Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Small beer, Worthing

The first month of the year; traditionally a dreary slog of dark mornings and diets and dry January. And while it does sometimes feel like winter may never end, I’ve found myself enjoying the simple pleasures it also brings; racing to get home while it’s still light, flaming sunrises, snow days, the first daffodil. And, for the first time in a long time, feeling more like me. And that’s (mostly) a glorious thing.

To punctuate the overwhelming greyness and to herald what I hope is going to be a cracking year, I also decided to book a weekend away in Worthing. No real reason, just a random urge to get away, see the sea, walk on the pier and spend some time with the lovely Ewing,  who normally feels far less enthusiastic about my plans but seemed (moderately) excited about this one. 

And if the idea of spending all that time with me wasn’t quite enough of a selling point, finding Worthing had seven micropubs and we were going to visit all of them after eating fish and chips on the beach was surely the clincher.

Although I’m still not absolutely clear what constitutes a ‘micropub’ and I’m not sure our crawl made it that much clearer, according to the Micropub Association ‘is a small freehouse which listens to its customers, mainly serves cask ales, promotes conversation, shuns all forms of electronic entertainment and dabbles in traditional pub snacks.’ What’s not to like?

Well, lack of ‘electronic entertainment’ might be a problem if you’re my wife and it’s the FA Cup 5th round weekend. A problem she negotiated by listening to the radio through one ear phone for most the afternoon. I did wonder why she seemed to be staring at me with particular interest at our first stop, the Georgi Fin in West Worthing, until I realised she was actually listening to Accrington Stanley Vs Derby County.

Thankfully I had my first drink of the day to keep me entertained which, after setting myself a challenge to only drink Sussex brews, was a pint of High Weald’s Chronicle (East Grinstead) at an eminently sensible 3.8%. Possibly verging towards triple B (boring brown bitter) in these Citra obsessed times, it was nevertheless a refreshing drop, bringing to mind something George Orwell might have supped while sitting by a coal fire and eating a plate of boiled turnips. Something we all might have to look forward to at the end of March….

The Ewing went a little further afield with her choice of the Pig and Porter (just over the border in Tunbridge Wells) rowanberry saison. I think she enjoyed it, contrary to appearances. In fact the GF was a good start all round – a friendly place with a good range of six gravity dispensed cask beers and three on keg, plus local ciders, wines and spirits.

We initially walked past the Green Man Ale and Cider House on the way to the next stop, only to find the door shut. When The Ewing saw the guy inside holding four fingers up, she confidently told me they would be open in four minutes. Fortunately I wasn't that pissed and realised he probably meant four o'clock, something a quick Google search confirmed. As we were an hour early it was back to the Green Man for a scoop first.

Landlord Les was very helpful when we asked which beers were local, with Goldmark down the road in Arundel being the choice for both of us - the Black Lion Porter for the Ewing and a pint (the idea of pacing myself falling quickly by the wayside) of American Hop Idol for me.

Both beers turned out to be crackers in fine condition; mine was fruity and hoppy while still sessionable, the Ewing rated it 'surprisingly good'. While her porter was  deceptively light in colour but with a rich roasty flavour.  Snacks weren’t strictly local, with scratchings from the Black Country and ham flavoured crisps from Chesham, back round our way, but they were very tasty.

I found the Green Man to be a wonderful curiosity (despite not being the only place like this we would visit over the weekend), with a welcoming landlord, friendly patrons and a real feeling of, slightly eccentric, traditional English bonhomie. Sitting there, drinking a perfectly kept pint and eating my bag of crispy pig skin on a grey Saturday afternoon, my wife beside me excitedly reading the vidiprinter scores, was one of those small moments of intense happiness.

After whiling away a happy hour, the Grizzly Bear, now stop three, was finally ready for us. This was a much hipper vibe to our previous stops with hops hanging from the ceiling, LED lights strung around the bar, and a bookcase that swings around to reveal a secret passage (rather prosaically it just leads to the loos). They were also playing a welcome soundtrack of jazz and blues, which matched the drizzly winter weather perfectly, although I'm not sure what the Micropub Association would have made of it all

The focus was on keg beer (not sure they had any cask on our visit?), wine and cocktails from a succinct list. I saw Beavertown, as well as a couple of ciders and a well known Irish stout, but nothing from closer to home. Secretly I was quite pleased as I had also clocked a mean-looking pornstar martini while looking on Instagram.

