Pint Pleasures: Two Pubs in London / Touring Southwark

CoffeeBeer >> Pint Pleasures >> Previous Beer Columns >> 2 London Pubs

Previous Pint Pleasures - October 8, 2006

guinness eileen

Mabel's Tavern, 9 Mabeldon Place, London WC1

guinness eileen

The George Inn, 75-77 Borough High Street, Southwark, London SE1

One very hot summer Saturday I took the train to London to spend the day with my Seattle friend Celia and her brand new husband Paul. Because Celia, like myself, is an American woman who likes good beer, I consulted my CAMRA Good Beer Guide to find an appropriately situated pub for a rendezvous. We decided on Mabel's Tavern, a Shepherd Neame pub not far from Kings Cross and St Pancras.

There is quite a bit of construction going on these days around this part of London, not only as a result of the Kings Cross fire of 1987 and the July 2005 bombs, but also because St Pancras is being transformed into an international station which is scheduled to open in 2007. When I arrived at St Pancras station and emerged onto Euston Road I was completely disoriented by all the pedestrian blockages and diversions accompanied by a deafening cacophony of heavy equipment. Celia and Paul, who were in the vicinity by this time, were equally disoriented; and after a couple of mobile phone conversations barely audible above the noise, we managed to meet at the pub.

To simplify matters, Mabel's Tavern is located just a few metres off Euston Road opposite the Novotel. The pub is a recent acquisition for Shepherd Neame and is named after an Irish woman named Mabel. According to the brewery's website, not much is known about Mabel except that she owned a cat named Felix. And since her death in the 1970s she reportedly haunts the pub in the early mornings, disturbing the residents as she operates the ghost of a dumbwaiter.

As the day was already getting quite warm the pavement tables were occupied, so we sat inside at a roomy corner table. I had a pint of Kentish Best (4.1% ABV, Shepherd Neame, Faversham, Kent), which the barmaid promised was the same as Best Bitter, my favourite of Shep Neame's brews. It's not surprising that the brewers are capitalising on their Kentish location to attract London drinkers. Whatever you prefer to call it, my pint was superb, truly excellent. I had forgotten just how excellent Best can be. Such an appropriate name...

Our lunch was excellent as well. The cheese plate was nice, the chips were good, Celia and Paul said their burgers were great, and my roasted vegetable pesto goat cheese toastie was delicious, inciting little moans and swaying movements which I've never been able to control whenever I experience gustatory pleasure. What a fine discovery this pub is, and what a stroke of luck it's so close to a major tourist transport hub. Bless you, Mabel, whoever you are! And give Felix a good stroking for me as well.

As a break between pints we headed over to the south side of the Thames to the borough of Southwark. Besides being one of Charles Dickens' inspirations when he lived here as a child while his father was in debtor's prison, Southwark is also known for its cathedral, the oldest Gothic building in London. After a quick tour of the cathedral, which reminded me of Canterbury Cathedral and smelled so wonderfully historic it launched me into a coughing fit, we stopped for a refresher at the George Inn, a historic coaching inn from the 16th century mentioned in Dickens' Little Dorritt. The current building was built in 1676 and originally spread around three sides of the courtyard. Today a hideously ugly modern building towers over and around the courtyard, dwarfing the still sizeable pub. On this warm Saturday the courtyard was packed with tourists drinking pints and flirting with sunstroke.

The interior of the pub was equally crowded, so we ordered pints of Greene King IPA (3.6% ABV, Greene King, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk) to take outside. I have to admit our pints weren't terribly inspired, although it could have been the end of the cask. And the barmaid was very kind and generous when she realised she got my order wrong. Even though she had undercharged us she insisted we have the third pint for free. Now, that's real customer-first service which is sadly rare these days.

After our pint we walked over to Shakespeare's New Globe Theatre. Although the theatre itself is supposed to be a faithful reconstruction of the 16th century original, we only saw the lobby and the gift shop which sells very ordinary erasers, pens, fridge magnets, lighters, and keychains emblazoned with SHAKESPEARE'S NEW GLOBE THEATRE in block letters. To round off our London day, and to allow me enough time to make my way back through the St Pancras chaos, we had exactly 30 minutes to spend dashing through the Tate Modern, a glorious power station of a building. Sadly not enough time left to try any more local hostelries...