Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Zerodegrees microbrewery and restaurant Blackheath

I recently visited Zerodegrees Microbrewery and Restaurant in South East London's Blackheath. It is just a short bus ride from my home, but a world away from Sunny Catford. 

Blackheath has a well heeled villagey feel, whereas Catford is, by contrast, rough around the edges. South East Londoners often opt to go out in Central London, ignoring more local bars and eateries, so I was interested to discover somewhere local and new.

I arrived with my dining companion (my husband, the inimitable Him Indoors) on a pleasant, sunny Spring evening. We immediately noted that Zerodegrees has an outside seating area for 36 people. As we head towards Summer, we could imagine balmy evenings eating and drinking in... a very nice idea, indeed!

We decided to look around the brewery before having something to eat and drink, although we couldn't help but notice the huge, burning-hot wood fired oven at the back of the restaurant, doing a roaring trade in pizzas. Our curiosity was piqued. 

Adeo was my guide around the microbrewery which is bijou and small, but producing enough lager and ale, it will recommence external sales this Summer. We looked at the brewing process from start to end.

The grain (either barley or wheat, depending on the proposed end product) and hops are put into the initial boiling kettle with water, which is heated up to very high temperature to ensure there are no impurities. 

This is then transferred to the filtration tank, where, as the name suggests, the resulting mix is filtered. Twice. It is part of Zerodegrees hallmark that attention to detail and precision are very important. Next up is the fermentation process, where the yeast digests the carbohydrates in the grain to create alcohol and carbon dioxide.

Adeo told me that the most popular of Zerodegrees' brews, the Pilsner (lager), is brewed for 4 weeks. This is much longer than most commercially available lagers and the reason for its unique properties and flavours. Ales are typically brewed for longer.

The hops are sourced from all over the UK, chosen to help influence and shape the flavour profile of the end product. Local Kent hops often feature in their brews, taken from farms which are literally down the road.

The seasons are also a strong influence on the brews dreamed up by the brewmasters here. In the Summer, light fruits are a way of producing easy drinking beers which are perfect to enjoy in the sunshine. In the past, apricot, strawberry and raspberry lagers have been the Summer sunshine offerings. This year is no exception, where the fruit of choice is mango, one of my very favourites.

Once the fermentation is completed, the brews are moved to cooling tanks where they are stored in steel tanks, kept cool to keep the beer in perfect condition.

Having seen the brewery side of the operation, I was keen to try the fruits of the process.... bring on the beer!
  Just have a look at this rainbow of beer... all Zerodegrees' own production. 

What we have is (from left to right): Special Vienna, Pale Ale, Pilsner, Black lager with chocolate and coffee, Mango lager.

So what's the verdict? I will go through the beers from left to right....

Special Vienna: This 4.8% amber lager has an extremely light froth, with virtually no head. There are also few bubbles. The aim was to recreate light western European style lagers. I found this beer to be mellow and golden. A good start to my tour of Zerodegrees' home production range.

Pale Ale: this is Zerodegrees' number 2 best selling beer. I have often found ales too strong and too bitter for my palate... and I am of Indian descent and can eat bitter gourd! This orangey-amber ale has a light froth on top, no significant head, delicate and tiny free-flowing bubbles, and sophisticated bitter tones. Too many beers make me feel like I have fish hooks pulling the back corners of my mouth outwards with spite and force. This is measured and civilised.

Pilsner: this barley-made Pilsner is a lager with a difference. Whilst being a beer fermented for longer than most of comparible type, this remains a balanced and drinkable brew. Again, thankfully, no harsh pull at the back of my mouth, the lager is smooth with subtle strength. It has light bubbles and not too much gas, making it a highly food friendly beer. A maturity of flavour with a lovely finish. It is small wonder it is Zerodegrees' best seller, selling 2000 litres a week.

Wheat Ale: the ale had good, slight frothiness and a touch of cloudiness in the glass, giving an attractive appearance. The wheat grain gives the beer a bready aroma reminiscent of sourdough bread or champagne; it is a alluring and attractive smell. The flavour is somewhat more pronounced compared to the barley brewed Pilsner, but is still subtle and gentle. It brings out the yeasty and hearty comforting flavours, but with no harshness. I enjoyed the Pale Ale, but found this beer to be even better. Highly drinkable with good finish, this brew has opened my eyes to ale.

