The Hunter S, De Beauvoir Town

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This post was first published in February 2012

There’s been a lot of excited Tweeting lately about the opening of a new pub, The Hunter S., in De Beauvoir Town, so as I was heading down that way to check out the new Honey Drizzle cooking school in Hoxton, it seemed natural to pay a visit. Given the concept, I was expecting to love it: Hunter Thompson was one of the first literary voices I connected with, his work helping to instil in me the idea that journalism was about more than just reporting three-car pile-ups. While I’ve long since given up my futile attempts at gonzo writing, I’m nevertheless instinctively pre-disposed to like a pub in his honour. What a surprise, then, that I’m writing my first negative review. It’s not just that I can’t really see what the fuss is about – I actually actively dislike the place.

Let’s start with the beers. Beer is the single most important thing about a pub. Great beer can be found in run-down establishments generally frequented by borderline sociopaths and featured on Danny Dyer programmes, while bad beer can be found, well, pretty much everywhere. To be fair, the beer at The Hunter S. wasn’t exactly bad – there just wasn’t enough of it. Not counting the myriad lagers, each one as predictable as the next, there were two cask ales available on the night and space for a third. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as having three well-kept, regularly changing ales is more than enough to satisfy the grumpy old man in me. Unfortunately, the ales were both Sharps. You know – the Cornish brewery that was alright way back when but then got bought out by Molson Coors and started appearing as the token ale in every second-rate boozer in the south of England?
Having a contract with a multi-national brewer (or the distributor for a multi-national brewer) means that these two hand-pulls are unlikely to come up for air very often and, given the close proximity of breweries like Redemption and East London Brewing Co, it’s hard to fathom why they haven’t opted to go a more local route. Likewise, having imported lager isn’t deplorable in and of itself, but how many trendy Asian and continental imports do you really need? A couple would suffice and free up space for more interesting concoctions like those emanating at an alarming rate from Aberdeenshire.
That said, my Doom Bar was OK. Fairly bland as usual but it seemed to have been kept reasonably well and didn’t offend. Still, it’s a lazy ale choice and what’s even more unforgivable than underestimating the curiosity of the punter’s palate is overcharging them. In this, The Hunter S. seems to be aspiring to new heights. £1.90 is a lot for a half of ale. Doing the maths, that would beg the question as to whether they are charging £3.80 for one of the most bog-standard, samey cask options on the market. Maybe not, as many pubs inflate half-pint prices, a practice the government might want to look at the next time they’re having a whinge about the Great British Binge. It’s not just mean, it’s irresponsible to penalise people who are trying to take a more responsible approach to drinking.
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Still, even knocking a bit off, you’re looking at over £3.60 for a pint of 4% ale that’s available pretty much anywhere. For the same price and sometimes less, you can enjoy a rare, perfectly kept brew at the constant beer festival that is The Jolly Butchers, like the one pictured below.  Or you could walk a few minutes down the road and go to either The Railway Tavern (the one on St. Jude Street, not the slightly loveable dive next to Kingsland station) or The Duke of Wellington where a great selection of beer somehow coexists happily with modern interiors and a trendy crowd. De Beauvoir Town may not be a discerning boozer’s paradise, but East London is hardly lacking in quality establishments.Similar issues stopped me from enjoying what was otherwise an alright selection of bottles. Sam Adams, Moosehead (I think, spectacles required for confirmation) and a representative from Louisiana’s Dixie Brewing Co. made for a respectable North American contingent without being totally ground-breaking. What wasn’t respectable, again, was the pricing: a bottle of my favourite Bostonian beer ran me £4.40, the sort of price that, unless you’re drinking a Double IPA brewed by underprivileged wolves in the Appalachians, cannot help but elicit an unspoken ‘Fuck me!’
Sam retails at between £1 and £2 pounds a pop and is presumably less wholesale, so it’s a pretty indefensible mark up. The general rule I’ve established in pubs is that a good bottle should cost the same as an average pint. In an ideal world, this would be around £3.50; in reality, it’s usually closer to £3.75. Call me a skin flint for quibbling over .65p, but are they really that greedy? Isn’t subtly deceiving the punter into think they’re getting reasonable value for money worth the extra shrapnel?Perhaps I’m missing the point. Judging by the website of their sister pub, The Hemingway in Victoria Park, one of their main selling points is meant to be the food and there seem to be touches of creativity on display on the menu. A standard sounding tomato and garlic soup comes with blue cheese croutons and port syrup and while I don’t know if it would necessarily work, at least someone in the kitchen seems to have given a bit more thought as to how The Hunter S. might stand out from the crowd. It’s more than can be said for whoever is in charge of the bar.Yet one last time, I must return to the pricing. At first glance, £13.50 – sorry, 13.5, zeros and pound signs are so early Noughties – for a roast chicken dish seems like a steal, especially as apparently you get a breast and a leg. What you don’t get is any type of carb, so unless you’re on some kind of torturous dietary regime you can immediately tack on another 3.5 for a bowl of chips. So what you actually have is £17 plate for a plate of chicken and chips. That’s a main course at some of London’s best, most inventive restaurants, an entire meal at Pitt Cue Co before booze, or even four bottles of beer at an infuriating new pub in De Beauvoir Town. At that price, it needs to be perfect.

