Last Updated : 07/07/07
Alex Lawton has emailed me with some updates about the pubs in Southampton, and it doesn't sound good...
his trip was another journey into the unknown as I’ve not been to Southampton for a good few years – in fact, thinking about it, I don’t think I’ve drunk any beers in the city for over ten years and never scooped one there! I knew through a very quick research session that I’d be struggling to find anything worth scooping – or even drinking – in the city and so it was a great relief when Headmixer, a retired scooper from Dorset, agreed to meet up with me after work and show me the two decent pubs in the city which, be it by coincidence or planning, were situated on either side of the footbridge at the suburban St Denys station.
So, as you can see, this isn’t one of my usual “I went to such and such a pub but it was shite, so I went to another and that was even worse, so I had a Nargis and went back to the hotel in a huff” type reports but rather a short, concise work featuring a mere three pubs – the two by St Denys and a McSpoons; you may be wondering why I keep going into these places as I always maintain that I dislike them so much but, in my defence, may I say that this visit was purely to scoop Oakham Inferno and I wouldn’t have bothered had the place been any more out of the way… honest, guv.
Predictably, my day at work degenerated into a total farce meaning that my meeting with Headmixer had to be cancelled; luckily for me he divulged his knowledge of Southampton hostelries to me - which didn’t take long - and basically consisted of the two pubs at St Denys and the aforementioned McSpoons as he’d seen the Oakham beer in there during the day. Consequently, my late start to the evening’s scooping didn’t matter, as I wasn’t going to be trekking around lots of below average pubs but embarking on a focused “hit” of the cream of Southampton’s bars: not my usual style of report or evening’s wander but – hopefully - a lot more succinct and productive!
Monday 27th February 2007.
The People's Soviet Socialist Republic of Southampton.
As I’ve already mentioned I was late leaving work and wasn’t in the hotel until gone five; I was in the large modern Jury’s Inn which is curiously situated smack in the middle of a huge roundabout just to the northwest of the centre of town and only a ten-minute walk through the park to the central station. The traffic did it’s best to prevent me crossing the many busy roads en-route but I managed – eventually – to reach my destination, but not before I’d seen something which had obviously made a huge impression on me originally; right in front of the station is one of the biggest eyesores I’ve ever seen, something so concrete and brutalist that it could slip unnoticed into many Eastern European cities without anyone really noticing, something so hideous and memorable that I remembered it from 10 or more years back – a massive neo-Stalinist concrete block of flats (Wyndham court) which just has to be seen to be believed.
This must be one of the most out-of-place constructions in the UK and just I stood staring at it in disbelief for a good couple of minutes: what amazed me the most was that there seem to be no plans to rid the area of this monstrosity when it is so obviously a remnant of the great concrete age of the 1960’s and 70’s when how something looked like came a distant second to the function it performed. Thanking whatever deities that might happen to be tuned into my wavelengths that moment that I didn’t have to live in this atrocity (although I suppose that when you were in it at least you couldn’t see the thing) I wandered into the station in a state of mild shock to check the train times to St Denys.
(rant alert) I've now been informed by Headmixer that these flats are in fact classed as a listed building... listed for what, exactly, being fucking hideous? Why not just go the whole hog and list every 1960's concrete carbuncle anywhere in the country just in case we happen to run short of them in the future? The flats are actually called Wyndham court, presumably as being called Kaliningrad Centralski didn't attract enough punters wanting to live in a remnant of the Soviet union... (rant over)
Once there I discovered that I had a 15-minute fester for the next train, just enough time to get my ticket, acquire some food from the convenient Spar across the road and attempt to record the sheer repugnancy of the flats on film. My next shock was the price of my ticket; a return to St Denys – a journey of a mere couple of miles – transpired to be £2.10! I couldn’t believe this outrageous rip-off, especially having just returned from Krakow in Poland, where less money than this could have bought me 24 hours of travel on the city’s comprehensive public transport system… I’m afraid that £2.10 for this journey is just another example of the harm Thatcher did to the railways and the sooner we get a Socialist government with the guts to renationalise them the better!
