Saturday : Day in Ipswich and Craft Beer Highlights

After a few weeks away, it was good to be back in Norwich so that I could, well, arrange for a day trip to leave it again. And on this occasion, Nathan came along, which is always a slightly confused exercise in knowing who is going to take a lead in keeping matters responsible. Our destination was Ipswich, which is a destination that Nathan has never been to, other than to visit the Greggs at the town’s railway station.

I was pleased to see that the Norwich train we boarded had tables, they didn’t insist on using the Stansted Express service which even Greater Anglia’s communications team doesn’t know why they keep using on the mainline service. I suspect they do know and just don’t want to tell me, which seems fair enough. The train was relatively busy, but that’s partly because they’ve cut the journey frequency to just one service per hour.

As one of my random asides, I felt sorry for the person on the bank of seats to the right of this photo, who was sitting there minding his own business when a younger woman from a group of eight people walked by and said in front of him:

“I don’t know why people are so selfish as to sit at a table for four, so selfish”.

I’ll defend him. Greater Anglia have only fitted usable tables at the seats for four people, so it’s not an entire surprise that people who want a table for a laptop or whatever use it. Three other people can still sit at the table, they don’t lock the other seats if one person sits there first. The guy on his own moved to make way for this larger group, who I think seemed embarrassed at one of their group’s behaviour more than anything. I’m not entirely sure that customers should ask others to move, but I certainly don’t think the complainer should stand next to them commenting on how furious they are that they don’t abide to the same social etiquette on train seating as they themselves do. Also, he was there first, it’s not really for him to only take a seat that’s more convenient for him after patiently waiting for everyone to board the train.

Anyway, moan over as I fear I’ve digressed already, we arrived into Ipswich on time and I could see Nathan’s excited face at the gleaming spires of Ipswich. He then saw the football ground, which I accept hasn’t been beautified, and seemed to lose his excitement a little.

Well, this fixes a problem I suppose, although is perhaps just as much of a trip hazard in the dark as falling in the little hole might have been.

The closure of Post Offices seems almost inevitable now, the grand building in Ipswich town centre is being repurposed into a Botanist restaurant. Incidentally, I had to post a letter during my trip to Ipswich and went to the smaller Post Office on Fore Street which had a queue of four people, mostly all standing outside as the outlet is so small. It feels like the Post Office has gone from one extreme to the other in their provision of services.

Our first venue of the day was the Cricketers, a JD Wetherspoon pub, who provide a generally reliable service across their outlets, if not always exactly sparkling. My first surprise was how quiet this was for an hour before lunchtime on a Saturday, especially when Ipswich now just has just one Wetherspoons instead of the three it had a few years ago. Nathan, on his dodgy phone, couldn’t get the app to work, so he went to be social at the bar, whereas I just ordered from my phone to avoid all that stress.

This really isn’t a particularly good breakfast arrangement from Wetherspoons, egg hanging over the plate and toast that was effectively just warm bread. No check back, the venue was short of staff and it could have been much cleaner. We didn’t bother with having a quick half pint of real ale, from my little snapshot visit, this pub seems to be much changed for the worse from my previous visits. However, a pub can’t really be reviewed in full just because they’re served an egg half hanging off a plate once, perhaps it’s generally much better. I must add though, that really food hanging off the plate should have been fixed by the kitchen staff or just then rejected by the serving staff, but there we go, the prices make it hard to expect too much from Wetherspoons and the rest of the meal was fine.

Nathan was in charge of the pub selection, whilst I made myself head of food selection, and he started off with a good one at Briarbank Brewing Company. I’ve never heard of them, but I was impressed at what they’ve done at this venue near to the marina. I did mean to have a walk down the marina, but we ran out of time and it was a bit out of the way to go back do, but that’s a much improved part of the town.

To get to their bar, it’s necessary to walk by their brewing equipment. There’s an external seating area as well during the warmer summer months, but that wasn’t open when we visited.

Upstairs in the Briarbank taproom, they had plenty of beers available from their range across a number of different styles. This included some very acceptable darker options and I went for the Mocha Porter and the Black Horse Stout. There was an informal service in an inviting atmosphere, this felt a really well-run venue and the food seemed particularly keenly priced.

An underground style map of the pubs of Ipswich.

The Dove Street Inn, which I’ll come to separately at http://www.404.org.uk/ in a day or so because it’s listed in the Good Beer Guide and I now have a separate web-site for that. In short, there were several real ales, but there was an excellent list of cans and bottles noticeable on their Untappd listing. However, that listing didn’t seem to correspond with their collection on site and there was another paper list which didn’t seem to correspond with anything. That proved slightly disappointing in the end, but the half pint of Summer Lightning that I had from Hop Back Brewery was well-kept.

