When Big Gary said he was in the Clifton Arms to watch the football, I knew I had to double check. Last time I thought he said that it turned out that he was in the Prince Of Wales, and I simply couldn’t read. But no, this time he genuinely was there. Other than walking in by mistake and walking out again , I haven’t been to the Clifton Arms in some time, so with a little reluctance I agreed to join him. Why a little reluctance? In my mind it’s not the nicest pub in the area. But this time I was going with my reviewer’s hat on (that’s figurative – I’m not Sherlock Holmes), so in the interest of fairness all preconceptions were buried.
Anyway, the Clifton Arms was strangely half empty when I got there – 10 minutes before the kick off of England’s world cup semi final. That seemed wrong – the pub should have been heaving, and ordinarily is. Perhaps we just randomly got lucky. Big Gary had saved me a seat right in front of the TV screen. Very kind, but by half time my neck was killing from looking up at 170 degrees, so I sneakily stole his seat while he went to the toilet. That’s what friends do.
Everyone else in the pub seemed to know each other – it’s a real locals’ pub, with more Reading accents than I have ever heard, and more Reading FC tattoos than average too. There was a dog sprawled on the sofa, and everyone other than me seemed to know its name. In fact, the pub was full of dog stuff – pictures of dogs, twee signs about how lovable the sort of trophy dog that mauls toddlers is. That sort of thing. But, if you look up from the stereotypical pub carpet, and down from the artex ceiling with 70s brown lights (no hipster Edison bulbs here), you will see that they have actually recently painted some of the walls with a Farrow and Ball heritage colour, added lots of stylish pictures, and painted inspirational quotes on the walls. It looked nice at certain angles. Unfortunately they had a quote “We build too many walls and not enough bridges”, and attributed it to Isaac Newton. In fact that quote was by Joseph Fort Newton. I didn’t see anyone else was demanding that they correct their citations, so perhaps people are just more relaxed about that sort of thing in there.
Next, the beer. I was really disappointed to see that other than lager and Guinness, they just had John Smith’s Extra Cold, Brakespear Best, and Brakespear Oxford Gold. I started on a pint of Best. And was shocked that it was absolutely amazing. One of the finest pints of beer I have ever tasted. Full of flavour, perfect condition. I ventured on to the Oxford Gold second. Also bloody amazing. The 90 year old landlady, and her husband (who is always sat on a stool by the bar), seem to have spent their lives perfecting the art of serving beer. Either that, or I got really lucky with when I went, There are only 2 bitters on tap. But they were spot on. Who cares about incorrect attribution of quotes if the beer is this good.
Apparently the Clifton Arms also does food. But it’s not the main focus – that wonderful beer is. There’s a sign outside which advertises food from £2.35, Friday and Wednesday Lunch and Evening. First of all – why Friday and Wednesday? Why not Wednesday and Friday? Seriously, who is their copywriter? And secondly, how do they do it so cheap? I’m not complaining – I’m just curious. And perhaps cautious. It puts Spoons to shame though. Also, the beer was £3.70 for a pint of Best – fantastic prices.
For entertainment the pub has a pool table in a back bar, which is done out as a shrine to Reading FC, a dart board, a fruit machine (you don’t see as many of those these days, do you), and a few TVs showing sport. There’s a beer garden in the car park if you fancy a good hit of second hand nicotine. Snacks are proper pub snacks – pork scratchings, “Real” crisps, and some brand of peanut I’ve never seen before.
|Beer Quality||Really surprisingly good beer when I visited.|
|Beer Selection||Two pumps of bitter. Probably the smallest selection I have seen anywhere.|
|Drink vs Food||It’s not a restaurant – it’s a proper local pub.|
|Music||None when I was there.|
|Snacks||Nuts, crisps, pork scratchings.|
|Atmosphere||The locals were friendly, and having a good time|
|Price||Good prices – £3.70 a pint.|
|Space||Generally plenty of space. Can fill up for a big football match.|
A slightly tatty local, with good beer. I did not expect to be such a fan, but I was not disappointed.