Paying the extortionate fare left a bad taste in my mouth and made me wish I’d just walked up to St Denys as, looking at my map, it would only have been an extra ten minutes on top of the time I’d spent trekking over to the station, although I wouldn’t have seen the Stalinist flats so I suppose, all things considered, that £2.10 was worth paying just to see with my own eyes that something so brutalist and Soviet exists in the UK when most other similar blemishes have been swept away. I bought an amazingly cheap (and not too bad) curry pitta bread from Spar, noticing the high percentage of chavs and assorted other low-lives skulking around the area, and retreated back to the station to wait for my overpriced train.
Worth the journey – even worth £2.10!
The train arrived ten minutes early and sat in the platform purring to itself in an extremely plastic manner; I reasoned, as this was a diesel train in a land of electrics, that this service in times gone by would have been one of the outrageously loud old “thumper” units. Despite the obvious plasticity of the train, however, I wasn’t going to refuse it’s help in reaching my destination and so boarded it and sat in a “mobile free” coach whilst waiting for it to move. As I sat there the train filled up gradually with bored-looking commuters whilst, as if attempting to entertain all and sundry aboard, the train made all sorts of strange bleeping and hissing noises that annoyed me more than most normals’ phone conversations do!
Right on time we rolled out of the station and trundled along at what seemed to be walking pace until, a mere four minutes later, the St Denys signs scrolled past my window; £1.05 for that? I felt robbed even more than previously at such a short journey but, seeing that I only had 70 minutes to scoop both pubs unless I wanted to wait another hour, I decided to make a quick start and headed left over the bridge to the Dolphin. As I clattered down the steps I’d already decided that unless there were some superb beers on there was no chance I was going to walk back to the hotel - I’d paid too much for the journey already and wanted my money’s worth out of it, so if this situation arose then I’d simply spin the time out for the next train.
My informed source had told me that the Dolphin was his second favourite pub in Southampton and, as soon as I walked in, I could see why anyone who appreciates good pubs would like it as the smell of a proper fire wafted across the room to me whilst I saw the walls were decked out in a mixture of wood panels and bare bricks. My booted feet clumped across the bare boards as I approached the bar where a veritable forest of pumps waited for me, although only two were dispensing beers, namely Triple fff Moondance and Hampshire Laughing Leprechaun.
The barmaid saw me casting an eye over the pumps and immediately sprung to the defence of the rather sparse cask offerings.
“Sorry, only two beers are on as we’ve literally just had our delivery” she explained and, as if to bolster her argument, the sound of metal barrels being coaxed into position emanated from the open cellar hatch behind me.
“That one’s as black as my hat” she opined, indicating both the Hampshire beer and her headwear, as if trying to warn me off my only scoop or maybe she was simply thought I was a soft southern Jessie who only drank pale, fizzy beers. I wasn’t worried by this information in the slightest as the beer was a rare one and the other ale would be well worth a half should I have had the time to indulge in trying everything available, so I requested a half of the Hampshire and, with my boots making an unnecessary amount of noise on the bare boards, thundered across the floor to a vacant table in the corner where I could survey the pub and sample my beer.
After a few minutes of looking around the pub’s interior I’d decided that I liked the place with it’s traditional feel, cosy atmosphere and – judging by the extensive pumpclip collection stuck around the walls and ceiling – decent beer selection; already Headmixer’s choice of pubs was looking good! The beer itself was also excellent and, to be honest, was the best beer I’ve had from Hampshire for a number of years with it’s red/black glint, good dry, roasty, nutty flavour bolstered by a delicious red fruitiness (red/blackcurrant) then some liquorice and a slight bitterness in the roasty, toasted finish; it scored a 4 on the Gazza scale so it must have been doing a lot right!
Even more worth £2.10.
As tempting as it was to stay and have another swift half of Hampshire and/or Triple fff, time - as usual - was against me and so off I went across the footbridge over St Denys station and was soon walking through the door of the South Western Arms. Immediately I noticed the large number of awards festooning the walls and realised that Headmixer wasn't alone in his liking for this place and, on first impressions, I was in agreement; with it’s brick-lined walls embellished with pumpclips and line of pumps on the bar this promised to be a worthwhile investment of my time and money.
