Monday, 26 October 2015

Mondo Brewing Co

Yesterday was a perfect autumnal day to go and seek out a new brewery. By all accounts, Mondo has opened with a statement of intent boasting 15 taps! 13 were available on Sunday as Australia beat Argentina at rugby in the background (not actually in the brewery itself but on the flat screen tv).

I usually get lost tracking down a new brewery but Mondo could clearly be seen from a distance. The logo has been emblazoned on the side of the building. This brewery has started with one of the highest brewing capacities I’ve known from a start-up - 27 hectolitres. The gleaming coppers are housed adjacent to the taproom. Mondo also buys whole grain for the malt - not common among the capital’s breweries. All its beers are served via standard keg or in bottle.

The beer styles reflect an entire planet hence the name - Mondo. Up until quite recently, new breweries would open up with a tiny core range - a bitter, a stout and a pale ale. IPAs started gate crashing and muscling in to make the mandatory line-up. Then came the resurgence of porters fostering nervous looks from the stouts. Then there was rye, then there were sours, then the walls fell away.

Brewing is the best it’s ever been in this country as increasingly, there are no restrictions in what the beer should be. This brewery has London’s whole back catalogue behind it. It’s a marker to where brewing has got to. I don’t believe a business like this could even have been contemplated a couple of years ago.

In the 13 beer salute, there were pale ales, American brown ales, an Alt, a smoked coconut porter, a steam lager, a Maibock, A Blackberry Berliner Weisse, a rye ale, an American IPA and a Belgian style Dubbel.

I had the privilege of trying a few:

Coco Loco (ABV 6):
The white flesh of coconuts really give this porter character. I can almost feel the gnashing of it as it gives up its sweet tuber juices. It refreshes what's generally a dark roast sipping beer.

Berry White (ABV 4.%):
A blackberry Berliner Weisse - a slightly opaque beer (though much clearer than the style might imply). Your tongue licks a sticky blackberry compote from the lips. Then it dives into a deep fruity but astringent Berliner Weisse with a zingy lemony dry finish.

Alt Dusseldorf Ale (ABV 4.8):
Fusty aroma like varnish or cherryade. Salty grainy friction to the mouthfeel. Generous malt dimension verging on caramel or brandy. It tastes matured. It's a beer you can roll around your tongue.

Maibock Strong Lager (ABV 7.2):
Tangerine orange with a tight lily head. Honey/vanilla/peach aroma on a gentle body. It completely belies its strength. Lemon drizzle cake/vanilla sponge malt pillow. It's mellow and smoothed out everywhere like clean linen.

Poppa Cap American Pils (ABV 6):
Clear golden yellow. Notes of banana, grass and vanilla. Smooth & malty with a visible carbonation that stays gentle on the palate. It's peachy and as clear as crystal.

Peckham Rye (ABV 6.6):
dark orange ale with a pale swirling hop oil constellation. Slightly cloudy (or quite dark in the taproom). Elastic & gingerloafy body & taste. Full of dark Christmas spices. Dark berries ferment on the tongue.

I purchased a glass which I put in my rucksack which I immediately knocked off the stool and it smashed. The second glass made it alive back to St Albans with me. I urge everybody to visit Mondo Brewing. Great guys. Great beer.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Fullers Vintage Ale 2011


The St Albans Beer & Cider Festival 2015. The choice and quality of beer continues to evolve. Along with a handful of Fullers regulars, the 2015 Vintage was on cask at the Main Bar. I had a half and rolled it around the tongue. This feat was done early on the first day before the cask was sucked dry. As the days wore on, I ticked off beers from across Britain. With my guide full of little stars, the sun began to set on the festival and with my remaining coins I decided to get some bottle conditioned beer to take home.

In the programme it was listed as Fullers 2013 vintage ale going for a fiver. Imagine my delight when I went there and was informed by way of apology that the bottles being flogged were in fact Fullers vintage 2011! An extra two years of condition! I love the Fullers vintage ale range but don’t think any of them strays far from the beaten track. Fortunately, it’s a track I love.

2011 certainly was a vintage year - the year of the riots across Britain following Mark Duggan’s shooting, the Japanese earthquake & nuclear meltdown at Fukushima, the gory demise of Gaddafi - surrounded by the Libyans formerly under his boot. On a lighter note though, it was also the year of the 2011 Vintage Ale (the brewer’s 15th vintage) brewed with malt from Warminster malting from the Neston Park Estate in Wiltshire. The cultivation was started by Sir James Fuller. The beer includes Goldings, First Gold and Sovereign hops.

