The New/Old Brewery

I seem to be doing a nice line in being last to review major new establishments in Greenwich just at the moment. I guess it comes to a point where everyone’s trying to squeeze through the review door at the same time, and in those instances it pays just to hold back and let everyone else through first. And let’s face it – the Old Brewery isn’t going anywhere soon…

I’ve been to the New/Old Brewery two or three times now, which will probably give you an inkling of the kind of review it’s just about to get. It seems almost a bit weedy to echo what everyone else is saying but hey, some things just need to be trumpeted as examples of good practice in an area where bad practice is the norm.

When I heard they were considering digging up the old brewery and creating a new one I had mixed feelings – huge excitement for something that was so very appropriate for a great historical site, but also little trepidation. I could hardly believe they’d manage to ever pull off such a project, let alone pull it off properly. Surely someone would put the kibosh on the idea early in the planning stages? Surely something was going to be skimped on, messed up or bodged somewhere along the line? I knew it was the Greenwich Foundation, not the Greenwich Hospital Trust. I knew it was Meantime, not Inc. But still I had my fears.

But a good few years after the idea was first mooted, the archaeology has been done. The beer history has been researched. The molasses-black Hospital Porter has been brewed and the Old Brewery is finally with us.

What can I say? They’ve done it beautifully. From the shiny copper brewing vats to the strange, undulating beer-bottle sculpture hanging from the ceiling (a cleaner’s nightmare, but that’s not someone else’s problem…), from the magnificent, gently arched brick roof in the bar (they did tell me what it was called – something to do with fish if I recall) to the smooth finish on the solid wood seats in the garden, this place just screams ‘class’ (if ‘class’ even deigned to scream, of course.)

I ate there the day after it opened. It’s been strange holding back a review when everyone else has been having their two penn’orth, but hey, that’s how it is, and waiting has at least given me the opportunity to test it out at other times. I was nervous, because our very own Rod is Phantom Brewmaster there, and I knew that if I hated it, I’d have to be honest about the fact.

I wonder how many times per day they have to tell ignorant Phantoms what London Particular is (to save the waiters’ voices, it’s split pea and bacon soup.) I confess I didn’t go for it, but it is an excellent example of the sort of menu to expect from the evening restaurant. British food is prominent (and very trendy just now) with solid, down and dirty London faves such as shellfish and sundry animal innards often cooked with sundry Meantime ales.

The whitebait could have been a tad crispier (though I’ve heard they’ve since dealt with that, apparently it was an early kitchen issue – that’s the problem with leaving a review a couple of weeks) but the salmon was divine. At first I thought that I couldn’t taste the horseradish but testing all the components separately proved that it did have quite a kick – it was just so beautifully balanced by the almost-omnipresent-in-contemporary-cooking beetroot that both became mellow supporting acts, bringing out the flavour of the salmon, rather than overpowering it. It is the single clearest example of perfect-balanced food I have ever eaten. What’s so odd is that I don’t much care for either beetroot or horseradish but in this dish they were exactly what was needed.

I rather fancied the look of the potato dumplings on the table next door, so I ordered them rather than the Dover sole, which I had had my eye on. They were divine – soft and squishy – like a cross between Italian gnocchi and cheesy mashed potato. My only complaint, being a Phantom of Greed, was that I could have easily gobbled a few more of them.

My companion’s rib-eye steak disappeared before my very eyes (with the exception of the odd bits of fatty gristle you always get with such a cut) and was pronounced ‘good,’ which, short of ‘amazing,’ is actually the best compliment I’ve heard from such lips. Since I’d finished the potato dumplings, I scoffed quite a lot of the chips which looked a little square to be entirely hand cut, but oh boy were they good.

Didn’t make it to pud on that occasion (I’d filled up on someone else’s chips) and since I don’t drink beer I only had a sip of the Hospital Porter. I can’t really comment on it as it all tastes ghastly to me, but it’s certainly thick stuff – impossible to see through – and it tasted quite sweet, but what would I know?

I’ve returned on a couple of occasions, armed with friends to test some of the beers. The aim is to work through them all, but actually getting tasting notes out of my pals is hard work, and as a non-beer drinker myself, I am totally reliant on others for such things. I know the Helles went down well, as did the Wheat Beer and the IPA. There was much discussion about the Saison 1900, which, being lambic, is, I understand, always a bit of a voyage into the unknown. I think that it was generally regarded as ‘interesting.’

