A few London pubs – Cross Keys, Lamb and Flag, Old Red Cow

When in London on Wednesday afternoon I visited three pubs with some friends – the Cross Keys in Covent Garden, the Lamb and Flag, Covent Garden, and the Old Red Cow, Barbican. Each pub is very different with its own character and personality.

Cross Keys ExteriorI was last in the Cross Keys a few years back where I sat on the benches outside enjoying a beer or two, gazing at the colourful hanging baskets and foliage covering the ornate exterior of the pub and watching people wander by. With these memories in mind we’d arranged to meet a friend outside for a drink on the benches on the hottest day of the year so far. Upon arrival, however, we discovered that the outdoor seating no longer existed. There was nothing to sit on at all. Ah. That’s our plans scuppered then. ‘It was the council’ the barman told us. ‘They told us we had to choose between standing or seating outside – so we went for standing.’ ‘When was this?’ we enquired. ‘Five years ago’ he replied. OK. No sunny beers for us then.

Interior of Cross KeysSo we took a seat inside the dimly lit pub, next to the fan and open window where we could gaze at the hot world outside. It was probably for the best anyway – that sun and 32 degree heat was harsh.

The pub itself is a tiny one-bar pub, with small lamps lining the walls above the dark red leather seats, providing a red glow. The pub is covered in clutter – photos, mirrors, brass ornaments, everything you can think of. It’s beautiful.Brodies beers

We ended up staying in the pub for a few hours (some time was spent standing outside, it wasn’t all in the dark), during which time I worked my way through the Brodies range on offer at the bar and started over again. There were 4 Brodies beers available – Citra, London Fields Pale Ale, Bethnal Green Bitter, and Old Street Pale, plus a Windsor and Eton Guardsman. The Citra was only 3.1% and was just what I needed – light, lemony, refreshing, very neckable and not strong at all – wonderful citrus hop flavours for its low ABV. London Fields Pale Ale, 4%, had a hint of smokiness to it and was also quite citrussy (lots of US hops) – this also went down well. Bethnal Green Bitter at 4% was quite a dark bitter, and although pleasant enough, it was a touch too malty for me, I was on a hop kick. Then the Old Street Pale Ale gave me back the hops I was after, a 5.0% American Pale Ale loaded with Simcoe and Citra – lovely. It was hard to follow this, so when I went for the W&E Guardsman next it didn’t do it for me – another best bitter, tangy, malty. I guess I just needed hops at that point. Lots of them. It was one of those days.

Outside Cross Keys

Lamb and FlagWe then headed down the road to the Lamb and Flag. It was heaving as always, this time with the after work crowd. The alleyway and courtyard outside was filled with men in suits – well, shirts; it was too hot for suits. This low wooden beamed pub, the oldest in Covent Garden (if not in all of London) dates back to the 17th century and is very atmospheric with lots of dark wood, mirrors and panelling. Charles Dickens apparently used to frequent the establishment. It used to be pretty violent –  its nickname was the Bucket of Blood.

This Fullers pub had several of their beers on offer: London Pride, ESB, Chiswick Bitter, etc. I went for their seasonal Wild River, another APA with lots of West Coast US hops including Willamette and the ubiquitous Citra hop. Very nice.

Beer boardWe then moved on to Smithfield, where a couple of minutes’ walk from the Barbican/Farringdon Tubes is the Old Red Cow, right opposite the meat market. This is a 2-floor light and airy craft beer house, with loads of beers on draft and keg and a beer menu chalked up on the wall- one of the biggest selections in London they say. Again, busy with post-work drinkers, it was hard to get a seat (and far too hot to be sitting inside anyway) so we stood outside for a quick one before the train home. It was hard to choose just one beer from that massive selection, but I stuck with the light and citrus hop theme and went for a Buxton Special Pale Ale, 4.1%. Beautiful mellow flavours and full of Citra but not overpoweringly so; not top-heavy – it was really nicely balanced.

So that was that, time to catch the train home after a lovely day with friends. I’ll definitely return soon to some of these pubs – maybe the Old Red Cow first next time and try to work my way through their enormous range – but then again, if I do that then I probably won’t make it anywhere else…

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Ah yes, I dropped in on the Cross Keys about a year ago, in the height of Olympic fever so the place was festooned with flags as well all the foliage and clutter. I’m sure there was seating outside then, but I may be getting confused, it turned into quite a long crawl . . .

    Don’t remember what I had there, some Brodies or other, could well have been the Bethnal Green, being the closest thing to a dark beer on offer; all a bit too hoppy for me.

  2. The Lamb & Flag is a cracking pub, if only for the decades (or maybe centuries?) old collection of graffiti scratched into the bar!


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