Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Breast Bitter: Pumpclip Idiocy from Cottage

Boobies, tits, melons, bazongas, headlamps and midgets’ crashmats: These are all words that I can write here without cringing. That is provided they are delivered with my tongue wedged so far into my cheek that it looks likes I’m pleasuring a blue whale. However, they are not crudities that I should be forced to speak, in conversation, in a pub, with a person, on a Jesus’s own Sunday.

After all I’m English and so sexually repressed that this talk of jiggling meat-pillows only causes stiffening in my upper lip. So why do Cottage Brewery want to turn us all into an infantilised Sid James by naming their beer Breast Bitter?

Perhaps the news has taken longer to reach Castle Cary - probably because it is a town that still drowns those who use flush toilets - but the 70s are over. Reg Varney is dead, accept it and move on. In our modern world giggling over lactoids, breasticles and silicon-zeppelins is as funny as remaking The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin with all the human warmth of Threads.

But it isn’t just the misogynist moniker of this beer that bitchslaps your decency. Nor the sheer ineptitude of the crayonjockey they hired to Parkinsons out the pumpclip pictured above. Granted it is actually both of those things, but it is also the gawping uselessness of the pun.

Breast Bitter doesn’t work. The name fails to conjure up thoughts of what is actually a nice, slightly hoppy mostly malty 4.6% beer. Instead it creates visions of mummy milking rooms where distended upper-udders are ‘expressed’ 24/7. Or worse it fills your dreampipes with Oedipal fear. And if they really, really like this pitiful pun, it should have at least been attached to a Milk Stout.

But Breast Bitter isn’t alone there are plenty of others out there too. So what names or pumpclips have caused you to ignore an ale? When have you been too ashamed to order a Top Totty? Have you preferred pointing to uttering the words Rite Flanker? Or is the only word that has ever put you off a pint been Stella?

Friday, 10 April 2009

Pub Review: The Old Green Tree

The Old Green Tree
Green Street

They come from the bus tours, they come from the ghost walk, they come straight from central casting. Padded by Taco Bell, clad in velour and as cacophonous as a jet plane, they clog the narrow oak-panelled chambers of The Old Green Tree like chunky cholesterol. Roughly guided by The Lonely Planet and armed only with a lack of self or spatial awareness, these are they are Americans in search of a ‘genuine experience’ of a ‘genuine’ British pub.

It isn’t fair to criticise this Bath institution for the intermittent arrival of these stereotypical irritants, but it would be unfair not to warn you. For this superb pub, situated right in the heart of the centre, isn’t just on the tourist map of the Georgian city– it is one of the annotated highlights.

Part of the problem is that The Tree is small. Not that small though, not compared to the nearby Volunteer Riflemans Arms or the Cour de Lion - a pub whose floor plan is so diminutive that a recent lock-in had to be investigated by The Howard League for Penal Reform. But since The Old Green Tree has just two thin rooms and a bar area between them, you’d generally get more elbow room flying economy on Lilliputian Airways.

It is also quaint. Not that quaint through, because the dark wood panels on the walls and the antique fixtures and fittings are actually faux. In fact the single-roomed original pub was expanded and refitted in 1923 to appear Victorian – making it one of the first theme pubs around.

Despite this ersatz extension the Tree still retains a feeling of times past, not least because of the lack of natural light and the absence of music but also because of the unfailing obsequiousness of the landlord, Tim. In novelty ties and fixed grin, he bows and scrapes to all. And with our overseas guests he displays the kind of studied geniality unseen since P.G’s iconic manservant Jeeves, calmly explaining that drinks need to be ordered at the bar not from a sitting bellow.

Tim’s forelock also receive a extensive tugging behind the bar. For he and his staff are always happy to take you through the six real ales from a varied selection of mainly Somerset beers. The only fixtures being a light lunchtime standard from Blindman’s named Old Green Tree, RCH’s rebelliously zesty Pitchfork and one of Butcombe’s own bitters.

The cider is the flavoursome but bubbly Broadoak and the lagers are standard German and Czech numbers while a number of ineptly coloured posters highlight an extensive list of Belgian beers. Wine and whisky drinkers are also well served with a broad range of bottles and vintages.

The food is also very good. Not the ‘specials’ though, as they are merely nice. So while the blackboard’s offering are mostly experimental, opening the leather-bound menus reveals a range of rehearsed classics: mussels, duck, sandwiches and sausages. It’s all beautifully made in the tiny kitchen above but the rare roast beef salad is the standout option, primarily because these slices of cow-flesh radiate their vibrant pinkness like an autumnal sunset.

All in all The Old Green Tree is a hidden treasure. Not that well hidden though, thanks to Fodors, Footprint, Good Pub Guide, The Rough Guide, The Lonely Planet, The Good Beer Guide…

The Old Green Tree, 12 Green Street, Bath. 01225 448259.
Food served 12 - 3pm Monday to Saturday.

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Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Bristol’s Star & Dove shuts. Are more gastros to go?

Update: The Star & Dove is again open and seemingly under new management. Details to follow...

Totterdown’s gastropub and restaurant Star & Dove has closed, at least in the short-term. But can we judge anything from this experiment in food and beer mismatching?

Despite its prime parkside position, expensive and extensive refurbishment just two years ago and a location on a Yummy-Mummy thoroughfare, the pub seemed to have been in trouble for some time.

At first the new owners tried to do everything: a restaurant upstairs with a pub and bistro below. Then as the gastro element stalled there was a Thai night, a steak night, a quiz night and a jazz night. There was everything, except a reliable supply of real ale, lager or cider.

Of late the top-floor top-price restaurant remained firmly shut and the pub itself kept its doors shut in daylight, opening only in the evenings and weekends. And while the current owners Eamon and Christiane have lined up someone to take over, it is clear that this vast landmark is going to be shut for sometime.

But is this just one business dream that went wrong or an early example of tougher times for the gastro?

A few years ago the received wisdom was that the ‘wet trade’ was dead. We were told that those pubs that traded on drink sales alone were as definitely doomed as Damocles’ beenie.

It was handed down as gospel that only those establishments who ran a 24 hour hot and cold all-offal buffet of potted oxen and lark’s spleen catapulted it directly into the ballpool and family fun area could survive.

But sometimes the world doesn’t just turn on its axis. Sometimes it sashays, it shimmies, it grinds its bits in your face like a lap dancer who needs the extras to pay her orthodontist.

Now it looks like the world has once again turned and the only pubs that seem to be able to thrive in this new climate of enforced austerity are the beer-only paradises whose culinary range extends no further than the holy trinity of the British tapas: crisp, pickled eggs and nuts.

The gastros’ other rivals also seem to have better equipped to deal with the downturn: Takeaways takings are up, fast food is selling more swiftly and the chain restaurants are thriving in a flurry of vouchers. Even the top end restaurants are discounting with lunch deals and lowered prices.

Are the gastro pubs caught in between them? After all they are the very middle of the middle market: too informal for big birthday or anniversary meal but too expensive for a casual dinner or a working lunch.

So is this the start of a trend? Are the gastros starting to suffer? Are drinkers’ pubs near you busier than those that went gourmet? Is dinner money being spent on drink and then a takeaway at home?

The evidence here might be anecdotal but for the gastro Star & Dove in Totterdown it must seem real enough for Eamon and Christiane at the Star & Dove.

Read our pub review of The Star & Dove here.