Archive for January, 2008

Riga, anyone?

I try to do some planning.

Anyone know of good pubs, beer shops, restaurants, fun places for families to go? Come to think of it, I need to book a hotel as well.

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I would say it is not my fault, but if we should, for once, believe what we read in the Sunday Mirror, there are 67 pubs in Britain closing every month.

Bars are selling 50 million fewer pints of beer a month than they were a year ago.

Beer sales dropped by almost 10 per cent during December – normally the busiest time of the year.

The dramatic decline leaves many of the nation’s 58,000 locals in trouble.

Last month’s nine per cent decline in sales follows a 9.7 per cent drop in November the worst on record while October fell by 7.7 and September by 8.2 per cent. Between June and December, 470 pubs disappeared 2,000 have closed in the last two years.

The industry blames two factors: The smoking ban and cheap supermarket alcohol.

There are still 58.000 British pubs left, so I should be able to find a pint for a few years yet.

As for the smoking ban, I think it is being used as a scapegoat. I have written about the success of similar legislation across Europe, and, apart from some grumbling from Ireland, the pubs and bars seem to be doing quite all right.

When it comes to the British Isles, I think the gap between supermarket prices and pub prices has made a heavy impact. There are now predictions about the £4 pint arriving in 2008, and you don’t have to have a maths degree to see that this will hit the marginal pubs. 

And, realistically, there are limits to what you can do with legislation. If the market will not sustain the present number of pubs, there is not a lot you can do to preserve them all. The most English way of facing the problem was a letter to the press by Stanley Johnson, father of London candidate for mayor Boris Johnson. Mr Johnson (Senior) is of the opinion that a reduction in the drink-drive limit would kill off many pubs in remote rural areas.

The British pubs, like other businesses, have to adjust and change to appeal to new generations. Or course there is a unique heritage that appeals to locals and visitors, and let us hope that most of the best ones survive. At the same time, there are new, good pubs opening and there are old ones adapting, offering a better range of beers, better food etc. Some of the splendid bank buildings that have been converted into pubs, like the Old Bank of England in Fleet Street, show that it’s not all decline.

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I am scraping the barrel for London pub reviews now, but I had to give a mention to the Chesham Arms in Hackney. This was a bit tricky to find, hidden snugly away in a back street, but it is not far away from the busy main streets.

This is an old fashioned pub without being scruffy. One corner had enough noise from the TV and a gaming machine, but there was plenty of room elsewhere. The menu seemed to be pickled eggs plus a Sunday roast. Happy hour between 5 and 7 means a pint of real ale at £2, which is very decent.

The pub was run by an elderly couple, the recruitment of young and bored Russian ladies has fortunately not reached here.

4 Nethergate ales plus two others on hand pumps. The best one I sampled was the Red Santa, a lovely bitter with an edge of fruit. A little pleasant yeastiness, long lingering dry bitterness with some sour cherries, or, rather lingonberries. This would have been wonderful with rich Christmas Food.

What else? Probably the cleanest loos in London, there should have been awards for that, too!

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Perceptions of Norwegians vol IV

The Washington Post has a recipe they claim is Norwegian, Bacon-Wrapped Broiled Salmon.

Cookbook author James Villas notes that this dish is popular in Norway, made with a leaner Danish back bacon. But he recommends a streakier bacon to baste the fish while it’s under the broiler. Norwegians often accompany bacon-wrapped salmon with dilled lentils or boiled parsleyed potatoes.

This is pure fiction. It looks very good, sure,  but it is not a common dish here. And if you want Danish bacon in Norway, you have to go to Denmark to get it, as there are prohibitive tariffs on meat.

I’d be very surprised to be served lentils, with or without dill, with fish in Norway. Boiled potatoes, yes, lentils, no.

I assume Mr. Villas has been served a dish like this one in a Norwegian restaurant. Once. But, as we say in Norway, one swallow does not make a summer!

On the other hand, I have to give credit to the fish/beer pairing, which you rarely find in cookery columns. And I will probably try the recipe the next time I cook salmon. So it may become  popular, in due time!

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The official press release:

Scottish & Newcastle plc (“S&N” or the “Company”) and Carlsberg A/S (“Carlsberg”) and Heineken N.V. (“Heineken”) (together the “Consortium”), confirm that they have entered into discussions in relation to a possible recommended offer for S&N at 800 pence per share. The Consortium’s proposal is subject to certain pre-conditions, including satisfactory completion of limited due diligence. The parties have approached the Panel to request a short extension to the Put up or Shut up deadline to 12 noon on 24 January 2008, to enable the Consortium to complete its due diligence.

There are high stakes here, but with the Russian market the only one expanding in Europe, it may be worth it for Carlsberg. They are the ones putting up the last 20 p per share in addition to the last offer. I’m not sure that the deal is as rosy for Heineken.

Some additional reporting in the Guardian:

Under the proposed takeover, Carlsberg would raise its interest in BBH from 50% to 100% as well as taking on S&N’s underperforming French business and its operations in Greece and China. The Danish brewer is believed to be funding 55-65% of the proposed bid.

Heineken, the junior bid partner, is to take control of S&N’s operations in Ireland, Portugal, Finland and Belgium as well as its market-leading operation in the UK.

UK beer sales have been steadily slipping for more than a decade and the rate of decline has steepened in the past three years, with the introduction last July of a nationwide ban on smoking in public places further hitting beer sales.

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A very wet watering hole

One of the delights of summertime drinking in Oslo has been the old ferry Tjeldsundfergen, which was spending its retirement after active service in Northern Norway as a pub right in front of the city hall. The beer was cheap (for Norway), and there was a slightly rustic clientele, but that only added to the charm. The ferry has actually been there for 25 years, so it’s become quite an institution.

The bar had about a dozen German lagers available, five om them on tap. Some of the came from fairly obscure Bavarian brewers, and a number of friends and acquaintances from the Oslo beer community used to meet there on warm evenings.

The ferry was maintained by the Friends of Tjeldsundfergen club or organisation, with  more enthusiasm than money.

I write this in the past tense, not because of nostalgia for summers long gone, but because the ferry sank a few days ago. Not to the very bottom, but it is a sorry sight where it lies partly submerged.

No doubt there will be attempts to rescue it, and one press report predicted business as usual when the summer season arrives. The short message on their web site is much more gloomy: We did what we were able to.

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With HP sauce

I blog a bit about food here, but not much. If you want a blog about the basic stuff in life, the things you should line your stomach with before you go in search of a beer, eggsbaconchipsandbeans may be the place to look. Lovely photos of cafes (of the greasy spoon variety) and food. But what happened to the black pudding?

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