Lee is here. Pickled eggs, big coffees and bacon sarnies on badly-chopped sourdough and off we go. Immediately lost in my own neighbourhood, baffled by the near-identical terraces where Leytonstone shades into Forest Gate. Both areas are getting tickled by gentrification; sash windows slowly edging out uPVC, fewer abandoned mattresses to trip over in the dark. Ah, there it is. I bet the newcomers couldn’t believe their luck when the Wanstead Tap opened in a railway arch in Huddlestone Road. It’s a permanent home for what started off as a stall at local farmer’s markets , and just look at all those bottles – typically over 100 different beers in stock. Drink in or take-away. Guided by guv’nor Dan I get stuck into Lervig/Magic Rock colab Farmhouse IPA. Stunning. Big, sharp hops and then a whack of puckering fruit bitterness. Lee declares his ELB Cowcatcher ‘resinous’. The Tap’s only been here a few months but is already hugely popular, Dan’s contagious enthusiasm no doubt a factor. This is an area that has lost almost all of its pubs within three years, most recently the Rookwood. He had the courage to build it – and they came. It’s busy enough to even be worth opening on a weekday afternoon. Pork pie fridays, book talks, film nights, supper clubs with a Masterchef semi-finalist. John Hegley and John Otway. Even a demonstration on how to butcher a deer. If you want to know what a first-class community asset looks like, go and see and drink. A 5 minute walk and The Railway Tavern in Forest Gate’s altstadt could only be an Antic pub, the saviours of Leytonstone’s excellent Red Lion. Up to your neck in house-clearance nick-nackery, dead men’s chairs and exposed brick. The ex-Hackney newbies on the nearby Woodgrange Estate welcomed it like a liberating army when it opened a couple of years ago. There are dark rumours circulating that it’s gone off the boil a bit. Five pumps, four clipped. Nothing to bring on palpitations. Lee has a Liberation Ale, as flat as a christmas balloon in july by the time he’s halfway down it. My Meantime London Lager is a pint of meh. There’s a sniff of lemon, but not much else apart from sherberty carbonation. A triumph of marketing over flavour. Best part of 9 quid for two beers. No reason to linger longer, so we don’t. Due west now, to Hackney Wick. It’s an easy trot for those of us who live in the rough end of Leytonstone, where the tectonic plates of Hackney, Waltham Forest and Newham almost meet. The Wick might be the world’s coolest neighbourhood at the moment, still just about managing the easy balance of artists, booze and industry – they still make useful stuff like bagels and spectacles and coats here – that made Shoreditch so interesting and liveable back before it became a destination for shrill orange coach parties from Billericay. Truman’s brewery Tap – The Cygnet – is right on the waterside in Swan Wharf. It wouldn’t have been here before the Olympics, when the canal was choked with gangland victims, charred mopeds and shopping trollies. The bar is cool and airy, a big glass frontage straight onto an enormous terrace. When we arrive the drinkers are all young men, and all the young men have beards. Tom Ditto – a colab with writer/comedian Danny Wallace – is our new friend, bringing a satisfying and deep fruity dryness and a nose that retrieves olfactory memories of walking home from school on Taylor’s brew day. Two more pints in the late summer sunshine seems entirely reasonable under the circumstances. Up and over Victoria park to Bethnal Green, alive with families and joggers. The Lungs Of The East End has never looked better. Obviously, newish bar-cum-bottle emporium Mother Kelly’s is on Paradise Row, once famous for having been home to prizefighter Daniel Mendoza. Mendoza made and lost a fortune, ending his days running a series of local pubs. His clients would have been very different from the neat connoisseurs at Mother Kelly’s, a converted railway arch with German beer garden tables out the front. The back wall has the usual craft pub battalion of eye-level taps, the till is an iPad. Another wall is graffiti, the other a solid bank of six fridges, packed with bottles. Orval will set you back £5.50 to drink in – and £4.12 to take away. Rochefort 10 is £7 in, £5.25 out. Given how much it costs to live in LDN E2 these days, I doubt the punters are fazed by these prices. There are Molton Brown toiletries in the khazi. We settle into a tangy and comforting two-third pint of Sleeman Honey Brown Ale. Locals are dropping by to pick up a bottle to enjoy with an evening meal, the staff eager to share advice. Up the road and into the Well And Bucket for a Camden Ink and my first encounter with a plate of oysters, which to my gleeful delight tastes of the sea and not of phlegm. When we lived here this pub was the Stick Of Rock, where I once witnessed the mourners at a funeral wake chucking bottles at each other. Now it’s done up like Russell Brand’s spare bedroom. Reviews of this place are very mixed, but we had no complaints; easily served by attentive, smiling staff. Perhaps we were lucky.
Half an hour later and we’re lost in Baker Street, wishing we could remember the wartime address of SOE. Quick #selfie at 221b and conceding a look at Google Maps to find the Barley Mow on Dorset Street. And suddenly there it all is, big-belly hanging baskets and exuberant signage. Inside, It’s a crush of Yorkshire accents and rugby shirts. Leeds have just hammered Castleford at Wembley. Despite the scrum we’re quickly served by a solo barman. Pints carefully passed over, we’re on Hophead. Always a winner when it’s in decent nick – and it is. The bloke on the next table is reading the Telegraph with a snoring Wolfhound at his feet, amused to find his local overrun with tipsy Tykes. Loud banter about flat southern pints and the wives and daughters drifting in with Selfridges bags. Telegraph Man wants to know if Yorkshire will go for devolution if Scotland separates. A pure Bradford boom-voice declares that they should have marched on Downing Street after the end of the Tour De France. Big laughs. Hophead has hopped off. So it’s Gales Beachcomber, brimful of malty-brown nothingness. This is a fine old-fashioned place, on CAMRA’s Heritage hit list. The taproom is lined with a row of doored booths which may or may not have been for Victorians to conduct pawnbroking deals. We expect prices to be shocking, but the pints are under 4 quid. They even have beermats. Into Marylebone, one of the few central neighbourhoods of London that still has ordinary, residential life. Newsagents and shops where you can buy a lightbulb or a toothbrush. Unlike some Zone 1 areas where the only visible weekend life is a security guard behind a desk, people live here. Which is why the Golden Eagle is open on a saturday. The barman – who I once saw described as ‘relentlessly weary’ – is here, looking after a handful of punters. It’s a small corner plot, immaculately kept. Cosy. You’d be pleased to find a pub like this anywhere. On other nights there are piano singalongs – including, we are wearily told, My Old Man’s A Dustman in Swedish. Give me an Old Joanna over Sky Sports any day. We have a tangy and fresh pint of Chelsea Blonde. One of the best beers I’ve had for ages, even if the nudge-nudge of the ‘Nothing Tastes Like A Chelsea Blonde’ strapline annoys. A swerve into the near-deserted Sam Smith’s Yorkshire Grey for an indifferent Old Brewery, then to the Penderel’s Oak to shed some CAMRA vouchers and a gourmet burger. And them suddenly we’re legging it to catch the last Central Line train East, the carriage busier than rush-hour. After Liverpool Street we’re the oldest passengers by about ten years. Lee and I met 35 years ago. Time has flashed by like a zoetrope.