The Brown Room, Filey

Brown Room

 The Brown Room is one of those places that qualifies to be one of the best fish and chip shops in the known world. I don’t actually think I could ever single out the best chippy ever because fish and chips are like beers and pork pies, there are loads of really good ones out there, but they are all slightly different. Like you can’t compare cheese and apples, you can’t directly compare porter against pale ale or Melton Mowbray pies against proper ones, and pubs are exactly the same. In fact you can’t judge them unless you have a standard to check against. That’s why we have standards for beer judging, which means, if you are doing it right, you can actually score a beer very highly, even if you don’t prefer that style or even compare the brewers art between porter and pale ale.

CAMRA have a standard with which you can judge pubs, I’ve used it and it works, albeit it with a CAMRA bias. I’m sure I could actually come up with my own standard for judging pubs. Perhaps it exists, somewhere in the windmills of my mind, I might try sometime, but even then, it would have my own bias. Having said that, my bias might be similar to others as I agree with other commentators on many things, but not all. Maybe I should undertake some post graduate study in an attempt to define a formula of pubiness. I’m sure someone’s already done it?

I would predict that any independently, without bias, pubiness formula derived through pure scientific research would end up having a strong leaning to mainstream/premier lager brands and large (larger the better) cheap (cheapest is bestest) meals, because, let’s face it, that’s what most folk go for. Unless it’s Thursday to Friday night in a town centre when again lager type drinks and possibly cocktails prevail, along with other agendas, although the premise of largest and cheapest may still apply here? This sort of brings me down to earth and I have to understand that I am a very small minority, as are organisations like CAMRA, which to my reckoning has a membership representing around 0.3% of the UK’s estimated population (60 millions) and maybe what I like isn’t exactly mainstream?

Getting back to The Brown Room, it’s exactly what a Yorkshire chip shop should be, clean and tidy, friendly, traditional, unpretentious, and the finest example of the fish fryers art. Although, I do recognise that some folk prefer different levels of crispiness in their batter, I think they get it right here with a consistent delicate balance of lightness and crispiness. I don’t like the thick crispy batters that scratch your gums, nor the sad doughy type that falls off the fish.

There’s a big tradition theme going on here, as a family we’ve been visiting for years and in the same way The Brown Room has been owned by the same people for as long as I can remember. Okay, the original ‘old man’ has retired, but he turned up just before closing when we were in the other day, just to make sure everything was okay. I’m pretty sure that most, if not all, of the staff are part of a single large extended family, if not biologically then socially. Reassuringly a nice mix of mostly mature, exceptionally friendly, professional and efficient adults with a smattering of carefully watched apprentices. No ‘back from Uni for the summer, clever but not much practicality and even less interest (apart from the money) lasses’ here.

I like the way it styles itself, “Fish and Chips, Cafe or Takeaway”. No pretensions of being a restaurant, not even an acute accent on the e. Immune from silly trendiness, it still has formica topped tables, ketchup squirters and proper vinegar bottles. No sachets here just pure functionality. Tea comes in tea pots, with even more hot water and a milk jug. I’m not a big fan of tea, but this is one of the few places I drink it. It just complements fish and chips, tannins cutting through the fat leaving faint floral notes to liven the palate.

There’s another well known fish and chip restaurant nearby. I’ve eaten there and the food is pretty good too, all served up in modern surroundings. Thing is, you don’t have a slice of lemon with fish and chips on the East coast of Yorkshire, you don’t want your peas in a separate ramekin thingy (think how much gets left in the pot) and you definitely don’t want an alcoholic drink with it. Neither do you want lobster or crab from a fish fryers, you go to see a chef for that.

I think readers will get where I’m coming from and realise that most people will rave about the other place with the plastic fisherman stood outside. I’m thankful though that I’m not actually in the minority and there’s still a lot of people out there who want proper fish and chips served by proper people in a proper chip ‘oyle.

Hopefully I will still be going to The Brown Room in twenty years time, and with a bit of good fortune, then maybe some more. If any grand bairns arrive on the scene then I’ll take them, just like my kids were taken by my parents. With a bit of luck, after a day on the beach, we’ll all be able to go to a proper pub for a couple of pints of proper beer before we go for our tea. I hope you will still have to queue up for a table.

Brown Room fish tea

The Cobblers Arms, Filey

Cobblers front

The Cobblers Arms, was a cobblers, that’s now a pub, a Micro Pub, the smallest pub in Filey, a very nice one too.

