Welcome to our ongoing mission to explore what London has to offer the discerning lover of excellent beer - from pubs and retailers that take pride in the quality of their hoppy offerings, to local breweries and beer events. In this instalment, we discover an unlikely gem in the heart of tourist-land.We know from bitter experience (pun only vaguely intended) that it can sometimes be a bit of a challenge to find a traditional pub serving excellent real ale in the West End, which is why it's worth knowing about the Harp.Situated on a busy side-street at the south-west extremity of Covent Garden, a stone's throw away from Charing Cross station, the pub's flower-adorned exterior immediately identifies it as rather cosy and old-fashioned. While the frugal or impoverished may prefer the cheaper (and much poorer) beer on offer in the nearby Chandos, and the unimaginative may choose the vacuous chain-pub familiarity of the similarly proximate Pitcher and Piano, the Harp seems much prettier from the outside, at least to our eyes. Of course we're almost certainly biased, because we know the riches that lie within.One glance at the hand pumps at the bar and you immediately know this place means business. On our visit we enjoyed several Dark Star ales, crowned by their magnificent American Pale Ale (an English golden ale made with American ingredients and inspiration). We also appreciated the ever-dependable Proper Job from St Austell (a session IPA, if there is such a thing) and Titanic's Engine Room (yet another lively and strongly-hopped pale ale). Of course the offerings were not all of our favoured pale variety, with nicely balanced best bitters, toasty amber ales and pleasant milds also on offer, and Harvey's Sussex Best and Sambook's Wandle listed as regulars.Despite the diminutive frontage, the premises extend far enough back from the street to accommodate a reasonable crowd. This is fortunate, as the pub can get quite busy at times - seats (or stools) were at a premium during our Monday evening visit, but we found that the constant ebb and flow of clientele ensured a suitable seating vacancy before too long. The atmosphere is unpretentious, in keeping with the traditional décor - wooden fittings, old portraits on the walls and stained glass windows that can open fully when the weather permits.Service was friendly, efficient and, on our visit at least, entirely female. (We obviously cannot guarantee that this last aspect will not change on future visits.) We noted the availability of sausages, cooked to sizzling-point on a hotplate behind the bar and served in a baguette, although it looks like their availability at any given time is heavily dependent on the laws of supply and demand. Saltier, lardier, pre-packaged pork products are also available, as you would expect.All-in-all, the biggest problem we could find with the Harp was that the beer was just too good. Once we had worked our way through all of them, we were sorely tempted to start again at the beginning. This can be a difficult pub to leave.The Harp, 47 Chandos Place, London WC2N 3HS.
London Beer Quest: The Harp
Last Updated 14 October 2010