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For many years of my misspent youth, Friday night involved drinking with my mates down at the local pub (they drank the beer and so the pub choice usually revolved around which served the “best” best) and a late night curry at the local High Street curry shop. So last night I tried an updated West End version of this tradition.
We started at the Nag’s Head pub on the corner of Floral Street, just near Coven Garden tube station. It’s a massive, noisy (ambient chat levels high and the background music is rather too foreground) traditional pub with a tiled area around the dominating bar but with plenty of low tables and chairs as well. Around the side there are some spacious booths if you want to settle in for the evening, although it is a mostly transient place where people meet (much nicer than hanging about outside the tube station) or pop in for a couple of pints after work. Not surprisingly, most of the drinkers here are male. But relatively young – in their 20s and early 30s.
Then we headed off to Masala Zone, just down Floral Street. This is a chain (latest outlets recently opened in Bayswater and Fulham). It’s a modern spin on the curry shop. It’s big and airy, incredibly popular and noticeable because the ceiling has hundreds of bright Indian puppets suspended from the ceiling. Ok. We couldn’t get a chicken madras or onion bhaji here but the food was mostly delicious and the grand thali saves you time from having to order a starter, a main course and sides – it all comes together. We came out feeling almost virtuous - we had eaten lots of good healthy food with subtle flavours (not in the land of the phall then) and without that blow-out “eaten too much” feeling. Whilst this might be the Indian dining experience for the new generation, I think that me and my colleague will still pine for the more traditional High Street fare – but then again we are practically dinosaurs and fairly set in our tastes and ways (A more detailed review will appear in the restaurant section over the next couple of days).
Then I gave in to my companion’s desire to visit his favourite pub in the area. So we trotted the other way down Floral Street with me looking longingly in the shop fronts on the way: Dune (fabulous party shoes), Paul Smith (nice traditional trees and nativity scenes) and Mulberry (great purple bags) towards Rose Street. The tiny Lamb and Flag is tucked away so there are no tourists or shoppers here – just hardened beer drinkers (no women in sight) – mostly guys in their 30s and early 40s. It’s 300 year old history means that it is the oldest pub in Covent Garden and its décor is strictly dark wood – that’s seen some action. There are a couple of tables at the back, but you have to fight your way through the narrow space by the bar to get there. As most people will sup their beers here standing up there are helpful shelves against the walls to rest your beer on. There’s an eclectic mix of stuff on the walls to amuse you while you drink and a few obligatory pewter tankards hanging from the rafters. If you want food (and I don’t even think they serve in the evenings) it’s a ploughman’s and sandwiches. It’s a Youngs pub and yes, Winter Warmer was on offer. So this is where all the blokes come!