Once I got home I realised with regret that my Fullers balloon glass was buried in the loft. I ascended in the darkness but found the feat too difficult. Only total sobriety could guarantee that the glass - if I found it at all - wouldn’t get smashed on the descent. I settled for Meantime’s version of the same glass. Fullers is also a London brewery "in a glass of its own". 

Hitting the belly of the glass, it’s a dark cherry red in colour. The hue and glow remind me of red liquorice strings. A vanilla mocha top builds up. Even from an extended arm’s length I can smell brandy and pumpernickel bread. At point blank, the aroma is of warm mulled cognac if such a thing exists. It’s powerful, almost a forcefield you have to penetrate to get to the rich swirling liquid. The mouthfeel's so smooth & malty it could be creamed quaker oats. There are tastes of ginger loaf, red grapes and redcurrant on the palate. The body is like wholemeal bread baked until the air bubbles in the dough are an inch in width. It leaves a dry aftertaste and a comforting alcoholic warmth.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

10 telltale signs you're at a CAMRA beer festival:

The following list has been compiled with lots of love:

1 - You realise the only difference between a fat bloke aimlessly wandering around with a pint in his hand and a CAMRA steward is the donning of a fluorescent bib.

2 - Hipsters weren't the first to display well cultivated facial hair in public. CAMRA members have a 40 year lead on the Gandalf look. They all dye it white.

3 - It isn't important to worry about your BMI. Whatever your size you are you’ll be skinny in the local CAMRA crowd. Just let it all hang out.

4 - You realise that when beer is concerned, a man weighing 22 stones can develop superpowers that enable him to scale 3 tiers of racking to tap a cask on the top layer.

5 - It doesn’t matter how drunk you get, you won’t be as pastellated as the folk behind the bar or the patrolling stewards.

6 - There’s a raffle going which includes the glasses you got rid of from the last few beer festivals.

7 - Some of the casks have already run out before any member of the public has had a chance to sample them.

8 - You can turn up in the clothes you slept in.

9 - You order a half pint and are rewarded with roughly 600ml of liquid.

10 - Whichever brewery has the town name in the title wins beer of the festival.

Did I miss any out? CAMRA beer festivals rule!

St Pancras To Pimlico Gardens - The Complete Meander

I exit St Pancras station from its western flank and pass through the courtyard of the British Library. There is a statue by Scottish artist Eduardo Paolozzi based on a print by William Blake. The figure is of Isaac Newton sitting hunched forward over a compass in the act of either tracing or measuring. There are several images of Newton by Blake – this statue is a study of a 1795 print and was installed in 1995 – a perfect 200 years later.

Exploited or deep in thought? Let the weather decide.

This statue may not be a simple homage to Blake, though. William Blake admired Isaac Newton but was sceptical about science unravelling the mysteries of life. He was a mystic and didn’t care for science casting light into the corners of his world. In the 1795 print, the background heavens are rich but the colours darken towards the subject’s compass - representative of the science. Newton’s body is rendered peachy and soft. Was Blake trying to point out that the pursuit of science can never live up to or fathom the beauty of god’s design? Possibly. Blake was a very spiritual man and forever seeing visions of Biblical characters behind the window panes of London’s streets. The face in the print also resembles Blake’s own youthful portrait more than any extant portrait of Newton himself. This could be interpreted as scientific reverence just being a youthful misadventure but maybe that’s reading too much into it.

The soft peachy flesh has been altered in Paolozzi’s creation. Newton has virtually become a cyborg reminiscent of the Maria robot in Metropolis. The joints and intersections of the body have become perfectly geometric. The possible gall stone that Newton is perched on in the original print has transformed into a flawless rectilinear trunk that seems to have strapped the sitter’s hips to it. Has Paolozzi dealt a side swipe to Blake that Blake in turn had dealt to Newton? Is the new statue saying that the study and application of science has illuminated and improved mankind? I believe so. Another effect of looking up at this statue on its high broad plinth is that the London sky fills in for the cosmos behind the subject on the original and can affect the sculpture’s mood accordingly: Under a grey sky the figure seems trapped and exploited. Under a summer sky the focus is on the subject’s face and the concentration thereon.

I go down Euston Road towards central London for a few hundred metres. Despite being a pathway for thousands of pedestrians, little thought has gone into their welfare with regards to road planning especially when crossing Churchway. Subconsciously, I always let a few people with a higher BMI than me get between me and the oncoming traffic. I reach Euston Square. There are two porches standing either side of the bus lanes.

