One of the new breed. Presenting a highly public, acceptable face of over-indulgence. Middle-class alcoholism. I suspect our dear friends Farrow & Ball have had a hand in this. But it’s little wonder. We are in the heart of New Labour Islington and something needs to be done to tempt the somnambulant denizens of the district out of their stucco-fronted townhouses and Prosecco evenings and into the local juicer.
The stack of tasteful wooden high chairs, doubtless by a worthy Scandinavian craftsman, should help. As should the meticulous tiling and faultless solid wood floor. It lacks warmth on a viciously cold January evening, but the low lighting and tealights proffer the impression of heat at any rate, if not the genuine feeling. Apt. A vast square of bar dominates while an imposing – in size and content – beer board challenges the drinker from the wall. Of course there are no pump clips; why do you ask?
A spacious beer garden to the rear is planted extensively with enough bamboo to keep a panda cub happily nourished for at least a week. It is immaculate and no doubt a joy to sit in during the warmer months. Overall, there is the distinct impression you are drinking in a rarefied, privileged environment. And you are. But if I’ve made it sound like I don’t enjoy it here, I have genuinely misrepresented the Earl of Essex. It is a terrific beer-drinking establishment that knows only too well it has to create a vibe conducive to whiling away a few hours. It’s almost too perfect for purpose. It couldn’t hit the mark more if it carried the missile to its ultimate target and whacked it in with a lump hammer. All the beer is not merely chosen, it is ‘curated’, to borrow an oft-misused and frankly irritating word de nos jours. All are kept – nurtured even – to a standard that will more than satisfy its cohort of fastidiously discerning punters. No complaint here, though.
What saves it from ‘pubtopia’ is the incongruous, awkward, redundant stainless steel brewhouse loitering without intent at the rear of the bar. It looks like a homebrewer’s wet dream come true and you feel there is a real desire on someone’s part (doubtless connected to the pub) to use it one day. But in the same vague way as a hoarding artist might one day use some random piece of driftwood tat they had unwisely decided merited houseroom at the expense of more utilitarian items; a refrigerator, say. And in a way, I admire that. In so many other respects, everything has been thought through to the point of anal retentiveness. The sore thumb of a brew kit suggests a more anarchic, idealistic, artistic mind has been allowed to influence things here. Excellent.