There was a time when I would never set foot in a JD Wetherspoon. In my early years in London I was on a Junior Designer’s salary, and without getting all Four Yorkshiremen on you, the Camden Head JDW in Bethnal Green was one of the few places in the capital I could afford a few pints without ringing the bank to tell them why I was about to get 20 quid out of my account. (I’m not kidding – the Carlisle Midland Bank watched new graduates like hawks). When we first started going there it was new, well run, and full of bright, shiny people. Over the next couple of years the pub got tatty, service became indifferent and the punters became a ragged soup of crumbling old men and alcoholics with their flies undone. It was a similar story at the Moon And Sixpence in Soho – and in fact, any others I visited back then. I avoided JDWs for the next decade.
The next time I visited a ‘poon was when the Livery Rooms opened in Keighley in 2004. I dropped in to have a look with my mum and dad – it was a bit of a surprise, with ten real ales, quick service and a clientele with good personal hygiene. Five years on, it’s remains a decent place to visit. It might be that the competition from Timothy Taylor’s excellent pubs keeps standards high. A JDW will never be my first choice for a pint, but these days I don’t jump on the bus home if someone suggests a swift half at a Wetherspoon.
On saturday I was at the Penderel’s Oak in High Holborn for their bit of the “World’s Biggest International Real Ale Festival”. This is about the best JDW I’ve been in – and it’s round the corner from the very worst pub (and I’ve been in a lot of bad pubs) I’ve ever set foot in: the Shakespeare’s Head JDW on Kingsway.
We tried (In their dinky 1/3rd glasses – so one out of every three drinks was – in effect – tax):
JW Lees Hopping Mad (Thin but decent with a lot of liquorice coming through)
Marston’s Single Malt (Overly mellow – somewhat tasteless)
Moorehouse’s Old Boss (Bitter, fruity – full of zing)
Flying Dutchman Wit Bier (Spicy, refreshing)
Thwaites Double Century (Fragrant, delicious)
St Peter’s Golden Ale (First time I’d tried draught – prefer bottled)
St Georgen Brau Keller BIer (Nutty, hoppy)
Sinebrychoff Porter (molasses, espresso complete with ‘crema’-like head)
All the above were in good condition. The real standout was the Double Century – a lot of orange notes up front. Full of malty goodness, It just burst with character. Like a good film, you know you’ve had an outstanding pint if you’re still thinking about it almost a week later.