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…