Chris Storr the landlord has been here since October last year, but the pub has been open for about two years. Chris has a background in the social care arena and told me he just fancied having a go with a pub, so he took it on. I know a landlord closer to my W.Yorks home with a similar background, who is as good a licensee as you can get, so there might be a natural progression here, based on, like … talking to people? Something a lot of bar staff don’t get these days. Anyway, it was nice talking to Chris on the two occasions we called in.

Cobblers Chris

Inside, it’s very nice and it’s been converted really well. With it’s classic, yet contemporary theme, you could be forgiven for thinking it had been here for ages. It really had a pub atmosphere, as opposed to a bar, if you get what I mean. Bare wooden floorboards, wooden backed banquette seats around the walls and some heavy cast iron bottomed tables. There’s two rooms, the main bar area at the front and a smaller room to the rear which looks out onto a small garden. I really liked the place, but I’ll be honest, if I had to sit in the back room I would have felt short changed on the pubiness front. I’ve never liked these sort of overflow rooms, unless they are decked out in interesting memorabilia, ephemera and a roaring fire or something else to provide a bit of atmosphere. The toilets, as usual in this type of place were small and unisex, but got top marks for cleanliness, as did the whole pub. Dogs are welcome, but not on the seating – too right! You wouldn’t do that at home would you? You would? Not coming round to your house then!

Cobblers inside

In terms of customer comforts there was Wi-fi, newspapers and a bit of a community pub feel coming on. It wasn’t busy when we called in, but it was early doors. I think I mentioned before, Filey sort of closes down at tea time as there are only a couple of small hotels and apart from locals, most holidaymakers are either day trippers or accommodated in holiday homes and caravan sites. We chatted with a nice bloke, a retired caravanner from Huddersfield, who had nipped out for a couple while his wife put the grandkids to bed. Otherwise, the handful of people all seemed to know each other and there was even a bloke on his way home from work who had forgotten to take his Hi-vis jacket off. Chris did say we would be welcome to stay for the weekly (Tuesday) quiz night where there would be complimentary pizza, contestants for the partaking of.

Okay, so what about the business end? Five rotating cask ales and six real ciders. Two halves of ale was a reasonable £3.25. You can see on the picture with Chris on, or the cask ale list, which they were. I didn’t have Cameron’s on principle. I’m still reeling over their latest attempt to further take over Leeds City centre and am currently view them as a large Pubco. Mentioning Pubcos, there were also the usual fizzy suspects on the bar, although comparably, only a limited choice.

Looking at the glory wall displaying pump clips of the various beers that had been on, the choice tended towards more traditional, solid choices, rather than anything post modern in attitude, but there’s nothing wrong with that and I couldn’t see a North Bar style drinks list going down a bomb in Filey. We called in the next evening for a couple and 40% of the beers had changed, which on a Tuesday/Wednesday was good. All the beers we had were of good quality, fresh and well kept.

My discovery of The Cobblers Arms, Bohommes and the fact that The Cobblers Arms is directly opposite the finest Fish and Chip shop/restaurant in the world has firmly re-imposed Filey onto the all time best seaside resort ever list. Category of small UK resort – this is really what it should be like.

Tip – Buy a property in Filey now! Before prices go through the roof. Gentrification is occurring (in a nice way too) and we need real people to continue to colonise the town to prevent people with more money than sense coming in and spoiling exactly what they went there for in the first place!

Bonhommes Filey

Bonhommes logo

1545hrs, Wednesday 27th July, Filey Cobble landing bar, more bar and bistro. Two hand pulls on, one with no clip and the other saying Doom Bar but with a pint glass balanced over the handle.

Pointing to the upturned glass, I said to the guy behind the bar, ‘Presumably that means there’s none on?’

‘Sorry mate.’

If I’m honest, I was glad. So, it was a pint and a half of Grolsch £5.15. Polycarbonate glasses too, in case you throw them off the balcony. Barman said they had been busy at lunch time, and they had some big tables booked for tonight. Best balcony on the east coast, sun nearly out, promenade busy, loads of ice creams, tea and coffee and Donuts (sic). Nice enough inside, not a pub anymore, was a bar with atmosphere once, now it’s £21.95 for a giant garlic bread, 2 large pizzas, 2 Carling or Caffreys and 2 large glasses of pop. Happy Families!

