Zeitgeist

49-51 Black Prince Road, SE11 6AB

Price for two: £24.60

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Zeitgeist in warm, inviting Kennington

On the face of it, Black Prince Road in Kennington is not the place one would expect to find a truly authentic German pub in London. As this blog has noted before, the bigger theme pubs tend to congregate around the institutions of the City. Zeitgeist is plonked seemingly at random on the A-Z, a 15-minute walk from Kennington Tube station through a series of slightly forbidding (at least on a dark Saturday evening) series of domestic streets.

Originally the Jolly Gardeners (officially it still carries the name), it was bought up by new German owners in 2007, who gave the spacious, wood-panelled pub a new lick of paint and a rebranding from home. And, despite its relative isolation, it seems to have found a large audience of homesick natives, Bundesliga-following football hipsters and curious locals.

The large pub, which appears to have almost as many entry doors as it offers imported beers, is effectively split into two by the bar which runs through the middle. The left-hand side has some lower-level table seating while the bulk of it is made up of high tables with stools. This would appear to be the louder of the two halves – during our time the noises made by some of the well-oiled men in there were little more than primeval and may or may not have been linked to the projected screening of Bayern Munich v Darmstadt highlights (and this goal). TVs throughout show a mix of Bundesliga, Sky Sports and Jukebox, a music channel catering largely for people who used to buy their CDs from Woolworths.

The right-hand side is entirely lower-level tables, quieter and entirely more convivial for eating. Flanking our table were one lone man reading the Times Literary Supplement, and three young German professionals (in a wonderful show of bilingualism, one briefly stopped speaking German to announce to his friends in English his intention to get “batsh*t drunk”).

IMG_1115Initially getting served was a challenge – despite Saturdays obviously being a peak time there only appeared to be two staff behind the bar, meaning patience was required to get a Krombacher Weizen and a gin and tonic. The former is a Hefeweizen-style beer with a history only going back to 2007 but is pleasant and rarely seen in the UK.

Food is easier to order and the menu decent. One caveat: astonishingly, in 2016, Zeitgeist charges 20p for payment by card. But it’s a minor quibble. I go, rather unadventurously, for the Krakauer, the strictly speaking Polish sausage spiced with herbs and served with chips and salad. It’s substantial enough and tasty, and the chips are thick, fluffy and filling. The salad, essentially a garnish with a slice each of cucumber and tomato, is barely worth the length of this sentence. But it’s good enough for what it is – a quick late lunch.

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Mrs Turnforthewurst opts for something different. Zeitgeist offers five different variations of Flammkuchen, an Alsatian dish made of bread dough rolled out thinly and covered with crème fraiche, sliced onions and cheddar cheese. She opts for the Italian version, which adds prosciutto crudo and rocket. It’s surprisingly substantial and rich – my dining partner compares it to a Turkish lahmacun and wonders about the inclusion of both crème fraiche and cheese (a traditional Flammkuchen tends to include lardons rather than the latter).

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Still, at the price, and even including the 20p card fee, Zeitgeist is a real find – colourful, a little boisterous and with food which won’t disappoint while not necessarily knocking your socks off. It’s unlikely to be one to just stumble across, but for meeting up with friends to catch a football match it’s a good bet. After all, Kennington is just a few stops on the Northern Line from Bank. “Kennington: not as far away as you think it is,” says Mrs Turnforthewurst. “That should be the slogan it puts on its tourist posters.”

Food 6.5/10

Drinks 8/10

Authenticity 8/10

Staff 7/10

Overall 7.5/10

http://zeitgeist-london.com/gastropub/

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Bierschenke

4 London Wall Buildings, Blomfeld Street, EC2N 5NT

Price for two: £33.20

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Bierschenke’s Weissbier, one of its three signature beers. Prost!

What is it about the London business class and German-themed bars? So many of the Teutonic offerings in the capital seem to be centred around the City or other areas of high trading density that the two almost seem to go hand-in-hand – like the Japanese salaryman eases the day’s pressure with a burst of karaoke, London’s commodities traders turn to an Oompah-soundtracked stein.

Perhaps it’s just a coincidence. But Bierschenke, slightly hidden away at the rear of Liverpool Street station, is another of those within a derivative’s throw of the nation’s trading centre. During the week, particularly towards its end, it throngs with men in suits knocking back its self-brewed beers. At weekends, however, it fulfils its second function as a hugely popular venue for stag and hen parties (rather more of the former, it appears), while Sunday is its day of rest – it’s closed.

Which could suggest another gaudy fun palace – all horns and Nena. Gratifyingly, though, that is what Bierschenke is not. With its interior all wood panelling and northern European minimalism, it looks, at least upstairs, just like a high end City bar, wearing its German theme lightly. The downstairs, a huge Munich-style beerhall – Bierschenke claims to be London’s largest German pub – plays the game more, while still avoiding looking like an adventure playground for thirsty grooms-to-be.

I’ve been a few times, on varying days and at different times, and it can be a different place each time. For this visit, we call in on a late Saturday afternoon. It’s relatively quiet. Upstairs, to the back, a table of Irishmen watch the France v Italy game in the Six Nations. This is unusual – Bierschenke has a reputation as a go-to place for Bundesliga football, and the back end of the game clashes with Bayer Leverkusen against Bayern Munich. Perhaps they make an exception for the rugby – and as we leave, crowds are thronging in to watch Scotland v England.

I order a Weißbier, one of three signature beers Bierschenke brews in collaboration with a brewery just outside Munich. It’s a lovely, light wheat beer not dissimilar to Franziskaner. Mrs Turnforthewurst has a pleasant Pinot Grigiot. And then for the food.

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Because it’s the food where Bierschenke rises head and shoulders above most places offering Schlager and cleavages to stag parties from Preston. It’s the real deal here, tasty, well-presented and lavished with love. I opt for the Bierbratwurst, a delightfully spicy ring sausage served with mash, sauerkraut and gravy. This a bratwurst Helmut Kohl would recognise, done to perfection, with the mash rich and creamy, the sauerkraut full of flavour and the gravy setting it all off. It is quite simply wonderful.

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My fellow diner is a connoisseur of the currywurst and tries Bierschenke’s. It’s similarly well done, a large bratwurst in a rich, bright red sauce topped with curry powder and served with thick, fat fries. Amazingly, this is listed on the menu as a ‘snack’ rather than a ‘main course’ – if, like me, you consider a snack to be a Pepperami or Mini Babybel, be warned. She also orders a pretzel, with comes with a side order of buyer’s remorse – not because it isn’t delicious, because it is, but because it’s probably not necessary.

Despite its positioning, and its popularity for stag shenanigans, Bierschenke simply offers some of the best German food you’ll have on these isles. And even while it might get boisterous downstairs, bag a table in the upstairs Kneipe, particularly towards the back, and you can remain relatively oblivious to it. It’s terrific. And if it does get you in the mood for dancing, climbing the tables and fashioning horns with your fingers – well, it’s just downstairs.

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Food 9/10

Drinks 9/10

Authenticity 9/10

Staff 8/10

Overall 8.75/10

http://bierschenke.co.uk/