Apart from the drinkers spilling out of the front being a clue, you’d never think the Euston Tap was a pub as you approach it. The building the Tap is in is an ex-lodge. It and the identical building directly opposite (that’s The Cider Tap if you love cider & perry) used to be a part of a huge foundation that linked them both – the Euston Arch. It was an imposing 21 meter high structure acting as the proverbial gateway to another land - a landmark that stood for Euston train station. 

The lodges policed the luggage, trade and packages entering and exiting the station. Rather than an arch, the proper architectural term is actually a propylaeum. It’s an ancient Greek gatehouse that would stand at the entrance to a holy enclosure. The Acropolis in Athens boasts the most famous one. The Brandenberg Gate in Berlin is another example. They became popular as monumental buildings at the mouths of secular or trade enclosures during the industrial revolution.

The Euston Arch was built in 1837 and might yet be built again. Amazingly, most of the chunks of the original have been located on the floor of the Prescott Channel  in the river Lee to the north of London. A campaign to reassemble them and reinstate the propylaeum has been launched by The Euston Arch Trust ( This campaign group counts Michael Palin as a patron and historian Dan Cruickshank (who actually rediscovered the fragments on a TV show in 1994) as a trustee. Were the rebuild to go ahead, I don’t know how it would affect the business of either Tap. It looks like they’d both get a mammoth pillar blocking daylight and hindering access to their main entrances.

Inside, the space is a cramped crescent around the bar which virtually fills the ground floor. Under a handsome wall plate, the beers are dispensed from the brickwork. Two boards number the beers that are on - the kegged ones to the left and the cask options to the right. There is also a narrow helical staircase that goes up to a seating area and the Neanderthal toilets upstairs. With beer(s) in hand, the ascent/descent is a task worthy of the Krypton Factor and a good measure of how much alcohol you’ve had. If the building continues to spin once you’ve alighted, make that glass your last. I love this place. There are No other venues like the Euston & Cider Tap.

On this occasion I have four beers: 

Kernel Brewery Table Beer (keg 2.9)

Any pub that takes its beer seriously stocks Kernel either on tap or in bottle. This beer changes in recipe each time ranging around the 3% ABV mark. Table Beer is light custard in colour - looks like over-syruped lemon barley. Milky top. Aroma of grapefruit peel. On the palate the beer had a melon rind edge with a dry finish not far behind. Like most Kernel beers, it has a tingling carbonation. It's like tonic water.

Buxton Brewery Jacob's Ladder (cask 2.8)

It’s a good choice to go for to compare how such a light ale comes across compared to Kernel’s. It’s a glowing clear marmalade with a patchy head. The first sip reveals a peachy softness. It's sweet and has a much gentler carbonation. The bittering does ensue but it takes a moment. It's on a delay. The lemony sweetness touches the tongue. The beer is swallowed and the bittering hop comes along about 5 seconds later. The body does come over as very light - something that didn't register with the table beer.

Bristol Beer Factory Milk Stout (cask 4.5)

Dark brown/black and opaque. Micron thick light grey hop oil head. The taste is of sweet meat joint juices like Chinese spare ribs. This matures and becomes more like charcoal. The sweetened milk background endures though. The burp is of demerera sugar & sweet coffee dregs.

Orbit Beers Duke (keg 5.2)

It's a cloudy dark orange in hue. White patchy head. Punchy citrus fruit on first taste like tangerines & the skins. I don't know what kind of beer this is. It makes it more approachable. Sumptuous is a word that fits this ale. The only bitterness is from the initial citrussy taste. There's a pithiness but that's as close as it gets to becoming dry.

I leave The Euston Tap and continue along Euston Road until I get to Euston Square Underground Station. I use it as a Subway to come out on Gower Street to the south.

Tottenham Court Road:

From Gower Street I pass down any of the side streets on my right and come out onto the long strait of Tottenham Court Road.

About a decade ago I moved to London and used the Tube daily to get to work. I would get the Northern Line down to Charing Cross and change for the Bakerloo Line. It’s a long tramp by foot along a maze of corridors and you become conscious of going past the same posters for films and London attractions again and again. It has a strange parallel here in West 1. I’ve never enjoyed walking down Tottenham Court Road. At its southern end it’s a block of media outlets and as you go north a never ending loop of chain eateries that come around again and again – Starbucks-Leon-EAT.-Pret a Manger-Itsu-Café Nero-M&S-Starbucks-Leon-EAT.-Pret a Manger-Itsu-Café Nero-M&S. 

