The Old Brewery, Greenwich

Tons of tuns

The Meantime Brewery in Greenwich makes a mean(time) selection of bottled ales. I’ve enjoyed their IPA before now and savoured their stout – it’s respectable, but it’s no Beijing Black or Milton Nero. But I love the idea of brewery restaurants. I went to the Montana Aleworks in Bozeman once and I still remember the salmon and mango salad and big brown ale I enjoyed with it, all surrounded by naked brick walls, lively art and cheery people. So I was all for it when Dr X, in town for the day, suggested a meal in the area.

Set in a handy corner of Wren’s spectacular Old Naval College, the brewery is easy to find – but you could do far worse for places to wander round aimlessly while killing time before dinner. The Naval College is one of the great architectural gems of London, sitting in immense, white dignity at the foot of the park, looking out onto the river. There’s much that’s touristy and naff about Greenwich, but that can’t take away the patina of history around the streets, especially when they include buildings which are both breathtaking in size and scale but also just symmetrically pleasing on a human scale – full of lovely rounded walkways, tactile flagstones, steps to loll on and pillars to hide behind.

On to the brewery! We arrived a little before time, having taken the riverboat from London Bridge and found the little tucked-away courtyard with ease.  It was full of clean wooden tables and chattering folk with golden pints in front of them, condensation pooling down the sides of the glasses.  The smell of chargrilled meat pumped smokily out into the sunny evening.  Suddenly, a drink and a steak seemed like a very fine idea.

The bar is a temple of beer. One tall wall consists of glass cabinets holding a tasteful stramash of steins, coloured bottles and other beer paraphernalia. The bar is one of those dewy stainless steel affairs and almost every tap boasted a different Meantime ale. We groaned at the name of the Hospital Porter, considered the toasty IPA and then, rather cheekily, both opted for one of the guests. In mitigation, it was Dark Star’s ‘Hophead’, a yellow bundle of bright-tasting hops so crisp and summery it practically sets out your deckchair and sunburns your nose. In other words, just right for finishing off a stroll in the May sunshine.

Once inside the restaurant, we were momentarily wowed by the way the snug, dark bar area opens out into an airy, high-roofed dining room.  Bright copper tuns on sturdy gantries climb up one gable end, while the silhouette of bottles is projected into huge coloured shadows on the wall.  A shimmy of undulating brown beer bottles suspended from a rig filters the light from above: they looked very nifty, but Dr X admitted to be secretly happy at not being seated under them.

We started off with good, dense, chewy bread, a lovely butter and wee dishes of Maldon salt – a nice touch.  The bread came in handy to go with my summer squash soup with sage croutons.  It was fine – velvety, thick, satisfying – but nothing stunning.  Dr X enjoyed the whitebait with ‘ooh, something very tasty’ – which turned out to be caper mayonnaise.  I pinched a few and enjoyed the playoff of crispy, melting oiliness and the intense burst of fishy flavour.

Our mains were more interesting, though they took a while to come.  We finished the Hophead and eventually found a waitress to ask for a couple of IPAs.  Had I been Dr X I might have chosen a porter to go with the neck of Herdwick mutton, but there were no complaints about the IPA nor indeed the mutton.  I had the plaice, advertised as coming with razor clam, potato and spring onion hash and caper and parsley butter.  It arrived neatly stacked into an artistic pile the circumference of a large teacup, one razor shell perched on top.   The solitary clam had been chopped into tiny, chewy goujons which only gave a hint of its lovely buttery taste and the plaice came in slender fillets rather than whole.  It was, however, skilfully cooked – a bit of crunch to the top, delicate morsels of flesh underneath.  The plate was adorned with four caperberries the size of large blackcurrants, which delivered their customary punch and the potato both complemented the fish and faded into the background, as it should.  I was happy.

Happy or no, I was still envious of Dr X, whose neck of Herdwick mutton was similarly piled up in an arty cylinder shape. There was nothing poncy about the shreds of juicy, long-marinated meat, though: with a shade of the Meantime pale ale it had been braised in, the mutton had the tenderness of a sheep half its age, but a nuance and clarety note to the taste that can have only come with experience.   After nicking a bit to sample, I went back for forkful after cheeky forkful.

The dessert menu looked promising and continued to look promising during the long-ish wait for the waitress to come back.  As it grew later, the lights in the restaurant dimmed to a warm brown glow like that of the gleaming copper tuns, which was atmospheric but rather headache-inducing as I squinted to be able to make out my companion’s face in the near-darkness.  Pleasantly near-full from the fish,. I havered back  and forth over desserts but eventually decided to go all-out with a hot chocolate fondant, Jersey clotted cream ice cream and malted chocolate crisp.  Well, this turned out to be menu code for ‘hot, gooey chocolate pudding, with ice cream and chocolatey sprinkle bits that look like crumbled breakfast cereal sprinkled round the edge of the plate’. Not bad, but not what I was expecting. The chocolate pudding was dark and tart and oozed just the right amount of molten centre when attacked with a spoon: the ice cream was seductively thick and would have made a splendid pudding on its own.  I didn’t get a whisper of Dr X’s lemon posset with lavender shortbread, so quickly was it scooped up. A double espresso rounded things off nicely, when it eventually came, as did the bill – only £55 for two fulsome and elegant three-course dinners. It’s a sign of how much the absence of a bottle of wine can make to a restaurant bill.

Dr X and I bumped our way out into the cool night much satisfied, if still a little squinty from the low light and a little tight in the belly from a generous meal. I couldn’t help thinking of all the other people  who might appreciate a pilgrimage here for a well-crafted dinner accompanied by good beer.

Published in: on May 31, 2010 at 9:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

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