Even with the emergence of gastropubs, many served up with over the barrel prices, you can still find authentic pubs serving a selection of fine beers and decent food in central London. In fact, London offers a myriad of historical and architecturally brilliant pubs that also have on tap England’s traditional beverage, cask conditioned ale, real ale. Cask ale is a living beer, that is, beer which undergoes a secondary fermentation in the cask, producing both fine conditioning and a light carbonation. This is beer in its purest form. Unfiltered and gently pulled from the cellar by hand pumps, with more than a splash of hops in its makeup, this is beer that is served at cellar temperature, not bone chilling cold, and certainly not warm. Cask conditioned ale is beer to die for, or at the very least, beer to have before you die. Especially now, following the smoking ban in pubs, that you can smell the fresh hoppy beers to their fullest effect. Enjoy.
15 Selwood Terrace,
South Kensington, SW7 3QG
The Anglesea Arms, a true free house dating from around 1825, is the kind of comfortable pub with a reliable ambience you could spend all day in drinking fine cask ales and talking among friends and not have one regret about your actions. Dark wood and fine art on the walls, abundant tables with partial wooden dividers separating sections, a fine bar at which to stand, and most importantly, well kept cask ales are the main attractions. Most notable on the beer front, the Brakspear Organic Ale, Archers Gold and Hogs Back Bitter, all highly drinkable golden coloured session ales that delivered forthright hop bitterness with just enough malt for balance.
The Anglesea Arms was one of the notable holdouts, serving cask ales back in the 1970s when big British breweries, which were backed by large advertising budgets, were pushing keg ales such as Watney’s Red Barrel, an insipid beer lacking character and hop bitterness. Across the industry, the big breweries left real ale to languish in obscurity but for the few, a handful of breweries and a few select pubs, that believed in this most traditional of English beers. Their belief has been richly rewarded, saving a beer style and a way of life that included popping down to the pub for a pint or two of cask ale and a chat.
Food is available every lunchtime and evening from a very interesting menu in the bar and the dining room tucked away in behind the bar, which provides a full restaurant service, and where booking tables is recommended. Try the tender pink grilled duck sliced thinly and layered over and between a bed of crisp greens with an Asian-influenced dressing for a real delectable treat. There’s a sizable outdoor drinking terrace in front of the pub that is busy weather permitting, of course, and now, it sees more use as an outdoor smoking venue.
49 Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury, WC1B 3BA
A busy pub located on a corner directly across from the British Museum, the Museum Tavern is ideally situated after a visit to the venerable English institution for a jar of cask conditioned ale in good nick, say the hop happy Harvey’s Sussex Best Bitter or a pint of the distinctly hop bitter Timothy Taylor’s Landlord from Yorkshire, a former CAMRA Champion Beer of Britain and the most decorated real ale in all of England.
The pub features a bar running along most of the length of one wall, with an ornate wooden back bar and plenty of decorative etched glass mirrors, giving the place a sense of inviting warmth. Believed to date from the early 1800s, the Museum Tavern is the work of architect William Finch Hill. The pub was originally called the Dog and Duck.
The Museum Tavern revels in its proximity to the British Museum, welcoming a good mix of tourists from around the globe during the day and locals dropping in for a pint of an evening.