Tired of Irish theme pubs?

Try The Cow in west London for a less homogenous blend of European styles
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Indy Lifestyle Online

The Cow isn't old, it just looks as if it's been there for ever. It isn't altogether Irish, but it sells 15 times more Guinness than the average pub. And that carton (pictured below) doesn't really contain mother's milk like the label says, it's full of beer. Patron-cum-publican Tom Conran, who opened the west London bar five years ago, designed the two-pint take-home booze cartons himself. He also designed The Cow to look like a combination of somewhere in Ireland, Belgium or Paris and a tradi- tional bar in Amsterdam. There's a bench from a Belgian railway station, a cast-iron range, yellowed wallpaper, and a multitude of mirrors and adverts for Guinness. This is not your usual Irish theme pub, but an idiosyncratic, friendly hangout. But all this may only become apparent once you've penetrated the throng who pack it out. Many, like bar manager Shane O'Neill, grew up locally; many more are the Notting Hillbillies, and it's a port of call for Irish ex-pats, too. All are here for the beer - not just Guinnes

The Cow isn't old, it just looks as if it's been there for ever. It isn't altogether Irish, but it sells 15 times more Guinness than the average pub. And that carton (pictured below) doesn't really contain mother's milk like the label says, it's full of beer. Patron-cum-publican Tom Conran, who opened the west London bar five years ago, designed the two-pint take-home booze cartons himself. He also designed The Cow to look like a combination of somewhere in Ireland, Belgium or Paris and a tradi- tional bar in Amsterdam. There's a bench from a Belgian railway station, a cast-iron range, yellowed wallpaper, and a multitude of mirrors and adverts for Guinness. This is not your usual Irish theme pub, but an idiosyncratic, friendly hangout. But all this may only become apparent once you've penetrated the throng who pack it out. Many, like bar manager Shane O'Neill, grew up locally; many more are the Notting Hillbillies, and it's a port of call for Irish ex-pats, too. All are here for the beer - not just Guinness and Fuller's London-brewed bitters, but also Hoegaarden and the unusual de Koninck on draught, while behind the bar an array of bottled beers includes Leffe, Pilsner Urquell, Orval and Chimay. The bar staff are a multinational crew that includes an Iranian and a Mexican; down in the cellar Pedro, an Albanian, looks after the barrels. Upstairs is a separate restaurant, but the back end of The Cow downstairs is given over to seafood, offering the classic combo of Guinness and oysters for pounds 8. The Cow, 89 Westbourne Park Road, London W11 (0171-221 5400). Open Mon- Sat, noon-11pm, Sun noon-10.30pm. Fuller's London Pride "They make fantastic beers," says Shane, of the Chiswick brewer, Fuller's. London Pride (4.1 per cent ABV), ESB (5.5 per cent ABV) and one of the four seasonal ales - currently Red Fox for autumn - are all available on draught at The Cow. Fuller's has been brewing on the same site for 150 years De Koninck A Belgian beer from a family-owned brewery in Antwerp which is rarely seen in this country. Tom Conran came across it in Amsterdam where it is hugely popular. As is the custom in Belgium, it is served in a beautiful glass goblet supplied by the brewery, which is designed to give the beer a chance to breathe. An amber ale rather than a lager, it is drawn through a high- pressure pump. The end result is fresh and sparkling with a lovely creamy head. It is best left to sit for a minute while the head descends, leaving a clear, inviting ale. Half a pint will set you back pounds 1.50. "It's not really a coach-party drink; it's refreshing, not too cloying and sweet," says Shane O'Neill. Guinness Brewed in Park Royal just up the road in west London and served straight at The Cow in glasses provided by Guinness. "I don't like anybody messing about with my beer," says Shane O'Neill, and since you don't see the shamrock pattern drawn in the head in Ireland, they don't do it here either. Pull about two-thirds of a glass, leave it to settle until the head knits and draws, and once the body of the beer is black and the head white, top it off. "We get plenty of positive comments about the standard of our Guinness," Shane claims; The Cow's numerous Irish customers make it impossible to doubt him.

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