Cobble landing view from

There’s only one seafood stall on the cobble landing now, when once there were two or three, sign of the times, people don’t want cockles, mussels and whelks or crabs, they want Shuga Shack donuts, Fish and Chips or the Tea Bar (2 stalls in one) burgers drinks hot dogs chips, no wonder folk are the size they are these days, long walk to Filey Brig required, me thinks. Maybe it’s the same with beer and pubs?

I’m now thinking, I’m not sure whether Filey will get any better in terms of beer, maybe not from past experience, most day trippers drive back to the industrial heartlands at tea time or go back to caravan sites for tea and TV. I’ve always found that Filey’s more a place for local folk at night?

I was surprised I’d never been in Bonhommes bar before because it’s been here for years according to one local. He said it was the American Bar for a long time. He remembered it when he was a teenager and he was well into his late 40’s.

Dogs and kids welcome, but not teething infants! I felt sorry for the little chap but the people were a decent family and they they dosed him up with Calpol before one of them took him off for a walk in the pram, why can’t all parents be like that?

Split level one room bar with original high ceilings, hand full of locals and a smattering of visitors and decent piped music. In terms of decor, it seemed to borrow a little from each era of the late 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s music they were playing. Four hand pumps on the bar, but only three with beer on, maybe a Tuesday early week thing? I get that. There was also  selection of everything else you would expect to see.

The Crossbay Brewery Zenith (5%) was spot on to the end, at my second visit to the bar it ran off! The manager/cellar man expressed his surprise at how quickly it had gone. Mind you at £3.75 for a pint and a half I’m not surprised. I tried a Sandiway Ales Hop Schism (4.1%) next. The bloke said he’d tried some from the barrel earlier and he thought it was decent. How many pubs have this sort of QC? Not many I reckon these days. Often there isn’t even anyone to change the barrel.

The Hop schism wasn’t, to my taste, just quite as nice as Zenith, but similarly on very excellent form and nice to see some North Western ales on the bar for a change in deepest Yorkshire. I noticed a Titanic brew was on next and they had a mild on.

Bonhommes board

There’s no wonder Bonhommes bar has been the local CAMRA Rural pub of the year for 2008, 2009 & 2010 and Runner-up for 2011 – 2014. I’m none too sure about the rural part of the accolade as the pub is in the middle of the town centre? Maybe Scarborough CAMRA hold the belief that anywhere ‘not in Scarborough’ is rural, end of. You know, a bit like Liverpool’s ‘Woolyback’ thing.

The pub was very well kept and exceptionally clean and well maintained. Dog bowl and a smokers umbrella, quiz nights, live music and food between specified times. Wi-fi available and toilets are nice, there’s even dual child seats and nappy sacks and stuff in the ladies. Which begets the kids in pubs argument that I have been avidly reading on other blogs. My two penn’orth on this is, if you can’t have well behaved kids in seaside pubs then you might just be signing the pubs winding up notice.

It looks like the place has once been the public bar of a larger establishment, because the front of the magnificent building looks out over the bay, like it once was a big hotel? It appears to be all apartments now, but perhaps someone who’s genned up on Filey history can let me know? The only downside is that it’s side street location means you might miss it if you didn’t know it was there, if you see what I mean.

Bonhommes exterior

I really liked Bonhommes bar, it felt right and it was right. Very good beer, very friendly locals and staff.

For those who are interested, the Bonhomme Richard was a warship of the American Continental Navy which sank in the nearby  Battle of Flamborough Head on 23rd September 1779. Presumably there is a subtle link here with the bars previous name? Quite why the American Revolutionary Navy sailed half way round the world is anyones guess. If there are any scholars of American naval history then please add something in the comments

Overall verdict – hidden gem of a modern pub cum decent traditional boozer untouched by any Pubco design catalogue. Oh, and exceptionally well kept cask ales.


Filey to Scarborough pub walk

Filey cliffs

I went on a bit of an adventure the other day. When I tell you what it was, some people will go, ‘so what?’ Not having been in a tent since school days, I can tell you, it was quite something for me.

I sort of found the tent by accident whilst having a clear out. I guess it was more a case of having forgotten it  existed really. To give you some idea of the size of it, my son trekked across China with it about five years ago and it’s main drawback wasn’t so much the getting in to it as getting back out again!

