One of the pleasures of maturity has been discarding the wham-bam knock’em back thrill of cocktails for the mellow joys of a contemplative half of real ale. After an abstemious Lent, I’m celebrating my return to alcohol with the launch of Bloomsbury Real Ale Women (RAW), an exclusive club of women who appreciate good beer.
It’s very exclusive at present: me and my colleague Melanie, although we hope to persuade other Bloomsbury ladies who lunch to join us. CAMRA membership and beards are optional. We plan to visit the real ale pubs of WC1 and further afield, and report back on our discoveries.
The first trip was to the much-loved The Lamb, on Lamb’s Conduit Street. This little gem enveloped us in cosy beeriness the moment we walked through the door. It was quiet, mercifully free of television or music, with friendly bar staff who guided us through the very decent selection of ales, offering us tasters before we settled on our choice of Otter Bitter – a good lunchtime beer, light in alcohol and smoothly rounded in taste, with a good hoppy bitterness. It went beautifully with The Lamb’s very fine steak and ale pies, which are proper pastry and gravy affairs.
The Lamb is a Victorian pub, with dark panelling and striking engraved glass partitions – ‘snob screens’ – along the bar. It has cosy nooks and crannies, comfy seats and a clientele that tends towards old men with fruity London accents and friendly banter. It was once known as a theatrical hang-out and the walls are lined with music hall postcards of actresses and singers, no doubt none of them any better than they should have been.
On a previous visit (OK, we cheated, we’ve been there before) we fell for the rich, caramel Young’s Winter Warmer, which as the name suggests is a winter-only affair. And, to be honest, winter is when The Lamb really comes into its own, with its cosy gloom and rib-sticking food. As a retreat from harsh weather, noise and the hustle of modern life, it’s a winner. We’ll be back.