Tag Archives: Restaurants

Ghostly Clerkenwell!

21 Apr


Clerkenwell is a ghostly place all right. At least it would be, were it ever quiet enough to be so. The nearest I ever got to it being quiet and spooky was at weekends when I used to go walking around town getting myself lost or when I used to scramble out of  the Talc Room at The Jazz Bistro’s Happiness Stan’s, Smithfields Market, at 4am on a Sunday morning not knowing which way to turn to get back home. However, there’s certainly no shortage of history in the area.

Flicking through some early digital pictures the other day, I came across this window with a much quoted paragraph stencilled onto it.

Bleedin' Hell

This is the window of the Bleeding Heart Tavern, which dates back to the 1740s as a public house. The era, I think, was the time of the gin explosion in London. You’re probably aware of William Hogarth‘s portrayal of Gin Lane and the misery and destitution therein. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on the era you refer back to, this is now a French restaurant.

Hogarth Gin Lane

It is behind said restaurant where the spooky goings-on were purported to have taken place. Bleeding Heart Yard once belonged to the Bishop of Ely before Queen Elizabeth I gave the land to one of her ‘favourites’, Sir Christopher Hatton. She may or may not have been a few sheets to the wind at the time, we all know how she enjoyed a few tankards, but give it she did. Both of those men are now immortalised in local street names, Hatton Gardens being famous for diamonds nowadays and Ely Place is famous for a) being officially part of Cambridge and b) having a really good pub on it.

As one might expect with the Queen carrying on with her husband, Hatton’s trouble and strife, Lady Hatton, got the right pip. So while Betty and Chris were getting down to the Volt, Lady Hatton decided to have her own little dance with a tall, dark stranger – the devil – and in the process just so happened to sell him her soul.

Anyway, after a while, relations with the Hattons began to improve. However, one night, when they were holding a bit of a shindig in their ballroom, who should pop along uninvited but a tall robed figure, all in black. He walked through the heaving dancefloor until he found Lady Hatton, who herself was a little too merry on meade for her own good. It was the devil himself. He took her by the hand and led her outside. All through the room the atmosphere changed in an instant, then there was a flash of lightning followed by roaring thunder as the rain started to tip down. The guests covered their ears as a spine-chilling scream shot through the room from outside.

Afterwards, all the guests ran out to the yard to see what had happened but all that they saw was a large bleeding human heart……..

Of poor Lady Hatton, it’s needless to say,
No traces have ever been found to this day,
Or the terrible dancer who whisk’d her away;
But out in the court-yard — and just in that part
Where the pump stands — lay bleeding a LARGE HUMAN HEART!
And sundry large stains
Of blood and of brains,
Which had not been wash’d off notwithstanding the rains,
Appear’d on the wood, and the handle, and chains,
As if somebody’s head with a very hard thump,
Had been recently knock’d on the top of the pump.
That pump is no more!– that of which you’ve just read,–
But they’ve put a new iron one up in its stead,
And still, it is said,
At that ‘small hour’ so dread,
When all sober people are cosey in bed,
There may sometimes be seen on a moonshiny night,
Standing close by the new pump, a Lady in White,
Who keeps pumping away with, ‘twould seem, all her might,
Though never a drop comes her pains to requite!
And hence many passengers now are debarr’d
From proceeding at nightfall through Bleeding Heart Yard!

And that, as my dear old mother would say, is as true as your trousers!

Check out the original poem here.

Katzenjammers Bierkeller and the Hop Exchange

6 Apr

My previous post on U Fleku and Antica Birreria Peroni, started me thinking. A while back, in order to re-live some Munich memories, a few of us decided to get out to a German bierkeller called Katzenjammers in Borough, South London. I hadn’t thought I would like it, as I’d seen the places near the river at Richmond and the Bavarian Beerhouse operations and not been impressed. However, this place had something going for it in that it was located under the Hop Exchange. For those of you who didn’t know the Hop Exchange is the building pictured on the top of this blog.

The Hop Exchange minus 2 floors

Despite no longer having its original glass roof, which was destroyed during one of the World Wars, I think this building cuts a fine figure curving around Southwark Street as it does. The Hop Exchange, as its name implies, was once the centre of commerce for the hop industry where hops could be steam-trained up from Kent and people could trade in hops under the natural light entering from above. It is missing its top two floors now but it is a lucky survivor, surviving bombs, fires and redevelopment, so far!

