Sixteen draft ales on tap, and another few dozen in bottles? Tap East sounds like a dream come true. Which only made it all the more disappointing when I actually went to visit.
The pub’s first let-down is its location. I’m initially excited and a little relieved when my destination for the evening appears to be a short walk from Stratford station. I’m less impressed when that short walk turns out to be a very long walk through the largest urban shopping centre in Europe.
I’m partly at fault for the journey taking so long, I confess. Expecting to come across somewhere swanky, possibly modern, but still very much a pub, I walked right out through the end of Westfield and spent a half hour navigating my way out of the car park, through busy traffic, and right back to where I started. Because Tap East is not situated within a traditional pub building, or even the ground floor of some modern offices. It’s a bloody concession stand in the Westfield food hall.
Fair enough, I think to myself. The times are a changin’ and the traditional approach to designing and running pubs is driving them to extinction (although the rate of pub closures is slowing, at least). Perhaps sheltering under the protective wing of a gigantic mother shopping centre insulates Tap East from the market forces tearing British pubs apart, allowing it to focus on providing the best possible product.
The product they served was a decidedly mixed bag.
Beer notes: Tap East IPA
Gold, with aromas of grass and grapefruit. It’s strong enough (7%) that the taste of alcohol cuts through, as if someone’s dribbled in a little brandy. It’s warming, tasty, and definitely worth a try. 4/5
The tasting offer – 3 thirds for £3 – is excellent value, and a great way to sample some of the beers they brew just behind the bar. It’s especially worth getting those tasters in given the variable quality. Some we tasted were excellent. Others, not so much.
Beer notes: East End Mild
Looks dark and thick, much like every other mild. Smells and tastes of very little indeed. As my drinking companion put it, “if I’d tasted that blindfolded, I wouldn’t have guessed it was beer.” 1/5
The 16 ales on tap promised in the pub’s Google description turned out to be four of the pub’s own ales at any one time. This evening one of those beers was off, bringing us down to three. Not ideal when variety is your unique selling point.
Beer notes: Smokestack
An inky black porter, which smells and tastes, unsurprisingly, of smoke. It’s not too heavy though, with an excellent balance of bitter flavours and lighter, smokey aromas. It sneaks up on you – the aftertaste is the real highlight here, hitting you a few seconds after each sip. 5/5
We try a few more of the ales on tap, but nothing really takes our fancy after the Smokestack. And despite its deliciousness, at £7 a pint the Smokestack doesn’t especially take our fancy either. We’re left to wander for miles back through the empty, echoing shopping mall, nursing empty bellies because all the food concessions shut at half past nine.
I’m loathe to give Tap East a pub score, simply because I don’t think it qualifies as a pub. It’s worth stopping by if you’re tired after a long day shopping, but absolutely not somewhere you’d go out of your way to visit. 2/5