May 24, 2009

abbott 002

Abbott Ale is full-flavoured and smooth. There’s a hint of malt and overtones of spice and really I can think of no better brew to settle down with in the corner of a pub and get quietly sozzled.

When I lived in Cambridge this was my favourite tipple. It’s brewed in Bury St Edmunds by Greene King (who also make the lighter IPA – Indian Pale Ale). So I associate Abbott with the huge, melancholy sweetness of the flat East Anglian landscape. Big skies and nothing but fields and streams from here to the horizon, with only the occasional church spire soaring up, from Cambridge to King’s Lynn to the Norfolk Broads.

Cambridge is a great town. The Backs, where the river’s sandwiched between ancient colleges and a meadow, is perhaps the loveliest spot. You can picnic on the grass, or take a punt, or wander over bridges and through cobbled streets to find a likely watering hole.

If you want a bite to eat with your pint of Abbott, a Ploughman’s Lunch would be good, or a fish pie, or just cheese on toast with a dash of Tabasco sauce.  Try to get your Abbott on draught. While the canned version crops up in most supermarkets, it doesn’t match the real thing. The delicacy of the drink simply disappears.

And if you can’t find it on tap, take a visit to Cambridge. You could work your way through dozens of brilliantly old-school English pubs. The Eagle, just near Market Square, was one of my favourites. Or there’s The Anchor, The Granta and The Mill, all right on the river.


Feelin’ Foxy

May 13, 2009

‘The essence of Stoke Newington’ says Time Out. A ‘hub of culinary and imbibing activity’ according to the Fox’s web-site. It’s very red, very cosy and yes, a lot of bottles go down there. Along with games of backgammon, a stack of today’s papers to wade through and some great grub.

the fox

Stoke Newington began to be trendy at least as far back as the early 1980s. Today there’s a picturesque line of independent shops, a pretty church and the green expanse of Clissold Park (where there are deer). Stokie (as I’m sure someone affectionately calls it) is now the home for those trendsetters from the 80s made good. (If you’re a struggling artist now you live on its cheaper shores, in up-and-coming Dalston or Finsbury Park, bask in Stoke Newington’s extended aura of very English Bohemia, and yearn.)

Facts to know about Stoke Newington:

Award winning Indian restaurant Rasa started here and now there are two branches on Church Street, one purely vegetarian. It’s well worth a visit.

The independent DVD shop (can’t recall its name at the moment) is great too. Full of odd titles that sound intriguing and suitably superior staff who chew gum and look like the coolest kids at school but know everything about film.

It’s the epicentre for urban lesbians of a certain age. (Get off your bus at Fresh and Wild, stroll down past the bike shop and towards the bakery and you’ll know I’m right.)

People either love it or hate it. A bit like Maupin’s San Francisco, you’re either an absolute devotee or you just don’t get it (and are secretly hugely jealous of those that do). Walking to the Fox on Sunday night I was accosted by one of the latter. A large very flushed man in a blue jacket with years of brewery on his breath, who wanted to know if I was ‘going back in there?’ He gesticulated, wild-eyed, up Church Street.

I was.

And what was I going to vote in the next election?

I hummed and hawed and then, since that didn’t work and he was standing scarily close and was bigger than me, I walked on fast, while he puffed after me and then began to roar ‘I am a Conservative!’ Here he beat his chest (literally). ‘What is wrong with us?’ he asked (still beating his sweaty white shirt). ‘I am a Conservative!’ he thundered.  I scurried off into the sanctity of liberal London.

And then, the evening’s excitement over, I settled down to a very nice imbibe of  expensive red wine and expensive but delicious bangers and mash, paid for by my wonderful friend B and her girlfriend (yes B used to live in Stoke Newington) and thought I must come here more often. To Stoke. To the Fox. I must learn to play backgammon. I must wear dungarees and a hat. Life can be good.