, because that’s what you should do. According to TripAdvisor reports, the attached hotel is pretty awful too.

Reservoir Inn (formerly The Jolly Fisherman), Thornton, April 2018

Another springtime stroll. I’ve said this before enough times, but when we plan walks on Sundays, it’s very hard to find ones with pubs on that don’t just serve up full plates of roast dinner. If you run a pub, there’s a very easy way to rectify this. Do what the Reservoir Inn do. Offer baguettes with roast meat in, a small bowl of roast veg (lovely crisp parsnips and potatoes in this case), and if you’re really doing it properly, a little jug of gravy. Like this:-

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This was a fantastic lunch, the veg were lovely, the gravy was thick and meaty, the beef was nice and the horseradish was delightfully piquant. The baguette was slighty under baked (this phrase is always spoken in Paul Hollywood’s voice now) and probably didn’t need any butter, but apart from this, the perfect Sunday lunch time meal.

The Reservoir Inn is a cracking little village pub. It’s slightly confusing, as everywhere you look there seems to be some Steamin’ Billy Brewing Co branding (a local pub chain who don’t actually brew despite their name). Indeed, my beer choice today was Sky Diver by Steamin’ Billy (great lacing, a touch of malt, but not much more).

However, it’s not a Steamin’ Billy pub, just a great pub that we will come back to again. Walkers are welcome with muddy(ish) boots and/or wet dogs in the bar area on the left hand side. Recommended.

Plank & Leggit, March 2018 #2

The sun is out, the sky is blue, and we are hopping across borders. We started our walk in Shardlow, Derbyshire, crossing briefly back into Leicestershire and then after lunch we will go over to Nottinghamshire. All of this within a few miles, because we are in that odd “three counties corner” that is found just up the road from us.

The route of our walk found us not far from the Planl & Leggit for the second time this month. This time it was our choice, but largely because it’s hard to find a pub that serves a normal menu on a Sunday lunchtime, so this will do for today.

Not just some sad looking sandwiches either, a chicken and bacon baguette with melted cheese, leaves, and some finely chopped red onion (for some reason).

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There was also a side of decent pub chips, although they were in a weird plastic basket with that weird waxy gingham paper that seems to be finding its way into more and more pubs.

No beer once again, because Greene King IPA doesn’t count, so lime and soda saves the day, and we were soon on our way and crossing the border to finish our walk.

The Head of Steam is coming to Leicester

On Thursday April 5th, a new pub is opening in Leicester, replacing the Reynard on Market Street (which I never visited and didn’t particularly want to). The Head of Steam is the fifteenth pub of that name to be opened by Hartlepool-based Camerons Brewery, and I’ve heard good things about the other ones around the country.

Like other pubs in the chain, it will be presenting beers from local breweries such as Framework, Charnwood, Langton and Brewsters, alongside some of the best beers and ciders from around the world, which will be pouring from its 30 lines. With cans and bottles also available, there should be around 120 different beers/ciders available at any one time.

The HoS team pride themselves on hand-selecting the perfect range of beer for customers using expert knowledge from their team of passionate beer sommeliers.

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There will also be food available, served from 11am until 9pm, including breakfasts until 3pm (full English, pancakes, porridge and a veggie breakfast). Sandwiches and wraps are available until 5pm, with pulled pork and fish fingers among the fillings alongside light bites such as soup and nachos. There are eight burgers to choose from including vegetarian and vegan ones, as well as three foot long hot dogs, including Homer’s favourite “foot long chilli dog”.

Wait, there’s more. Five pizzas including pulled pork and chicken tikka varieties. There are three pies, served with mash, peas and gravy. Then we get to the main courses, with classics such as fish’n’chips, sausage’n’mash and steak’n’chips. There are also more international offerings in the form of Moroccan harissa marinated salmon, boeuf bourguignon, chicken tikka masala, mussels and chicken Milanese. There are puddings too. And many of these dishes come with suggested beer pairings too.

They have already become a verified venue on Untappd, which helps you to see what beer will be available when you visit. There will also be regular events such as quiz nights and live music, and the VIP floor can be reserved for your function. If it ever warms up, there’s a beer garden too.

Looking forward to checking it out on a future trip to Leicester.