Tottenham Court Road is also a thoroughfare teeming with charity muggers who implore you to speak to them as if trying to winkle some humanity out of a materialistic herd in its daily grind. They stalk the vulnerable - primary coloured predators oozing with pamphlet-sanctioned self-righteousness. My gripe isn’t the commendable charities they represent but the ubiquitous hard sell and the pretence of being friends that just want a quick chat. You know the terminus in this ride is the disclosure of your direct debit details. The same techniques were used to sell PPI.

If you look up above the bright branded shop signs, you’ll see cupolas, weather vanes and forgotten spires. I’m ashamed to say that it was only in the research of this post I first raised my eyes to see them. Something about streets like this just makes you look down and keep the blinkers on. There are a few remarkable buildings however. The Rising Sun has a striking white frontage. The building dates back to 1730 but was remodelled in 1897 by Scottish architects Henry Treadwell & Leonard Martin. Every curl and flourish in the stonemasonry begets smaller detail. During the beer nadir in the 80s and early 90s, it spent some time as Presley’s - an Elvis Presley theme bar. 

Whitfield's Tabernacle.

Roughly halfway down Tottenham Court Road there is a site of interest: Whitfield’s Tabernacle and its environs. The Tabernacle is actually an American church. The front entrance is almost obscured in the shade of a tree canopy and easy to miss. Architecturally it’s similar to some town halls and tourist information centres - a double stair leads up to the door from both sides. For me what makes the site remarkable is that it’s where the last V2 bomb to hit London landed demolishing the 18th century buildings that had previously stood there.

A few metres to the south in Tottenham Street is the side of a building with an impressive vertical mural. Through serendipity, the hulking BT tower watches over its shoulder offering a unique view to the onlooker. There is a small piazza in front and it’s a welcome break in the otherwise ceaseless chain store frontage. For as long as I’ve known the area it’s been haunted by the homeless and individuals with mental health problems. Trying to put myself in their shoes, I can see why this patch might seem like a small oasis of quietude compared to the perpetual motion of Tottenham Court Road. 

In my opinion, one of the best views in London.

If you investigate further down Tottenham Street you’ll see an amazing pair of quirky and bespoke shops on Whitfield Street: Pollocks Toy Museum and Pollocks Theatrical Print Warehouse. Their uniqueness is only amplified by the repeat chain nature of their arterial street.

After continuing down Tottenham Court Road for a bit further, I turn right down Charlotte Street to visit The Draft House.

The Draft House Charlotte Street:

Firestone Walker Easy Jack IPA (keg 4.7)

Expensive beer. I bought it because of the rave about Firestone. Light copper in appearance with visible carbonation streaming up the glass side. Fine Lilly white head. Actually a gentle body with gentle carbonation. Peachy taste or maybe nectarine. For an IPA it's not very dry though that doesn't bother me at all. It's a fruity beer right through that leaves a sweet fructose aftertaste. This could easily get called a golden ale in Britain. In a way it’s a bit like Duke by Orbit Beers but even sweeter.

Beavertown Brewery Bloody 'Ell (keg 7.2)

This is billed as a blood orange IPA. It's very light pale gold on the eye with a high bleached white fine head. It's sweet like actual fruit juice by which I mean the juice you get when you chew fruit. There is either a big malt dimension or a big fruit sugar one - they're both carbs. It does taste of blood orange. I remember having red oranges in Italy when I was a nipper. There is a dry bittering hop. The blood orange does blot out flavor hops but why not? It's flavour enough.

I retrace my steps and stare down the muzzle of Tottenham Court Road. It is like some giant arrow hurtling towards Centre Point. I suppose there’s some beauty to this brutalist geometry but you need to get into the middle of the road to do it. Not to be attempted without a central reservation! The image below was taken early on a Sunday morning. Centre Point now marks the site of St Giles Rookery (a rookery was an old term for a building lived in by the poor of which there were many in 19th Century London - a slum).

The Dominion Theatre stands at the corner of New Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road. I’ve long identified it by the giant golden simulacra of Freddy Mercury striking his iconic pose at the front. Alas he's now gone (I only found out when I took the picture) as We Will Rock you has left the joint.

