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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

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Friday, 21 December 2007

A blog entry and words

Wandering around the Euro-chic shopping mall of St. Pancras I was starting to get worried - there was the champagne bar, but where was the pub? Who ever heard of a huge city centre train station without a pub? Eventually I found it, far off in the corner, on its own, away from the main shopping concourse.
























The "Baby Betjeman" is a fenced off area in the corner of the station and provides an interesting snapshot of what's happening to British pubs. It's by no means shit, but it's a curious combination of things to both love and loathe that leaves you unsure of what kind of mood you're in as you sup your pint.

The first thing you notice is that it's not a pub. No, you see, mere pubs are naff. Too English, too old-fashioned, too working class for our modern, aspirational, solutions-oriented society. The Baby Betjeman is a "pub and kitchen".

I'm confused by this trend in naming establishments - you see quite a lot of it in North London now. I'm confused because I always thought a kitchen was an integral part of a pub, so why is it now a separate addendum? Because it sounds posher. I've tried to adopt this to see if I can make my own like sound a bit classier and I'm not sure it's working. It feels strange talking about 'my body and arms'. When I leave my house and bedrooms to travel somewhere by car and engine, then come home to write this blog entry and words, I can't help worrying that I sound like I'm talking out of my arse and rectum.

The BB has waiter service at its tables so it really isn't a pub at all. (Pubs also have walls and ceilings in my experience). There are wine lists pushing champagne heavily on each of the tables.

And yet...

The draught lagers are Budvar and Amstel - an excellent choice of premium and standard strength brands. And even though they don't mention them anywhere, behind the bar are two casks of real ale on stillage - London Pride and a guest ale - Sharp's Doom Bar, which was excellent. There are further bottled ales behind the bar and an interesting-looking food menu, if you're the kind of person who can splash out seven quid on a cheese sandwich. (The Doom Bar had the honour of being the first pint of real ale I've ever paid three quid for.)

And here's a nice thing - as this pub has no walls and ceiling, it was bloody freezing. But over the backs of each of the chairs was a lovely thick blanket to drape over your knees. I've seen this before in Denmark, which has a thriving pavement cafe culture throughout the winter, and thought it was a lovely idea that would never catch on in the UK, so I'm delighted it has.

I'd say it's worth turning up half an hour early for your train - if you can find it.

3 comments:

Boak said...

Cheers for the review. I'd still prefer the pub was the size of the champagne bar and as prominent, but I'm intrigued by the blanket idea. Wonder if it'll catch on? I've noticed that the arrival of Poles and Russians has really improved East London's pavement cafe culture - they sit outside whatever the weather!

Stonch said...

Pete, I'm astonished that was the first £3 pint of real ale you've come across! Granted, I live centrally, but I doubt a week goes by when I don't pay that much of more for a pint. First off, boozers like the Wenlock will charge over £3 for very strong ales. And then Fullers tied houses, for example, charge in excess of £3 for a beer like cask London Porter.

Pete said...

Hi Stonch,

I guess I have been lucky, but I do draw a careful distinction between cask ale and "speciality beer". I can easily find myself paying £4.50 for a beer down at The Rake, but even they serve normal cask ale at around £2.50 a pint, even as they put something like Thomas Hardy's on at £4 for a half.

The thing is, from a business point of view I've always believed that cask ale, as a premium product, should cost more than, say, Carling or Fosters. It means I'm confused or even hypocritical about this. As a beer writer and marketer I welcome cask ale being sold at the same price as draught Budvar because it should be. But as a punter, I'm well pissed off!