On the bar were seven beers, namely Deuchars, Hopback Summer Lightning, Ringwood BB, Hobgoblin, Chiswick, Country Life Old Appledore and Grand Union English Wheat; not the greatest selection for beer scooping but a very respectable collection of beers ranging from the mainstream (Chiswick) through commoner local brews (Ringwood) to new and interesting (Grand Union) which would keep all but the most desperate ticker happy for at least a couple of rounds. I chose the Grand Union to begin although I wasn't sure about ordering something called “English wheat beer”… although when I’d had my first sip all my preconceptions vanished; this was a superb pale, grainy, intensely citrussy brew with bitter hops, grainy malt and more lemony, grapefruity citrus attack at the finish – tasting disconcertingly like Oakham JHB on it’s better days, this was a beer which impressed me no end and persuaded me that not all wheat beers are to be avoided!
On my return to the bar I discovered that yet another beer had appeared on the pumps, this time Oakleaf Hole Hearted which is a brew I’ve not tried for many years, so that was my second beer decided and I was soon in possession of a half of the deep golden ale. With it’s full-bodied malt flavour leading to a sweetish taste overlaid with lots of Seville marmalade cascades then a rich, full, malty, bitter, orange peel and slightly astringent aftertaste this brew gave an overall impression of a well-brewed hybrid UK/US style beer which worked well and was very flavoursome. Both beers I tried in the pub were in excellent condition and the landlord obviously cares about his real ale as evidenced both by my personal experience and the ruck of awards covering the chimney breast.
As I drank my beer I suddenly noticed what I assume was the pub cat wander past, a Magus liveried beastie, but before I could attract his attention I noticed through the corner of my eye something moving on my rucksack which was sat on the chair next to me; as I turned around to investigate the something made itself known, and a very cute something it was too – a small grey and white cat who insisted on clambering all over my lap demanding a groom!
The landlord didn’t seem too impressed with the cat, however, telling me:
“He’s next door’s, hope you like flea bites!”
The barman, walking past with a handful of empty glasses, chimed in his twopenneth,
“Yeah, watch him” he cautioned.
I couldn’t believe anything so appealing could have any negative features so asked him why.
“He attacks our dog!” he replied and continued towards the bar with his glasses.
I can’t comment on the little cat’s canine assaulting potential, but I can say that I wasn't infested with fleas after he’d climbed all over me (several times) and he was a gorgeous little thing who had obviously been at the Red Bull or Pro Plus as he never once stopped moving!
As I drained my glass I cast a last look around the interior and saw what I assume is the pub’s old Whitbread sign hanging half way up the stairs so, presumably, the pub is a reminder of the times when Whitbread’s rapacious tendencies were felt around the city? The time had arrived when I had to make a decision as to what I was going to do with myself for the rest of the evening; I could take the next train back and pop into McSpoons hoping for the Oakham, or maybe I could wait an hour for the next service and have a few pints of some of the other brews populating the pumps… or I could just waste my £1.05 and walk back! Reluctantly I decided to take the next train and so I drained my glass, removed the grey cat from my lap with difficulty, and headed out of the door. As I left, I heard the landlord say,
“Take the cat with you – go on, he’s yours if you want him!”
Crap pub, superb beer.
The train back was bang on time and trundled down into Southampton central in a couple of minutes. Passing the Soviet flats again – and still amazed at their hideousness – I trudged up the hill, crossed one of the parks and cut down Waterloo Terrace towards London Road, but on the way I lurked outside the Red Lion to ascertain the scooping potential. Unsurprisingly this was exactly zero with Ringwood Best, London Pride and 6X doing the honours on the pumps, but what interested me most was Bedford Place which, with almost every door having it’s own garish neon sign for some takeaway or other, looked like a vision of some neon-lit version of hell.
The Giddy Bridge McSpoons was exactly as I’d expected in that once you’ve seen one then you’ve seen 95% of the rest; earth tones were everywhere in the decoration and only two proper guests were on in the shape of Exmoor Beast (nowt wrong with that!) and my reason for being here, the Oakham Inferno, along with three Ringwood ales and the usual array of Multinational shite. As I waited behind a group of consumerist clones ordering random “super-chilled” or “deep frozen” fizzy chemical-laden drinks I wondered if this was a good move – yes, Oakham beers are excellent, but McSpoons aren’t exactly known for their excellent cellarmanship and so would they be able to ruin even the hop-monsters of Oakham?