Black lager with coffee and chocolate: made with black malt for its rich, dark colour, this beer is complex and nuanced. I found the coffee flavour stronger than chocolate flavour, the coffee notes being highly discernible. I could smell the scent of chocolate, but its flavour was light and low down in the mix. This beer was original, innovative and individual. I enjoyed the flavours, and might conclude that a whole pint of it would not be my preference, but will be the delight of a seasoned lover of dark beers.

Mango lager: I was told by Adeo that each Summer's fruity blend is always a success. In previous years, the fruity Summer beer is the 3rd best selling. The current mango lager is a sweet, fruity light blend which is perfect for long, hot Summer days. Mango fruits can be overwhelmingly sweet, but that tendency has been overcome through judicious blending. The mango flavour is clearly discernible but not cloying, it can be a strong fruit which can overdominate. It is light in colour with a mere hint of cloudiness. It will be available all Summer for you to try for yourself!

After the brewery tour and beer tasting, it was time to sample the food!

First, we went for the Beer Battered Cajun king prawns (£6.50).

The spicy, hot batter had been made of the Zerodegrees Pilsner, making it bubbly, crispy and light. The prawns were big and meaty, and just cooked, which is how I like them. The dipping sauce was a reduction of soy, molasses or brown sugar with spices. The prawns were served up with a small green side salad dressed in a homely, authentic vinaigrette.

Next up was one of Zerodegrees' specialities - a kilo of blue mussels cooked in the style of your choosing... but which to choose?

We settled on the Piccata; mussels cooked in parsley, capers, anchovies and lemon (£14.95). A tangy, slightly sour mix, redolent of coastal Italy which ought to be as much of a classic as Mariniere, its French cousin. 

 We immediately realised we would be needing bread to soak up the juices! 

The plump mussels were juicy with no grit or sand to adulterate their soft texture. We enjoyed picking them out with one of the used shells, in a display of informal sharing eating which we hope the classy denizens of Blackheath did not judge us too harshly for!

Pizza is a serious business here, each made freshly and cooked in a wood fired oven. Having gawked at the massive oven on our arrival, we simply had to have a pizza. With 22 types on offer, we first had to decide which type. The bases are all ultra thin, think tortillas or Turkish Lahmacun. On top you can choose between four different sauces; white garlic sauce (for lovers of pizza bianco), pesto sauce, barbeque sauce and traditional tomato sauce.

We chose the roasted garlic chicken pizza (£10.95), roasted garlic chicken, red onion, parsley, white wine and garlic cream sauce. The super thin pizza base was fabulous, crispy on the edges, chewy in the middle with little touches of burnt wood smoke. The colour and bubbling of the crust indicating the pizza had received just the right amount of time in the incendiary heat of the wood oven. Our pizza was very generously topped with chunks of roasted garlicky and rosemary flavoured chicken, and luscious fior de latte mozzarella cheese. But what of the sauce? There was bright creaminess and a sweet garlic tang in the super creamy and indulgent sauce, flavoured with garlic and parsley. I loved this pizza, and was very impressed with the quality of all its elements.

Sadly, I found myself feeling stuffed after polishing off the lovely pizza. No desserts for me. This is a shame as there three types of sweet pizza - or should that be "Pudding Pizza"? Caramelised fig and mascarpone, Pecan pie with salted caramel, Chocolate and banana; all served with vanilla ice cream. You could have cheesecake, waffle, fudge cake or tiramisu, apple torte, banoffee pie or affogato if feeling pizza-ed out. I will have to give the desserts a go another time.

We had a great evening at Zerodegrees. They have worked very hard to produce great quality food and great quality beer. It is some achievement that they succeed with such style. 

Zerodegrees Blackheath
31/33 Montpelier Vale
Blackheath, London SE3 0TJ

020 88525619

Opening hours
Monday to Saturday 12pm-12am
Sunday 12pm-11pm

Snigdha and Him Indoors ate at Zerodegrees as their guests. Snigdha has not received any incentive, financial or otherwise for writing this review, which represents her genuine opinion. 

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