Yes, I'm fully aware that passionfruit isn't native to the south coast but I decided cocktails didn't count, which was just as well as this was a pearler. It might be a blast from the past but made like this, complete with a flute of prosecco chaser, it deserves to be revived.

The Ewing also enjoyed their take on an old fashioned, which was served a little longer than usual, and also appeared a different colour, but still came with the traditional orange and cherry garnish. I didn't read the menu, and I can't seem to find hide or hair of it on the interweb, so I can't tell you much more than that it didn't last long.

Founded in an ex hairdressing salon in 2014, the Brooksteed Ale House was named CAMRA’s Sussex pub of the year in 2016 and, judging from the crowds spilling out early on a Saturday night, it looks like it is still a firm favourite.

The time it took to squeeze our way in and get to the bar was also the perfect amount for me to Google some of the unfamiliar beers on the board and ascertain which ones were local. In the end the Ewing and I both went halves of Holler, formally of Uckfield but now brewing in Brighton. Um Bunko juicy pale on keg for me and Loot NEIPA on cask for the Ewing.

Both these were much more of the ‘craft’ ilk than previous beers we had tried, with plenty of juicy hops, as the names suggest. On balance I probably preferred my keg  offering, as the sticky, dank fruitiness seems to work better at a slightly lower temperature and with a bit of spritz.

That said I still think one of my very favourite beers was Beavertown/Naparbier’s DIPA colab, Bone King, which I had on cask at the Craft Beer Co. in Clerkenwell in 2014, and still dream about now. As you can see from the pictures, the Ewing was still utterly thrilled to be only half way round our trek…

The next two stops (originally missed out, but unearthed thanks to further Googling, much to my wife’s continued delight) were to the east of town, which meant crossing the railway line (again) and negotiating an inside-out umbrella and a flooded underpass and retrieving a missing glove.

Mission accomplished we arrived at Beer No Evil on the Brighton Road thirsty for round five. Or, more accurately, wet and bedraggled and pretty pissed, but at least not pissed off with each other (at that point, anyway...).

Pitched somewhere between micro pub and bottle shop this was possibly the best range of beers we saw to takeaway (and drink in) including the beer du jour on Instagram the weekend we visited, Verdant’s Putty. There was also a full range of Unbarred cans (brewed in Hove), and a good selection of Burning Sky and Kernal in 750 ml bottles.

I had a schooner of the new English IPA, brewed by Abyss in Lewes, which is their take on a NEIPA, but brewed with all English hops and malt. I wish I was in a position by that time to tell you something illuminating about how it tasted, but I wasn't. Certainly looks good from the pics, though.

The Ewing went for the only lager (kolsch) of our trip, a schooner of Entroido, an unusual pink version also brewed by Abyss and made with Sussex grapes and malt and Spanish hops. Again, who honestly knows if she enjoyed it by this point, but her expression suggests it was going down ok.

Onwards, to our next stop, the Old Bike Store, also on the Brighton Road. The eagle-eyed amongst you may notice the picture was taken in the daylight. No, we didn’t pull an all-nighter but when we arrived there were a gaggle of smokers by the doorway sheltering from the rain, so I decided to take a pic on the way out. And then promptly forgot.

Previously an actual bike shop, the long, skinny space seemed a bit sterile at first but overall I  really enjoyed the whole OBS experience. Especially the pristine tiled bar area and the friendly, knowledgeable staff who were happy to make local recs. 

I'm not even sure what the Ewing even drank, judging from the picture I'm going to say Arbor's The Devil Made Me Brew It, but whatever it was I know she enjoyed it more than her face suggests. I would also like to thank her for patiently drying my jacket on the portable heater without managing to scald herself or my clothing. An impressive feat at this point.

I had a half of the Scaramanga from Gun Brewery in Heathfield; partly because it was local but mostly because of the name. at 3.9 ABV, it was only one per cent stronger than my first beer of the day but proved a very different beast to end on. It was gluten free too, if you're into that kind of thing. I'm not, as I went for a Pizza on the way back to the hotel (the extra hot offering from Pizzaface. Recommended at the time, not so much the morning after...)

The following day heralded the final stop on the tour, Anchored in Worthing, the doyenne of micropubs in the town and also its first, opened in August 2013 . Described by landlord Nigel Watson as a ‘one room pub with no music, no gaming, machine or pool tables, no food not even a bar', walking in on a busy Sunday afternoon to a scene of happy people, excitable dogs and good conversion, it’s everything you hope a micropub would be.

