last night I embarked on a mission to compare the drinking and dining experience in some of the Forum Bars chain's premises. I made 3 of the 5, before me and Chala opted for a more sedentary repose at the 1854. Here are the salient details of that hard working assessment.
The Broadfield Ale House
As we found ourselves up Nether Edge way, and seeing that the Union was closed (but not knowing if this was down to it being pre 17.00 or the rumoured ill health of the licensee), we headed down to Abbeydale road for Chala's first trip to the "new " Broadfield. Both me an err used to live nearby and given that the other nearest pubs were on Chesterfield road or further up Sheldon Road, the Broadfield was our local, even if it wasn't our most oft visited boozer. Chala reckoned that, having seen the sign and entered the large room that is now the whole of the pub, it had changed beyond recognition. Personally, I think the left hand side is very similar, but better decorated, and am reasonably certain that the bar remains in situ.
I knew that we'd have to walk round the bar to discover the secret that was the beer range, and on noticing a dearth of Chala-friendly continental draught (no wheat beer? Come on now...) I quickly chose my pint, whilst Chala eventually plumped for a bottle of Erdinger. The lass who served us was very friendly and helpful, although she missed that there were two Belgian draught beers, Westmalle Tripel and Kwak - both of which I have never seen on draught before. We went in the right hand side as we were only drinking, to find our first annoyance of the night.
Not two minutes after we had sat down a staff member came and plonked an A4 sheet on our table and informed us it was reserved for someone we didn't catch or care about's 50th birthday shindig, as if this somehow made it less irritating. Granted, this unwelcome intrusion was not happening until 19.00, nearly 2 hours away, but I can't agree with reserving an ordinary table for having a pint. That's just daft. Still, that didn't stop me enjoying my pint, although maybe that would have been a good thing since it lasted me 4 minutes. The Farmers stout was better than it can be at the Old House and was a little flat, making it deliciously and eminently suppable.
I went back to the bar to order a pint of the Leveller from Springhead, and to moan about reserved tables and the lack of a cask beer board. I meant it half seriously but mainly in jest and it was treated like that. This meant i wanted to be served by the same lass again - quite often bar staff don't understand sarcasm, comic exaggeration, irony or just humour, so finding someone similarly tuned in was a winner.
I was back minutes later, after enjoying some of my delicious but more bitter than I recalled Leveller, to grab something so Utopian in its naming that I feared I may have dreamt it - a pie menu, and a sausage menu. Manna. Having spotted many a tempting mix of flavours from both we set about trying to get a table to eat. And here again, alas, the Broadfield came up with trumps.
Why, I hear you ask? Because there are almost no free tables (over half reserved) and even the ones reserved don't have a sign on. Here, our old friend expectation plays his hand - I expected to sit at a table I liked, in trying to do so my hopes are dashed, I expected to find a warm place to sit, but in having a choice of about 3 tables only, all in direct draught line of the doors, my hopes aren't realised once again. We select a seat at a nice table in one of the bay windows. Its really cold. Thanks for that.
We order our food and me another pint, enquire again about a real ale board which am assured is being done, which is good, and then ask for a wine list. I don't want to sound like I have forgotten that this is a pub, but I expect it to be similar to the York and The Old House. Both have excellent wine lists. The Broadfield needs to catch up. Only one Rose (for Chala, not me obviously), all the whites are dry, and there are only 3 reds. Chala goes for a Pinot Noir which is OK, but better with food, and am never sure if that is a good sign - personally I reckon not. I go for more Farmers and a watery but tasty Acorn Yorkshire Pride.
The food comes and is delicious in decent sized portions, and only £6.50 so that's decent value. By the time we finish eating the place is rammed, but alas this extra warmth has not floated to our table and its been a cold dining experience for the most part. Paying at the bar I recommend to my chosen staff member that they should invest in some double glazing.
Overall ? Nice decor, great food, good real ale but an over reliance on standard Abbeydale and Bradfield offerings,. stupid table reservation policy, bad seating layout, excellent friendly bar staff, best pint of Farmers Stout for a very long time. 7/10.
This was our second venue after we had tried and failed to desire staying in the green Room - details further on. The Forum is fairly busy for what must be 20.00. All we have to do is choose where best to sit. So many times we have been frustrated at being pounced upon by zealous staff waging a secretive war against incomers choosing their table, by keeping almost every table reserved without them seeming to ever be occupied. So we head left from the bar to find seating. There is a raised settee festoooned bit which overlooks almost all of the main seating areas, which I don't recall seeing before, and we find a nice comfy place there to relax and enjoy our drinks.
In reference to which, on the bar there are two handpumps, one clip is turned round but there is an Abbeydale Gothic pump clip showing. Excitedly I ask for a taste. It smells of vinegar. It tastes sour. Its horrible. "Jesus wept" I helpfully remark, expecting the barman to be disappointed that a beer he deems suitable to sell is in fact off. Nope, he says "yeah, I don;t really like the taste either". Its off for Gods sake - whats to like? I am mildly horrified that he may have tasted it and thought that was the beer's unique character coming through, or the idea that no-one all day had ventured to buy real ale, but I put these niggles to one side to peruse the wine list. (note, the below picture is intended to be a tiled freize depicting a jester. Although he could be a harlequin. Read into that what you will....)
