Wednesday, 5 November 2014

The End of the Endless Summer

I remember being given a menu when in a Fuller’s pub a couple of years ago emblazoned with ‘summers were longer when we were younger’ across the front. Despite this only being the late spring Bank Holiday, I already felt the wistful nostalgia that it may as well be November already and time for lost scarves and log fires and chipping frost off the car window.

Of course, our perception does change as we get older. Birthdays seemed aeons away when I was growing up, and for good reason; the gap between my fifth and sixth year, for example, being 20% of my life lived up to that point. As a kid that's a mighty long time.

This summer - contrary to the feeling that sees us all hurtling toward old age with the belief that nine out of ten days are overcast with a hint of drizzle (no matter what the time of year) while the remaining few veer from blistering hot to drifts of snow – was perfect, and not just because of the weather.

Of course by perfect, I mean flawed in the way that life is. There were high days and holidays and all-nighters and early bedtime; there were new friends and old friends and fantastic family gatherings; lots of laughter, a few cross words and a big loss. Stealth and I learnt how to rock a party while the Ewing’s allotment blossomed with scotch bonnets, artichokes and more marrows than seemed humanly possible.

Which is why I didn’t have that usual pang of autumnal regret thoughts of dark nights and gloom descending – I was summered out. The thought of digging out a scarf and eating soup and sausages and baked potatoes and putting my socks on the radiator in the morning, just like my mum used to do before I got dressed for school, suddenly seemed very appealing. And also, what better time to slip in a nice summery photo montage.

As she had accompanied me through most the fun parts of the summer, and most the bad bits too, it was only fitting I should spend the last of the dying light with Stealth, who was suffering from yet another romance-induced malady.

Despite my attempted efforts to plan an adventure further afield, I knew that after we had woken up eaten all the Chocolate Orange and prawn crackers (due to lack of any other food) washed down with black coffee (due to lack of milk) we would end up in the Old Red Lion in Kennington, a five minute stagger from Stealth’s doorstep.

To be honest, I’ve got rather a soft spot for the ORL and there are certainly far worst places to find yourself on a Sunday afternoon.  For a start the beer selection is very good, with plenty of hand pulled ales and stouts and a good choice of canned and bottled beers, especially American brewers such as Rouge and Flying Dog. On my last visit, in the sweaty height of summer, I enjoyed a few Modus Hoperandis in the beer garden.

This time we started with pints of Twickenham Brewery's Naked Ladies, as if they knew and were ready to taunt the love lorn Stealth, followed by a couple more pints of whatever porter and stout were on tap. Remissly, I have know idea of what they actually were, but all were well kept and went down rather too easily.

I also started with a bloody mary, which was one of the best I have had for a long while. The tomato juice was nicely spiced with a good slug of horseradish and pepper and was pepped up even further with pickled cherry tomatoes, lemon and celery. Sadly there wasn't much vodka kick and it was served in a glass little bigger than a thimble and so necessitated several beer chasers.

Obviously Sunday equals a roast dinner (luckily as there isn't much else on the menu on the seventh day of the week) I have to be fair and say I didn't have high hopes for the food; roasts eaten anywhere but home (or someone else's home) are notoriously difficult to nail and are are often wanting. At least the food is well priced, pitching in between the sub tenner (danger, Bisto gravy you can stand a spoon in and beef like sawdust) and over fifteen quid (the meat's probably going to be rare but the veg still crunchy and served with 'jus' instead of gravy) offerings that make choosing a pub roast such a minefield.

Hands up, this was a admirably commendable effort with very little to criticize. I had gone for the chicken, needing something soothing after the previous late night and feeling that gnawing on a nice juicy drumstick may just sort things out. A decision that I soon regretted when I saw the hulking great supreme of meat that was placed in front of me.

Thankfully, I was proved wrong. I'm not sure if the breast had been brined or not but the chicken was fantastic; lots of flavour (they use free range birds) and with the perfect amount of lubrication. The bed of roasties the meat perched on were fair, if not really very crispy, but as a bonus there were roast carrot and parsnips buried at the bottom of the heap.

Alongside the chciken star prize had to go to the yorkie. Normally I'm a bit of a traditionalist and wouldn't choose a batter puddings to accompanying anything but beef (or sausages), but they come alongside all roasts here, and I'm very glad they do. While I appreciate that the squidgy yorkshire pudding wouldn't suit all tastes, to me they are far better than the airy domes that shatter as you put a fork in them, and these were just perfect.

With her eating irons poised, Stealth attempted to take on her roast topside with all the trimmings. Another good effort with meat that, while not being particularly pink, was big in flavour and nicely cooked. Lots of decent gravy, too; and often overlooked but essential part of any good roast. A mention for the carrots and broccoli, too, which were on the right side of al dente.

A roast dinner isn't a roast dinner without cauli cheese in my house and a side order of the aforementioned had an admirably un-waterlogged veg with a decent, if probably not quite fromage-filled enough, beachamel sauce.

Pudding came in the form of chocolate mousse served with lashings of cream and another pint of stout. The mousse itself was the squidgy, sweet almost chewy type rich with egg whites and sugar that you could imagine being served in a dingy backstreet Paris bistro, rather than the light fluffy rich kind that is more familiar. I enjoyed it, even if the texture was a little bit gluey in texture; for three quid however, it would be churlish to complain.

In fact it would be churlish to complain about much (except perhaps the company). A very decent drinking spot and no with a good roast upits sleeve. They also sometime have an awseome homemade Guinness cake on the bar to boot. Surely a perfect trilogy in pub terms.

Old Red Lion on Urbanspoon
Of course I had my whole extra hour to kill, so after waving farewell to Stealth (not mentioning how she dumped me by the E&C roundabout instead of gallantly walking me to the station) I decided to make the most of the newly dark early evenings by taking a stroll around the bright lights of the West End, which is how I ended up at Shake Shack in the bowels of Hell Covent Garden.

It was worth braving the crowds, though for a chance to try a couple of their seasonal specials. Firstly the bacon wrapped chhpped chilli and cheese doused Smoke Dog which was accompanied by one of their famed concrete ice creams, this time with the addition of a slice of London bakery Cocomaya's pumpkin pie for good measure. Refreshment came in the form of an Arnold Palmer, sadly so seldom seen on these shores.

Despite the fact I was still digesting the last remnants of Yorkshire pudding and choccy mousse I had no problem devouring both of these. The combo of cherry peppers, their legendary cheese sauce and bacon could hardly fail, and the pumpkin pie concrete was both spicy and sweet without being cloying, the chunks of pie crust adding buttery crunch.

Taking a postprandial stroll to nowhere, soaking up the atmosphere while enjoying the twinkling lights of the Big City and breathing in the top notes of roasting chestnuts and diesel fumes, I thought that, not for the first time, John Lennon was right; time you enjoy wasting is time not wasted. Amen to that (and roll on 29th March...).

Shake Shack on Urbanspoon

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