There are few better things in life than sitting down at the end of a long day with good friends and a pint of something cold and bubbly. The promise of that first sip, the refreshment, the taste – as if, in the moments between the chilled glass touching your lips and the bewitching dance of the first mouthful, the stress of your day just rolls away like the beads of condensation on an ice-cold bottle. We’ll be honest, we’d go a long way to satisfy this most simple of pleasures. And last night it took us to Mason & Taylor at 55 Bethnal Green.
Let’s just say, right off the bat, that this isn’t a destination restaurant — it is a bar. You should, without a doubt, make a pilgrimage here for the superlative selection of local and international craft beers and real ales. But if you’re a vino enthusiast, you should be warned that the grape elixir you adore is treated as something of an afterthought. While the beer gets its own specially-designed menu (on nice paper, too), the wine list is printed on sheets of A4 tucked under the food list and the drink itself is served in glasses you’d be more used to seeing school kids drink squash out of. And if you’re a foodie, there are some enjoyable treats on the menu but don’t expect fireworks.
Served as ‘plates’ rather than courses (again, with crockery that wouldn’t look out of place in a school canteen), the menu is styled on British tapas — but you need several to make the nourishment substantial, as we found out. Sadly, our table of food held as many disappointments as it did yummy-noise-inducing morsels. The bread, for example, was undeniably stale. And the spinach and potato rostis were unremarkable at best. But the mini toad-in-the-hole with its equally mini jug of gravy was brilliant, and the chocolate pudding was a rich, bottomless, molten chocolaty ramekin of joy. And hats off to Mason & Taylor for its commitment to seasonality, sustainability and local produce.
The beer here, however, is a thing of beauty. We decided to sample the house selection as a starting point — the Camden Hells lager from London and the Hophead from East Sussex — both good, hearty, delicious offerings from Britannia. But it was Rochefort 10 that blew our minds. Prompted to order it simply by the fig and honey notes described in the menu, we didn’t notice that it was, in fact, a mighty 11.3%. Our waiter gave us an approving, appraising look. Made by Trappist monks in Abbaye St-Remy, it is, quite possibly, the beer to which we will hold all other beers. Complex and deep, it is a drink to savour.
Although the food at Mason & Taylor may not be life-changing, when the beer is that good it would be a shame not to sidle in and check it out. Though we’d class this as a drinking den, not a dining destination.
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