Great Expectations, 33 London St, Reading, RG1 4PS.
Let’s get straight to it – Great Expectations is Reading’s #1 Charles Dickens-themed pub (well, ‘hotel & bar’). Which might be a slightly funnier introduction to this review were it not for the fact that there’s actually more than one. The Mercure George Hotel on Broad Street has its own ‘Dickensian themed bar and brasserie’, called – cleverly – Dickens’ Bar. Why is RG1 so obsessed with the Martin Chuzzlewit author? Gawd knows, he never lived here or anything. Maybe it’s just because we share a name with the verb he required in order to make a living. Anyway, let’s get on with it…
Drink Selection: This place has come on leaps and bounds on the booze front recently. Not only are they now getting interesting bottles and tap efforts, they’re now even making their own drinks. The term ‘microbrewery‘ might bore anyone from a city, but for us country rubes, a pub making its own beer on site is still vaguely interesting. All the other drinks you’d expect are available, even Caffrey’s, a personal favourite of your beloved author. Bear that in mind next time you see me waiting a bar (you’ll recognise me – I’m the really handsome one).
Location: A couple of minutes from Broad Street, try not to get run over as you cross Queen’s Road over to the place. It’s on London Street, on your left. Next to that weird hippy place that serves Ethiopian dog food.
Food: Speaking of dog food, if you’re eating – go in with Low Expectations. We’ve seen and tasted a few of the things from the menu recently and, while affordable, they’re pretty uninspiring to say the least. We ordered a rather-too-fancy-sounding dish involving black pudding which arrived at the table with no black pudding. Instead it had cut-up sausages in it. ‘Chef says sausages and black pudding’s basically the same thing’, the waitress told us. We eventually accepted the logic and settled the bill with a torn-up beermat.
Beer Garden/Smoking Area: There used to be tiny little smoking area out back that, thinking about it, might have actually been a fire exit. Which would explain the alarm that always used to go off, the big green ‘Fire Exit’ sign and why we always got kicked out for ‘going out the fire exit to smoke’. Anyway, nowadays people smoke out the front on London Street.
Price: Reasonable. Especially if you head in of a Thursday. Selected pints (including the Caffrey’s) come in at £2.25. Half pissed on nine quid of a town centre pub? Lovely stuff. Oh, and a basic menu of weekday lunch offerings are a fiver a pop. If you want to take the chance, like.
Decor: Here’s the nice thing about the place. The hotel rooms are relatively boring and normal, but the pub itself is decked out like a little Dickensian museum. The decor here really is different. You could say – if you were writing a review of the place and couldn’t think of anything funny – that the way they’ve decorated the place is a nice Oliver Twist on the traditional pub look.
Toilets: All okay. There’s even one of those amusing johnny machines that sells hooky ‘Little Blue Pills’ and the like.
Pub Games: The fruit machines ruins the ambiance somewhat, but it’s a rare joy to see a bloody pool table in a Reading pub. And one in its own little area, tucked away and with enough room to cue properly.
Seating: Varied. Comfortable. A mixture of chairs, benches, leather sofas and stools.
Sports? Aye. A couple of high screens show games.
Punterwatch: Orphans, workhouse owners, street beggars, you know the type.
Events: A Thursday quiz. Starting a shade later than other places (8.30pm), it doesn’t drag and only costs a quid. Or a ‘Nicholas Nicker-by’ (nicker – it’s another name for a quid, isn’t it?). Fuck off, you try coming up with a dozen bloody Charles Dickens jokes.
Looks great, the beer’s decent, there’s even a pool table. You’ll enjoy yourself. But order the grub and you won’t be asking for ‘MORE?!’