In 1814 however, another building stood here. It was the Meux Brewery. It aged porter beer in giant vats much as Flemish reds are aged in foudres/Foedern today. On 17th October that year, one of the vats ruptured and caused a domino effect with the other vessels. About one and a half million litres of beer surged through the building in a bow wave destroying the roof beams. The deluge surged across the ground to St Giles Rookery opposite. 8 women and children (mostly in underground rooms) were killed either by injury or drowning. Nobody was found to be responsible in a court of law. The brewery even successfully reclaimed the duty it had paid on the beer. The verdict? The tragedy was officially deemed an act of god!

The recent excavations for Crossrail have changed the junction of Oxford Street, New Oxford Street, Tottenham Court Road and Charing Cross Road. Until recently, to walk from north to south entailed using back roads and alleys east and west of Centre Point. Now you can simply cross the road and continue south. This is also true for the drivers. Centre Point doesn’t exactly look like a roundabout but it formerly acted as an awkward one. I have to say that the Crossrail intervention has actually improved the flow of the area. 

When structures are brought down in central London, the chasm they leave behind opens a visceral rip in time. It’s like glimpsing bone and tendons in the trench of an open wound and looking into the past. Views and surfaces not seen in decades are exposed again. You glimpse the forgotten profile of a church transept, the back of terraced housing, the jousts in the brickwork behind a shop front. Sometimes it even exhumes a real gem like an old 1930s shoe polish advert on the side of a building. Around here you see the shy blinking aspects of Victorian terraces that look pink & fresh as though the cement was still setting. 
Building plans an architect sweats over under a naked lightbulb might be immediately compromised when the structure goes up because the intended view in turn gets obscured by the structures going up around it. 
To keep the medical analogy alive, I love these tears in the flesh as they also reveal surgical braces. Steel supports prop up the exposed flesh like orthopaedic callipers or crutches. Bright blue refuse tubes hang heavily like the tubes of a breathing apparatus. Quite beautiful. It's a shame these wounds gets stitched back up again.

The old site of Foyles. Was this ejaculation intended?

To the right is Foyles Bookshop. It has for some time been the biggest bookshop in the world. It was also one of the most anarchic. Customers had to queue three times - to collect an invoice for a book, then to pay for the invoice and lastly to collect the actual book. This was to stop the staff from handling cash wherever possible. It also used to arrange its books not alphabetically by author or theme but by publisher. It has now been thoroughly modernised and dragged onto the internet age. It moved next door to itself at the end of last year. The new store is lighter, more spacious and with state of the art air conditioning. It seems to me that the volume of actual books has dropped. This must reflect the fact that book buying is increasingly done online and it might be that quite soon that the only physical bookshops still trading will be antique book stores. 

Whenever I see a bookshop I remember what a member of staff in the Oxford branch of Dillons told me in the early nineties (the chain was later taken over by HMV which also took Waterstones and soon disposed of the Dillons title) - "the question I get asked most often is when is Terry Pratchett's new book coming out in paperback?" Tragically that won't get asked anymore.

We travel down Charing Cross Road until it’s intersected clumsily by Shaftesbury Avenue. To the left, the first street that runs roughly parallel to Charing Cross Road is West Street. It’s famous for Agatha Christie's long running play The Mousetrap, for the fact that English Methodist leader Charles Wesley (younger brother of John Wesley - actual founder of Methodism) lived and died in a house here and for the Ivy Restaurant - a favourite restaurant haunt of celebrities.

There is something about West Street that is more beguiling though - the shape. It isn’t straight but curves around. Rather, it meanders freely. This hints of things ancient. This wiggle is actually down to the fact this street respects the outline of an original tithe boundary that predates just about everything in the vicinity. This wiggle might even date from Norman times.

At the junction of Great Newport Street and Cranbourne Street is a memorial statue to Agatha Christie. It was erected in 2012 and is by Ben Twiston-Davies. It’s a bronze salute to the author’s contribution to theatre in the West End and I like it for its simplicity. It looks like the cover of a giant novel with her profile as the centrepiece and simply gives her dates of birth and death. Sometimes statues can be straightforward. Part of me is disappointed that the memorial isn’t in fact a dead body lying in the street but so central and close to Soho, I suppose people would just step over it thinking it was a drunk. A committee chaired by Westminster City Council is hardly going to come up with anything as intriguing as her plot lines. 

Continue down Garrick Street to Bedford Street and turn right into Chandos Place. Waiting for you down the road behind stained glass is possibly the best pub in London. I go into the Harp and have some of the best kept cask ale around. 

