Sunday, 25 October 2015

Standing out from the crowd

I don’t usually go in for pub reviews on here, but I am going to make an exception to underline a point about the Good Beer Guide. It’s often claimed that the GBG has been rendered obsolete by the proliferation of online pub databases. However, a major problem with these is that they just offer an indiscriminate list, and it’s up to you to work out which pubs are actually worth a visit. The great value of the GBG – and publications such as the Good Pub Guide – is that someone else has done the work for you to come up with a selection of pubs that they recommend. It won’t necessarily accord with your own view, but you sort of learn to read between the lines, and the GBG will certainly take you to many excellent pubs that otherwise you might not have found. This is not an argument in favour of retaining a printed book, as the principle of selectiveness applies equally to apps and websites.

In the past, I’ve made the point is that the GBG isn’t aimed at hardcore beer obsessives, but at people who enjoy a drop of real ale and want to find decent pubs when away from home, in particular nice places to eat when on holiday. I’ve recently spent a few days in the North-East, where the GBG took me to the King’s Arms at Seaton Sluice. If I search WhatPub for Tynemouth, which is where I had been, it comes up as #95 out of 118 pubs, so it’s unlikely I would have found it. But a quick look at the map in the GBG indicated that there were pub(s) in Seaton Sluice, a few miles up the coast, and flicking the page led me to the King’s Arms. It’s described as follows:

Traditional pub dating from the 1700s, sitting majestically next to the man-made harbour, constructed by the famous Delaval family.The pub is set back from the road, with extensive views of the beautiful beach at Seaton Sluice. It has an excellent reputation for good food using local ingredients (booking is advised). There are five handpulls dispensing a range of nationally sourced ales. Live bands play on Sunday evening.
While often dismissed as an uncompromisingly industrial area, the North-East actually has a surprisingly scenic coast. The King’s Arms is a substantial, four-square pub situated on a headland overlooking the small harbour at Seaton Sluice, with a magnificent view to the north towards Blyth. It’s essentially a food-led pub, but certainly isn’t somewhere you’d feel uncomfortable just having a drink. The L-shaped interior comprises a congenial bar area along the front of the pub, with extensive bench seating, and a more contemporary dining area to the rear with views over the coast. There are no TVs or piped music.

There’s a wide-ranging food menu of fairly standard pub grub, stretching from sandwiches to steaks, at pretty reasonable prices. A welcome feature is offering smaller portions for many dishes, which must appeal to pensioners and others who are overfaced by big meals. It’s a Star Pubs & Bars leasehold, which may somewhat restrict the available beer range. On my visit it was Greene King Abbot Ale, Ruddles County, Bombardier Burning Gold and Caledonian Deuchars IPA and Autumn Red. Not the most enterprising range in the world, and it would be nice to see at least one local beer, but my pint of Burning Gold was fine.

It’s by no means an ideal pub – the prominent, officious notice banning vaping particularly jarred. But it’s obvious that the family running it have a huge amount of commitment and attention to detail. For example, the menu folder includes a list of local food suppliers they use, a potted history of their involvement with the pub, and an update on recent developments. I was also served by a notably friendly and polite barmaid. And I probably wouldn’t have found it at all without the Good Beer Guide.

9 comments:

  1. Spot on, both about the Beer Guide and the coast. You often hear people rave about Northumberland's castles and beaches, which is right, but I reckon Seaton and Tynemouth add some urban benefits to the coastline. I rated the Kings Arms very highly, not only for the views, but because it struck me as very down to earth, and the high ale turnover was a factor in a superb pint, even if it wasn't a Mordue or a Jarrow beer.

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  2. I would have said it veered more towards smart than down-to-earth, but their news section says they have had a major refurbishment in the past year, with help from Star Pubs & Bars. Not clear whether they're leaseholders or just have a loan tie.

    The thing that struck me is how they're clearly making an effort to get every last detail right whereas, being honest, even the nicest pubs can often be slapdash in some respects.

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  3. Professor Pie-Tin26 October 2015 at 03:27

    Seaton Sluice - what a great name.If that was down sarf that would have been re-branded yonks ago.

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  4. You're right, unfussy rather than down to earth. I was sitting outside in the sun which felt like the way to appreciate it.

    Changing tack, did you have the Bass in Tynemeouth ?

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  5. I grew up just a few hundred yards from the Kings and still go there several times a year, mostly for food, sometimes for live music as they get some good bands on. It's a cracking pub with a well-deserved reputation for food and consistently good cask beer, and they don't suffer fools gladly which is fine in my book. It's a leasehold btw - loan ties from Heineken aren't branded. Where else in the area did you go?

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  6. Star Pubs and Bars don't do loan ties or whatever, they're a pubco. Indeed their model is pretty much like a franchise arrangement. I think they don't even give a leasehold interest, just a tenancy. So the operators run their own business, employ their own staff, but they can't sell on. I think.

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  7. Whenever I see a sign on a pub "We're in the Goob Beer Guide" I think "Beard Alert" and avoid like the clap.

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  8. @Stonch - the latest updates bit in the menu folder said something like "we have just received another £80,000 investment from Heineken and have signed up for another five years until 2020"

    @Cookie - but this is a pub that normals would feel at home in too

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  9. @ mudgie and Stonch, Star have a massive investment programme ongoing but they don't provide the money to leaseholders, investing in their own asset as and when a lease or tenancy comes to an end. The existing leaseholder or tenant has an option to renew. They have full leases, shorter term tenancies and sometimes operating agreements where the manager takes a percentage of the turnover but Star pays all the bills. Marston's have a similar system.

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