Anyway, what’s this got to do with beer? A lot really because our expedition took us to Filey and the discovery of two places I had never been into, Bonhommes and The Cobblers Arms, which will both be the subject of future posts. It also got me thinking about a Pub walk, maybe I could do a book? Just with a different slant, like a two day tour? So here goes, my first walking and drinking route:

Go to Filey and spend a leisurely afternoon in this delightful little sea side town and have a drink in Bonhommes and The Cobblers Arms. You could go in the Good Beer Guide listed Star, but there is a sign outside saying, ‘No dogs except guide dogs’, so that ruled us out. I should say that all the other pubs on this list are dog friendly. Now you don’t have to camp, there are a couple of small hotels, guest houses and numerous holiday lets in the town. What you must do though is go for Fish and Chips in the fabulous Brown Room, which will also get a separate post because it’s principles relate closely to good pubs.

Anyway, when you get up the next day then point yourself North towards Scarborough and follow The Cleveland Way long distance foot path , which disappoints only by virtue of the fact it is entirely in Yorkshire and Cleveland doesn’t actually exist. Stout footwear and weatherproof gear are essential because for much of the eight and a half miles you are very exposed. You need a drink as well because there is nowhere to stop until you get to Cayton Bay at the three quarter mark, and even then the beach cafe is not always open. In terms of time, it took us two and three quarter hours to get to The Spa at Scarborough (not including a cuppa at Cayton Bay and ten minutes on a random bench)

The walk is stunning and much of it is cliff top paths, so you don’t need a map or anything like that as it’s way marked throughout. None of it is difficult, but there is one short, but steep incline, plus a series of nasty steps just after Cayton Bay. The cliff here closely resembling the Seaton to Lyme Regis path where a long time ago a massive section of the cliff has dropped and then settled. Similarly, as in Dorset, the entire area is fossil rich and subject to frequent landslip and erosion.

If you are thinking wild and wind swept cliffs overlooking bays and rocks with basking seals, wild flowers and abundant wild life then you are not far off. The only intrusion being the odd caravan site and a few houses that will probably have fallen into the sea within 20 years!

Filey cliff top

When you get to Scarborough walk right along the promenade to the North Bay, taking in all the sounds and sights of ‘the original’ seaside town,  before doing a sharp left past Peasholm Park to the North Riding on North Marine Road.

This pub is currently in my top ten and will stay there so long as Stuart and Karen keep doing what they are doing. I didn’t get much of a chance to speak with Stuart,  just a quick hello, when he returned from what was apparently a very exciting cricket match (Yorks v Notts) at the ground across the road.

The Peasholm Pale is one of my favourites and in it’s unfined guise it was even better. It’s probably the tastiest beer I’ve had for a while, that wasn’t over 6%. We also tried Mallinson’s Azacca and NRB Ticker’s (something) which didn’t do it for me. What I do like as well, are the friendly locals and staff who always remember you and kindly prompted me to get another drink just before the cricket match finished and the entire pub got taken over by thirsty cricket fans.

On leaving The North Riding we headed towards the station and called into the very quirky Indigo Alley. There were some random doors propped up in the bar on our previous visit, this time there were a load of brand new, still wrapped, mattresses stacked up in the corner? The ale was however, still on excellent form and we tried Milltown Brewing Co. Platinum Blonde, Yorkshire Heart Hop cycle – July, Pacific Gem and Indigo’s house ale, brewed by Wold Top.

The final stop was The Stumble Inn for a third of Elderflower Power by Great Newsome Brewery, a Copper Dragon  ‘special’ and 4T’s  American Woman Bravo, which was my favourite, with the Elderflower one a close second.

We then hopped onto the train back to Filey and during the fifteen minute journey considered the conundrum of why a return ticket for two (£6) is cheaper than getting two singles (£7), confused? I was. In fact I was still thinking about it while we ate a takeaway sat outside the tent in the dark with a spork, which provides a, previously un-encountered, surprise element to a Chinese Special Curry.

You could of course do this the other way round and stay in Scarborough, which has quite a few other pubs worth a visit. Personally, I prefer the more genteel environs of Filey, although Scarborough has many more accommodation options. In all these boozers you will be very surprised by the comparatively low prices if you are used to drinking in Leeds and other similar priced places. You will however get to sample some very well kept and diverse beers in a varied range of friendly licensed premises.

Filey train

Craft Beer OR just JDW exposing themselves?

JDW flyer

I was somewhat bemused to see this laminated flyer in a local Wetherspoons, the one in the concourse at Leeds station, which is probably my favourite JDW in Leeds. A proper station boozer, with all types of folk calling in, at all times of day for an ale, tea or coffee or just a plate of cheap grub.

