The old red cow herself, if she wasn't apocryphal, probably didn't have a pleasant visit to this pub's manor - Long Lane was an ancient cattle route to Smith[...]
The old red cow herself, if she wasn't apocryphal, probably didn't have a pleasant visit to this pub's manor - Long Lane was an ancient cattle route to Smithfield meat market.
You can see the cupolas, domes and reliefs of London's temple of butchery through the front windows of this refurbed Victorian site, which no longer uses its antique 'Ye Olde' prefix and has turned its focus to serving very good beer.
New owners haven't mucked about with The Cow's exterior, and the decor inside comes from the modern beer bar school of austerity, which is no bad thing: vintage European advertising plates liven up the plain walls, and there's a lot of worn-in wood.
Seating space downstairs is limited, but there's a bigger, wood-clad dining area upstairs.
We had a couple of top-notch Sunday roasts on our visit, with free-range chicken and well-hung beef bought from just over the road. The rest of the menu is solid British pub grub - potted ham with piccalilli, beef burger, steak and oyster pie - with a few more interesting-looking specials.
On a blackboard, an Inspiral Carpets-style cow proclaims: 'I love beer'; whoever puts the drinks menu together clearly does too.
The back bar sports a row of taps which dispense 14 changing keg beers. In late July there was the amber 5am Saint from Fraserburgh's Brew Dog - much beloved of forward-thinking beer buffs - beside Schremser Roggen, a complex, fruity number made in Austria with organic rye, and the clean, hoppy Veltins pilsner.
There are also three hand pumps on the front to keep Camra happy, with a clean sweep for London breweries - the golden Redemption Trinity, Sambrook's Wandle and Camden Pale Ale.
Bottles aren't as plentiful as they are in other new beer bars, but it's a carefully curated selection, helpfully arranged by style rather than country of origin (pale, amber, dark, Trappist, etc).
It was good to see Harvieston's fabulous Ola Dubh ('black oil' in Gaelic) 40 Year Old, a devil-black porter aged in malt whisky barrels and worth trying (once) even at £11 a bottle.
Although service never quite struggled over into jovial, the barman knew enough about what he was pouring to make educated recommendations, and samples were proffered and quaffed.
With a selection like this on draught, perhaps third-of-a-pint tasting glasses might be a good idea too? Even without, this beer pub is still one of the best in its field.