New and Rediscovered - Part 2

Justin Mason continues his journey around pubs in Brentwood in this small series put together for Tryanuary.

The Artichoke, Brentwood

Standing like a guardian at the gateway to the town, The Artichoke has seen some changes in the two centuries of its existence.

Viewed from the busy crossroads that quarters Shenfield Common the uninformed visitor would never guess it’s true, older identity as, following a mysterious roof fire in July 2000, Mitchell and Butler’s reduced then removed that name from the building completely.

It’s a Toby Carvery now, Home of the Roast, it proudly proclaims, and it’s a bustling temple to the most traditional of English fare from breakfast time through to dinner and beyond. Cars pull in and cars pull out from the featureless car park behind the pub disgorging their passengers before waiting silently for them to return on this asphalt wasteland where, a mere stone’s throw away, 19 year old William Hunter was burnt at the stake during the reign of Bloody Mary for refusing to retract his Protestant beliefs.

Brentwood school is just next door, counting Douglas Adams, Hardy Amies, Robin Day, Griff Rhys Jones, Noel Edmunds and Keith Allen amongst its illustrious and not-so alumni. I’m given to wonder how many of them may have sneaked out of the dormitory for a clandestine pint or two in the later years of their attendance.

I doubt that they’d find much there to excite them today. 

The polish gold metal fonts dispense Stella Artois, Carling, Carlsberg and Magners cider, Tetley Bitter and Fuller’s London Pride all on keg. I ask if they have any cask or interesting bottled beer, they don’t, so I opt for a half of the latter.

It’s a soulless food factory now, designed to satisfy but not to be enjoyed as a pub should. There’s nobody waiting for anyone to arrive, no groups gathering for a drink before a night out, no clubs or associations meet here, and the token bar seating area to the right of the door goes unnoticed by those waiting to be seated at the sign they must obey.

I have no reason to linger, so I drink quickly and leave. I don’t look back.

The Robin, Brentwood

There’s been a beer house on this site for at least the last three hundred years, and in a survey of businesses in 1788 it was notable for being the only one of eleven public house not on the High Street. It was known as the Robin Hood then, and more recently the Robin Hood and Little John, however a makeover and a change of name from legendary benevolent outlaw to red-breasted Christmas bird has given the building a different feel. 

I recall the Robin Hood and Little John having a dubious reputation, but recent refurbishments have transformed the place I’m told by Tara who works behind the bar and is happy to chat and extol its virtues.

It’s a Heineken pub, not a temple of beer with Heineken, Amstel and Moretti on keg, and Deuchars IPA and Old Speckled Hen as the only cask beers (“because they sell well” I’m told) though they are occasionally replaced with seasonal variations.

A television opposite the bar shows Sky Sports, but it’s unobtrusive and I barely notice the sound coming from it despite me being the only customer. The interior is smart, light, clean and spacious, and the central bar is accessible from two of the three distinct areas that were once separate room. That was several alterations ago and you can walk between them easily now.

Situated on the main Ongar to Tilbury road along which once timber from Epping Forest was taken down to the docks, it’s taken me ten minutes to walk here from the centre of town so I’m in need of a drink. The Caledonian Deuchars IPA is the only sensible choice as far as I’m concerned and I’m delighted to find that it’s well kept and sparklingly bight.

The menu is American inspired; burgers hot dogs, pulled pork and chilli, but a packet of Monster Munch is enough for me today, and I make my way to a table near the door to devour them hungrily. After taking a delivery Tara returns and engages me if conversation once more and we happily put the world to rights and discuss the local pubs, many of which she’s worked in, until it’s time for me to leave.

The Robin is the furthest pub in Brentwood from where I live and the beer range isn’t exciting enough to entice me across town, but if I’m passing and want a place to rest and chat then I just might pop in.

Mike Hampshire