I’ve read endless debate about what Craft beer is, or isn’t. I’ve even taken to calling, what might, in the eyes of some, constitute Craft Beer as post modernist beers, especially to differentiate between the original American Craft beer from what followed here in the UK. Let’s be honest the term is one that was crafted by the American brewing industry long before it surfaced on the european side of the Atlantic.

So, what did I think of the ‘Guest Craft Beers’ being showcased by JDW?  Mmmm. Well, they certainly think along different lines to me. Now before I go any further, I don’t think there are any bad beers on here, nor any poor breweries. In fact, I think they are all pretty decent to top class, breweries and excellent bottled beers. All of which might hit the spot at the right time and none of which pass the CAMRA real ale test, something that doesn’t bother me, neither.

Lets start with the ‘Local Craft Showcase’. Fair enough, Roosters make very progressive modern ales, as do Sonnet 43, if perhaps to a lesser extent. Now that cannot be said about Acorn, or Ossett, or Rudgate, who all make excellent, solid, real ales, yet could never be mentioned in the same sentence as Craft Brewers, surely?

If you have a look down the side of the flyer, JDW give us a definition of Craft Beer – Craft brewers are generally small independent breweries who add a twist to traditional recipes to create something authentic, unique and quirkier?

Okay, so how come Mythos, the Hellenic, Carlsberg subsidiary industrial scale Lager producer or Red stripe the Jamaican, industrially brewed (under license) and owned by Diego, Lager fit into that description. And what about Leffe, a brewing tradition since 1420 (their words, not mine!) and Duvel, since 1871? I don’t think they have added any twist to their authentic recipes which are no quirkier than when they originally started, something these Belgian brewers pride themselves on. Similarly Negra Modelo the Mexican brewed dark Lager (Dunkel) has been brewed since 1925 and although it’s one that you don’t often see in bars and pubs, it’s still not Craft Beer JDW.

Daleside say, our draught beers are brewed using traditional methods drawn from a long history of beer making. Again, I draw you too JDW’s definition of craft beer and brewers from exhibit A. If you look at Springhead’s web site they classify themselves as craft brewers. Personally I think they fail to draw the distinction between skilled Artisan and the marketing tactic JDW mis-use. Indeed, they state Roaring Meg is a surprisingly smooth, classic IPA style beer.

I’m none too sure that Craft Beer sums up the infamous Jaipur neither? Again an excellent beer, a post modernist, progressive UK beer from a pioneering brewery, but is it Craft Beer? Maybe we should ask Brewdog? Their products are featured and I reckon they want to be called Craft Brewers, following on from The Flying Dog and similarly named Snake Dog, breweries from the USA which inspired the term and a certain style of hop forward IPA in the UK.

Do I think that JDW have got it wrong? Yes, it worries me is that there are now all sorts of people going round thinking that all these beers are craft beers, when in reality, it’s just a selection of decent ales. A few being able to call themselves craft, several being mass produced Lager beer and the rest being right honest examples of modern brewing.

I’m a big fan of JDW, but not of this type of misleading marketing that can only mislead the average punter rather than promoting good beer and brewing.

Come on JDW, have a word with yourself and straighten your self out!

Beer Festival at The Pax, Thorp Arch

Pax pumpsA good few weeks back, we were intending to go to Manchester Beer week. I don’t know why we didn’t? Maybe it’s something to do with the fact that I’ve got it in my head that beer festivals should be entirely charitable, or promoted by non commercial organisations like CAMRA on a break even/any proceeds to the cause basis?

I might have opened a can of worms here, because there is a school of thought that CAMRA nationally is very much indeed a commercial organisation, paying handsome wages to those at St Albans. Having said that, CAMRA are no different to any other charity/3rd sector organisation, which is why, on principle, I only donate to RNLI, The Salvation Army and The Royal British Legion.

Anyway, instead I wandered down the road to The Pax Inn at Thorp Arch, near Wetherby. Somewhere I haven’t been in since I was involved with Thorp Arch cricket club over 6 years ago, even though it’s only twenty minute leisurely walk or a 5 minute bus ride away. Not for any particular reason neither, it’s just that, even in these rural parts, I would have to walk past six other vendors of real ale to get there. It certainly wasn’t a charity beer fest neither, but I went anyway, mainly because they had lots of beer on.

