The Charming Squire – a review
Last night some friends of mine headed out to one of the new joints on the block. Our spirits were high, our wallets full, and our thoughts of tomorrow few – we were headed to The Charming Squire to celebrate our dear friend Kayla’s birthday.
Opening a few weeks ago, the James Squire brewhouse boasts the full range of the iconic brand’s craft beers and ciders, as well as a plethora of other mixers and beers (and wine on tap which I was a little afraid of). Situated next to the South Bank train station, I had been meaning to give it a try ever since hearing of its opening, and was very pleased to be presented with the opportunity. I had read great critic reviews, some terrible patron reviews, and so was intrigued as to what it was really all about.
Upon walking into the bar, my immediate thought process was ‘wow…bigger than I expected. Much bigger’. Having usually frequented much smaller craft beer bars such as The Archive and Scratch, I was surprised when it had little resemblance to either of those places. The downstairs area was a cavernous industrial space, aligned with a bar up one end, a multitude of bar stools, high bar tables, and large-group-friendly low tables, backdropped by what I could only assume was the brewing equipment, displayed behind large sheets of reflective glass. It gave the impression of a light and airy space, despite the crowded tables and craft-beer synonymous copper features and wooden decor.
We headed upstairs to meet our party and were greeted by a much smaller bar area. Dark mood lighting and wooden features – this is what I had expected! Depending what you’re in to, I did appreciate the open air feel of the downstairs, but much more preferred the closer, more intimate feel of the mezzanine level – and if you or your friends have differing tastes, there were ample bar tables and stools near the mezzanine balcony overlooking the downstairs and giving the best of both worlds. The ladies bathroom carried through the same theme – large, dark and simple with a very masculine vibe, made even more unusual by the large copper piping and trough for washing hands. Quite unique, I thought at the time, but not really my cup of tea.
Being fans of James Squire beer, my friends and I didn’t wait long to order our first drink. While very friendly, I will say that the upstairs bar man was a little disorganised. He said that the bar wasn’t ‘open’ so we could order only if we were paying via card – very strange considering the place was quite busy. I was happy to do that, however, and so ordered – a Constable Copper Ale for Ryan and a Sun Down Australian Lager for myself. I was a little disappointed that there were only two types of beer on tap that I hadn’t seen at the bottle shop, however on later inspection we discovered that the downstairs bar had many more options of draught beer. The beer itself was fantastic – everything I have grown to love about James Squire in each drop! Of course, everyone has their favourites – but I was hooked on the Sun Down after my very first mouthful. Refreshing, not overly hoppy or yeasty but with a strong texture, it was perfect for my tastes. I also had a glass of the Orchard Crush Apple Cider (I have had it before), however it was just not quite right – when in Rome (or a beer bar) drink beer, and so that’s what I did. I discovered the reason for the directional mood lighting – when placed on the tables, the beer glasses had an almost ethereal aura, and it was easy to see why the amber liquid is often referred to as ‘nectar of the gods’. We gulped down our drinks and were immediately overcome by the happy relaxed buzz that good beer and good company can provide.
With great drinks comes great responsibility, and so my friends and I did what every responsible consumer of alcohol should do, and decided to order food. There was a small bar menu for us to peruse. There were only a few vegetarian options on the menu (to suit my flexitarian lifestyle and the vegetarian tastes of my friends), so it didn’t take us long to decide. I had to remind myself that I wasn’t at a restaurant, but I was still a little disappointed in the limited options. We headed downstairs and got ready to order – only to be confused by the person in front of us who was ordering off a different menu. The person behind the counter didn’t quite know what to do either. He stated “Sorry, only one of these menus is available on Sunday,” but then couldn’t tell us which menu it was. We eventually ordered (luckily our chosen bites featured on both menus!) and headed back upstairs to eagerly anticipate our food’s arrival.
Here’s where they were lucky that we were enjoying quite a buzz already – the food took an age to arrive. I have since read reviews mentioning similar things – that the food takes an exceptionally long time – and I have to admit that I was a little put off by the growling of my stomach towards the end of the 45 minute wait. The food ALMOST made up for the wait – the mushroom arancini balls were amazing, the olives were delicious but tiny, and the pumpkin, pine nuts and fetta pizza had a great crust – however the base under the toppings was quite soft and floppy, and the toppings didn’t quite have the same zing of flavour that I had come to expect from similar pizzas at places like The Burrow in West End – not really what you want when sharing a meal without share plates. I would probably like to try the Margherita pizza next time as it did look fantastic – though the base is still a contentious issue.
Stomachs full, we had a couple more hours of lively conversation, and enjoyed a few more brews before heading home at the quite reasonable hour of 10.30 (it was a Sunday night after all!). The place had started to empty out and in truth felt a bit lonely, being even more big and cavernous without the crowd to go along with it.
In reflection, I would definitely go back again, but I probably wouldn’t be shouting it’s praises to my friends who haven’t been there yet. The Charming Squire is a great place to go to get fast service, an exceptional selection of James Squire beers, and to unwind after a long week, so was perfect to celebrate Kayla’s birthday on a Sunday evening. Disappointingly, the food that I sampled wasn’t as good as the beer, and the atmosphere was great when it was buzzing and busy, but died quickly with the departing of the crowd (luckily we were heading out anyway). I would like to give it a go on a weeknight or Saturday night, or even for breakfast or lunch, just to see whether the food can give me a better second impression. I would probably give it a 6 or 7 out of 10.