I’m not sure what’s happening to this, the burnt out shell of what was St. Michael’s Church on Upper Orwell Street which caught fire in 2012. It had been taken over by a local Islamic group to turn into a community hall and they said they’d repair it and bring the building back into usage. However, little has happened and the web-site linked at http://www.jimas.org/initiatives/st-michaels-centre/ with an update on progress doesn’t work. It’s a shame that this building has been left in this state, I hope that the council intervene at some point here.

The garden of the Spread Eagle, and I was amused when Nathan asked a question about what style a certain beer was as it wasn’t clear from the pump clip, and was told “that’s a beer”. Nathan risked it anyway, although I think he hoped to hear whether it was a sour, IPA, NEIPA, stout, etc, rather than just a beer, but there we go. We didn’t say anything.

Inside the pub, which was comfortable and clean, with Nathan liking his little seat in the fireplace.

The next venue was Hopsters, which is primarily a shop selling craft beer in cans and bottles. They usually have a draft option, but there’s a CO2 shortage at the moment, but this is a small venue and their priority is the products in the fridges and on the shelves. I suspect that without my helpful hints that the train was going to leave in eight hours that Nathan would have stood and looked lovingly at the beers all day, but I agree with him that the choice was exciting and really quite decadent.

There’s very limited seating inside Hopsters, but they have a few tables to the rear of the venue and it was a pleasant day to sit outside, other than for the occasional gale which came across the site. I didn’t realise this at the time, but they’ve also got other venues in Felixstowe, Chelmsford and Leigh-on-Sea. They also operate the Beach Street Beer Festival in Felixstowe which sounded interesting, but it clashed this year with the Warsaw Beer Festival and I had to make a choice.

As seating areas go, I liked the whole feeling of heritage that was going on here, it all felt really quite understated.

I’ve never been to the Thomas Wolsey pub before (a name which it’s had since 2011), so we went in as a bit of a punt, with the welcome being friendly and warm. There were a few real ales available, all reasonably priced, and I rather liked the inviting atmosphere. It got busy quite quickly and it had quite a community feel to the whole arrangement. I’m not sure I could say that there’s anything unique about this pub, but it seemed a decent place for people to meet up, so that’s probably in itself a sufficiently positive thing.

Our evening meal(s) of choice was Papa Panda, which I remember fondly from many years ago. I sought permission from Nathan to book this earlier in the week, whilst secretly knowing that wasn’t going to be a hard sell to him. It wasn’t a packed restaurant, although it was busier than this photo suggests. They were insisting on masks being worn around the food area, and I’m happy to oblige if that’s what the management of the venue want. It all looked clean and organised, although the Teppanyaki bit wasn’t open, likely down to Covid or something similar.

Some of the dishes were oddly described, such as butter chicken which was just fried chicken, and I think there were several similar options with different names which were really all just fried chicken of different shapes. There was an awful lot of brown in the colouring and it’s fair to say that we indulged in eating too much. We left feeling slightly ill and pondering whether we really should have booked to come here given our lack of self control. We agreed that we’d definitely come back though, it was a lovely experience.

Next was the Three Wise Monkeys (formerly the Hogs Head and Lloyds Tavern) and a group of us have visited their outlet in Colchester before. The venue was cold in terms of the temperature, which pleased me, but I noticed nearly everyone else was in their coats. The beer was appalling insomuch it bore no resemblance to what the bar said it was, and we returned the beers and were given new ones. The service was always friendly and they didn’t query it, but the whole arrangement felt a little odd. Nonetheless, I like their concept, and I’m sure that I’ll come back as it’s got an on-trend feel to it. It felt quite similar to their Colchester outlet, insomuch as it had three floors, each with clearly defined different areas for diners and drinkers.

Our final bar of the day was the Arcade Street Tavern, which is listed in the Good Beer Guide, so as mentioned earlier, I’ll come to separately on my new site at http://www.404.org.uk/. Give me a day or so to update that…..

In short though, there were some very good craft beer options and the bar listed them on Untappd. They don’t serve in thirds, which I think they should on the more expensive beer options, but it was a busy venue and so they’re clearly doing something right. It wasn’t really the sort of venue for me, but that’s not a complaint about their set-up, which seemed more focused on the younger end of the market, but is just perhaps a little loud for me.

We arrived back into Norwich at a reasonable hour, meaning namely we didn’t get the last train, partly my fault as I felt quite jaded, I put it down to jet lag….. I think we perhaps thought we should have probably made it out for another hour, but we had managed pretty much twelve hours out for our little day trip and all without any negative incident (other than our mutual complaining about the way that various pubs were run).

Anyway, a very lovely day, I particularly liked the Briarbank Brewing Company, but also of course Papa Panda was a suitable treat for a variety of fried chicken dishes. Also, the trains unfortunately all ran to time, so we couldn’t get any delay repay which would have been helpful as there are no discounted fares available from Norwich to London and I think it’s quite pricey at £20.40 return each for the day. But, I look forwards to our next little day trip.

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