Bensoir! It's me, Benjamin. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You may have read stuff I've written elsewhere, but here on my own blog as Ben Viveur I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others, so pretty much anything goes.

BV is about enjoying real food and drink in the real world. I showcase recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. And as a critic I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended. Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

BV London Pub of the Year - part one

Around this time last year I was lamenting my employers decision to move from Canary Wharf to Holborn Circus. 'I'll miss all the places I go to eat on the Wharf', I cried, 'Whatever will become of me?!?'

As it happens, I needn’t have worried. In fact, I feel pretty stupid for having worried about it. I’ve spent the best part of a year enjoying the foodie and drinkie delights of this area, which are, on balance, a considerable upgrade from the utilitarian manufacturedness of the Wharf.  

But it's all change once again.

I start a new job next month, and will be working in Borough (which itself isn’t a bad thing, given the riches of the Borough market area) but I must admit that I’ve grown to really appreciate Leather Lane, and will miss being able to come here every lunchtime.

See, the Lane is full of quirky food stalls and takeaways, many of which I’ve still not got around to sampling. The Department of Coffee and Social Affairs is just about the finest coffee shop in the world, the battered sausage and chips from ‘Traditional Plaice’ is probably the heartiest lunch £3 can buy, and then there’s the Craft Beer Company...

Oh yes, there's certainly the Craft Beer Company. Surely, the best pub in London. He said, subjectively.  

It be good

Beer #4000 at the Craft
There's a reason why I came here for my 4000th different real ale (Fyne Ales 'Rune') the other day. And it's probably fair to say that about 50% of numbers 3700 thru 3999 were consumed there as well.

And while I’ll continue to visit as often as I can, it’ll be much harder to just pop there when I just feel like some strong ale after an exhausting meeting or grappling with a particularly annoying spreadsheet!

The Craft rocks. It fucking rocks.

Is it really London’s best pub? Well, I’m open to proving myself wrong, but it seems like a no-brainer that the Craft would be the BV London pub of the year 2011-2012, if indeed there were such an award.

Well, it looks as though I’ve just created this award, doesn't it? And what a prestigious award it is. I’ve created it with shitloads of built in prestige, you see. Shall I hand the virtual trophy over to the Craft right away then? Just give me a few minutes to knock up a logo...

Or how about I try to stop being biased for a moment and see if we can apply some more objective criteria, hmm? And then maybe compare it to, say, 15 other top pubs in the capital?

I think I see a plan forming...

Rating criteria

The truth is, I’ve been meaning to do something along the lines of this for a while, and been thinking about how pubs - yes, all pubs, not just ones that I drink in all the time - could be assessed and scored.

This is what I’ve come up with. I think it’s pretty solid:

Quality of real ale: the pub is awarded between -1 and 3 points, depending on how well the cellar is kept:

-1:  Frequently undrinkable
0: Mostly indifferent (or non-existent)
1: Generally acceptable
2: Usually very good
3: Consistently superb

Range of real ale: the pub is awarded between 0 and 3 points, depending on the choice of real ales available.

(This isn’t just a ‘numbers’ game, mind. A pub offering an ever-changing range of five varied, interesting and unusual beers will score higher than a pub with 12 standard, mainstream beers you can get anywhere)

0: Non-existent
1: Unadventurous
2: Some pleasant surprises
3: Tremendously exciting

Food: pretty self explanatory, but only worth one point, as I don’t believe food should be the primary purpose of a pub.

-1: Unpleasant
0: Average (or non-existent)
1: Notably good

Bonus ('X' Factor) points:  Bonus points can be awarded (or deducted) for anything else that is outstanding or appalling which sets the pub apart from the competition, up to a maximum of +2 or -2.

Examples might include:

1: Particularly friendly and knowledgeable bar staff
1: Interesting and/or historic building
1: Good keg/bottled beers or other drinks - whisky, cider etc.

Or, on the downside...

-1: Prices extremely high for the area
-1: Only pork scratchings available are ‘Mr. Porky

Thus, the maximum rating for any pub is, with apologies to Judge Dread, the big Nine - this would be a pub with a very extensive range of ales, always served in excellent condition with a kitchen serving delicious food and a couple of other good things going for it too, with no negatives.

The lowest possible rating is Minus Four! This is a pub with either no real beer or only mainstream brands in very poor condition, where the food sucks and there is a tendency for fights and/or karakoke nights to break out.
Needless to say, pubs that I’d expect to get low scores haven’t made the shortlist, but it’s a set of criteria that be applied to any pub, good, bad or indifferent, to prove exactly why it’s good, bad or indifferent.

Pub #1: The Craft Beer Company, Clerkenwell

But back to the Craft, and if you’ve ever been drinking there, you’ll appreciate why they’ll score a maximum three points in both the Quality and Range categories, which gets them off to an extremely good start.

They normally have more than 15 cask beers on, the range changes constantly, and includes the full spectrum of styles – light bitters, milds, strong IPAs, stout, porter, barley wine and just about anything else imaginable.

The beer is always in stunning condition and the range of keg and bottled beers is one of the best in the country, which guarantees them a bonus point.

They don’t have a kitchen, so they’ll neither gain or lose a point for food, but a second bonus point is available for the excellent snacks – scotch eggs, pork pies, Soffles pitta chips and the strangely barbecuey Coan's pork scratchings.

It ain't exactly ‘cheap’, but it is Central London, and their beers are often very rare and very strong, so prices are probably just about fair.

All of this means that an 8/9 score puts the Craft firmly in pole position, as expected, but over the coming weeks I’ll be applying the same criteria to a bunch of other London pubs.

It'll take a perfect nine to knock Clerkenwell's Craftiest off its perch, but I have some very good pubs on my shortlist, so who knows what might happen?

Where to find it...

Craft Beer Co
82 Leather Lane
EC1N 7TR (map)

1 comment:

  1. You recently asked me to let you know what The Hope on Bellevue Road was like these days vis-a-vis beer. They have either four or five hand-pumps (can't quite remember). I'd say that the condition is on a par with JJ Moon's - shame, really. Usual braying crowd of whatever yuppies are these days. There's a new pub (or bar) with hand-pumps called The Albion (or similar).


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