Its changed quite a bit since the summer but that's not necessarily a bad thing, although I really fancied the Villa Maria NZ Sauvignon Blanc. Instead Chala has an Italian Rose and me a Chilean Pinot Noir. Despite the glass being needlessly warm, this is a nice drink.
Overall? The music is OK, the decor is best ignored but isn't encroachingly bad, and the ambiance is relaxed. The beer range uniformally disappoints, in fact its best when only Moonshine is available given their odd stewardship of guest ales. The wine is good and comes from a list, so well done there, and the food menu has changed and it looks better than it used to. 6/10.
The Old House
Twice in one week is a worrying trend for us but I'm definitely in the mood for some ale and reckon there's likely to be a Farmers Stout waiting for me. The Old House is busy and the only free table is a chilly one plonked thoughtlessly near the door but the beer cloak is knitting itself round me so I don't mind too much. Chala has a Margarita, I have a pint of the Abbeydale Epiphany having missed it on Sunday. I was right, its better than the transformation, but I have to say its hardly an outstanding beer.
The musics good in here as well so that makes us relaxed and we are soon back at the bar, Chala plumping for a reorder and me giving in to the Farmers Stout, which is better today than last time, but still can't match that I tried in the Broady.
Hopefully the brevity of this assessment will not suggest an unwillingness to fully explore the inherent merits and faults of the venue, but really I can't say much else about our experience - we came in, sat down, had great drinks, talked and enjoyed ourselves. This then, serves as the summary. 8/10. (I like the Old House).
So, that concludes our Forum bars crawl. But what does it tell us?
Well firstly, reading this back, it seems that I am 37 going on 70, but in more practical terms it suggests that:
We found contrasting approaches to real ale in all 3, we found contrasting wine selections in all 3 pubs as well. In terms of quality of beer the Forum seems mainly at sea where real ale is concerned, the Broadfield keeps it well but seems nervous of anything more radical then the Leveller, the Old House always has one dark beer on and that's got to be good for the soul.
The Forum and Old House know their wine and more importantly inform and advise customers about its range and availability, which is creditable, and the Old house beer bible makes the blank blackboard at the Broadfield seem like an unfortunate own goal. Food wise I haven't eaten at the Forum for a year or more and wasn't exactly blown away but the menu has now changed, meanwhile the snap at the Broady and Old House has been great, more especially at the Old House if I'm to be honest.
That the Forum has morphed into 2 real ale pubs selling food, 1 real ale bar, a music bar and erm, the Common Room, is tribute to their good business decision making and a positive sign of growth in the Sheffield real ale scene. If the individual venues could share info about each others strong points then the Forum quintet could well leave other competitors standing.
The Green Green Room of woe.
Not that its Forum owned but the Green Room was our intended venue on arriving in town. I had been in on the works Christmas night out to find it busy late on, but with the disheartening sight of a single pump clip on one of two handpumps, turned round. Before the Three Cranes reopened Rick who is there now was behind the bar at the Green Room, and he had some Blue Bee beers on. All seemed well after a whole year seemingly without real ale, just a string of promises that it would be on in a fortnight or next month. So what would we find?
Well, cue deja-vu. There it was, that solitary handpump dressed in a clip, with its back to us. When I enquired when it would next be facing us, I was almost amused but disappointed to hear that there would not now be real ale on for a fortnight. Oh! How you mock me Green Room! The barman ventured that he was waiting for a delivery or to get hold of some ale - it turns out the much sought after beer was Moonshine. How long do you have to wait for a cask of Sheffield's most oft encountered real ale?!?! The guy then changed his story to it being a month before we'd see the glorious drink, although he claimed they were installing another 2 handpumps.
I was determined to be fair to them though so having clocked that there were no continental beers worth having I asked what wines were on offer. I plumped for reds; there were 3. They looked like they were missing only the word "lifestyle" or "Happy Shopper" from the label and although you certainly can't judge a wine by its label there wasn't anything to tempt me. So once again, no Beefy household money enters the Green Room's till. Silly Green Room.
A quick note of praise for my favourite hometime bar (although i promise I'll make it my first stop of the night sometime soon). Whilst selecting a decent wine and ordering Chala a tequila and coke, I decided to have a half of Deception. This is not an unusual set of circumstances, but it was perhaps one of the best drinks of Deception I ever tried. Certainly the finest that has passed my lips at Haribo's anyhow. Such a shame that the rigours of the the crawl and my big meal meant I favoured a half only. Full marks to Barraharri and the team for ending our night on a hoppy high.
That's all for tonight, I need to prepare for a beery trek in wildest Derbyshire tomorrow.