Sunday, 3 January 2016

BRAPA - Pubbing in East London, Oi Oi, Oi.

2016 pub ticking gets underway in London.
My challenge to visit every Good Beer Guide pub kicked off for the 2016 season down in t'smoke, though in true BRAPA style, things were difficult from the outset.

I was due to travel via L**ds (something about an amended ticket that's too complicated to explain here) but the 06:52 from York to L**ds was cancelled meaning that I wouldn't make my connection. I therefore had to beg the train guard to let me on the 07:01 direct to London instead, which he did with the air of a man who was doing me a "massive favour"(I was booked in first class too but now felt too guilty to use this hospitality!)

Cancelled train woes in York.
I took advantage of the unexpected early arrival at Kings Cross to ensure a bonus 'early opener' was visited, and with the Oyster system down, tube travel was, for now at least, free.

770.  Masque Haunt, Old Street

So the first BRAPA 'tick' of 2016 and quite an inauspicious start.  A friendly Aussie-Chinese barmaid (temporarily making her 'barmaid of the year 2016') served me a ginger flavoured ale, I chose it solely because the pump clip was upside down.  No science to my methods.  £2.70 despite using my new batch of 'Spoons vouchers reminded me I was down south,  I made up for my lack of first class breakfast, and ordered the Eggs Benedict which was tepid, a bit like the pub temperature, and the limp lettuce accompaniment did nothing to help.  A sign on all the tables warned customer "Watch Your Bag!" making this perhaps the most dishonest JDW houses in the UK.   Even some of the chairs had the pub name on.  Still, I now know that Old Street is not like a 15th century time warp area like I'd imagined, and Dad had caught me up so we made a hasty retreat for pub two before he'd have time to get comfy (if getting comfy had been possible here).

Watching my bag very carefully, who needs table numbers? 
After a trek to Liverpool Street across an ice rink(!) to test out the ever improving ankle (which I'm not going to mention), we were soon at Stratford but our problems had only just begun as we had no idea whereabouts in the soulless Westfield Shopping Centre the pub actually was.  A nightmare 10 minutes followed where an Australian woman apologised for standing on the wrong side of the escalator because she was visiting her long lost sister - I honestly couldn't care less!  

Pubs in Shopping centres eh?  There aren't many of them and I used to absolutely LOVE the Cork & Cheese in Southend, alas I fear it is no more as it was always under threat when I visited and not heard about it for ages now.  

771.  Tap East, Westfield Stratford City

When we finally found it, it reminded me of Micro Bar in Manchester's Arndale Centre, an open bar area in the shopping centre rather than a separate building in it's own right.  Tom, who'd sneaked in through a glass door at the back, commented it didn't have the charm of the Micro Bar but I actually think they've made a good job of making it as cosy, quirky and characterful as possible under the circumstances.  They brew their own beer for heaven's sake and with the brewing equipment on display, we tried a strong red ale which blew our socks off.  The staff had facial expressions set to 'sycophantic robot' mode, in-keeping with the Westfield, but at least they smiled.  Good seats were hard to come by, a point which Dad was keen to exclaim very loudly at the bar, so we snuck into a settee next to an angry ruddy faced local who tried to ignore our inane conversations.  I think it's easy to slag off this place, but I can see it's charm, and would return, but maybe via St Pancras and Stratford International instead!  

Me in the Tap East bar area.
A couple of stops on the DLR as we were at Bow Church, and had a fair hike to our next pub.  Bow seems one of the friendliest, most 'real' parts of London I've visited so far and although I didn't hear any bells ringing, there was a little street closed off to a market, a bakery, lots of smiling passers by.

772.  Eleanor Arms, Bow

And isn't it true that arriving at a pub in a positive frame of mind like this (rather than through the Westfield) will make you feel more kindly towards a pub from the outset?  Obviously.  Anyway, this was unlike any other pub we visited today in that it was a proper no nonsense back street locals local, with a jolly round landlord overseeing everything, and walking down a thin creaking old corridor to the loo past a lot of chatting locals has almost become a novelty factor in London for me.  The pub seemed tied to Shepherd Neame, first time in ages I've been in one of their pubs, I always think of that fantastic East India Arms in the city.  The Whitstable Pale was perfectly decent.  We must have been having animated pub-geek style conversations, as the landlord soon brought us round a huge book to look at, "London Brewed", a superb huge heavy encyclopedic effort put together with much love by people who are passionate about pubs in London.  Don't try telling me pubs are no longer relevant in today's society!  On the way out, the landlord and some locals tried to advise us to get a number 8 bus to our next pub, which would have been better probably, but Tom wanted to visit the bakery and it's always good to "stick to what you know" when you are in a strange land! 