If you have never visited, then Thorp Arch and Boston Spa are two beautiful villages sat either side of an ancient bridge spanning The River Wharfe. There’s a few decent bars now, a couple of Sam’s pubs, some excellent restaurants, stunning riverside walks and lots of Georgian architecture.

Back to The Pax Inn. Five quid entry got you a glass and a free drink. At that point the cynical part of me thinks, I’ve just paid a fiver to stand in a pub that’s just put a few extra beers on and migrated into the car park?

I’d deliberately gone for the start at 4.00pm to have a good nosey round and the first person I spoke to after we’d paid was the landlord who was pulling through the lines. There had been an evening session the night before, and he was doing a bit of pre-opening quality control. I’ve never met him before, but Simon Rowley is a decent guy and we got chatting. At this stage Mrs C handed me my free drink token which said ‘one pint’ on it. Things are looking up and a quick calculation told me that £3.25 or £3.50 a pint for the stronger ones, plus the cost of a glass, is a pretty good deal. In fact when you looked around at what Simon had put on, it was clear the entry fee was barely covering his costs, if at all.

Pax Simon

There is a moral to this story and a change in the Coldwell mind set coming on, but you need to read on to find out what.

It was clear Simon has a real passion for beer because when I cheekily asked him what he was having a beer fest for? He said, ‘I’m fed up of going to beer festivals serving gravity dispensed warm beer from mainly local breweries. So I decided to have my own and do it right.’

That sounded good to me and guess what, he’s pulled it off. Okay, among the thirty four, all hand pulled ales there were some Yorkshire brewers. But look who, Great Heck, Roosters. Real ales but with a progressive attitude, something that generally ran through the entire beer list, which you will see went through the country from top to bottom, East to West. He’d also used his regular staff on the bar, people who were used to pulling pints, through a sparkler, properly.

Pax tap list

Being involved in running and volunteering at beer festivals myself, I was interested in the set up. Like, I couldn’t see any casks just a row of hand pulls? Simon invited me into the business side of the bar and I was mightily impressed. Powerful coolers using a water loop system through the casks which were horizontally racked on a gantry with the extra ones double decked over the bottom row. Simon told me the entire bar system had been hired. I thought the cost was reasonable as well, considering the whole set up gets erected and dismantled as part of the deal.

Pax bar setup

I stood at the bar listening to folk, until it got too busy, I reckon I might be a bit of a beer snob. I couldn’t believe, with the quality of what was on offer, a well to do gent, exclaiming that whatever he was drinking was okay, but he still thought that Doom bar was as good as it gets!

Another frequently heard cry was, ‘Oh, there’s too many to choose from.’ Followed by, ‘Have you got an IPA?’ All brewers, please note, call your beer IPA, it probably doesn’t matter whether it is or not, most people won’t know. They do know however that IPA is bang on trend and Oh don’t we all know that!

As well as the very well presented beers, there were a couple of keg lagers, wine, prosecco and if you got hungry, a mobile wood fire pizza oven with sensibly priced £5 – £6 pizzas. A whole hog was just getting started off in preparation for the Sunday session.

I remember thoroughly enjoying Leeds International Beer fest  last year, and that wasn’t a charitable event, in fact, I bet someone trousered a right wad. Now everyone has to make a living and I don’t begrudge that. I had a good laugh anyway, and I got to sample some really good beer from all over. Beers that I might not see all that often in local bars and pubs. In fact, I can’t remember seeing Weirdbeard on anywhere near here, anytime recently and even then, not very often.

So, perhaps I got off on the wrong track. Maybe, I’m not getting ripped off at commercially organised festivals. Maybe, I should have gone to Manchester Beer week and sampled some of the excellent beers, brewers and other products that their event was showcasing. Why should I though, when I could just walk a mile and a half down the road and sample some of the well kept, quality real ales from across the UK that Simon had showcased for us. Maybe, these ‘commercial’ beer festivals are actually doing us a public service by showing us what we’re missing? Giving us an opportunity to try something new, something different, breaking the mould even?

The Pax  is well worth a visit, look at the website for the beers they have on, they also have a reputation for good food. A day trip on the Harrogate and District 770/1 from Leeds or Harrogate, could combine  sightseeing with a visit to The Pax Inn, Stew and Oyster, either or both of the Sam’s pubs in the village. Although I’ve heard they are taking OBB out of the Admiral Hawke, a trend seemingly common across the Sam’s estate at the minute? There is also real ale on at fifty50 and Sir Duke’s, of Wetherby, are opening a new bar in what was Aprés. Oh, and a rumour, just a rumour mind, that Timmy Taylor’s are sniffing round the long closed, almost derelict Crown (now an ACV, courtesy of local villagers). The only apparent problem being that Tesco’s are litigating against Enterprise for not selling it to them? Please, please let it be Timmy Taylor’s.

