As some of you may know, I’ve spent the past four weeks recovering from orthopaedic surgery. Remember when I broke my leg skiing in the French Alps in February 2014 and had a titanium rod and four screws put into my femur? Well on 13 May I had it removed during a 2.5 hour operation at Blackheath Hospital, the same hospital where I was treated after being flown back from France 2 years ago. This has meant that since about march, I have spent a lot of time in Blackheath, with orthopaedic consultations; pre-operative assessments; the surgery and overnight hospital stay; removal of the stitches; and post-operative X-rays. I’m thrilled to report that everything went very well, but I was beginning to associate Blackheath only with doctors and needles – so it was great recently to be invited to visit Zerodegrees brewery and restaurant in the heart of Blackheath village, to remind myself that there is a lot more to this gorgeous area than hospitals!
Zerodegrees is located a stone’s throw from Blackheath railway station and was founded in 2000 by a small group of friends who were passionate about home brewing. Unlike today, it was a time when microbreweries were still a rarity in London and they had their work cut out for them to convince people that freshly brewed beer tasted better than anything that had to be transported miles and miles from a brewery. Today, 16 years later, all the beer sold at Zero Degrees is still made on-site as well as in sight of the guests as the unique setting allows for an open-plan microbrewery. In a unique experience, guests at the back of the restaurant and on the mezzanine level can not only see and smell the brewing process, but also drink beer straight from the tanks that they can see while enjoying their meal. Guests at the front of the restaurant have a view of the open kitchen and pizza ovens or can even sit outside when the weather is warm. There is also an attractive private function room available for hire upstairs.
Our first order of business was a short tour of the brewery area, where the brewing process was explained to us. We also got to taste some of the beer straight out of the tank, partway through its brewing process. It’s fresh, zesty and low in alcohol – and surprisingly delicious. We were also told that the beers are not filtered or pasteurised and no chemical additives are used. The brewers believe that this ensures that nor using additives, each Zerodegrees beer stays nutritious, healthier and packed with of flavour – a crisp and clean reflection of each beer’s unique style. One thousand litres of any given beer are brewed at a time and a batch like this lasts 2-3 weeks. There is always one serving tank and one replacement tank ready to go for each beer, so little chance of the bar running out of things. Customers can also purchase 5-litre mini kegs of the beers to take away if they are having a party at home.
This was followed by a tasting of the six beers available on the menu (the first five core beers are always available and the last one is a special that changes every month), all priced between £3.95 and £4.25 for a pint. Here’s what I thought:
- Mango beer (a pilsner infused with natural mango essence and purée) – proper mango flavours but still with a hopsy taste and a very clean finish. Not too sweet and perfect with seafood
- Pilsner – toasty, hopsy cereal flavours – almost savoury, Crisp, refreshing and with a very clean finish.
- Pale Ale – amber colour, rounded malty flavours with peachy fruit notes
- Wheat Ale – a pale, slightly cloudy beer with an almost briny/savoury flavour. Crisp and refreshing and great with lighter dishes like salads and seafood.
- Black lager – complex, rich, chocolatey and very smoky – but neither too bitter nor as heavy as a Guinness. Great with a steak or even a rich dessert.
- Belgian Abbey Ale – a refreshingly rich and tangy Belgian Trappist-style beer
As man (and woman!) cannot live by beer alone, we had a look at the menu to select some dishes for lunch while I enjoyed a prosecco chaser for my beers. The menu centres on bold crowd-pleasers like wood-fired pizzas; fresh mussel pots; as well as excellent pastas and huge main course salads. The menu also features beer matching suggestions and it is good to see that real thought has gone into how the food and drink offerings can best be paired. To start, we shared a generous portion of crispy fried calamari (£6.50) which was generous and tender. Much as we were tempted by the mussel pots. in the end both Nick and could not resist the lure of the freshly baked wood-fired pizzas that we saw coming out of the oven. Nick tried the carne asada pizza topped with wood-fired rump steak, red onions, fresh chillies, smoked cheese and coriander pesto sauce, garnished with fresh coriander, tomato and avocado salsa (£13.50), while I could not resist the salmon & mascarpone pizza topped with smoked salmon, mascarpone cheese, smoked cheese, fresh tomatoes, rocket, dill & garlic cream sauce (£13.50). Both had deliciously thin and crisp bases with just the right amount of char and I loved the luscious combination of mascarpone with generous lashings of smoked salmon. Nick liked his pizza but thought that the steak was too tough – either from not being a great cut or perhaps from being in the oven with the pizza rather than being grilled separately and added afterwards. But he did enjoy the flavours of the other toppings. We also shared a mixed side salad – once again, generously proportioned and excellent value (£2.95). The dessert menu (all priced between £4.00 and £5.25) is like a greatest hits of desserts, including cheesecake, waffles, tiramisu and even three dessert pizzas – but I summoned up some restraint and stuck with a classic affogato (£4.50) which featured both good ice-cream and good espresso.
The restaurant was buzzing when we visited on a Sunday lunchtime and it’s very family-friendly with generous space between tables for strollers and prams. The space feels airy and modern, thanks to the double volume area and mezzanine level, and I loved the table made from a section of an aircraft wing! The beers are really excellent and well worth the journey to Blackheath from other parts of town and the food is the kind of feel-good crowd pleaser cuisine that you’d happily go back for time and again. The standout for me was the friendly and knowledgeable staff, all of whom seemed genuinely pleased to work for the company and all of whom were happy to talk us through both the food and beer, and recommend some beer matches for the dishes. Definitely high on my list of places to return to, and soon. And if you live outside London, there are also branches in Bristol, Reading and Cardiff.
Nearest station: Blackheath
Approx. cost per head: Approx. £35 per head for starter, main, dessert and 2 pints of beer
31/33 Montpelier Vale
Tel: +44 20 8852 5619
DISCLOSURE: I enjoyed this meal as a guest of Zerodegrees but received no further remuneration to write this post. I was not expected to write a positive review – all views are my own and I retain full editorial control.
If you enjoyed this restaurant review, you might also want to have a look at my other restaurant reviews.
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