Our original plan was to meet Gaj at around midday then go for lunch at the Royal Blenheim, which is on St Ebbe's just after BHS - this I had ascertained on the Friday when in Oddbin's, picking up some BrewDog Punk IPA, I asked for directions and happily found it to be very close to here Mrs Velkyal was conferencing. From the outside it is essentially a picture postcard of what a British pub should be. Unfortunately Gaj was delayed, so it was just Scott, myself and the better half. I had come across the Royal Blenheim when I found the Everard's Brewery website. When we arrived there were 4 beers on the pumps - I didn't really pay too much attention to the bog standard tap stuff, similar situation to Far From the Madding Crowd - two from Everard's and two from the White Horse Brewery, who were a new name to me and have just taken over the pub. Again we had to change plan as the pub was having the kitchen refurbished and as such there was no food, so I ordered a pint of Tiger for myself, a pint of Sunchaser for Mrs Velkyal and some mass-produced lager for my brother.
I found this to be a much better poured pint that some of the ones I had tried in Far From the Madding Crowd, which means it had a decent head on it, which stayed largely intact while drinking the beer. I really liked the Tiger glass as well, mainly because it had the Cyclops tasting notes for the beer on the side. And to quote the old adverts for Ronseal - it does exactly what it says on the tin. I really like the toffee notes in this beer, and the fact that the sweetness is nicely balanced by a spicy hoppiness, after a couple of pints I have to admit that it has become one of my favourite British ales, and one I will be hunting out whenever I go back to the UK. I only had a quick sip of Mrs Velkyal's Sunchaser, which is a blonde beer that is nicely refreshing and crisp, with a gentle lemony flavour. She certainly enjoyed it.
Because my brother and Mrs Velkyal were chatting away, trying to plan where to get some lunch, I had finished my pint before they were even half way down, so I went up to the bar to try one of the White Horse brews. Having never heard of either, I asked the barman (I think he may have been the landlord), what the difference between White Horse Bitter and White Horse Wayland Smithy was. He explained that the Smithy is more of an Best Bitter, although the 3.7% Bitter, although a session ale, was hoppier - sounded a treat I thought to myself. And a very nice beer it is too - the kind of bitter that I could happily drink all night. It has quite a light body without being watery at all and the hoppiness comes to the fore without being overpowering. In general the Royal Blenheim was a very nice pub, with a nice relaxed atmosphere and well poured beers, can't really ask for more than that can you?
Unfortunately the need for food was becoming rather pressing, as was the time for Mrs Velkyal to get back to her conference in the Town Hall. Plus Gaj had finally made it to Oxford, so while I went to find him, Scott and Mrs Velkyal went to get lunch - fresh handmade Cornish pasties! I don't think Scott and I were overly hungry because we had enjoyed a great couple of pies in Oxford's Covered Market, his being wild mushroom and asparagus, mine was steak, kidney and ale. With lunch well and truly enjoyed, the three men decided to head for the pub, shock horror!
We decided to go to the King's Arms, a Young's pub which is just far enough off the beaten track to be missed by a lot of tourists, but it very popular with students and locals, and understandably so. The place is cavernous and has all the traditional elements of an English pub, wooden floors, tables and chairs, except for the old no-smoking room with had carpet, as did the snug. On draught was a full range of Young's beers, with a good selection of bottles as well - and the Ploughman's lunch we shared between the three of us was superb. I didn't taken any notes of the beers I drank, but I thoroughly enjoyed them all, even if my brother turned his nose up at the Luxury Double Chocolate Stout, in particular I liked the Tribute Premium Cornish Ale. The King's Arms is a pub which if I lived in Oxford I could very easily imagine being my local, simply a great place to sit, drink and hang out with friends.
One thing I really enjoyed about being in Britain was the standard of service I got in every pub I went in to. Friendly, knowledgable bar staff are always a delight, as it prompt and efficient service in general - to my mind the King's Arms has exemplary service, and barmen who seemed to know their beer.