All the three cask ales on the board were local and luckily they also offered flights, so I didn't have to make any difficult decisions. In fact everything they offer here is Sussex-centric, from the ales, ciders and perries to local wines of all hues from Bolney Estate and Nutbourne with their Nutty brut at a very reasonable 30 quid a bottle.

As promised there was a fine looking cheeseboard, along with crackers and pate and chutney and pickles. Sadly, after our lunch we had both eaten at the nearby Crabshack, neither of us could manage a slither, despite much good-natured encouragement persuading us to get stuck in.

Alongside the third Goldmark beer of the weekend,  the Moshpit IPA, I tried the Blonde Bird golden pale ale from Greyhound in West Chiltington and the Parody session IPA from Firebird from Rudgwick, Horsham. 

My hangover plus the glass of wine I had already imbibed put the breaks on me ordering another, but the lady we got chatting to had the right idea; order a flight then order a pint of your favourite as a chaser. In this case we both agreed on Goldmark, my standout brewery of the trip. The Ewing stuck with soft drinks, but didn't feel short-changed with her Folkingtons hot ginger beer.

While my wife would probably describe me as far too anti-social for micropubbing I thoroughly enjoyed our experience, Despite the fact I actually had to talk to people, including my wife… Only joking darling, I loved the sea air, Sussex ales and even the socialising.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Bucks bites: batter up

I’m not quite sure why the global schnitzel/escalope/tonkatsu phenomena hasn’t taken off on these shores. Sure, we have nuggets and kievs and breaded chicken strips (a box of 5 Maccy D’s Selects, with sour cream dip, is my new jam), but a flattened piece of meat, bread crumbed and fried, still remains elusive. And what isn't better breadcrumbed and fried.

After visiting Australia a few times to see my family, I'm often asked ‘why don’t you move there?’ To which I reply the weather (I’d melt); the history (I love old stuff, just ask my wife…); and the football (have you seen the A League…). 

But, as well as the fam, when I get back home I do miss being able to get a schnitty at the pub. Even if you have to drink your grog in schooners. For me it’s a near perfect pub meal, something you wouldn’t make at home – a proper schnitzel really requires shallow frying and involves much mess with all the double-dipping and dredging – and is also perfect to soak up the booze.

The Poles have a rich history of beating and breading things, which has made Syrena my second favourite place to go and eat in High Wycombe (almost next door to Dosa Special, which still remains my absolute favourite). 

It's a simple set up with a handful of tables, a counter at the back where you order and pay, and a short menu which includes both pork and chicken schnitzels (and sometimes a special of a breadcrumbed minced meat cutlet), which you can also order topped with cheese and mushrooms. 

I’m not always a traditionalist, but haven’t looked past the classic pork yet. The cutlets are crisp and hot and greaseless, with the thin carapace of breadcrumbs perfectly billowing up from the tender meat as they are fried to order.

Although the escalope covers most of the plate, there’s still room for a couple of scoops of potatoes, that exist somewhere in that perfect place between boiled and mash and strewn with dill. Salad won’t fit, so comes on the side. Normally two different types that may include their excellent coleslaw, beetroot, sauerkraut or pickled cucumbers.

The schnitzel topped with a layer of sauteed mushrooms and a layer of melted cheese is served with fries, garlic sauce and salad and is also pretty great, if not quite as great as the classic version. It's certainly a good post-pub choice (as the restaurant closes at 8, it would have to be an afternoon session).

Another favourite are tender slices of roast neck of pork that come with Silesian dumplings; bouncy potato dumplings traditional to the Upper Silesia region of Poland with a distinctive depression made with a thumb for gravy. The dumplings, which are similar to gnocchi, are boiled in salted water before being covered in the aforementioned gravy. Proper rib-sticking stuff that is especially good with their braised sweet red cabbage.

When we took Stealth along for dinner, she had one of her favourites, beef goulash. I think her favourite is still Mummy P's beef stroganoff, but she still seemed very happy with her choice. The beef and red pepper stew, with its deep paprika-spiked gravy, comes with buckwheat - an underrated grain that doesn't get the love it deserves.

Homemade deserts include pancakes served with sour cream and sugar - they can also be ordered as a savoury course with mushroom gravy or goulash - and crepes with cheese jam or Nutella. They also have a glass cabinet, like the ones my sister and I would press our noses up against when on holiday as children, with a variety of cookies, choux buns, brownies and waffles.

