London’s Heathrow Airport has been justifiably dreaded for its laborious terminal connections, chaotic layout and long, long walkways. In the past the facilities there left a great deal to be desired, but in fairness Heathrow no longer resembles the sinkhole of old. If things have improved from a low base, the excess of retail outlets haunted by aggressive hawkers of useless ‘luxury’ goods only adds trauma to the inherently stressful ordeal of airline travel in this era of edgy security checks.
At Terminal 2, long a poor relation in terms of amenities, something somewhat better than good has turned up. It is the ‘London Pride’ public house and kitchen. Granted the place is a bit theme-ish, but its name is neither faux Cockney nor a tacky reference to artificial heritage but rather to Fuller Smith & Turner, the iconic Chiswick brewer, and to its estimable pale ale, Fuller’s London Pride.
The layout is welcoming; the seats, stools, hightops and standard tables comfortable; and if the food is not worth a trek to the airport in its own right it is more than passing good in a plain and sturdy way. A full English breakfast array featuring artisanal sausage (if, alas, no kidney) always is available and salads, for instance, feature fresh greens and other good ingredients kept in good condition. This is the stuff that would recruit a cadre of local loyalists at any corner tavern.
They display merchandise at the entry to this airport oasis, but not the otherwise obligatory tourist tat. Do not begrudge this place surrounded by a casino of consumption a little bonus. Hats and t-shirts, yes, but they bear the alluring Fuller’s logo as do, of course, little carrier boxes that contain a bottle of their beer (four or five different styles) and a suitably engraved glass; good mementos for the uninitiated.
A little library, a library , and this in a mallish airline terminal, lines the back wall, but posted signs do warn ‘not for lending.’ Its shelves carry a small but well chosen (Would it be presumptuous to say ‘curated?’ Probably so, but nearly not, and still…. ) selection of cookbooks along with a pair of pictorials about the history of Fuller’s itself.
Most of the cookery advice stems from British sources and much of it concerns British cooking. Jane Grigson’s English Food , is there, hardly a staple these days of High Street booksellers, along with the collected Nose to Tail by the sanctified Fergus Henderson, Jill Norman’s collation of recipes by her idol and posthumous benefactor, the universally idolized Elizabeth David, and other erudite but accessible titles. A modern volume of selections from Mrs. Beeton joins them, and if it strikes us at least as more an example of historical interest, and less a practical guide, it is no less welcome for that.
This after all is an airport, a place where the lowest common denominator ought to apply, not a place that would countenance a specialist bookseller devoted to a single if singular subject.
Tourist towns outside big cities are notorious for restaurants and bars indifferent either to quality or civility. They need not cultivate return customers because people need to eat, want to drink and an assembly line of first-time victims reappears regularly, reliably to hand. Airport establishments can be even worse: Their clientele is not just transient but captive too. Once the poor passenger passes through security there is no place else to go.
It therefore represents an abiding mystery about London Pride that in our experience the bartenders are consistently courteous despite a requirement that they do double duty as baristas. None of them blanches at the inquiry whether a flat white coffee costing two pounds fifty represents the leasehold of a table for an hour or two. Instead of discouraging the squatter they will show her the way.
Best of all, as we might have hoped without much heartfelt hope, is the beer. Its quality is as unanticipated as the attitude of the staff. Electric taps pump Guinness (in Ireland itself as elsewhere cask stout is an artifact of the 70s) and Sierra Nevada pale ale, first of the American craft beers to survive the infancy of the movement and still among the best.
Best of the beers on tap at Fuller’s Pride though is, well, the Fuller’s. The place usually has a rotating selection of four varieties on cask--yes, cask, and at an airport--drawn by hand. One of them always is Pride, so the weary traveler beset by delay or just the quotidian tedium of contemporary air travel, might smile from the flavor of an outstanding session ale.
Perhaps our enthusiasm for this place is more the product of low expectations than logic, but then the food is decent, the people and beer more than decent and those books, if only some dozens or so, line that back wall. It would be understated to describe finding this corner of Terminal 2 as a relief.