On our various travels to the US we have always enjoyed eating and drinking in the large number of brewpub/restaurants. For that reason I was keen to check out the expanding Brewhouse & Kitchen theme over here as I had been told it was a similar concept. The first one opened up in Portsmouth last year in the White Swan pub close to Portsmouth Guildhall. My wife and I made a brief visit to this place for lunch earlier this month and we were both impressed and agreed it was similar to many of the US brewpub/restaurants we have experienced. The beer I had that day (Island City Rye IPA) is not only brewed onsite but the 2.5bbl brewery is actually housed inside the pub rather than only being on view from behind a window as is often the case. The food was excellent (me and my wife shared 3 starters for £10) and the beer is well priced. First impressions were therefore highly favourable.
Following on from this visit I was down in Dorchester earlier this week to visit my best friend, Martin, who lives just across the railway line from the redevelopment of the old Eldridge Pope brewery. This redevelopment consists of the usual chain restaurants, Odeon cinema, Premier Inn, etc and on the fringe there was a pub called the Station Masters which Brewhouse & Kitchen acquired and have converted into their second brewpub to bring back brewing to this quiet Dorset town under the watchful gaze of the old brewery building. It opened back in May of this year and this was my first opportunity to visit and fully assess the brand in terms of both the quality of their beer and food.
The old pub has been expanded and there are plenty of different types of seating areas to suit everyone. It is larger than the White Swan in Portsmouth but the decor is similar and by bringing the brewhouse into the building it does feel like you are sitting in a converted brewhouse. Glass tables with compartments of hops and malts visible beneath are common and although food plays a large part in their offering you are not presented with tables formally laid out for dining and drinkers and diners are both welcomed equally. Lots of other beery stuff is visible all around and I was particularly taken with the beermat chandelier.
The first thing you realise when you enter is how proud they are of their beers. Knowledgeable bar staff is key and they were happy to tell me what beers were available along with the respective styles and strengths. For me, after tweeting I was visiting, I was even given some recommendations before I arrived thanks to a response from their tweetperson. Not one to turn down a recommendation I began with the Mayor of Casterbridge Porter (4.8% ABV). This was a perfect porter with liquorice notes and plenty of roasted malt giving chocolate and milky coffee flavours.
They had six or seven beers available including one from local brewer Gyle 59. Between us I think we managed to try most of them. Whilst I was enjoying the quite superb porter my friend had the Nurdle Ho, a 4.0% ABV nutty brown ale with strong toffee notes. We finished off by trying a three third of a pint sampler priced at just £3. We tried the Sexton, a 4.0% golden ale, Crumbleholme, a 4.3% ABV stout and the Durnovaria Dark, a 4.7% ABV black IPA. The stout was the best. Very smooth and quite rich with liquorice notes and a bittersweet finish. The Durnovaria Dark was not as hoppy as I expected in terms of the aroma but it did have a nice dry bitter finish and I think a pint of this next time would be welcome.
In addition to the beers they brew themselves they also have one or two guest locales and an extensive range of international bottled beers including Brewdog, Anchor, Bellerose, Brooklyn, Fordham and Westmalle. The only anomaly I spotted was the Shepherd Neame Whitstable Bay in keg. This beer is dreadful in bottles and a 3.9% keg beer at £4.50 per pint seems mental when you are surrounded by such a quality range of ales. As I said though, something for everyone!
The food menu at B&K has something for everyone too. The brewhouse classics include steak and ale pie, bangers and mash, thai green curry and beer battered fish and chips. The brewhouse special is a whole chicken roasted in beer with suitable accompaniments and is ideal for sharing and at £17.95 is very good value. Steaks and burgers are also available and on Tuesday evening all burgers are £6 so we both chose the brewhouse classic burger. This was excellent value and being a fan of real prime beef burgers this one is definitely one of the better ones. The menu helps you too with your choice of beer by offering suggestions as to what to pair with your chosen dish from their vast range of beer types that they brew.
There is no doubt that the Brewhouse & Kitchen concept is modelled on the brewpub/restaurants you see all over the US. A third one has recently opened in Islington, North London and I am sure there will be more opening over time. Good value quality ales and food combine with good service in a relaxing environment. I am very much a fan. The brand is further enhanced by offering customers the opportunity to try being a brewer for a day. You can try their brewing experience and brew with them for just £75. This price is excellent value as it includes 5 litres of the beer you brew which is available once the beer is ready the following week. Beer can also be taken away in larger quantities (8 pt, 36 pt or 72 pts) which is perfect for parties and family gatherings. With further gift ideas and hampers also available they are pushing the brand in many ways. So if you are ever in Portsmouth, Dorchester or North London, then make your way to your local Brewhouse & Kitchen and go with an empty stomach and a raging thirst. I'm sure you won't be disappointed.