Saturday, 6 July 2013

Bacchus and I: Drinking in Esher

I am surprised I have not thought about doing this before.  Since the 1990s I have periodically met up with a friend of mine, affectionately known as Bacchus and we have walked around an area, usually in London, trying out a range of pubs and typically having a meal along the way.  Sometimes we do not stray too far, sometimes there is a lot of walking involved.  I should have made more effort to capture our journey in 1995 that began at 07.00 at the 'Hope & Anchor' pub next to Smithfield Market and included a huge cooked breakfast and beer.  It involved going up into the dome of St Paul's Cathedral, lunching close to The Clink in Southwark and finished off in Lambeth around 19.00.   The walking tended to counter-balance the beer intake. Other trips have involved Wapping, Whitechapel-Bethnal Green, Walthamstow, Battersea, Twickenham, Holloway-Archway-Hampstead-Highgate, Charing Cross Road-Tottenham Court Road-Euston, Bloomsbury-Fitzrovia, Holborn, Mayfair, Marble Arch-Edgware Road, Hammersmith with sojourns to Cookham, Oxford, Reading, Norwich, Winchester, Guildford and Bournemouth. My preference is for lager, Bacchus favours good bitters and real ales.

There are a couple of reasons for including such exploits on here.  Not on the basis of boasting of how much alcohol I can consume.  My limit is usually 4 pints, perhaps 6 if spread over a longer period and alternated with tomato juice.  Bacchus has protested that too many people 'spread their lives all over the internet', something of which I am now worried about doing.  I am torn by seeing it as egotistical yet the whole purpose of this blog was for me to cast stuff out into the internet in large part for my own benefit.  Latterly this has become a tool for mentally sticking my life back together.  Along the way I have found I actually lost more than I realised.  Along with the house and chickens went probably my only chance to ever marry.

The main purpose of covering such activities on here is a bit in the line of the flaneur approach, i.e. recounting what you might encounter walking through various parts of the country and also may suggest to you some pubs and even restaurants you might want to try out or in fact avoid.  On this basis, I certainly recommend breakfasting at 'Hope & Anchor'.  A visit to 'The Mitre' in Holborn, if you can find it, is worthwhile doing as it is the closest you will get to a Harry Potter like pub in how concealed it is.  I know Bacchus would mention 'The Prospect of Whitby' in Wapping.  I have also returned to 'The Sussex Arms' in Twickenham which actually plays records and sells a wide range of beers and ciders, always changing.

So, today's posting is about our trip to Esher.  We went on a Sunday, so it was pretty quiet, there was no horse racing on which changes the whole nature of the town.  The first thing to note is that it a 20-minute walk from the station and there is just busy residential road and then the horse race track to get passed before there are any commercial outlets, bar a branch of 'Café Rouge' which ironically we ended up eating in.

On this trip we visited three pubs.  The first was 'The Bear' which says it is a hotel but has a substantial bar area with stripped wood floors and a mixture of sofas and high stools.  It looks pretty much like a stylish wine bar and maybe the attitude of the staff come from that.  Being stockbroker belt Surrey you are not going to pay less than £4 (€4.60; US$6.12) for your pint of beer.  There is a reasonably large outdoor area.  The staff were young and while seemed to be good enough at doing their jobs, seemed to view the customer as the least of their concerns, they would rather play around with people.  For Esher the clientele were quiet.  I was surprised they were not doing more business selling food being a Sunday, but maybe their prime time is evenings.  I bought peanuts and they were very expensive, you only get a small dish for paying £2.50, I would rather have a packet.  However, I guess I was not the kind of customer 'The Bear' is looking for; it might have been different if I had bought wine.  The range of lagers was not particularly good; Bacchus very much disliked the place.

We crossed the very busy road to 'The Albert Arms'.  The exterior was being refurnished, but did not really impinge on the experience.  In some ways it reminded me of a narrower version of 'The Three Kings' in Twickenham, with bright wood flooring.  Its range of beers was better than 'The Bear' opposite.  Perhaps this was why, in contrast to 'The Bear' where women had been in the majority, this was dominated by men, some of whom were loud and very pretentious, but again, what you would expect in most places in Esher, they are bred like that.  I could have tolerated this place.  Bacchus is not usually overly picky about the environment, especially if the beer is reasonable.  However, we pressed on to the best pub of the day.

'The Wheatsheaf on the Green' as the name suggests is in a quieter part of Esher, it is worth walking up the low hill from the high street to reach it.  The interior somehow reminded me of a colonial hill station refurbished around 1965, but that was nice compared to the samey looking pubs you find everywhere.  Whilst we do not eat there, food seemed popular with the locals and they had a good range of Thai dishes and seemed to be doing very good business.  The attitude of the staff was in sharp contrast to the previous two pubs and we stayed here for another feeling very comfortable.  The pub managed to straddle successfully between dining families and serious drinkers like us.  Overall, a pleasant place to be and I would not mind returning.  It is pictured below with Bacchus pixelated to spare his discomfort.

As it now seems possible that I will be leaving London for the South Midlands, this may be my last review from this region and you will see others from elsewhere.  It might be of no interest, but this posting has been enjoyable and I regret not capturing my trips of the past.

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