I had a couple of contrasting experiences in Clapham on an enjoyable New Years Day, which tended to sum up the inconsistency of the London pub scene for me.
Although it’s got no great attractions, flying pigs apart, the stretch of Battersea leading from the Junction to Clapham central is always an interesting walk, whether via the Common or the street art and housing estates south of Lavender Hill, which itself contains some imposing pubs.
The Junction is this year’s new entry to the Beer Guide for Battersea, and struggles in comparison with the nearby Falcon, Beehive and Eagle, let alone the posher Powder Keg Diplomacy.
By modern standards it’s not what’s called a terribly exciting beer range (Greene King IPA chopped off photo as some folk seem to find it offensive), but I’ve enjoyed Wandle in the Youngs estate, and London Glory is OK. I’d rather have seen fewer beers, even in a big pub close to the station, but that’s me. Peroni seemed to be the beer of choice, as it often is in London.
Mid-way through New Years Day in a busy pub, the Wandle was undrinkable. Offered a substitute without demur, my initial thought was positive, as the pump was then turned round.
On reflection, over a scarcely better 1730 (and Westerham are decent), I realised that the lady behind me had been handed her pint of Wandle without being asked to check it, and I didn’t see it returned to the bar.I then thought, whose job is it to check the beer anyway ?
This is not a rare experience for me in London, particularly in some of the non-specialist pub estates (Taylor Walker and Nicholsons for two), but neither is the exceptional beer I then came across in Craft Clapham.
This is a particularly attractive example of the small chain, with a real South London neighbourhood pub feel to it. That’s not to say it felt like a Sam Smiths pub, but in Cambridge terms it was more Elm Tree than Pint Shop.
The Blackjack Play Your Cards Rye’t will be one of my beers of the year (NBSS 4), served at a prefect temperature and in a nonic (theme for the year). This would have been the first pint pulled of the day, as they’ve got the slightly irritating Craft opening time of 4pm, so clearly someone looks after the quality of dispense here.
This pint was, I think, cheaper than the duffer in the Junction, and I thought prices across the appealing beer menu pretty good for London. Having been in five of the Craft houses, I thought this the best, although of course the Clerkenwell original has the most startling range.
The Blackjack also made my mind up about my next pre-Etihad pint, although their Smithfield tap may soon become uncomfortably busy.
The service in Craft was also as friendly as efficient as I’ve had for some time in London, where “please” and “thank you” are as rare as cask Old Brewery Bitter.