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In London town

Ted Bruning picks out a few pubs in the Borough

Great place for pubs, London. Not so great for beer, though. But before sundry London brewers (sorry, Mr Keeling) get apoplexy, let’s qualify that.

Yes, London has Fuller’s. It used to have Young’s, too, although that belongs to Bedford now. And lots of other regional brewers also maintain a presence in London: Greene King is well-represented (but then it’s probably well represented on Mars); so is Shepherd Neame.

There’s loads of Adnams, a bit of Badger, and (get down on your knees, you worshippers of ale) even some Harvey’s. Sam Smith, by a coup de main many years ago, snaffled a hefty parcel of some of the most historic pubs in the capital, but not all of them serve ‘real ale’.

Stick to the bottles, but be prepared to pay.

But London is not microbrewery territory and never really has been. There used to be Pitfield, of course, the first micro ever to win the Champion Beer of Britain competition (Dark Star, 1987 – I worked round the corner from the Beer Shop then, and oh how I wish I still did); but that has moved to Essex. And there used to be the Blessed Bruce’s Firkin brewpubs, but they have passed into legend.

For high property prices and a more or less total lack of genuine free trade stifled the development of micros in Old London Town: today it has eight, four wholesale and four boutique – less than half the number of micros in Staffordshire. Or Cumbria. Or Devon. Or… I think you get the picture.

Using the 2007 Good Beer Guide, I tried to put together a crawl of central London pubs where you could be guaranteed a pint of the unusual from some quaint micro or other. The GBG lists only seven such, and trying to cram them all on to one circuit would be more of a routemarch than a crawl. Starting at the Market Porter in the Borough, you’d cross London Bridge and wend nor’east to Whitechapel Road and the Black Bull; then west to Heneage Street and the Pride of Spitalfield. West again to the Jerusalem Tavern in Britton Street; then north to Tysoe Street and the Old China Hand, once O’Hanlon’s; north again to Wenlock Street and the Wenlock Arms (oh bliss!); and finally west to Euston and the Doric Arch, the former Head of Steam. And you wouldn’t half need a drink after that!

So I never got further than the Borough. But did I need to? No. For if you (like me) love Old London Town, its markets, and its pubs, then the Borough is very heaven. (It’s even better if you hate fresh air and anything green, like grass and trees). But let’s not start at the Market Porter. Let’s start at one of London’s oldest pubs so that, by a neat trick of symmetry, we can finish at one of its newest.

What needs to be said about the George, its warren of little rooms and forest of pitchblackened beams hidden snugly in its yard off the High Street? It’s London’s last galleried coaching inn, you know that; and the names of the yards running off the High Street are poignant reminders of how many there once were. Shakespeare performed in the yard (allegedly); you probably knew that too. It’s actually mid-17th century, check; two sides of it were demolished to make way for the railway in the 1890s, check; it belongs to the National Trust, check. But did you know it was managed for the Trust by Greene King? Still, it used to be Whitbread… Turn left out of the yard and a brisk five minutes’ walk down the High Street will bring you to Tabard Street and the Royal Oak, a plain Victorian boozer bought and pleasantly restored by Harvey’s of Lewes a few years ago. Tabard Street, now a side-street, was once part of the main thoroughfare and was called Kent Street. A century ago and less this was a teeming slum, with packed courtyards debouching on to one of the busiest roads in the kingdom. Today, having long been by-passed, it is a quarter of comparative tranquility much of which, I am sure, emanates from the cool, clean, quiet Royal Oak. The beer here, it goes without saying, is nonpareil.

A trek now takes you – and bring a large-scale A-Z, for directions have failed me in the past – to the Lord Clyde on the corner of Ayres and Clennam Streets. The pub dates to 1863, the year when Colin Campbell – the general ennobled for his ruthless suppression of the Indian Mutiny in the 1850s – died. The wonderful ceramic tiles that are the main reason for this detour, though, date only to 1913.

The beers are of the regional persuasion – Adnams, Fuller’s, Young’s etcetera etcetera but are wellkept and will fortify you adequately for your hike up Southwark Bridge Road.

At Southwark Street you may, if you wish, turn left and hurry along to the Founder’s Arms in Hopton Street, an uncompromisingly modern construction of single-storey brick octagons built by Young’s in 1979.

The building, avant garde in its time, is still interesting; the setting, on the site of an old foundry bang opposite St Paul’s, is one of the finest the Thames has to offer. If you visit on a nice day and find a riverside table, you may find it hard to leave.

But do, for the journey back along Bankside, between the Millennium Bridge and Tate Modern, passes the reconstructed Globe and a pub known to Pepys, the Anchor in Park Street.

From here he watched the Great Fire wreaking its destruction on the opposite bank, secure in the knowledge that at least his precious parmesan, buried in his back garden before he and his family fled, was safe from the flames. The present building actually dates to about 1775, but it’s still an atmospheric place to pause and enjoy a restorative pint of Pedigree or 6X.

So finally you’re back in the Borough, at the Market, where so many stalls offer such a mindnumbing variety of wonderful fresh food that I find it almost impossible to choose anything. But you don’t have to choose between its two world-class pubs, though: have a pint in both, why don’t you? The Market Porter, the more traditional beerhead hangout with its choice of 10 real ales, is probably the better-known.

But since the luscious Mylene Klaas, piano-playing and usually underdressed siren of reality television and now the Marks & Spencers TV ad pronounced it her favourite pub in one of the those Sunday supplement celebrity questionnaires, the Rake just round the corner in Winchester Street has become famous.

In some ways it’s a pity, because the Rake – a derelict shop until late last year – is absolutely tiny (although it does have a pleasant patio fairly well-fortified against the weather) and doesn’t have enough room for Mylene’s army of fans. But in another sense I’m glad. The Rake is the brainchild of Richard Dinwoodie, whose day-job is running Utobeer, the beer bit of Borough Market’s Drinks Cage, which you must visit or I’ll never speak to you again.

Richard is an absolute gent and deserves to be very, very rich; so end your Borough crawl by spending any money you happen to have left at his pub, please.


The George Inn
77 Borough High Street
Tel. +44 (0)20 7407 2056

Royal Oak
44 Tabard Street
Tel. +44 (0)20 7357 7173

Lord Clyde
27 Clennam Street
Tel. +44 (0)20 7407 3397

The Founder’s Arms
52 Hopton Street
Tel: +44 (0)20 7928 1899

The Anchor Bankside
34 Park Stree
Tel. +44 (0)20 7407 1577

The Market Porter
Stoney Streeet, Borough Market
Tel. +44 (0)20 7407 2495

The Rake
14 Winchester Walk, Borough Market
Tel. +44 (0)20 7407 0557