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The Old Fountain 3 Baldwin Street London, EC1V 9NU 020 7253 2970 I've been up and down the City Road many times but I've never been in or out of The Eagle. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against The Eagle, it's just that it's a bit far from the part of the City Road that I usually get to. As far as I know it's a quite reasonable pub. Probably trades very much on its nursery rhyme association but then you'd expect that wouldn't you? No, I usually end up at the Old Street end. That's the part of the City Road where you find the world-famous Moorfields Eye Hospital. Actually, that's not the reason why I go there, that's just so you get your bearings. We have a couple of customers around here. Now, it just so happened that I came out of a meeting recently, around midday and, heading back towards Old Street Underground station, felt the need for refreshment. Taking a look around, purely by chance I spotted down a side street a pub sign, a very simple sign, one bearing the magic words "Free House". Sadly the term Free House is much abused in the world of public houses. Originally all pubs were "Free Houses". By "free" the establishment implies that it is not owned by nor has any obligation to any specific brewery to offer only those drinks supplied by the brewer. Over time breweries bought up public houses that came onto the market. More insidiously, they also supplied loans to landlords, the loans coming tied to an obligation to take only the brewery's beers. So, "Free Houses" became "Tied Houses". Sadly, many landlords didn't have the honesty to remove the "Free House" sign from their premises at the same time. Personally I feel that to continue to "advertise" yourself as a Free House when you are not should be considered a trading offence but sadly, for whatever reason, thos e organisations whose job it is to protect the consumer seem to feel otherwise! The Old Fountain is, from the outside, a typical London backstreet pub. Well decorated in a dark blue and clearly well looked-after, it offers a welcoming and encouraging appearance. The welcome continues inside. The pub is in excellent repair and is clean and well furnished. The seating is comfortable, a mixture of high stools along a wide shelf along the wall and normal tables and chairs. There was no distracting music whilst I was there; personally I can do without it. There was a TV on the wall but it wasn't on whilst I was there. It's nice to find a pub where you can enjoy a conversation without having to shout or read a book or paper without distraction. The pub is divided in two, a lower area with designated no-smoking tables and an upper area where smoking is tolerated. Both areas have their own bars. The lower area also has the food counter. The food was the first thing to attract my attention. A full and varied menu offered choices for just about all tastes. On this occasion I chose Vienna Steak (a coarse-chopped burger, baked rather than fried) with mash and cabbage. It was excellent. The next thing I noticed was the beer. And what a choice! Clearly this is a genuine Free House. Four Real Ales were on offer, and what a four! Two at least would be included in my best beers of all time, Timothy Taylor's Landlord and Brakspear's Bitter. In addition they were offering Greene King's Abbot Ale and Castle Eden Bitter. The list of guest ales that they have recently offered also includes the classic Fuller's London Pride. I couldn't resist the Landlord, if you'll pardon the expression. It was a good choice. This was as fine a pint of Landlord as I have ever had anywhere. Considering that it has had to travel all the way from Yorkshire, someone really knows how to look afte r their beer! Not only that but I was served a full pint, to the rim, first time, without having to ask for a top-up. Exceptional! Maybe you have seen CAMRA's campaign on this subject? Labour promised to enact legislation to enforce the serving of a full measure of beer. Sadly Labour are currently reneging on their election promise (no surprise there then). Join in the complaint to your MP. Visit the CAMRA website (www.camra.co.uk) to find out how. Far too many landlords serve a short measure as a matter of course hoping that you'll be too embarrassed to ask for the rest of what you paid for. Generally the situation is worst in London where it is not unusual for drinkers to be short-measured by up to 10%. This is pure profit for the landlord or his employers, the brewers. Don't put up with it. Demand a top-up and complain like hell if you don't get it. If they continue to do it, stop drinking there. Find an honest landlord like the one at The Old Fountain. The Landlord was £2.40 a pint, pretty steep I?ll agree but unfortunately not unusual in London. You will be hard-pressed to find much that is cheaper than this that is actually worth drinking. The meal was a very reasonable £4.20. The Old Fountain is pure serendipity. Having found it I shall return, even if the three coins in The (Old) Fountain are all gold coloured.