Catherine Jones tries a beer pairing menu at Zerodegrees with hoppy results…
Everyone’s heard the idiom, ‘never judge a book by its cover’. Well, it’s pretty accurate when it comes to Zerodegrees, a microbrewery and restaurant in Blackheath, south-east London. Sandwiched between two estate agents, with a view of the heath and a quaint church in eyeshot, its muted grey and non-imposing exterior fit in with the village-y feel of the area. Just another classy bistro, with mediocre fare, right? Wrong.
As soon as I got inside, I realised this restaurant wears a cooler vibe. Past the bar swarming with Hot Young Things, it’s a converted warehouse with exposed pipes and unfussy furniture. Chefs scurry around a wood oven, churning out pizza, the restaurant’s speciality, including – wait for this – dessert pizzas (more on that ingenious invention later).
And in one corner, a row of upside down rockets, lit by a red glow, are quietly working their magic. These steel vats are bubbling away with the 3500 pints of beer that are brewed on site each week.
Zerodegrees prides itself on being the only brewery in London that serves its beer straight from the tank. No time languishing in barrels for this amber nectar, which comes in five varieties – a pilsner, pale ale, wheat ale, black lager and a fruit beer. And here’s the best bit: you can pair them with your meal. This place is a mecca for craft beer fanatics – a perfect date venue – and it even managed to convert me – a wine drinker by choice – to ‘the other side’…
The menu at Zerodegrees is extensive (I counted more than 50 main dishes) and eclectic, everything from chicken teriyaki stir fry to truffle raviolini to Mexican pizza. It’s average in price – starters around £7, mains around £12. Every course we tried was generally well-executed (with a couple of showstoppers and a couple of minor misses along the way) but each was elevated when paired with its complementary beer.
We had beer-battered prawns, joyous crescents of crispy batter alongside a smooth, light fizz of German wheat beer. The flavours were well balanced – the umami aftertaste of the beer and sweetness of the chilli sauce. A sweet, dangerously-drinkable mango fruit beer cut through the richness of the cigarillo – thin crispy pastry rolls oozing with creamy feta and ricotta with a hint of spring onions. A highlight.
A crisp pilsner had a hint of lime that worked well with the lemongrass and chilli-heat in a bowl of Thai Green curry mussels. A hoppy, pale ale with a hint of grapefruit married beautifully with the Carne Asada pizza. The pizza was pretty, a riot of colour – ruby-red chilli disks, soft steak smothered in smoky cheese, a generous spatter of guacamole – and packed with flavour.
There were a couple of ‘misses’. The pizza base base wasn’t as crispy as we’d have liked. And one of the desserts, a tiramisu, had a slightly jelly-like consistency to the cream that I wasn’t struck by. I prefer my tiramisu oozy and boozy.
But the beers were the stars of the show anyway. I had a surprising love affair with the chocolatey, coffee flavours of the dark ale, paired with the tiramisu. Our old friend, the pale ale, reappeared to match our dessert pizza – the winning dish. It was a soft oval pizza base, zig-zagged with balsamic vinegar, a scatter of vibrant-green pistachios topped with a fleshy-pink star-shaped fig. All savoury, so perhaps misleading as a dessert, but the sweet, creamy mascarpone ice cream married it all together beautifully.
By the end of the meal, I’d become a fan of dessert pizza and a beer convert. I’m keen to return and try some of the restaurant’s seasonal special brews, created in Zerodegrees Blackheath and in its sister restaurants in Bristol, Reading and Cardiff. This place might look innocuous on the outside but inside it’s got atmosphere, a tasty menu, hearty portions and it offers something that little bit different with its recommended beers for each dish. So if you’re in the Blackheath or Greenwich area, do pop in for a pint and a meal. You’ll leave hoppy.