90-92 Balham High Road, SW12 9AG
Price for two: £46.80
We’ve been to Wolfgang’s Beer Haus before, a couple of years ago, when it was located in the City. At the time I described it as a “strange fish” – a stretch too far from the bars around Monument to attract the braying traders seeking power-lubrication before hitting the Waterloo & City Line towards home, while simultaneously not open at weekends for the seven-day tourist trade. It was good – 8/10 – but “they’d do well to tie down a bit more clearly what they want to do with it”.
And perhaps so it proved – the City branch closed last year and it has now upped sticks to Balham, the sort of part of South London where pubs show rugby even when there’s live football on at the same time, and where Wolfgang’s literally shares a street with a sewing machine museum. It’s a little more spacious than its original home, and a lot more footfall-friendly – facing the high road, whereas the City branch was hidden in a warren of side-streets – but it’s essentially been transferred wholesale, from its distinctive aquamarine colour scheme to much of its menu. It’s no bad thing.
We visit on a Saturday afternoon, when it’s relatively quiet. An Ireland v Wales Rugby World Cup warm-up – I told you – plays out on a projector to one interested spectator. A couple of couples are eating; a man who’s obviously got his son for the weekend tried desperately to interest him in a colouring book. Later a gaggle of millennials gather in a corner. There’s a live oompah band every Saturday night and Google’s ‘popular times’ shows it gets busy between 8-10pm, and you can see how the lay-out would cater to that: there’s plenty of space between tables for vertical drinking and swaying to brass.
Service is swift and friendly. I have a Krombacher Weizen, a nice cloudy golden amber with a dry finish (and a reduction in price since the move south of the river – £5.80, compared to £7 in its City incarnation), while Mrs Turnforthewurst has a “nice and crisp” pinot grigio. And then order the mixed sausage board for two. After then wonder just how much natural taste it will have, given that the waitress brings over industrial quantities of every condiment under the sun to accompany it. Seriously: the bottles of spicy tomato sauce pretty much needed both hands to handle.
Not that we needed to worry. The board, when it comes, looks magnificent. It comes with Bratwurst, sensationally flavoursome, tasty cheese frankfurters and Vienna beef sausages, strictly a Chicago rather than German delicacy, and one whose pinkness had Mrs Turnforthewurst questioning what they were. They had a delightful ‘snappiness’, though. In addition, there was sauerkraut and red cabbage (“at least you’re getting some vegetables,” says Mrs Turnforthewurst, somewhat hopefully), lovely crispy onions, a pretzel (“a nice touch”), an unexpected but welcome potato salad with bacon and fries. Oh, the fries. So moreish and the picture doesn’t do justice to quite how many there were, to the extent we had to ask the waitress to take them away for our own good. The whole thing required a second Weizen.
It would require a second, nocturnal visit to fully gauge Wolfgang’s 2.0 to actually see, rather than conjecture, how it shapes up at night but everything points to this one sticking around. It’s in a location much friendlier to casual trade, it’s geared for weekends – 10am-2am on a Saturday – and if, like us, you just want a meat feast blow-out of an afternoon, it’s a pretty good choice. Not overwhelmingly authentic – it styles itself as a “ski resort themed bar” and has quinoa salad on its menu – but fun and friendly. This time it seems to have played it just right.