Last time, we sat outside in what was, frankly, a bit of a chilly garden. But it’s wonderful – it’s going to be absolutely heaving in the summer. The curved brick wall keeps out the worst of the river breezes and the border, although in early days yet, being a Greenwich Foundation thing (I assume) will take it to being somewhat better than the average beer garden. The furniture is solid and inviting and the tables have those little twisty things on them so you can adjust them for non-wobble.

I was drinking the wine – first the house Chardonnay, then the Chenin Blanc. It’s perfectly okay – nothing terrible, nothing wonderful, but it is like so much wine these days, pretty high in alcohol. I only vaguely remember the political discussion between us and the folks on the next table…

I still haven’t managed to have lunch there, mainly because it’s been a bit of an elderly-relative-visiting-frenzy at Phantom Towers recently and I needed to take my visitors to places bookable in advance for access purposes – sadly the Old Brewery doesn’t take lunchtime bookings.

But this is a place I will return to whenever I have the money – you get what you pay for and the Old Brewery isn’t dirt-cheap.

On a site like this you’d really need to mess up big time not to make cash out of tourists. But this is so much more than that – this is a place that locals will see as ‘their own.’ I love it.

The pictures, by the way, are by Steve, who tells me he was the first paying customer…

19 Comments to “The New/Old Brewery”

  1. Sidell Gibson Architects says:

    Hello Mr Phantom, we were the architects and got the planning consents for Discover Greenwich and the Old Brewery (including the Brewing Tower, restoration of the Old Brewery building (cast iron fish-bellied beams and flat brick vaults) and enlarging of the courtyard. It's good to read that is seems to work well (even though you might not like some of Sidell Gibson's other proposals for Greenwich!) Read a description here:

  2. Latelygay says:

    Love your first picture, Phantom. Nice bit of photography.

  3. Old China says:

    I've been twice myself, both times for dinner. Agree completely, this place was great. I had the whitebait for starters the first time and it was so generously portioned that fitting in my maincourse steak was a tough – but not insurmountable – task!

    Went for the infamous "eleven quid" burger the second time, just because burgers had been so much discussed a few days ago on the fantom forum. It was as good as GBK's (my favourite) and not much more expensive when you factor in the chippies.

    But the best bit is the beer. It is amazing. I LOVE their Hospital Porter, such complex flavours for a beer. I asked if they sold bottles of it but they only did a limited run of 100 and they were mostly gone.

    The only problem is that eating a meal AND fitting in a few pints is mighty uncomfortable. It's a question of volume. Now I understand why people drink wine with their meals. With food, 2 to 3 beers is my maximum.

    Anyway, I have a feeling that The Old Brewery is going to be THE place to go in Greenwich this summer.

  4. Paul says:

    It is wonderful, at a time when another chain has attempted to devour most of Greenwich's pubs, to have something that works so well.

    We had a great time in the evening, but it's worth pointing out how good the place is in the morning, too. Decent croissants and coffee, in a fantastic location, without the exploitative prices that have become customary in Greenwich. It's great to know that, where others here seek to rip off punters on the basis they probably won't return, the Old Brewery has real integrity, providing decent products, at a reasonable price, in a stunning setting. Compare like with like, and this is far superior to anything you'll find near, say, the John Soane's gallery, or Les Invalides – it stands with the best.

    Oh, and our whitebait and my Hospital Porter both excellent. Next time, though, I must heed the bar staff's warning and stick with halves of the latter.

  5. will says:

    Was intrigued by Sidell Gibson's comments about 'other proposals for Greenwich' and had a poke around. Turned up this:

    I assume that was an old proposal for flats that got nowhere, because I think (hope) that's the site of the new architectural school. I don't know about the Phantom, but I doubt that proposal would have got any pulses racing.

    That said, the Old Brewery is fantastic.

  6. The Greenwich Phantom says:

    Ah yes, I knew it had something to do with fish…

    And LatelyGay, sorry – I can't take credit for any pics on this post – they were taken by the lovely Steve (or one of our lovely Steves. There are so many lovely photographers called Stephen on this blog…)

  7. Capability Bowes says:

    Cute barkeep

  8. Brenda says:

    It is stunning. Have only been once, early evening last Friday, but I want to go back again and again. Can't comment on the food – well the curried nuts are tasty – but enjoyed the Helles and the London Pale Ale.