The Harp has been taken over by Fullers but hasn’t abandoned its commitment to hosting breweries - particularly those from London. On this visit the following breweries were represented on cask: Darkstar, Sambrookes, Fullers, Canopy, Southwark, Bexley, ELB and Harveys.

Fullers Brewery Vintage Ale (cask 8.5)

Utterly astonished to find this. It's the 2015 vintage. It's dark copper like a polished 2p coin. Wispy light beige head. It goes down like swallowing treacle. It's like a liquid ginger loaf. You even get notes of sultanas and brandy soaked sponge. The alcohol isn't shy in announcing itself either. My mouth feels like the inside of a spirit barrel. It's a sticky half pint. It's intoxicating but doesn't reach tipping point. It stays as pleasure. I find my straight angular Mondrean lines softening and melting into Monet. I'm a glacé cherry.

Southwark Brewery Potters Fields Porter (cask 4)

It's not black but dark ruby. Mocca spittle head. First thing I get is deep red fruitiness. Blueberries and blackberries. Then comes an arid Turkish coffee dryness. I like this porter. Once you've acclimatised to the dryness, the red/black fruit keeps coming back. There's a liquorice dimension too.

I go back out into the daylight, turn right and go towards Trafalgar Square. Stick to its outer girth in a clockwise ambit and aim for Admiralty Arch. When you approach Admiralty Arch, there are two arches - one for traffic approaching and one for leaving. Walk towards the approaching arch and study the brickwork inside it. You’ll see a human nose.

At the centre of this photo is a human hooter.

The first time I saw this hooter was in my current job working for the local council. I was on my way to an emergency callout and the traffic halted at the lights before Trafalgar Square. I came to a stop just inside the arch and happened to look out of my righthand window. Little surprises me in London but I couldn't rationalise a human nose in masonry and sat staring at my steering wheel with furrowed brow. I had to put it to one side and concentrate on the matter in hand. 

One rumour is that it’s a mould of Napoleon Bonaparte’s nose and the Horseguards rub it or tweak it as they go under the arch. If this were true, it would be a long posthumous insult. Napoleon  died in 1821 yet the arch wasn't built until 1912. The bogeyman at the time (though related to the British Royal Family) would’ve been the Kaiser Wilhelm.

In fact, it dates to 1997. This should come as no surprise if you see the nose close up. It obviously isn’t ancient. It was put there by artist Rick Buckley and is one of many he glued to buildings in central London. It reflects his dislike for the increase in security cameras across the capital - a snooping nose emerging from the fabric of London’s landmarks and it's moulded from his own schnozz. 
Buckley was influenced by the Situationists of the 1950’s - artists who would put up drawings or installations illegally to outline anti-authoritarian and anti-capitalist feelings. This would often incorporate surrealism. As befits Marxists and revolutionaries, they were cut from the most bourgeois, educated and wealthy gene pools. 

I seldom find urban parks interesting. St James Park doesn’t particularly intrigue me but it’s a well maintained green space and very welcome in the summer. It has fostered a couple of zoological oddities: firstly the tameness of the grey squirrels. I watch as tourists feed them and end up with the mammals actually boarding them. Facial expressions suddenly change from wonder to terror as they realise Europe’s largest rodent and its incisors is currently foraging around their bodies in search of juicy protuberances. Secondly, there was a macabre episode involving the lake’s pelicans a few years ago – one of the them started eating feral pigeons alive by flipping them in its enormous canvass bill and throwing it straight down the gullet as they would a fish. It was well documented by the local press.

If you keep the lake to your right and proceed at an angle of roughly 2 o clock, a path leads you directly towards cockpit steps. They act as a little gateway to the backstreets of Victoria. The road running along the southern border of St James Park is called Birdcage Walk. Cross over and
head towards a gap in the buildings before you where there’s a railing. It winds around to a small curving staircase called cockpit steps. When I first found this cute cut-through I assumed the cockpit had a 2nd World War RAF connotation as Churchill’s war room & bunker is very close by. Also, the brickwork in the walls above the steps doesn’t seem that old. The steps actually go back to the 18th century - they were the entrance to the Royal cockfighting pit. Cock fighting pits weren’t generally deemed posh but this one was an exception and was frequented by the well-heeled. The stairs also have a rather uninspiring headless ghost story attached to them from 1804 when the apparition was seen by Coldstream guards. A driver who wrapped his car around a lamppost close by in 1972 also claimed a woman in a red dress suddenly appeared before his car. I suppose it’s just faith that links the two. Why would a headless female ghost and a woman in a red dress be the same thing? The only factor they have in common is general geography. Once you’ve climbed the steps and come out onto Dartmouth Street, you’ve entered a new world: Victoria.
The Two Chairmen.

