Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Drum roll please...first Pub Review is up!


My guest reviewer can claim a fair bit of clout when it comes to the authentic British pub, being well... British, and having the uncanny ability to sniff out pork crackling from ten paces. Here's his personal take on one of the many British pubs you'll find in and around L.A. as well as a ride down memory lane round a hairpin or two on the back of his old Norton...

The Cat 'n Fiddle, Sunset Blvd, L.A.
....Well, in the interests of full disclosure, I need to say that since visiting my first pub at age 14 in Britain I’ve been in every colour and hue of bar imaginable and this is one of the more relaxing ones especially given it’s proximity to the noise and drama normally associated with Sunset Strip.

Obviously, my jaded eyes were already rolling as soon as I saw the


pub sign for the place. Back in the day (as well as back in the Old Country), pub signs were intended to give the thirsty visitor the name of the public house in pictorial form at a time when the majority of the poor feudal masses were totally illiterate. So pub signs should be accurate in reflecting the name of the hostelry chosen by the landlord, right?
Cat 'n Fiddle pub sign,
Sunset Boulevard, L.A.

I’d love to know who’s responsible for the one at the Cat 'n Fiddle and why no-one anywhere on the Internet appears to have noticed that this pub should be renamed “The Cat and Cello” because that’s what the feline in question is actually playing!

I’m not being too pedantic here but I grew up on motorcycles and a favourite Sunday blast was up the A537 road out of Macclesfield, Northern England to a pub, the second highest in England, called … can you guess? Yep, “The Cat and Fiddle”

A537 Cat & Fiddle road
Now the A537 road used to be a spectacularly wriggly, off camber, 10 foot wide strip of pre-war tarmac that had to be attacked with total commitment or it’d spit you off onto the moor where the local werewolves would drag you off and ok, so the werewolves were made up but if you came off up there you might as well have been taken by wild animals since your chances of survival were minimal. 
This also led to the paradox of needing a stiff drink if you arrived at the pub unscathed but with rather full underpants due to the lack of brakes on your 1956 Norton Fumigator which then left you less than focused on the downhill run thereby causing you to crash on the way down. It’s been renowned as the most dangerous stretch of road in England for many years until the Health and Safety fascists put cameras everywhere and a Police helicopter overhead.

Cat & Fiddle, Cheshire, U.K.
'werewolves not served after 6pm'
Anyway, the Sunset ‘Cat 'n Fiddle’ is a perfect metaphor for how every “British”, “Irish” or variation thereof misses the authentic vibe and service of the real thing back on the Celtic fringe of Europe. Now before you get your knickers in a twist, this is both a good thing AND a bad thing; it merely depends on the balance and the overall outcome based on your perspective and experience.
Let’s do the bad things first so we can look at the glass half full later on!

Firstly, after the confusion offered by the misleading sign, I’ve been there a probably a dozen times and eaten there on most of those occasions, both during the day and in the evenings. The beers have been hit and miss, either due to being too cold or improperly poured. As a beerophile with 30 plus years of experience, I know this reduces the flavours and aromas of good ‘on tap’ beers but given the ambient temperature in this part of the world, this can be a good thing too as the initial slurp of chilled ale can be just what you need while the aromas and flavours return slowly as the pint heats up (if the first pint lasts that long!). See? Both good and bad, just on the beer alone!

Secondly, I’ve been there for the British traditional Sunday Roast and every time have had the same sort of experience. The good news is that the meat is usually tender and there’s plenty of it. The down side is that the gravy is obviously a packet mix with not a hint of the traditional ingredients that make a truly tasty sauce for the meat and the Yorkshire Puddings have always been unforgivable.

Yorkshire puddings should be light, fluffy and warm whereas the one’s I’ve got here could be used as substitute tennis balls since the ‘cooking from frozen then microwaved into submission’ technique turns them into something resembling brown latex-coated Nerf balls. See the balance? Good and bad, that karmic balance SoCal is renowned and ridiculed for across the rest of the 49 states.

The veggies are usually done in that semi-crunchy ‘healthy’ way that further confuses your jaw muscles as everyone knows British veggies are boiled to the point of being veggie shaped soup. I have eaten other selections from the menu of ‘traditional’ fare offered but they’ve all been truly forgettable or massively overpriced shop bought items. I mean $6.00 for a microwaved Scotch Egg? No thanks, I’ll go to the Tudor House and get one for $2.50 and eat it on the beach.

Now, onto the good stuff.

Courtyard at the Cat 'n Fiddle,
Sunset Boulevard
The Cat 'n Fiddle is set in a mellow recessed courtyard with plenty of shade that makes this a relaxing refuge from the madness on the doorstep. The fountain, which doubles as the feisty Rufus Hummingbirds personal drinking fountain and hot tub, fills in the ambiance with that babbling brook noise susurrating in the background. The service has always been fairly quick, polite and efficient with no ‘mistakes’ made with either the orders or the bill. Yes, it’s the ubiquitous aspiring actors ambling between tables but it’s fun banter and always with a smile.

There’s always a good mix of patrons, it’s never too loud during the day. The evenings get more lively and the crowd grows younger by the hour, as expected, which is where we come to another good thing. I’ve been over here now for over a decade and not once, in any of the biker bars, Whiskey Row, spit and sawdust, hole-in-the-wall drinking venues have I ever had ANY sort of hassle. Now this may be down to appearances and attitude or pure good luck but it’s certainly not something that would have gone on for this long in Britain without some sort of the aggressive or even violent behaviour I’ve experienced in Britain. And ‘The Cat and Fiddle’ is one of the most relaxing drinking holes I’ve ever been in. It must be, I keep going back, choosing it over all the other dozen or so similarly themed bars across L.A. proper.

It’s the sort of place that if it wasn’t for it’s location and layout would be just another wannabe Brit/Celtic pub. Which brings me to the final balanced bad bit. The parking any time after late afternoon is a complete nightmare. It’s on Sunset…go figure!

So I suppose some sort of conclusion is needed. ‘The Cat 'n Fiddle’ is a great, relaxing place to chill out on a hot afternoon with a half decent pint and a wee British snack such as a good flakey, yet simultaneously, soggy sausage roll. It’s so good I keep going back. But beware parking, expect some fairly typical British food (i.e. variable quality, variable warmth and variable service) and don’t expect to be quite as relaxed if you stay into the evening if there’s a DJ or other entertainment on.

And there you have it...!
Cat & Fiddle pub sign,
Cheshire, U.K.
Got a favorite Brit Pub?  Tell us about it!