Anybody who regularly visits Westminster Cathedral will surely be familiar with that magnificent boozer, the Cardinal of Francis Street.
I love The Cardinal. If it is possible for a pub defiantly to shake its fist at the disintegration of our culture, The Cardinal does a pretty good job. I think that my first visit there was when I was 17, and I have been a regular ever since, and never tire of introducing newcomers to the delights of supping a pint of excellent ale under an enormous portrait of, say, Newman (or even Wolsey, if the mood takes you), and where you are never unlikely to meet all sorts of interesting movers, shakers and legendary characters of the English Catholic Church.
The pub was built in the 1840s, and was originally called the Windsor Castle. It was reopened as the Cardinal in 1963 by, perhaps slightly ironically, the then secretary to Cardinal Godfrey, Derek Worlock, (may he rest in peace) a man who never did understand why he didn’t get to be a cardinal himself.
It’s greatness is secured primarily by the independent brewery which owns it and a number of other pubs in Central London, Samuel Smith of Tadcaster in North Yorkshire. Unlike the brewery founded by Samuel’s brother John, the trustees of Sameul Smith’s are not really interested in such sordid matters as turning a profit or getting bought out by a PubCo. They seem genuinely committed to just running old fashioned English pubs for civilised people to go and have a drink in. Don’t ask for a WKD Blue in the Cardinal; they’d just stare at you blankly. It’s not even a very smart move to order a soft drink – their cola is own brand, and atrocious.
And the beer is very good. Their ale is produced by the very traditional ‘Yorkshire square’ method. Their lager (not that I drink it very often) knocks ten bells out of most other domestic brews. Their stout has a delicious nutty finish which you just don’t get with Guinness. They even brew their own wheat beer, which tastes just as nice as Hoegaarden but costs about half and comes in a much sillier glass. For the adventurous drinker, the 9% Imperial Stout suggests itself, originally brewed for the War Department for export to our brave boys in the Crimea.
The Samuel Smith’s brewery also maintains that it will not raise its prices above what is naturally indicated by increases in duty and inflation. As such, they remain eminently reasonable and are an indictment of the extortionate prices charged by just about every other pub in central London.
Even better, their low prices don’t bring with them the oppresive advertisements and ‘price comparison’ charts of the Wetherspoon and Goose variety. In fact, a couple of years ago the brewery noticed the emerging trend for pubs to become parts of ‘chains’ with aggresively branding, and responded by removing what little branded signage there was on the outside of most of their boozers.
They sell quite nice chips, too.