Great Expectations

By | 08/11/2018

Great Expectations is a pub that has lasted so much longer than it should have by any reasonable judgement. As I dragged Mrs. Quaff there after a curry in town, she asked with genuine curiosity “Why would anyone go there?”. We used to go there because it was on the way home, and we were often the only people in there. That was a few years ago, but it can’t be on everyone’s way home. Since it is still going, something must have changed – right?

It turns out that nothing has changed about the pub in the past 20 years, other than it was inexplicably completely full (more on that later). From the outside, Great Expectations is an imposing building, that is permanently decorated like it’s Christmas. For the history buffs, it was originally the Literary, Scientific and Mechanics Institute, and was opened in 1843 by Charles Dickens – hence the name. The pub is actually part of a hotel, described as having “straightforward rooms”, which is a euphemism for crap if ever I heard one. It’s part of a hotel chain called Relax Innz – and I’m tempted to deduct a point just for that name.


Inside though, it has the rather unique style of trying to look like an outdoors Victorian street, complete with railings and shops. It reminds me of Flambards theme park in Cornwall. But even worse. It’s another inexplicably bright pub, with lots of Victorian style street lamps. Given the decor (car boot sale pseudo historic crap), that was not a good thing.


To make matters worse, they also had TVs showing Sky sports. That just doesn’t fit with the image of the place. A naff token effort to make them fit in involved a gilt picture frame round the TV, but absolutely no-one was watching it. It was just an annoying distraction.


Other than the decor, one of the first things we noticed was the overwhelming smell of cheese in the pub. It seems that baked camembert is a popular starter, and had been ordered by a lot of people. Ordered, but not finished – not a great sign. The second thing we noticed was just how full it was. So full we couldn’t even find a seat at first. WTF? That’s not the experience I was expecting. The old library (fake books glued together) was full of people sitting round in a circle, all dressed normally other than one guy dressed as a monk – a proper Friar Tuck old school monk. Perhaps he was a monk I suppose. It seems unlikely. There was also a lady in an amazing full ball gown playing pool. She looked like she belonged on Strictly Come Dancing, yet everyone else with her was in jeans and t-shirts. It’s like the pub had hired some actors to hang out with the regular punters.


It turned out that one potential reason it was so full was that Philosophy In Pubs was hosting an event there. If we’d turned up a bit earlier, we could have discussed Philosophy with like minded individuals. That still doesn’t explain the monk and the ballroom dancer though. The atmosphere was pretty lively – and not just heated philosophy discussions. All good natured though. The customers were all in their 30s through to their 50s in general, so an older crowd.


Great Expectations used to be a brew pub, and still has the brewing vats in the pub, but they don’t have a resident brewer at the moment, so the beer is all bought in. That’s a shame, but not a problem, as long as the beer is good. The beer selection was a little disappointing though. There were two beers on the pumps – Weltons Persian Princess (a coffee porter), and Pure Gold by Itchen Valley. They also had a couple of Lilleys ciders – Mango and Apple & Blackberry. If you wanted anything other than that they at least had Shipyard American Pale Ale, but then it was down to John Smiths, Guinness, and the usual lagers. I went for the Pure Gold, and was disappointed. The taste was generally a bit flat and underwhelming – not a great pint. Prices were OK – under £4 a pint. But when the beer is not great, that’s a moot point.

Beer Quality Not great – the beer was drinkable, but only just.
Beer Selection Disappointing. One draft bitter, one porter, one pale ale, John Smiths, and a bunch of standard lagers. Two proper ciders though.
Drink vs Food They do standard pub food, but it’s not a restaurant
Music Something quiet and indistinct in the background.
Snacks Nobby’s nuts and kettle chips. And of course the baked camembert.
Atmosphere Noisy and lively, but pleasant enough. Too bright though,
Price Good prices – under £4 a pint
Space It’s a big pub, but had managed to fill it somehow.

Score: 5.00

I guess if you need to host a large group of amateur philosophers, it’s great to have a venue with lots of room. I’m struggling to find anything else positive to say about a pub that smells of camembert, is done up like a bad theme park, which also has a small selection of poor beer.

33 London St, Reading RG1 4PS, UK

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