Not far from Charing Cross station are two pubs very close to each other that, on the face of it, might appear to have a lot in common. But one is very much better than the other or, put another way, more to my taste.
As you walk past The Marquis and The Harp it should be obvious which is the better pub: the Harp is crowded, with customers spilling out onto the street. In many circumstances – perhaps most – crowds are not a good indicator of quality but, in this case, they are.
Now, the only reason I’m in The Harp is because I’m footsore and suffering backache; serves me right for walking around London’s west end non-stop for over two hours with a computer bag and no coffee break. I badly need to sit down. The Marquis has seats, The Harp is standing room only. Plus I have about 20 minutes before I meet an old mate in The Harp.
The Marquis is not actually unpleasant. In fact, it’s to my taste: lots of timber, including the floors; a bit rough at the edges and subtly lit. There are four hand pumps: Doom Bar, Otter Bitter, Marquis (brewed by someone for them), and Bowled Over – quite a good selection. I stuck with a light beer that is local to me – the 3.6% Otter. It was actually well kept and tasted fine, which shouldn’t come as a surprise but did. The price was a shocker: £3.70!! You’d be hard pressed to find this for anything over £3.30 in the westcountry. To add insult to injury I was given the usual London pint – that’s about seven-eighths of a normal pint, but in a pint glass. There was even room above the froth! I didn’t have the heart to ask for a top-up; the bar staff didn’t seem the type that would respond well to such an outrageous request.
So, it’s off to the Harp next door, a 20 second walk, bar to bar. Here, beer is about £3.40 a pint, the service is excellent and you get a full pint. It is packed, which is potentially a bit of a downer, but actually you don’t notice it that much.
I’m not sure how many handpumps there are; I think about ten, all different beers and most of them I’ve never heard of. This is an incredibly popular and loved pub. Long may it be so!
I enjoyed an excellent citrus-dry American beer, a coffee stout (‘Barista’) and a London brew I’ve never heard of (Sambrooks Brewery Junction), which was a deceptive 4.5 that was light with a summer berry aftertaste.
The Harp must be the best pub in the Charing Cross area and probably for quite a larger circumference around. The Marquis is not a bad place to sit, if you become weary and need to rent stool space for however long it takes you to down a pint.
There comes a time in every travellers life when you have to come face to face with a railway station. Now, Paddington is not at all bad as railway stations go: in fact it’s one of the best. There are two pubs within the station itself, one of which, the Mad Bishop and Hare (or is it the Mad Hare and Bishop?) is very good. It is a Fullers pub so is bound to be pricey to the point of being steep. At £4.20 a pint it’s not for the feint-hearted, and certainly not the unemployed or those on a low income, such as the majority of westcountry folk. However, the beer is always good and reliable and, thanks to Fullers, guest beers are always available. There is always somewhere to sit, which is important after a day traipsing around London’s harder than granite streets. The difficulty arises when you desperately need to feed the donkey and must trust your bags to the anonymous travellers around you. Bog normally beats fear of stolen personals in my experience, so to hell with it! Just make sure your ticket and front door keys are in your pocket when you go!
Images are reduced to 1,000px wide for this blog. They are fairly poor quality, but the iPhone 5 hasn’t done a bad job given the fact that they were taken at night with no flash.