A few years ago, I was allowed inside during one of London’s Open House weekends, when all sorts of great places open their doors to the general public for two days. It is both functional and beautiful inside, at least to my mind and worth a visit if you get the chance.

Hop Exchange Balconies

While this area was the centre of London’s brewing industry, it’s now a great centre for food, with Borough Market next door. The Hop Exchange itself has been converted into office space but it does let itself out for functions.

However, the beer connection hasn’t been totally lost, which is where Katzenjammers comes in, located as it is in the basement. The vaulted basement ceiling lends an air of authenticity to the German style beer and food hall. The oompah band, so irritating in Prague, doen’t get in your face and plays such covers as ‘I should be so lucky’ by Kylie Minogue and Rick Astley’s ‘Never gonna give you up.’ It’s quite possible that I imagined the Rick Astley song but I’m sticking with the story, it sounds better.

Unfortunately, it was too busy to get a table for food so I didn’t get to try the Schweinefleisch und Bierentopf, which by all accounts is a ‘hearty pork and dark wheatbeer stew’! On the plus side, I was able to opt out of drinking out of a stein and get some Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier (a-love-it-or-hate-it smoked sausage-smelling smoked beer from Bamberg)  from the tap.  It was a busy Friday night and I think I might go there again, only earlier or on another day, I want that Swine flesh!!!!

A Tale of Two Cities – U Fleku and Birreria Peroni

6 Apr

Two beautiful cities. Two historical cities. Two tourist destinations. On the surface, the two cities seemed well-matched and I had high hopes of enjoying them both equally. Actually, they are very, very different in culture, style and what is becoming increasingly important to me, atmosphere. Atmosphere is a personal thing when I visit places, be they a village 20 miles from my house or a city on the other side of the world. Sometimes preconceived ideas of what to expect ruin an atmosphere unfairly and it takes you a little time to shift your mindset around this.

Stained Glass

I visited both cities within a short space of time and only for long weekends. In Prague, the weather was spectacular and the buildings were very beautiful and the tourists bled from every church, museum and statue there was. In Rome, the weather was spectacular, the sheer volume of history was overwhelming and the tourists cascaded down every dome, column and  balustrade in sight. I enjoyed the Rome experience and was slightly underwhelmed by the Prague experience. Why? How could I be so underwhelmed by such a beautiful place? On paper, it ticked all the boxes for me architecture, history and one of few countries with a bona fide beer culture.

It all came down to atmosphere I suppose. Italy is ‘literally’ bursting with historically important towns and cities but each one that I have visited still has a lively, life-goes-on-despite-what-we-have feeling. People go about their business and the tourists go about theirs. Rome had this feeling but Prague did not, for me at least. In Prague, I felt like a lot of the life had been squeezed out of the centre of the city turning it into a place with a splash of the Disneylands about it. There may be economic and historical factors for this, taking into account the Czech Republic’s communist history and the fact that people have been touring Italy since the Renaissance for example but that was my impression.


Now, I mentioned the Czech Republic’s beer culture and the Czechs are very proud of their beer, rightly so, and they do drink an awful lot of it. The Italians are less well-known for their beer but have recently begun to make some very nice brews themselves. In Prague, one beer seems to dominate, the famous Pilsner Urquell, which is a classic, but there are others around. On my visit, I was also able to try a number of other types which were all of a quality, if not always to my taste. Rome tended to have three beers per menu, two typical lagers and a bock or a ‘Rosso’, just enough to get by on.

U Fleku

It was in two particular establishments, one in each of the cities, that I could sum up my overall reaction to the two cities. One was the legendary U Fleku, a brewpub/restuarant which dates back to the 15th Century. They have been brewing there for 500 consecutive years and it has a medieval look, with Gothic and Romantic styling. There is one house dark lager called Flekovský ležák 13°.  It is a place of pilgrimage for beer lovers and was high on my list of places to visit, as it happened my hotel was a minute’s walk away so it was one of the first places I went to.  In Rome, there is a similar beerhall, less well-known, and while still a destination for tourists, not a mecca for beer lovers. This was the Antica Birreria Peroni, a beerhall which ‘only’ dates from 1909 and whose Art Deco style dates back to the 1920s. Inside it really looks the part and sitting there you could imagine wax moustachioed Italians with centre partings and white bibs sucking up spaghetti off their plates all those years back.