Arriving at the Eleanor, strategically placed in front of the bin.
We this time walked back to Bow Road and were soon in Whitechapel, a place that always excites me as I've read that many Jack the Ripper books, I'd consider myself something of a trainee Ripperologist!  

773.  White Hart, Whitechapel

We arrived just at the wrong moment as a huge group (including an old woman who had to be wheeled in, how dare she?!) and had to virtually queue to get in, so Dad, more curmudgeonly than a pub curmudgeon, declared "it's going to be the worst pub of the day!" and having no patience whatsoever, he broke in through an unlikely back door.  Once inside, the clientele was a lot younger than we'd been used to, but upbeat staff and superb beers from One Mild End brewery (underneath the pub or something mysterious) meant Dad was happy to retract his words.  A welcoming table had been vacated next to a large window giving the pub a nice airy feel, but whoever had turned the radiators up had seriously misjudged this mild winter.  So, not that airy then!  Annoyingly, the large group were all ordering lager which makes no sense when the likes of Temperance Session, Salvation and Hospital Porter are looking so welcoming.  To help Tom and Dad get a sense of the atmosphere, I read them the (hoax) 'Dear Boss' letter in a sinister voice, just to enhance the experience.  Sure they appreciated it.  

Dad indicates the White Hart, note the group entering, about to upset him! 
Back on the tube and one stop north, we were at Shoreditch High Street which was a short walk in the pouring rain to our fifth pub of the day ......

774.  Crown & Shuttle, Spitalfields

Oh dear, well it was always likely to happen that we'd visit a less good pub sooner or later, and this pretentious nonsense was evident as soon as you'd read the food menu on a blackboard outside.  "Cheese Mint Slaw", "Brioche Buns", "Salad of Giant Couscous", "Pink Grapefruit & Pomegranate", "Barbecue Turkey Succotash Salad" .... I'm a working lad from Yorkshire and I want a Chippy Tea!!  (with apologies to the Lancashire Hotpots).  The bar was split into two distinct areas, but despite the length of it, only two handpumps were on offer and about 500 keg beers.  The clientele were young, bearded, with skinny roll up jeans, back tattoos of Jackson Pollock art, and man bags containing biographies about Japanese Rockabilly.  Probably.  The toilet walls were clad in sackcloth, which was probably supposed to be cool but just seemed unhygienic.  People were there to be seen, rather than just 'come to the pub'.  We managed to jump in the graves a very slowly vacating group, and Dad read us a great Bill Bryson paragraph about how Mount Everest was named which was a welcome distraction.  The GBG states the pub once had "an unsavoury reputation", I wish I'd visited it back then.  You could see it was a nice building, so a real shame!  

I might not have a beard, but I have a snazzy red hat! 

A short walk towards Liverpool Street took us to our final pub, down a little side street where a rubbish van was trying to mow us down .......

775.  Williams Ale & Cider House, Spitalfields

Ah, this was much more like it!  We were greeted with a cheery "Happy New Year!" from friendly barman, a young Ahmed Elmohamady if you like, but harder working.  The amount of ales on show was stunning, and I didn't get to see three quarters of them until I'd already ordered my Hop Stuff Saisonniers which tasted nothing like a Saison but was great.  Again, it was a lively young vibe with some funky music playing (a little bit too loud, one of our group complained) and everyone was having a great time as a group behind us had one of the most dramatic games of Jenga ever.  I like board games in pubs, I think there were a few from what Tom said, someone was playing Connect 4 too,  We sat in a raised comfy booth, and I had to admit I regretted my decision not to make everyone come here for a West Ham away game a year or two ago.  After the last pub, we decided a menu comparison was required, a lot more acceptable on the whole, but the price of a bowl of mixed leaves rose from £3 to £3.50 whilst we were in the pub - now that's inflation.  

Last pub of the day!  Williams in Spitalfields.
There'd been some vague hopes of getting to a new pre-emptive pub near Kings Cross called the Scottish Stores which sounds amazing, but plenty of opportunity to do that.  Instead, with train times fast approaching, we settled for the obligatory Parcel Yard swift half.

