BY BILL LACY
As London’s famous market looked bursting at the seams, you’d be forgiven for thinking that we are not in the middle of a pandemic.
The fact that we are was what motivated my trip – the vision of a spacious and leisurely stroll around this foodie paradise to pick up some posh cheese.
Unfortunately, everyone seemed to apply the same fuzzy logic as I did. The result was the usual throng but even more complicated by a one-way traffic system for pedestrians, monitored by police telling people to move on if they stood still for more than a few seconds.
Chaos. In such times, I find a pub pit-stop is the best way to bring calmness back into focus, even though ordering a pint is also more complicated these days.
Enter The Wheatsheaf, the great Young’s pub in the very heart of the market, where you can enjoy a pint while being both in and out of the market at the same time, all the atmosphere and none of the stress.
There are many good contenders for a boozy detour around Borough.
The Market Porter, a traditional Victorian style market boozer I always used to see on the train as it creaked out of London Bridge Station; the George, a couple of minutes from the market and set in a 17th century coaching inn; or – a more niche interest – the craft beer pioneering The Rake, with reputation for a £1 pint on the menu.
But I alighted on the Wheatsheaf, mainly because I already had the Young’s app downloaded on my phone.
The Wheatsheaf is not the same as The Sheaf, which is round the corner and confusingly used to be called The Wheatsheaf as well.
Sitting in a market pub with the hustle and bustle outside makes for a great atmosphere. The clientele has changed slightly – fewer office workers popping in for a lunchtime pint – and is an overspill of the market, with a few tourists dotted about.
As always in Young’s pubs, there are London Original and Special on cask, not weird and wonderful but reliable and satisfying, true London bitter.
The likes of Young’s are parts of our city’s heritage that are facing great challenge in these uncertain times.
Possibly pubs such as The Wheatsheaf, in enviable locations, are in a strong position, but I feel we shouldn’t take anything for granted.
I accept there may be teething problems as pubs adapt to the new environment and I visit regardless.
The Wheatsheaf has been inventive in responding to the new “substantial meals” requirement by introducing a new “craft pizza” menu – including unusual pizza choices such as “fiery nduja and pickled chilli”.
The app worked a dream. As I sat there wondering what nduja was (spicy sausage), I did worry about the pubs that do not have the resources to simply invent an app – of course, most pubs have not opened in Tier 2. But I was grateful for the pubs that are able to open, at least.
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