On entry to U Fleku, a rather grumpy man pointed glumly to a room where we could go in and find a seat. It was a nice room with a lovely beamed ceiling. I loved the fact that there was only one drink on offer and you were expected to drink it. The waiters just brought the dark, frothy brews into the hall and without looking banged them down on the tables. Perhaps this less challenging part of their job contributed to the disinterestedness and lack of charm they were showing to their customers. Next, a waiter came along and barked out that we needed to try this horrible, green, medicine shot because it was traditional, omitting to mention that they were about £100 each. OK, I guessed that they weren’t free and thought why not, but the manner in which it was done was a little forceful. The food was simple Czech fare but definitely not the same quality as the beer. The beer was very nice. I wasn’t raving that it was the best thing I’d ever tasted (which I do do) but it was very nice. I now wonder whether the atmosphere affected my enjoyment of it. Before and since, I had and have enjoyed oompah bands but the musicians in U Fleku were just a bit, well annoying, and in your face, certainly not the endearing ones I had expected. The bill, when it came, was relatively high and looking around the room it was easy to imagine that this place was no longer within financial reach of your average Prague pub-goer.

Pic from their Website

Onwards and upwards, Birreria Peroni, provided quite a different experience. On entry, we were greeted with that most precious of commodities, a smile. It was again lunchtime but this time looking around the room you were not just met with groups or tourists, although these were present, many local workers were also enjoying their lunches there. The hall was equally stylish but less steeped in history than U Fleku and, happily, there was no oompah band and nobody was trying to force Buck Rogers drinks down my neck. There was even a bit of banter with the staff despite the fact it was plainly busier than its Czech counterpart had been. Simple Italian food was available and was very tasty. The prices weren’t too bad. The beer was from Peroni and they had 3 types on sale, Nastro Azzuro, Rosso and Gran Riserva, no real attraction to the beer lover but it was fantastic to drink and eat in a nice atmosphere in a classy, historic beerhall and when I did drink those beers, I wasn’t thinking about how average they were, I was just enjoying every last drop of them, cold an’ all!

I would happily go back to Prague again and re-evaluate my impressions but as revered a beer as U Fleku has around the world, I’d give it a miss if I did.

Not mine either

*I always consider myself among the tourists, wherever I am and whatever form of travelling I'm doing. I don't buy into the idea of having a backpack makes you less of one, despite me being more likely to travel that way.

Eel Pie and Mash

25 Mar

Anticipation had been swelling up inside since early morning. This day he would be finishing before time and he was now gazing beyond the lop-sided heads in front of him to the large, round, white clock face on the far wall. Five more minutes. Enough for five more conversations. Five more life-sapping conversations.

The clock grew slowly in size as conversations, including his, faded into the periphery. The second hand tocked and vibrated, tocked and vibrated and he willed the minute hand to force itself forward with a little more urgency. Both hands, however, were resolute, confidently carrying out their duties.

The phone was placed in its docking station and he tried to recall his last conversation. He could only remember that it was with a man and that he’d passed on some information from the computer screen in front of him. He logged off, despite knowing it was a minute early and that Mr. James was very keen to squeeze every last drop of work he could out of every possible employee. Only last week he had belittled a part-time student who had packed up a few minutes early, reducing her to tears while the rest of the office looked on impotently or shamelessly concentrated that little bit harder on their task in hand. It was best not to test Mr James. After all, nobody was here through choice and he was the only boss in London who referred to himself as Mister.

The clock drummed 12.30. He bolted up out of his chair, grabbed his mobile off his desk and marched off to get his coat. Time was up and Mr James couldn’t touch him now. He decided to take the stairs down to the street, to help shake off the morning tension. He would take the bus there, the 57 was regular. There was a lady at the bus stop and he smiled at her but not so much as to engage her. This was something he was doing for himself and nobody could penetrate his bubble today.

The 57 bus was on time and he gestured to the lady to board before him, careful not speak. The bus driver was looking directly ahead at something beyond the road in front of him and as the green light beeped the last person on board he systematically put the bus in motion, still staring at that very same thing. Looking around the bus it was a relief that there were no school children on board. There were seats available and he could have sat anywhere but he was too excited to sit, he needed to keep moving. He watched people get on and off the bus and noted how people tend to make a lot more fuss during the daytime, perhaps they had more time to.

So what could he expect? A mind-altering experience? One that would change they way he thought forever? Or maybe just a good time. The bus rolled on. It passed an old village hall-like structure where muslims dressed in white tunics spilled out onto the street chatting happily. It passed a large supermarket and crossed a small river.  A tube station came and went and finally it reached Tooting Broadway, always bustling, always lively.