On the way back, I made up for not using my First Class ticket on the way down by eating a tonne of sandwiches, crisps and snacks.  A bit of drama ensued as the milk went off, I said that I couldn't tell the difference to which 'Katrina' screwed up her nose and said "ugh, well I wouldn't drink it!"



  1. Si,
    Please can you obtain a copy of your Oyster statement (you can do it by going onto your online account) and send it to me please. With the difficulties, I wouldn't be surprised if you have been chinged up somewhere along the way. Stratford particularly worries me. In any case, I wouldn't be surprised if you reached the daily price cap anyway in which case no freebie.

    You technically committed an offence by travelling in third class with your first class ticket, if that is actually what you did, on the southbound journey.

    The act of displaying a food menu above a urinal is just bizarre. But not as bad as the act of having an incomprehensible food menu. Sadly, it is something I often read with no intention of ordering anything. It gives a fairly reliable indication of a pubs ethos and can be amusing.

    1. I'll do it when I have a spare day but I have a life so you'll have to hang on, did Dad mention his seemed to be losing money alarmingly so might be worth focussing on him?

      Yes! I love committing offences.

      Must be a new thing this menu in urinal as we saw it in Bedminster, I've seen it in York's Habit, and somewhere else I can't recall. Yes, tells you a lot about the pub. Hope you enjoyed write up.

    2. I focus on everybody. Your Dad did mention he had made errors and was going to send them by email. It shouldn't take a full day to do, just a minute when you are bored at work.

      I find it interesting that you love committing offences. Is this a rebellious streak you have coming through?

      I did enjoy the write up thank you.

    3. Good, glad he mentioned it! I'll hope work really is that quiet. I always think it takes me an hour to sign into my account!

      Yes, since South Shields and Bedford, offence committing is something I'm always on the look out for.

      Have a good week, not sure on Transporter bridge, will mention it to BGE.

      Enter your particulars, noting that the username is now your email. Click 'view journey history'. Bob's your uncle. Note that you sometimes have to specify a time frame in addition.

    5. Hi Tom, I've now sent my Oyster statement to you by email, sorry for the delay, work was not busy but I couldn't view the website on the bank's silly browser.

    6. Now received and opened nice and easily. It seems my computer actually likes csv files. Does that get me a job at the Clydesdale no longer to be Australian people's local bank?

      No anomalies with the statement, I am quite happy with it all. The only freebie was King's X - Liverpool St, which was later cancelled out as you reached the £6.50 daily price cap anyway. By the way, you would have been fine had you not put the tenner on at Kings Cross, presumably you did that using a POM.

    7. What's the £6.50 daily price cap ? I used my rarely-used Oyster on NYD to dot around West London (Twickers) and I've clocked up a charge of £10.50. I could have added a Railcard to my train for £6.10. German trains much easier to understand.

    8. £6.50 is the Daily price cap for travelling in Zones 1-2. The £10.50 sounds like you didn't quite reach the daily price cap for Zones 1-5, which would have been either £10.80 or £10.90 and as of the 2nd is now £11.00.

      Just as a clarification of how this works, Oyster will keep charging you the single fare. However, for each combination of fare zones, there is a cap at which you will stop being charged.

      As a point on enquiry, do you have some form of railcard, either senior or Network? The former can be loaded onto the Oyster as an annual task by taking it to one of the few Underground booking offices or by asking one of the helpers at the self service machines. This link is useful for determining the fare caps and whether it is worth getting the Oyster out:
      For the senior railcard discouts:

      Sorry it's complicated, I dislike the Oyster system immensely. If you have any questions, feel free to ask. Si's used to me going off in this general direction.

    9. Good science Tom, you are the expert and happy for my blog to be a forum for you to showcase your talents.

      I was going to ask similar question to Martin so guess we stayed in quite a low numbered zone. I quite like the system, they seem more honest than Newcastle's Metro! I would say that.

      I'm on with the nitwit card, may need Berks travel advice regarding it soon for April. Also, half done awards, all categories decided.

      Exciting times. Si

    10. There are people with far more expertise o this subject than me.

      We only got as far out as Zone 2. I think that with Oyster related farces, I have had to recover more money from London Transport than you were correctly chinged up in Newcastle. I do like the simplicity of the GeordieMackem Metro, nice simple paper tickets where you just pay the correct fare and your on your way. Much more frequent manual ticket checks to get the fare evaders too, although it is a shame that they don't prosecute a few more rather than charging these £20 penalty fares.