So what exactly is The Hunter S playing at? It’s got a few decent bottles, an OK menu and a reasonable, if not overly accessible, location. So why are they obtaining the dubious distinction of being this blog’s first shoe throwing moment? Because apparently they’ve also got a deeply-held conviction that the customer is a mug to be exploited at all times. I appreciate that as a new opening they undoubtedly have a lot on their mind. Maybe there are still teething problems to sort out and they have yet to their stride. But the problems I noticed and the issues I have with this particular establishment seem unlikely be put right through the usual process of trial and error.

It boils down to the pub’s basic philosophy and, frankly, this one’s ideology seems about as attractive as Nietzsche on a bad day. It was pretty evident that a punter popping in for a half and a bottle wasn’t their biggest concern and while the service wasn’t rude, it certainly wasn’t charm personified. The venue itself was barely tolerable. The bar was reasonably attractive looking in a polished, deliberately overstocked kind of way, but the lighting was ridiculously low given that it was barely 6pm. Unless the breast and leg on offer isn’t poultry-related, it was completely inappropriate. Decorations were, for lack of more interesting wording, totally tacky – the cheap looking taxidermy was presumably meant to allude to Thompson’s penchant for firearms but in fact proved that only MEATliquor to date has succeeded in Gonzo Revivalism.

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Again, maybe I’m meowing at the wrong milkman here – The Hunter S. is obviously not pitched at the CAMRA crowd. But nor are the aforementioned pubs that manage to serve an interesting selection of beers, pull in a diverse crowd, and decorate in line with 21st century standards. Despite the best efforts of many a London gastropub to disprove the following statement, modernity and quality are not incompatible. Even the New Cross House, with which I have issues that go deeper than overpricing and beer selection, manages to pull off the balancing act: a couple of unique ales (though Sharps also appears with alarming regularity), good food, and a beer garden which puts many leisure centres to shame.

Yet judging by the frenzied response to The Hunter S., it would seem that De Beauvoir Town wasn’t just crying out for a good pub but had recently emerged from a prolonged period of prohibition. People are waxing lyrical about everything from the Sunday roasts to the toilet facilities. For me, it’s not the saviour of De Beauvoir Town’s thirsty masses but an average boozer at best. Calling it a ‘local’ would be a travesty, as everything about The Hunter S. embodies the opposite of community: it’s pricing is obviously designed to promote the kind of exclusivity and elitism that has no place in this part of town. Hunter Thompson may have helped to inspire this place, but I’m fairly certain he wouldn’t approve – a drinker of his capacity would be skint in under an hour. Invoking one of anarchy’s greatest sons is always going to be a risky business, so if you must insist on having a go, you better have some idea what you’re doing. At present, it seems like The Hunter S. don’t have the faintest.

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One response to “The Hunter S, De Beauvoir Town

  1. Pingback: The Bell & Brisket salt beef pop-up | Scav Gourmet·

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