I went for a natter with Simon a few weeks later. He’s now well on with opening a brewery on site. No massive aspirations, just a few quality Firkins a week for the pub. He’s got all the kit and is currently starting some trial brews, with an expectation to be fully on line around Christmas 2016 and I can’t wait.

In terms of the beer festival, he thought it was a real success, despite having lost a little financially. He’s having another one next year though, at which I will definitely be doing all three sessions. With the sort of quality and variety on offer it would be rude not to.

N.B. Date of beer festival was 19th June 2016.

The Bell, Hardwick: How do they do it?


The Bell outside

I couldn’t work it out? Charming village in beautiful countryside. Chocolate box, almost cottage style pub and as soon as we left it shut?

Seriously, at 10.00pm on a Saturday night. I could swear the staff were actually willing us to finish our food and go, not obviously, but you know, you could just tell.

I was gobsmacked and several members of our party wondered how the pub kept going and these are canny folk who live in the same pretty Buckinghamshire village of Hardwick and see what’s going on.

When we arrived at 7.00pm the place was quite busy and most people were sat outside on what must have been one of the warmest days of the year (July 2016). Most of them were eating, there’s nothing wrong with that, people like to eat out and a good meal in a pub often hits the spot. There is clearly a place for good pubs serving good food. They don’t all have to have the same menu though do they.

Now The Bell at Hardwick does a pretty good  job with the menu and I had Arbroath Smokies for a starter and Hardwick pie as a main. Both very nice, the Hardwick pie being of Desperate Dan size, including all manner of things, including chicken, gammon and stuffing. I’ll tell you, I proper enjoyed it.

I enjoyed the ale as well. Three real ales on hand pump and one dropped from the barrel in the cellar behind the bar. When I set off to drive down, I never envisaged drinking Oakham Citra that evening, but I did, and it was good, very good and it was the one they had to fetch from the cellar. I probably should have tried the more local  Chiltern Brewery Pale ale which was apparently very nice. The Citra went exceptionally well with the fishy starter though so I carried on with it and ended up having three of them, purely to wash down the Hardwick pie, of course.

Bell terrace

The pub is very, sort of, Olde Worlde and appears to have many original features, there is also a nice terrace to the rear, as well as the lawned garden at the front. Most of the tables are all set up with eating irons, although there is an accommodating bar area.

As the evening progressed I grew more and more perplexed as people kept leaving, but weren’t replaced, until there was just our little group left, in fact we were the only people left at half nine. For pity’s sake it’s Saturday night? This however is the norm but I was told it can be very busy at lunch times and tea time/early evening.

Bell inside

I was enthused on one hand, because the pub was closed for a good few years before being bought and re-opened in it’s present guise. From what I can find out, it’s the second free house in a small chain owned by Alex McCallum which specialise in organic and gluten free food according to an article from last year in the Morning Advertiser . Maybe there are some more now? Maybe not? Although he does also have a ‘free from foods’ supermarket in Princes Risborough, so his commitment to quality foods is commendable.

Do they really make so much money out of food? Probably, but I didn’t think it was over expensive and to be fair VFM. Is this the way forward? Lunch time to last completed food order opening hours? Is it the same where you live? let me know if it is, I’m very interested.

You sort of think, don’t they want to be a community pub? But, I was told by our friends that locals do indeed wander down for a pint or two and the village had carols around the pub tree last year. But what if you stepped out for a couple at the death and found it shut, you wouldn’t try it again would you? Perhaps there’s a trail of folk walking past every night, pretending they’re out for a late evening stroll, just in case it’s still open at 10.30pm?  Maybe the pubs opening times on their web site (12 to 2pm, 6 till 11pm except Sundays) are aspirational? Maybe they don’t want any wet trade? But why was the beer so good, they must have been selling plenty, or throwing lots away?

Whatever, I wish them well and I hope they keep this lovely little country boozer going and if anyone can tell me how they do it on the Saturday night turnover I saw then please let me know? It just worries me when you can’t nip into the village pub for a swift couple and the possible allure of a lock in at twenty five to eleven. Or was that why country boozers like this started to fail in the first place?