I have a strong connection with Victoria as I spend so much of my working life driving around it for the local council. You could also throw in Pimlico and Millbank - the districts all merge into one for me. It’s an odd area frequented by civil servants and French buildings. Mansard roofs are everywhere around Victoria Station yet they’re a Parisian staple. A lot of the pubs and businesses shut at the weekend or at least on the Sunday like they do in the square mile though in both cases, this is rapidly changing. Apart from the Mansard roofs, this area has beautiful bespoke pub signs in abundance. The monopoly seems to be with the Taylor Walker pub company but also Nicholsons - both well represented across London. 
Taylor Walker pubs are good at preserving pubs as buildings but don’t do much for the advancement of good beer. They’ve had cask ale on for a long time but it rarely strays from Doom Bar, London Pride, Youngs etc - all beers that can be nice enough in good condition. It changes (as does the condition of the beer) from pub to pub. CAMRA members can get 10% off  pint but I don’t often go into them. I have been both appalled and pleasantly surprised. The Two Chairmen was the last Taylor Walker pub I visited about 3 months ago and Lazarus from the newly formed Truman’s Brewery was in good form. The 3-dimensional hanging signs for the following Taylor Walker pubs are amazing: The Two Chairmen, The Bag O’ Nails, The Adam & Eve, The White Swan and The Albert. The most beautiful used to be The Greencoat Boy but sadly this has been replaced with a more regular flat sign. 
The Nicholson’s pub chain has a much greater variety and turnover of cask ale and regularly have beer festivals on. Again, they preserve pubs well as gorgeous buildings with all the urban architectural idioms that entails. Many have a similar feel to theatres. With regards to beautiful pub signs around here, Nicholson’s hold their own with The Feathers and St Georges Tavern.
 Another candidate I’d add is the weird and wonderful pub The Speaker. They don’t make signs that that anymore. The outside of The Speaker is also a mine of local parliamentary history. It’s run by Enterprise Inns. 

This pub has a collection of explosive fuses in a glass cabinet.
55 Broadway was one of the most ambitious building projects in London yet you barely notice it when walking around it. It’s a mountain. How does it remain hidden? Under it is St James Park Tube Station. 55 Broadway was built in 1929 and housed the headquarters of the Underground Electric Railways Company of London (UERL). This was a forerunner to the London Underground we know now. The grey brut concrete that seems to be perpetually weeping causes the walker to simply walk on. You’d never know that it was for a while the tallest office building in the capital. One reason for this is it’s now dwarfed by the buildings that have gone up around it. Just a block away on Victoria Street, the rear of every building looks down on it so in this crowded gallery its might is completely lost. Standing alone (as illustrations and the original designs by Charles Holden demonstrate), the building is solid and imposing. It’s in cruciform shape – something else that’s missed from the street and it tapers up in steps towards a broad hulking clock tower. An underground flag flies from it - possibly the highest in London. This building is also cowed in brute strength (pun intended) by the Ministry of justice on Petty France. Its menace and top heaviness almost lead you to throw yourselves to the ground in subjugation and self pollution. The slab-like aspect of its walls and muscular overhang put me in mind of the bomb-proof Flakturm in Berlin that survived the war. The irony is that the best views of 55 Broadway are from the buildings that tower over it – the only aspect which will afford you its full shape. How do you hide a mountain? In a mountain range.
Don't point that thing at me.
There is something about it which does cause you to do a double take. As ever, you need to look up to see it. There is a frieze of an adult with a child which is unsettling. The infant’s head seems to be turned away from the viewer but the genitals (believe me it’s a boy!) are pointing outwards. Originally, this unintended water spout was even longer – 1 and a half inches to be exact because that’s how much was chipped off to quell a public outcry when the building was first unveiled. The artwork in question is called Day and Night by Jacob Epstein and is part of a series of carvings by various sculptors including Eric Gill – a man who conducted sexual experiments on his sitting models, his sister, his children and even his own dog. With a CV like that his own contributions here  – South Wind and North Wind - are quite restrained and in any case a bit too distant from ground level.  
Virtually opposite 55 Broadway  is the iconic revolving sign of New Scotland Yard. I’ve snuck surreptitiously behind newsreaders as they do a piece to camera many times. At the bottom of Broadway I cross Victoria Street and enter Strutton Grounds. 
There is a pub on this cobbled pedestrian street that has a fantastic story to tell: It’s where The Goon Show was first recorded. It’s another Taylor Walker venue but they agreed to change the name almost to what it had been in the 1950’s. It was known then as The Grafton or Grafton’s. It changed to The Strutton Arms. In 2011 a recording was made to celebrate the 60th anniversary of The Goon Show. It featured Jeffrey Holland of Hi-De-Hi as well as Harry Secombe’s son. Now it’s been renamed The Grafton Arms to pay homage to this piece of radio history.