      Make sure you don't get your Nitwit card too early, there is no point getting it then not using it for a month. I advise you to seek advice for Berkshire, there are rover tickets and dual route arrangements to help you in the Thames Valley.

    11. Thanks Tom. Can you start a blog on Oyster card ?

      You're right about Zones 1-5; it makes adding a Travelcard when buying my off-peak ticket a bargain as £6.10 covers all zones & transport. York to London doesn't offer that option I think. To be fair I got a good tenners use out of the Oyster.

      I've hardly used the Oyster until now as I tend to walk from King's Cross everywhere; Croydon may be a stretch too far !

    12. Martin,
      A man called Mike Whittaker has a very good blog style website on Oyster at
      I would not want to duplicate his work. I occasionally converse with him on another message board.

      The furthest north (on the ECML incase somebody comes up with somewhere else) is Retford, though you need Newark for an off-peak one that isn't operator restricted.

      I'd always assumed you were from Southampton, am I wrong. Quickest route Kings X to Croydon is Victoria Line southbound to Victoria for a BR train. Aim for a fast train to the south coast, most depart from platforms 15 upwards.
      The railcard discounted Oyster cap for Zones 1-5 is £7.25, so unless it is just a simple out and back I'd stick with the inclusive Travelcard if the discount is only £6.10. Note it only covers zones 1-6, not the 'out of London zones' in Hertfordshire, Kent and Essex.

    13. I'm from Waterbeach, just north of Cambridge; Southampton is just an illness I self-manage.

      Thanks for info. Are you doing your own BRAPA or just Simon's support team, by the way ?

    14. Ah, yes I see. £22.70 super cheap day travelcard, £16.60 super cheap day return to London Terminals full fare. Assuming you are too young for a senior railcard, have you considered getting an annual Nitwit railcard for £30 to get 1/3 off the fares in the former NSE area?

      Si and I both have a similar illness, I know the feeling.

      I'm not doing my own BRAPA. I'd be interested to see Si's answer to the same question, but I'd probably say I'm midway between a member of the support team and an interfering little sod.

      My BRAPA equivalent, as it were, is I am a railway enthusiast probably trying to complete too many lists.

    15. Yes I think that's a good summary Tom! BRAPA's number one fan, travel expert, occasional strategy interferer and a non drinker throughout who can appreciate a good pub.

      I know you mention this guy's oyster blog but you have so much to offer, your own regular railway / ticketing blog and a foray into the dark world of social media could be a great thing for you.

      Silly question but does the Nitwit card benefit on buses as well as trains? Probably not but just checking.

    16. Funny you should mention strategy interference. The cogs have been turning in my head today, you may get a communication later.

      I also sometimes post on the Rail UK message board, most commonly in the fares and tickets section. I had forgotten the social media course, when is the next module (I don't think I've passed the first one yet).

      The nitwit discount doesn't apply to fares paid on the bus. However, it does apply on Plus Bus tickets in the NSE area and on London Travelcards, which are valid on London Buses. I suspect it also applies on rail bus links to places like Buckingham.

  2. Lovely read- really mixed bunch of pubs.

    I hated the Crown & Shuttle even more than you for similar reasons (& rubbish beers); love most pubs round E1.

    I'm a big fan of Eggs Benedict, aleays best up North.

    1. Thanks Martin, I think London might be improving pub-wise a little bit over last few years.

      Glad you felt same about Crown & Sh*ttle, we could tell immediately it was just wrong.

      If I finish BRAPA on time in 2042, I might try and have Eggs Benedict in every GBG pub that sells it, and do the first ever Eggs Benedict Pub blog.

    2. Eggs will have been banned by then.

    3. If eggs are banned I shall tie myself to a comfortable deckchair and handcuff myself to an adjacent fence in the Whitehall area. Preferably the entrance to Downing Street but the security presence there will probably be too high for me to get myself attached before somebody else handcuffs me.

    4. I had a bad dream last night, almost a nightmare in fact. I was chased down a flight of outdoor stairs by a group of giant cous cous, which moves by essentially rolling on the ground. When they caught me, strangely on the prom at Brighton, they beat me a a bloody pulp with cricket bats.

      I blame the Crown and Shuttle for such a trauma.