"It's not much but it's ours"

Friday, August 08, 2008


The Great British Beer Festival, officially, DH’s favourite day of the year.

Last year, being in China, I missed it so was determined that nothing would get between me, a pint and a large bag of pork scratchings on this occasion.

HP, organised sort that he is, had pre-booked online and, as we arrived there was a mad but well natured rush for the entrance as the doors opened. The sort of rush that only means one of two things as middle-aged men with carrier bags surged forward. Either there was a Barclay James Harvest reunion or it was opening time at The Great British Beer Festival. Thankfully for all concerned, it was the latter.

As good as ever, only this time with even more beer on offer. DH, as is our way, stuck mainly to milds ( with an odd ale thrown in here and there) ranging from the stunning Harvey’s Sussex variety to the chocolate notes of a “Fruiterers” mild from the South West. Food at The GBBF is of the morris dancing variety with pork pies, pork scratchings, hot roast sandwiches and the like very much to the fore, which is no bad thing as it soaks up the booze and helps build internal fortitude for the second half of the day.

I had put off the moment for long enough and HP, having no more of my soft Southern ways dragged me kicking and screaming towards the stand marked “CIDERS AND PERRYS” As I have mentioned before, our visits to the festival as separated into two very distinct sections. BC (before cider) AC (after cider) before is full of joviality, beardy bonhomie and funny hats, after is full of misery, self-loathing introspection and often tears as the powerful, cloudy brews take over.

So, the rest of the afternoon became a bit of a blur until I sobered up enough to notice that we have been joined by my good chum, Paul, who rather enjoyed acting in loco hermano at last year’s festival and joined us for a couple of cheeky ones before supper. We had pondered on Filipino food, but in the end decided something more substantial was needed to blot up our afternoon’s work. HP suggested a hamburger. A good call and we headed up towards Byron’s on Kensington High St only to find it closed for refurbishment.

Many years ago, Paul and I worked at Penguin Books in Kensington, when they published Bill Wyman’s dreadfully dull autobiography “Stone Alone” On occasions we had cause to visit his restaurant “Sticky Fingers” for meetings and the launch party, but I had not set foot in there since the early 90’s. It should have stayed that way, but drunk and with no other immediate options, we ducked inside the empty restaurant, little changed since my last visit.

It really was an appalling meal. We shared a rack of ribs where they had tried to disguise dry cardboard texture of the flesh under a sauce so sweet I could feel my teeth rotting as I ate each mouthful. Wings were a bizarre dayglo colour and tasted greasy as did the sauce, which came with them.

That should have been a low point, but the burgers were worse. Grey discs of meat, in my case overcooked until leathery served on a bun of no particular provenance with plastic cheese and the worst chips in living memory. Really, really nasty food indeed and, If I had not been in my cups, I would have complained. We should have done, but just ponied up out £25 each and slunk out of there wanting to get as far away from the scene of the crime as possible.

Paul disappeared at this point to catch a train, but HP, needing cheering up suggested a gelato to take the taste from our mouths. We wandered into Whole Foods one year old now and the empty aisles telling the tale of the credit crunch. The top floor food court was pretty empty too and we chose a scoop each of gelato from a decent looking selection for a whopping £1.99 for a tiny cup.

Like so much in Whole Foods, it was a triumph of style over substance. This was some of the vilest gelato I can ever recall. Supposedly hazelnut it tasted fatty and cloying leaving a coating on the roof of my mouth after I took two bites and pushed it away in disgust. HP did the same and our meal misery was complete.

Hey, but at least we had a cracking pint or seven.

Roll on GBBF 2009

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