The road he was looking for was opposite the market. He knew where this was so he weaved his way to the market entrance and looked across the street. There was the road. He skipped across between the slowing cars and leapt up onto the opposite kerb. Was this really the street? He couldn’t see anything of note down there. It was a street with a fading breed of shops along it, a cobblers here, an ironmongers there and a dirty less-than-trustworthy-looking lawyers office  further down. Perhaps, it was fitting after all. Perhaps this wasn’t the renaissance he’d expected. He strained to see where it was but it couldn’t be seen. He walked deliberately towards the end of the low parade and from the corner of his eye, he noticed something bright, luminous. It was star-shaped and there was another and there another. This was it. Two small frosted windows either side of a very narrow double door marked the entrance and now he could see that this inconspicuous shopfront peppered with pink, green and yellow luminous stars was what he had been reading about for so long. Trepidation arose in his stomach. He pushed the wooden doors and slowly stepped forward onto an old tiled floor.

The doors jerked themselves closed behind him. The back wall was tall and tiled. Newer tiles blended in with some older, classier ones croaking back to more prosperous times. Five narrow tables jutted out from the right hand wall and thin fixed benches accompanied them. He glanced left at an overweight lady in a gingham smock and hairnet holding a ladle and then back to the benches where an old man sat spooning white fluff into his mouth. Self-consciously, he stared up at the menu board to compose himself. The menu board was packed with choices but closer inspection revealed that these were not choices but variations – Pie, Pie and Mash, Eel Pie and Mash, Eel 2 Pie and Mash, Eel Pie Mash and Liquor. All mash is lumpy said the sign. The lady was staring at him, waiting. He ordered Jellied Eels, 1 Pie, Mash and Liquor with a mug of tea and the lady expertly whipped out a pale blue bowl and with her spatula span it round dolloping lumpy mash around its flat edges. Next she ladled chopped eels into the middle and covered it in gloopy liquor. Really? Was this it? She finished off by wedging a flat ground beef pie onto the mash. He took it, along with a spoon and squeezed himself onto one of the benches. This place was dying and he felt the slow death creep over him as he spooned the food into his mouth piece by piece, looking round at the very few people who had been coming here all their lives.

Refine it please




My own experience with a Pie and Mash shop was similar. I’d always wanted to go but when I went it was hard to enjoy. The main reason being that the food was disgusting!!  Don’t get me wrong, I love eels and I love pies but not these eels and not those pies. Now the place I went to had a faded charm but I did feel like I was eating in a hospice. Maybe this restaurant was particularly bad. I’m not surprised they are disappearing from London but I’m equally surprised nobody has thought of updating the concept. Working class food doesn’t have to be quite so nasty and there are plenty of things you can do with both eels and pies. 

Classy Beer Cuisine Denderleeuw

12 Mar

Over on the other side of the world, this lady was making Beer Jelly. Why didn’t I think of that?  Through all my pickling frenzies and jam marathons it had never once crossed my mind to make a jelly with beer. I’m intrigued and will be experimenting in the near future. Beer is a decent ingredient in food and I try to pop it in a recipe when I can, mussels, batter, stews, fish, chocolate puddings… I’ll pop a few recipes up when I get round to it.

Belgians, of course, are masters of your beer cuisine. They’ve been doing it forever and with some style too. There are restaurants there that use beer in everything they cook. This is also true of a couple of places around the UK but they tend to be very few and far between and in England pretensions sell so you are unlikely to find the kind of place I was taken to by a Belgian friend sometime back.

De Heeren van Liedekercke is a name I couldn’t even begin to pronounce but the beauty of the internet is that I don’t have to listen to myself talking bollocks, I can just write it. It is also a restaurant specialising in Beer Cuisine. I’m quite jealous that this kind of restaurant doesn’t exist over here to tell you the truth. Why? Well, apart from the incredible beer list and the incredible food (I had a salmon tartare complete with a syringe full of Gueuze ready to be injected) and the friendly independent nature and the reasonable prices (for Belgium) and the courteous staff and the laid back atmosphere, there were local families with kids enjoying themselves alongside the beer nerds and the teenagers. There was no sense that this establishment had been marketed hard at any particular AB1 or 2 social grouping such as would undoubtedly be the case over here. It concentrated on the important things, food, drink and being an asset to the community, which it appeared to be. It wasn’t pandering either, to its growing international reputation among beer cuisine tourists. It just was.

I was completely charmed by the place and not least by the female owner who gave me some of their own house beer, a lovely spicy number it was too.