    Thats where I can see myself spending most summer evenings – I just dont want it to get too popular!

  9. Jonathan says:

    Anyone know if the Kellerbeer is available yet?

  10. Rod says:

    Thank you all for the kind words – we very much appreciate them.
    The Kellerbier was transfered yesterday (Friday) from the highest point of the Tower to the depths of the 18th century cellars, so it is available this weekend, served direct from the tank.
    It is a long-matured (5 weeks of lagering)beer brewed from East Anglian Maris Otter malt (which is considered the finest in the world) and East Kent Fuggles hops. It is unfiltered and unpasteurised and has a slightly hazy pale gold colour, with only gentle natural carbonation. It conforms to German purity law (Reinheitsgebot) standards, which sadly the vast majority of British beers do not.
    It is not, and will not, be available anywhere else. Hope you enjoy it.
    Oh – Phanti, Saison is not Lambic. Two different, wildly eccentric, Belgian beer families…

  11. Emily Bishop says:

    Took my ashpocalypse-stranded Mum there last night – LOVED it. The service was kind, patient but efficient, the food was lovely and not massively overpriced, and the beers were tasty and really unique. The setting was gorgeous, although I'd be reluctant to eat inside the restaurant on a nice day as it doesn't seem to get much natural light – all the more reason to go back and try the garden. Only teeny tiny complaint was that our waitress got a bit overly bashful about the option to add a tip on the card machine – we were happy to tip her as she'd been lovely and wish she hadn't felt the need to point out how awkward it was!

  12. Anonymous says: did the design — nice work!

  13. Luke says:

    I popped in on Sunday to bask in the glorious sunshine (the little courtyard attached to the brewery is a big suntrap!).

    It's a lovely setup and I can see it being very busy over the summer. Beers were excellent, food good too.

    The only thing I could complain about is the beer / brewing knowledge of the bar staff. I asked if Meantime brewed a mild and the reply was 'a mild what?' Nothing too surprising, but I guess I'd hoped for more from a bar called brewery. Still I'll give him the benefit of the doubt, I'm sure the staff will know all the beers before too long.

  14. sophie says:

    Luke has a hidden agenda going on, because May is CAMRA's Mild Month – it would have been better perhaps if he had mentioned this. Mild accounts for less than 2% of beer sold in British pubs, and has been effectively extinct in London and the south of England for many years.

  15. Kat says:

    I went for dinner for the first time there last night with my sister and dad for his birthday and was thoroughly impressed.

    My dad was raving about the 'London Particular', a tasty soup of pea and ham hock which he said 'took him back to his childhood' and subsequently tried to get other diners to order as well (Sorry if he bothered you or your party)

    We also had delicious, pork terrine, a tender steak (great hand cut chips!), plaice and a highly reccommended cheeseboard for desert.

    Couldnt fault anything, staff were enthusiastic, knowledgeable about their produce and beers and there was a lovely ambiance in the evening which made it almost feel an entirely different place than during the day.

    My only criticism which was agreed by my dad and sister was that it would have been nice to have a little more history/information of the actual brewery and building perhaps on the menu or on the table so diners could get some idea about the restaurant and its conception.

    There is a very good 'timeline' on one of the walls but its not really convenient for diners to go up and down reading it through a busy dinner service and the lighting gets quite low later on which makes it virtually impossible to read.

    I also spent a lovely Sunday afternoon in the garden area and will most definitely be back :) Good work to all involved!

  16. Kat says:

    Whoops didnt realise I posted such a long 'review'!

  17. Online radio says:

    Sorry Sophie, no hidden agenda here, just a bit of coincidence. I'd no idea Camra had taken it up as a cause, I'm not particularly a Camra follower (or even a beer drinker anymore), but I do like a mild.

    I'm aware that it's pretty much well consigned to beer tents at county fairs nowadays, but Meantime seemed to rediscovering other beers,so thought it worth an ask.

    Any plans in the future for a mild Rod?

  18. Luke says:

    Doh, posted under an old blogger account (online radio) rather than my name. Sorry TGP.

  19. GG says:

    I popped in at lunch today and they have postcards at the bar with recent published reviews on. Among the quotes one from “The Greenwich Phantom” !