Beer Blog

The Old Red Cow, Smithfield, EC1

Old Red Cow-7

I remember going in this little pub a good few years ago and thinking it was half decent. It must still be because it’s in the current (2018) Good Beer Guide and it’s handily not far from the Leather Lane branch of the Craft Beer Co.

The one up one down, little pub didn’t seem to cut it for me this time. Okay, there were a few people in at around 4pm, no one in the larger room upstairs though. Shame the two lads behind the bar didn’t talk to anyone, apart from each other. I do hate it when bar staff are preoccupied with their own fascinating private conversation, to the exclusion of what they are actually being paid to do.


Maybe it was the beer range that put me off? Nothing special in the cask line up: Gloucester, West Berkshire, XT and Watney’s Pale Ale. I shuddered at the thought of why anyone would revive Watney’s as a brand? After all, that’s what the, brewed by Sambrook’s beer is, just a brand, a gimmick, an empty shell that should be avoided at all costs.

I wasn’t particularly taken with the keg line up neither, again nowt special, nothing really to tantalise or tease. I had a half pint of Kernel Pale Ale, at a whopping £6.80 a pint equivalent, it was only alright, a bit dull and lifeless, it shouldn’t have been, and think what the cask might have been like if the keg beer’s dull? I think Mrs C had a Neck Oil. We supped it quietly and listened to the two Canadians with a London pub walks book, shame the Old Red Cow wasn’t providing them the full British pub experience.


The only highlight of the visit was a young girl who wandered in. Pretty, but slightly strange, asking whether they did fish and chips and how much were they? She said she would go and get some money, returning five minutes later. She didn’t want a drink, just the fish and chips and went upstairs. After more than a good while, she came back down and sat on the table next to us. I wasn’t quite sure whether it was mental health, chemicals or just a scam?

Verdict: I thought this a decent place once upon a time, but it seems to be nothing special these days.

Old Red Cow-8

16 replies »

  1. I had my first encounter with craft beer in a pub, in The Old Red Cow six years ago, ordered two pints of Jaipur not actually clocking it was keg, I was charged £11.00 for the brace, to say I was gobsmacked was an understatement.

    Liked by 2 people

    • This place is a good example of how fast and how far things have moved on. I see it as just another place, nothing special at all. I guess this sort of pricing is par for the course in this sort of place.


    • It’s craft, innit ? Did you see hand pumps or was it (I guess) written on a board ?

      Think my first trip there was similar time, liked it a lot. Felt more pubby than the first Craft pub down the road that opened a similar time.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Par for the course in London anyway, yesterday I paid £4.65 for a pint of Youngs Ordinary! That said I had some good Siren and Magic Rock in the Southampton Arms for £3.90, more like it in beer and price.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I have enjoyed many hours in Smithfield pubs but don’t know the Old Red Cow because it was NEVER open. I often used the Smithfield pubs with their 5am to 9am licenses and there were usually more bummarees in their blood stained work clothes than other drinkers in the Hope and the Cock Tavern but not in the Fox & Anchor and Newmarket. They were four very different pubs, the Hope with a lovely Victorian interior, the Cock with the best possible breakfasts including kidneys and bubble and squeak in a subterranean rebuild after the infamous 1958 Poultry Market fire, the Fox and Anchor the most upmarket with the best beer and the Newmarket a Punch pub not worth bothering with. Youngs in the Hope, Bombardier and a breakfast in the Cock and Adnams in the Fox and Anchor was a great start to the day before a 10am meeting at Waterloo. Those four pubs didn’t offer London’s best range of beers but 8% “hop forward” beers are for later in the day, and some even think that any beer is for later in the day although I don’t remember ever seeing a coffee being served at Smithfield.
    I would go as far as to say that the new “Watney’s”, that gimmick from Sambrooks, should be avoided like the plague.
    Did you direct the two Canadians with a London pub walks book to the Rifle Drum for “the full British pub experience”?
    “Mental health, chemicals or just a scam” or she was even less impressed with the beer range than you ?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thing is, it shouldn’t have been an average drink. I really like Kernel, and for whatever reason they always command a premium, sadly this was dull old stuff.

      I can see many sides of the ”price of a pint argument and sometimes play the devil’s advocate (if only to get people thinking). A lot of people who complain of how much beer is in London should try buying a house there, and if houses are expensive so are pubs and rents too. But you can still find good value in London, even if thats mainly ‘spoons or Sam’s.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes you can get value in good pubs in London, it’s relative of course North/South, £3.90 is good for London (in my book) and in the past week I have drunk beers from top breweries for this price in The Southampton Arms In Gospel Oak, a very good pub, also the same price Oakham Bishops Farewell in The King Charles I in Kings Cross, yet 5 or 6 minutes walk to The Somers Town Coffee House found me paying £4.65 for a pint of Youngs Bitter, that was outrageous given the comparison by beer ,price and pub.


      • I guess you pays your money and takes your chance. Leeds city centre is a good example, you can get a drink (pint of homogenous mainstream ale or lager) for sub £3 in some places, but for a pint of decent beer expect to pay around £4. Call me snobby, but I wouldn’t want to frequent many of the cheaper places. Many owners of independent bars I speak to up-price to keep the doylems out.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Whenever in London I’m struck by how much money there is down there.
        Yesterday from 3.55pm to 5pm the Somers Town Coffee House, a large pub, gradually filled up, then from 5.05pm to 5.30pm the Doric Arch was rammed, and neither pub is cheap.


  4. probably about 5 years since I first went to the Old Red Cow, seemed a really good bar then as it sort of merged the new craft with new cask, and was very different to the Hope or Fox and Anchor, and as you say its a handy linking pub to Craft Beer Co. Had always heard their food was very good, but never really had the chance to try it as it always seemed rammed when I turned up, as it seems close enough to the city to draw the after work crowd who dont blink twice about paying those kinds of prices, though I never felt it was overly expensive for London, it was always a place I recommended to people to try in that area. But things change, the whole market area itself has changed.

    Interesting I spotted a Cask Marque certificate in one of your photos, now that feels odd given the kind of bar it is, I dont find many bars/pubs as much into keg, being cask marqued,so unless its brewery sponsored I dont see why they’d have joined, and its not one Ive scanned yet, whether thats just because Ive missed it not being able to get close enough to the bar or its popped up since my last visit which is what I suspect,I dont know, but usually GBG & cask marque together should be a good place to get good quality cask beer, Ill have to go back to get it now, but maybe Ill skip the early afternoon shifts 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sure the cask beer is really good, it was just such an uninteresting range. Okay if I’d found it in a little micro in the locality where the beers were brewed, but not what I was looking for in a pub that originally featured in several ‘top ten craft beer bars in London’ lists. Similarly the keg beer list wasn’t scintillating and the Kernel beer I had was old and dull. I have seen good reviews of the food, particularly Sunday Lunch. But to my mind this place seems to be trying to be all things to all people.


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