Even though I'm still off the sweet stuff, I have sampled their 'cheesecake' on several occasions before the sugar ban. I use the word loosely, as it's a behemoth featuring a pastry base, a fluffy cream cheese filling and a layer of fruit (I've tried plum and apricot), before being topped with a layer of crisp meringue. Unsurprisingly it's also very, very good. In fact, the only way to improve it would be to roll it in breadcrumbs and fry it.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

New Year, same old

When it comes to New Year’s resolutions I’m firmly in the Homer Simpson camp; ‘You tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.’ That said, I have a hugely determined streak, that surprises even me sometimes, when I want to set my mind to something.

For example, my ongoing Cadbury boycott -  that started in solidarity with the Ewing when they changed the recipe of Cadbury Crème eggs in 2015 - has now extended to encompass a blanket ban on everything Mondalez own, from Kraft mac and cheese to Ritz crackers via Oreos, Toblerone and Chocolate Oranges. Oh, how I miss popping candy chocolate oranges.

Not that I could eat the latter at the moment anyway, thanks to a self-imposed sugar ban that I began on the 13th of October, after ordering a McDonald’s chocolate milkshake for breakfast (yes, I know booze has sugar in it...). It was originally going to end over the festive period, but it's going surprisingly well, so now I am hoping to extend until Easter. Who can resist a hot buttered cross bun?

While I’ve been mostly extraordinarily good, in the style of the popular song I have found myself over the last few months eating four Malteasers (three original and one coated in raspberry flavoured chocolate, from Australia), three biscotti (when very drunk), two slices of Christmas pudding and a chocolate covered date (about as good as it sounds, but it did give me a little sugar rush).

More in keeping with my old habits, I persuaded everyone that what they really wanted was a (fairly) sober kebab on the Saturday before New Year. We had already sunk several bottles of Prosecco and (two sausage roll wreaths) but I did still worry about the wisdom of dragging people out to dinner at what is ostensibly a takeaway shop on Boscombe high street.

The surprisingly plush surroundings of the small restaurant area at the back - I was particularly taken by the juxtaposition of traditional tapestries and tin advertising signs - plus the BYO policy that saw us rock up with yet more bubbles in hand, meant the mood was more happily pissed and not pissed off.

The laminated menu is a short romp through familiar favourites, encompassing a selection of mezze dishes and moving onto grilled meats, with the notorious elephant leg kebabs rotating in the window and other skewers being grilled over a charcoal fire pit next to the counter. 

They didn’t have any borek available- a small mercy, given the volumes of food that followed - but the hummus was pretty good, if unspectacular (currently nothing is beating my own homemade #Nutribulletwanker version) and grilled halloumi came in an ample portion, balanced on a heap of redundant salad.

Starters were accompanied by half a dozen Frisbee-shaped puffy flatbreads, fresh from the oven, which looked like far too many, even for committed carb-fiends, until we realised they also accompanied our kebabs. Chicken shish for the Ewing and the Lion, a mixed lamb shish chicken donner for me. 

The bread, as the online reviews had promised, was excellent. crispy and soft and smoky all at once, although I was slightly saddened there wasn’t some under the meat to soak up the pool of juices and errant chilli sauce, which is what I asked for to accompany my kebab, along with a dollop of good old garlic mayo.

The chilli sauce was slightly curious, more like a Mexican style salsa, that we got addicted to while eating tacos around Southern California and Mexico last year, but no worse for it and a lack of heat probably helped with the corresponding lack of heartburn the next morning (although I did chug a few pints of water before bed to counteract the salt and sparkling wine).

The kebab was excellent – big chunks of lean lamb (neck fillet?) atop a pile of very good chicken donner; shreds of tender thigh marinated in a garlicky herby mix a world away from my student days.

The chicken shish was also commendable. Two skewers of marinated chicken breast, grilled quickly over charcoal and served with mixed salad, coleslaw, garlic sauce and pickled chilli peppers that all ended up on my plate. Not a bad thing to have forced upon you in all honesty.

2018 hasn't been a great one, truth be told. After a very bright start, the last few months, for various reasons, haven't been easy; at all. But these things too shall pass. And with the help of the ever-patient Ewing and all my lovely family and friends, plus plenty of fizz and skewered meats, I'm already exited to see what 2019 brings. If I carry on with the kebab life, gout and reflux, probably.