“ Address: 190 City Road / London / EC1V 2QH „
Bavaria and beer are inextricably linked but can a London beer-hall capture the special ambience of its Munich counterparts? If you're wondering specifically about the Bavarian Beerhouse on City Road (EC1V), the answer is an emphatic 'no'. I like beer, I like things German and I like a pint on a chilly Saturday afternoon: it couldn't hurt, could it?
You could easily miss this branch (referred to by the chain - there's another at Tower Hill - as the 'Old Street branch') and had we been on a bus or in a car rather than walking we'd probably have whizzed by and not noticed it at all. The entrance is on street level but the beer hall is in the basement. First impressions are not good; the place resembles a community centre dressed up for an Oktoberfest tribute by a bunch of well meaning but largely uncreative volunteers.
In traditional beerhall style there are long tables with forms but there's a feeling of being in the school hall rather than southern Germany. There are severak rooms, we sat in the first room you come to - the 'schwemme'; some sport was being shown on a big screen in the next one, the Bavaria room. A separate room for private parties is apparently a mock ski hut and the final space is an indoor beer garden.
Service is at table and if the staff members are attentive you'll soon be spotted. I get the impression that the place is heaving at weekends so at table service has the advantages that you don't have to queue for ages at a busy bar, and you don't have to carry the big glasses back through a crowded pub and risk spilling the contents. These servers are professionals and can carry several of the really big steins at once.
We didn't want to eat as we had dinner plans for later but we could have chosen from traditional beer snacks like pretzels, Bavarian cheese or sausage, or full meals such as Wiener Schnitzel (£12.80) pork shanks (£15.90), giant meatballs ,and sausage platters (£12.80). Groups can order a roast suckling pig (though you need to request it two weeks in advance and it's for groups of 30+, and only available Sunday - Thursday). Vegetarians aren't going to be blown away by the menu though you can cobble something together from the snacks, starters and the couple of meat free mains. Mondays and Tuesdays are 'Schnitzel Night' with nine different types to choose from (including a vegetarian schnitzel) though I did think some sounded pretty rank (Hawaiian schnitzel with Black Forest Ham, pineapple and melted cheese - sounds to me like a crime again Schnitzel); each Schnitzel meals comes with a pint of beer for what they claim to be 'only' £15.
We visited in January 2012 and picked up a Bavarian Beerhouse Magazine as we left. I was interested to see that there were plans to celebrate that German favourite white asparagus when it became available in May. I love white asparagus and will make a point of having some if I'm in Germany, Austria or Slovenia (all of which go crazy for the white asparagus) so I was impressed by their making an event of it at the Bavarian Beerhouse. On the face of it this doesn't look like the sort of place with particular culinary sensitivities but my opinion did improve when I saw the mention of white asparagus because it says to me that they do a but more than just pile up chunks of meat on a platter.
Beerwise there are no major surprises here. I'd hoped to find something new, or at least something I've not had for a while but the beer choice is really uninspiring. The main brand is Krombacher of which they offer a pilsener, a dark and a Radler (a shandy essentially). There's also Kaltenburg which is a slightly lighter lager type drink at 4.1 per cent and Lowenbrau at 5.2 per cent. The strongest beer available is the dark wheatbeer by Erdinger and even that still comes in at less than 6 per cent. If you are used to the stronger beers that you might get from microbreweries or Polish and Czech brands, then you'll probably find these offerings a bit feeble.
Factor in the prices and you'll probably be very unimpressed. The layout of the drinks list makes it difficult to spot that the first column of prices refers to half pints and not half litres; I didn't spot that and thought that a half litre of Kaltenberg was not too unreasonable at £3.20. Himself had ordered a half litre Krombacher pilsener at what he thought was the same price but when the bill came we learned that both choices were priced at £4.50 a pint (just over half a litre); not the priciest pint in London by any means but still a tad on the heavy side for the quality of the beer. Bear in mind that there's a 'discretionary' 12.5 per cent service charge.
The copy of our Bavarian Beerhouse Magazine featured a photograph of Al Murray, the Pub Landlord, who I am informed is a comedy 'turn'; I had to be informed of that detail because, quite honestly, I find him hilariously unfunny, even after a skinful. Perhaps in reference to him a champagne section of the menu (in truth a prosecco and two champagnes) is headlined 'One for the Ladies' which is kind of the level of chauvinism this place is redolent of. The female staff are clad in traditional dirndls which is not offensive in itself but with more cleavage than you can shake a dirty stick at, this is quite a blokey environment. The dirndls might not look so absurd if the place was more authentically Bavarian but with something this tacky it looks a bit gratuitous.
The Bavarian Beerhouse is not the sort of place you'd visit for a quiet drink. It's primarily a party venue and there are regular themed events for which fancy dress is often encouraged. There's an emphasis on cheesy Euro music and general daftness of the kind which tends to make me steer clear of a place rather than be attracted to it. I know I'm not part of the target clientele, but at least I learned that at a time when the pub was a bit quieter.
With its dance floor, long tables and options to buy in bulk (you can have a keg at your table to pour your own beer), the Bavarian Beerhouse is geared up for big groups like stag parties, students and the office Christmas bash. It's a party venue and interprets the idea of the German Bierkeller quite loosely. I can't knock it for being good at what it does. The décor is pretty bad but I guess for a group of stags intent on getting tanked up it's fun and kitsch. The prices are a bit steep for both food and beer but if you're looking for a cheesy party venue the Bavarian Beerhouse may serve you well.