My favourite Goon Show is "The Fear Of Wages"
We now go south, turn right onto Greatcoat Place and then 2nd left around the mini roundabout onto Rochester Row. Vauxhall Bridge Road flows north to south at the bottom. Cross over again and go under George Eliot House. There’s a caged children’s playground on your left. Come out on Tachbrook Street and turn left. After a couple of hundred metres you’ll find the pub that changed the way London drinks beer - The Cask & Kitchen.

Red Willow Brewery Feckless Best Bitter (cask 4.1)
Dark bronze with a light brown spittle. The colour is actually gorgeous. It reminds me of polished mahogany. It's a light sweet nutty first taste. Very gentle body -  it's quite milky. Mild bark dimension. Easily quaffable. The aftertaste is sweet and nutty too.

Northern Monk Brewery Black IPA (keg 6.7)
Black and impervious to the light. It has a milky coffee head and the aroma is of blackjacks and liquorice. It's quite easy drinking. The carbonation gives it levity. The liquorice continues on the palate. It's not a complex beer. The mid-high ABV lends it a stickiness.

There are two more sculptures/statues to see before we get to Pimlico Gardens: In my opinion, the awful and the obscure. Leave The Cask and Kitchen, turn left and a few hundred yards away is the entrance to Moreton Street. Amble down to the bottom towards the junction of Vauxhall Bridge Road for a quick little detour. 

Roller Skate Sculpture is by Andre Wallace. It’s a girl on roller skates travelling across a bench with the g-force of the motion presumably making her hair flare out behind her. It looks awkward to me and bears no connection to anything. A lot of his sculptures have a theme of human faces and bodies being part of other forms – sometimes hatching out that can be quite captivating. He also does two person sculptures where he captures the relationship well like two women gossiping or a motorcyclist with a passenger clinging to the back. 

Beware the giant Acrididae!
Get back onto Tachbrook Street, turn left and cross Rampayne Street to find Pimlico underground station. Wander around it and you’ll find the last installation.This sculpture brings the end of this journey neatly back to the start as, like the statue of Blake in the gardens of The British Library, it’s by Eduardo Paolozzi. This one has the sculptor’s trademark machina theme and also has a purpose – it’s an air vent for Pimlico underground station. The decoration looks a bit like an aerial view of a military installation. There’s also a giant grasshopper amongst the shapes. Whatever the thinking behind this 1982 piece of art, it’s neat and charming as well as practical.

I cross the road over Lupus Street and go down Aylesford Street towards Grosvenor Road. Grosvenor Road is a panoramic road and cycle highway that skirts the north bank of the Thames. It affords amazing views of Battersea Power Station to the west and leads up to the palace of Westminster. I go through the small public space of Pimlico Gardens and follow the shore wall until I can perch on it to eat chunks of cooked bacon. 
I love coming down here and if you shut your eyes you could believe you’re out of the capital and at a small quayside in Kent. I hear the wing splashes of a cormorant taking off from the surface of the Thames and the clanking of shroud on mast. With eyes open, though. It’s back to science fiction. The newly built shining skyscrapers and Chelsea & Westminster Hospital flank the southern wall across the lazy silver ribbon. I look directly down at the narrow strip of shore. Now there are crowds of Feral Pigeons and carrion crows scavenging on the mud with more cautious pied wagtails wagging at the bank edges. Elsewhere in Britain there’d be oystercatchers, common sandpipers and redshank. The river Tyburn spills out into the Thames here, finally exposed from its descent down through Hampstead and Swiss Cottage, under Regents Park through Marylebone, the West End and coursing under St James Park and Pimlico. It trickles out anaemically. In another age there would’ve been the mudlarks and toshers - often young boys whose trade was to scavenge around in the tidal mud or patrol the city’s sewers. Today the human and trade traffic isn’t even a memory but a scene from another world. The city that led the world in brewing, however, is no longer just a chapter in history but a nascent second coming.