Where to find the best Guinness in London – and how to spot a bad one

No one likes a poorly poured pint – especially at today’s prices. To that end, Lilly Subbotin shares a small list of spots in London for a guaranteed good Guinness, and speaks to an expert about how to spot a bad one

Lilly Subbotin
Thursday 18 April 2024 15:01 BST
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Look out for texture, taste, head, pour and red flags
Look out for texture, taste, head, pour and red flags (Getty)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

Finding a decent pint of Guinness in London can all too often be a disappointing quest, from sour or bitter to poorly poured pints in plastic cups with bubbly heads. Some even say London is where Guinness goes to die.

For those who feel they should at least enjoy drinking the pint they’ve paid ludicrous prices for, here’s a small, non-exhaustive and open-ended list of London pubs where you’re more or less guaranteed a scrumptious pint of what my friends and I call Guinny Jones.

I’d like to add a disclaimer that I’m not an expert – though I am a quarter Irish and have taken the Guinness factory tour in Dublin – I just really, really like a good pint.

So, I spoke to Ian Ryan, who runs an Instagram account dedicated to the capital’s crimes against the black stuff (@shitlondonguinness) and though he isn’t exactly short on blasphemous submissions, he’s also got a lot of insight into what makes a good pint and where to find it. Plus, Ryan brought a book on the topic last October, A Beautiful Pint: One man’s search for the perfect pint of Guinness – he cares about the cause.

Before we get to the pubs, here’s what we’re looking for in a pint.

Texture: it should have a texture that withstands the “tilt test”, if you tip your glass slightly to the side and the head starts dripping down the side, it’s too watery. It should rise just above the edge of the glass in an oh-so-satisfying manner.

Taste: Guinness has a malty sweetness and bitter hoppines, but it shouldn’t be too bitter, nor should it be sour. It should be rich and creamy, with slight aromas of coffee. If it tastes metallic, run for the hills.

Head: a good pint of Guinness needs that signature creamy head. Ideally, it’ll be domed and around three-quarters of an inch. This is essential for balance and flavour. Also, if the head is littered with bubbles, it means it hasn’t been properly aerated and will almost definitely taste bad.

Pour: according to Guinness Storehouse it should, of course, be in a Guinness or milk stout glass – it’s just wrong drinking out of a Stella or Beavertown. It should then be poured at a 45-degree angle up to the harp and then left to settle for at least a minute, but up to two if possible. It’s finished by topping up with the glass held straight.

Red flags: according to Ryan, any sort of bubbles in the head are a big no-no. “Also, if you walk into a pub and no one is drinking Guinness, it could be a sign of bad things to come…”

The Auld Shillelagh, 105 Stoke Newington Church Street, London, N16 0UD

This Irish pub is most die-hard Guinness fan’s favourite London establishment, Ryan included. It looks tiny and unassuming from the outside but its narrow interior stretches far back into a surprisingly spacious garden. They have live music, great craic and, of course, perfect pints of Guinness. The best thing about the Shillay is that it doesn’t try too hard, which means it ends up absolutely nailing the pub formula. The Irish Times even named it the “most authentic Irish pub in the world outside Ireland”. If that doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will.

The Globe, 20 Morning Lane, London, E9 6NA

A pub where you can enjoy Spoons prices without Spoons guilt, The Globe is a local’s pub through and through, but they’re also incredibly welcoming to newcomers. They’ve got live sports, pool, darts, karaoke, live music and pints of Guinness that pass the test at around the £4 mark, for zone 2, that’s practically unheard of.

The Coach and Horses, 42 Wellington Street, London, WC2E 7BD

Not far from Covent Garden piazza, The Coach and Horses is just far enough off the beaten track to not be inundated as most pubs in central are. This one-room Irish pub was once voted as the best Guinness in Britain by The Irish Post, plus they also sell hot roast beef sandwiches.

Gibney’s London, 70 City Road, London, EC1Y 2BJ

Staying open until 2am on a Friday, Gibney’s is an Irish pub based in the heart of Shoreditch. Upstairs they have “inventive small plates, Irish meats cooked over the open flame, fresh seafood and more from chef Richard Corrigan”, while downstairs they have Shit London Guinness-approved pints.

The Cock Tavern, 23 Phoenix Road, London, NW1 1HB

An unpretentious pub that prides itself on not being trendy, The Cock Tavern is a delight for both locals and tourists due to its proximity to Euston. Described by one reviewer as an “oasis of humour, personality and character” in the big city and endorsed by SLG, this rough-and-ready establishment knows how to pour a pint and provide good times.

The Sheephaven Bay, 2 Mornington Street, London, NW1 7QD

An “Irish bar with a conservatory, beer garden and no less than seven plasma screens for showing sports”, The Sheephaven Bay is easily the best Guinness in Camden. Lively atmosphere and friendly staff, what’s not to like?

The Kenton Pub, 38 Kenton Road, London, E9 5BA

Most of the pubs listed have unsurprisingly been of the Irish variety, so to throw a curve ball into the mix is the Kenton, a Norwegian pub in Hackney. There’s loads of cosy nooks and crannies, occasional DJs on a Saturday and the fantastic staff all pride themselves on pouring a proper pint. I asked general manager Morgan Ryan about what the secret to serving great Guinness is: “There’s not really a trick to it if you’ve ever poured a pint. Don’t buy old kegs, don’t store them badly and don’t have dirty ass lines.”

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