Thankfully, I was wrong; if the truth be told, the beer was actually in very good condition! It was very pale with a massive grapefruit hoppiness and strong bitter taste leading to a bitter, grapefruity finish including tropical fruit hints and lots of resinous astringency; this excellent brew was, to me, what JHB used to be like and shattered my recently formed opinion that Oakham had forgotten what hops were or how to brew innovative, boundary-pushing beers like they used to.
McSpoons aren’t normally the place for savouring beers but I felt happy enough as I leant on the bar and let the raspingly bitter fluid wash over my tongue, filling me with the joy of finding excellent beers in the most unexpected pubs although, to be honest, I can’t visualise many of the punters that evening acquiring a taste for Oakham Inferno unless – obviously - it was super-chilled and pumped full of lurid artificial colorants along with a surfeit of CO2… mmmmmmm, doesn’t that sound just irresistible?
So ended a short but highly enjoyable trip around a mere three of Southampton’s hostelries; I’d unreservedly advocate anyone to visit both pubs at St Denys where you’ll find excellent quality ales and maybe, if you’re lucky, some scoops too – I scored a beer in both pubs! Both are good pubs in their own ways, both being traditionally-run houses, and both sell a good range of real ales but I think that the South Western has the edge on the number of scoops and beer range on your average day. Apart from these two gems, however, I’m reliably informed that there is nothing else in the city worth a look-in apart from maybe the two McSpoons establishments.
Would I recommend scoopers visit Southampton on the strength of my survey? Well, yes and no; it depends if you’re a desperado who only desires winners in which case I’d say you’d be better spending your money on a ticket to Sheffield or Manchester, but if you’re an ethically minded kind of person who likes to score beers but also thinks that finding interesting ales – winners or not - in superb condition is the best thing about beer drinking then I doubt you’d be disappointed with the two houses at St Denys. The casual visitor should be able to sample around ten to twelve beers between the two pubs and whilst some will be less than remarkable (the Fullers and Deuchars on my visit fall into this category) many of the others will almost certainly be local and/or interesting beers. As for the Giddy Bridge Wetherspoons – well, I’d not recommend it as a pub, but if the same cellarman is there when you visit and something good is on then you may as well give it a go if you’re walking past…
The Pubs. (with new gen from Alex Lawton in yellow).
Dolphin, Osbourne Road South, St Denys. Been closed for a few months and from what I've heard seems unlikely to re-open.
South Western Arms, 38-40, Adelaide Rd, St Denys. Landlord of South Western Arms is leaving.
Giddy Bridge, London Road, Southampton. Very variable beer quality.
New pub gen from Alex Lawton.
Other pubs worth a look in the same sort of area are the Guide Dog (38 Earls Rd, about 5 mins walk from Dolphin). Not great for scoops but worth a look mainly for seasonals from local brewers and the excellent Bowman beers; beers consistently served well here.
The Waterloo Arms (101 Waterloo Rd) is also worth a look (near the central train station) its a Hopback pub so a good place to pick up the Hopback & Downton seasonals.
Bevois Castle (63 Onslow Rd, just down road from the Guide Dog) beers usually serves beer from Oakleaf and a selection of Hampshire, Itchen Valley & Hidden.
Beer/pub of the Evening.
I only consumed four beers during the course of my short two-hour whizz around Southampton, but the lowest score awarded was three and there was then a 3.5 and two 4’s – an amazingly high bag of accolades and, although they are partly explained by the beers involved (Oakham and Grand Union), the excellent cellarmanship in all the pubs I visited that evening – yes, even the Wetherspoons – must be commented upon.
It’s extremely difficult to separate the beers and declare a winner so, not wishing to go to the video umpire, I jointly award Hampshire Laughing Leprechaun and Oakham Inferno the title beer of the evening, and I also offer thanks to all the breweries and pubs involved in restoring my faith in drinking well brewed, flavoursome and complex ales in local pubs – and even the odd McSpoons.
My pub of the evening award goes to the superb South Western Arms in St Denys, although the Dolphin wasn’t far behind and I’d happily visit both of them again any day of the week!
© Gazza 07/07/07 V1.2
|The Stalinst flats (Wyndham Court) at Southampton !||Dolphin at St Denys||South Western Arms, St Denys|