Sambrook’s Brewery and The Westbridge, Battersea
Sambrook’s began brewing last August, in a desolate strip of Battersea. It’s a joint venture between David Welsh, who has 30 years’ experience in the trade, and Duncan Sambrook, twentysomething accountant-turned-brewer. Like many ideas – and people, come to that – it was spawned from a booze-up. But less commonly, this drunken brainwave has proved a success.
I find it a happy thing that the atavistic resurgence of English cooking, for which St. John takes a lot of credit, should be spreading to beer as well. In the age of WKD, wifebeater and the Wetherspoons beer ‘n’ burger, some people have gone back to basics, and are doing things properly. Sambrook’s is one of the very few breweries operating in what might charitably be described as central London; its closest neighbour, and soi-disant competitor, is Fuller’s in Chiswick.
Beer is easy stuff to eulogise. John Bull doesn’t get misty-eyed over anything quite like the English pint. It’s wedded to something deep within us: our climate, our temperament, our history. Real ale, as it has to be called nowadays, is as stout as a bulldog, as smooth as the Cotswolds, as full of life as an August afternoon amang the rigs o’ barley. Malt, hops, yeast: three humble organics bubbled to tawny greatness, the whole far greater than the sum. Almost as soon as our ancestors arrived on this rainy island, they started brewing. And from monks hunched over pewter, raking malsters, East End pickers and a nation constantly testing, testing, tasting – we produced something outstanding, unique, and incontrovertibly British. Best of all, it gets you pissed.
They brew just one ale here, called Wandle, in cask and bottle. Anyone from Wandsworth will tell you that the village lies on the river Wandle – so the brewery has a sense of its geography. I was invited by Dan, who works at Bibendum – a fine blogger with a gift for wine writing. Also present were his colleague, Gareth, as well as The Wine Sleuth, who’s provided excellent audio-visuals of the evening, and Charlie McVeigh, a convivial and witty restaurateur, and a blogging natural. Afterwards, Charlie treated us to a fantastic dinner and beer tasting at his pub round the corner, The Westbridge.
Duncan was hugely informative on the arcane craft of brewing – kettle and mash tun, liquor and gypsum. The brewery uses fresh hops, unlike the pellets more typical nowadays: three strains, with the gloriously English names of Fuggles, Goldings and Boadicea. It’s the last of these that gives Wandle its distinctive, proud astringency, and like the old battleaxe herself, it takes no prisoners. Fresh hops, with their weedy green aroma, are a lot more work, and in the past, Duncan has had to clamber into the tanks to fish out buckets of sodden strobiles. It’s too much to say that his labour seasons the beer, but it’s testament to his commitment for the project.
And so to tasting. Wandle is a deep amber, catching the light in bubble and foam. On the nose, it has hints of strawberry and almond. The taste is a glorious interchange of sweet and mellow bitterness, soothing and summery. It lingers with a dryish and not unpleasant finish, delicately nutty. In all – and I say this as far as I can with critical detachment – it’s a delicious pint.
The Westbridge is simply a gem of a gastropub, serving simple but well-executed food in a setting of undistilled nostalgia. The stairway down to the loos is decorated in vintage He-Man wallpaper, the sight of which gave me a Proustian jolt back to my childhood, the tinny theme and evocative nomenclature of that brilliant series: Grayskull, Orko, Eternia. Nick Drake plucks and twangs on the stereo. We ate meaty Irish rock oysters, splashing with osmazome, and then a good fish and chips with crispy, auburn batter and pearly flakes of pollock. A lamb steak looked excellent; and when I peeked at the prices, they were very reasonable. In total, we tasted six beers by the third-pint (which, it turns out, is a valid legal measure), providing a thorough overview of the well-chosen selection. The best was a porterhouse stout made with crushed oyster shells - a pleasantly encompassing complement to the bivalves. And so home we contentedly rolled.
Writing about evenings like this, in which you eat and drink for free, it’s perhaps harder to show that you approached the experience in as balanced a fashion as normal. There are two things I’d say to this. The first is the obvious point that in a restaurant, good service can enhance your enjoyment of the food. So, in reality, I write about these places just as I would anywhere that treated me well, or which I felt had gone the extra mile. The second is more complex. Dishing out freebies can be counterproductive for restaurateurs. As customers, we all want to avoid seeming like we’ve been hoodwinked, or sensing we were gulled into being nice. As a result, when writing about the perks they’ve been given, bloggers can be harsher than normal, accentuating faults they might otherwise have let pass, so as to display their uncorruptibility. That, I hope, isn’t the case here. Duncan and Charlie have objectively excellent products, which they’re keen to share and profit from. I certainly don’t blame them for it - in fact, I salute them.
Sambrook’s Brewery, Unit 1 & 2 Yelverton Road, London SW11
Tel. +44 (0)20 7228 0598
See on the TFYS Map
The Westbridge, 74-76 Battersea Bridge Road, London SW11
Tel. +44 (0)20 7228 6482
See on the TFYS Map