This is a follow-on from an evening that started with the Hope Tap, moved on to the German Doner Kebab restaurant, and then ended up in the Hop Leaf in Katesgrove. A trio of reviews that in my mind is like the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy (The Hope Tap = Shaun of the Dead, for the all day drinkers obviously, the German Doner Kebab = Hot Fuzz, because of the butchery and because it’s the most successful of the three, which makes The Hop Leaf = The World’s End, because of the mile long walk to get there). See – it works, and the Hot Fuzz analogy isn’t forced at all.
Anyway, when I first moved to Reading, I lived in Katesgrove, and thanks to the wonders of Google maps I know that The Hop Leaf was just 250m from my house. But I think that at the time I only went there once, because there were 4 other pubs which were nearer – The Cambridge Arms (since converted into flats), The Crown (demolished), The Red Cow (abandoned), and The Greyhound (demolished) . All were closer than 250m from my house, and all have since gone. So if your local is looking a bit empty, support it or it will go too. Is the Hop Leaf destined to go the way of its fellow pubs?
The Hop Leaf is a tied pub, one of only 10 pubs in the Hopback Brewery chain. It’s barely even a chain in the normal sense of the word, but it does mean that it only sells Hopback bitter. They have a handy blackboard with the strength, description and price of all their beers on it. I like a handy blackboard – it stops you having to peer round the other people queuing at the bar to see what’s available, while they all think, “Get a move on – why didn’t you decide what you wanted before you got served, you twat”. In this case the blackboard isn’t at the bar though, and I didn’t see it, so I was that twat.
I’m a big fan of Summer Lightning, but after peering round people for a bit, I decided to try some of the other beers that I hadn’t had before (I’m a ticker I guess). I started with a Taiphoon, and Edible Reading went for a Stowford Press. £6.50 for the two of them – not quite as cheap as the Wetherspoons earlier in the evening, but still a good price. The beer tasted nice enough. I couldn’t taste the Lemon Grass or the Coriander but it wasn’t unpleasant. ER proclaimed his Stowford Press to be fine too, although I think he was still suffering from the rather tasteless Doner Kebabs that we both ate sober. He should have had the Doner Nachos instead – it’s three meals in one after all (crisps to start, “meat” for your main course, and a cheese desert).
Later on I also went for a Crop Circle (Good) and a Fuggle Stone (OK). All in all the beer was tasty enough, if a little uninspiring. I’d like to have seen some variety of style in there. For non-bitter drinkers there was Estrella, Amstel, Strowford Press, Becks Vier and Perry.
The pub wasn’t particularly busy – it was easy to find a table. The average age of customers went down by 10 years when we walked in, and that never happens any more. Usually it’s the other way round. An elderly gent came and sat down with us (but didn’t talk to us) and proceeded to inhale a load of snuff from his silver snuff box as if it was the most normal thing in the world. I know it’s not normal, because when I last had some snuff, it was on a train from Oxford to Reading, the whole train carriage wanted to know what the hell this bizarre activity was. Anyway, it meant that ER and I could have a good old natter about the death of the high street, the state of the NHS, and how things aren’t as good as they used to be. So completely different from all those old people in the pub.
The music in the pub was pretty good – Iron Maiden, Psychedelic Furs and James. Mrs. Quaff unhelpfully pointed out to me that some people might consider that old people’s music too. She’s wrong. Bar staff were not unhelpful, but not particularly chatty either. A complete contrast from my last outing with ER, to The Retreat, where everyone was friendly and talkative.
The pub itself looked a bit like someone’s house – the TV was perched on top of a book shelf, the curtains looked like red velour, the table at our booth looked like my first dining table. It wasn’t as much like someone’s home as The Cambridge Arms used to be – when I went in there, 20-odd years ago, I literally had to double check that I hadn’t wandered into someone’s front room. There was also a dartboard, bar billiards and tankards hung up at the bar to make it more pub-like though. In an unusual twist for pubs, the toilets were actually in better condition than the bar.
The Hop Leaf has a vast range of snacks – scampi fries, nuts, crisps, brand X onion rings. I think I guzzled down a whole pack of onion rings all by myself, not because ER is above such things, but because I love old school snacks so much. There was also some pretty expensive chorizo in a jar, but that’s the closest they came to selling food. There is a pizza takeaway next door though (Pizza 2 Night), and it smelt like it was the done thing to get a pizza there and bring it in. If only I hadn’t had those Doner Nachos.
|Beer Quality||Entirely drinkable.|
|Beer Selection||A little narrow – a lot of quite similar Hopback Brewery beers|
|Drink vs Food||It’s all about the beer. You can go next door to get a takeaway|
|Music||Not too loud, but loud enough to hear. Good taste in my metal head opinion|
|Snacks||Everything – Jalapeno Pretzels, Scampi Fries, Onion Rings, regular crisps, nuts and some chorizo.|
|Atmosphere||I’m struggling with antonyms for rowdy and lively that aren’t “dull”, because it wasn’t dull. It wasn’t lively either.|
|Price||Not bad – £3.50 a pint|
|Space||Easy to get a seat|
Apparently the Hop Leaf was pub of the year in 2002, so it clearly once had some laurels. I think it’s rested on them for some time now, and needs to up its game if wants to stay open.