On our continuing tour of Des De Moor's recommended Top 25 Pubs and Bars in London, we visited the Mad Bear and Bishop, a large, open-plan pub in the second storey above the concourse of Paddington Station. Despite the location this is a remarkably civilized pub, with comfortable seating, not too crowded with commuters, a good menu and a respectable beer range (for a tied pub, at least: almost no non-Fuller's titles on tap).
I started off the night with a Black Cab Stout, a Fuller's ale I hadn't come across before, and was very pleased indeed that I did. It's a pitch dark beer, but with a very dark red translucence rather than pure black; it gives off the aroma of dusty smoke, not as much harsh charcoal as most stouts, more like the dusty threshing of young wheat. The first taste is quite tart and sappy, with more yeasty bitterness on the swill, but a very pelasantly mild swallow. I suppose this is a stout rather than a porter, but it's one of the most mellow stouts I've had in a while. Very pleasing. I don't know why this isn't on tap more widely in London.
After this we drank a couple of Fuller's regular ales (including the reliably fine—and beautifully served—ESB), and then tried the one non-Fuller's brew available: George Gale's HSB, a dark coppery ale, with an obnoxious vinegar smell, a bit like Courage Directors, but not as attractive. There's sour plum in the first taste, a bit unusual and more interesting than the odor hinted at; this is mellowed with smoky caramel on a deeper swill, and topped off with a lingering finish that balances the pint quite nicely. Certainly not as terrible as first impressions led me to expect, although I might need to remind myself of this if I were to try another.
To finish off the night with something unusual, I tried one of the strong bottled ales from behind the bar: Fuller's 2008 Vintage. This 9% ABV old ale is a thick brown colour, a bit too cloudy, slightly disconcertingly, and has a toffee and yeast aroma. A little bit syrupy on the first sip, but not at all spoiled; apple and orange flavors are evident, almost hinting at fruitcake, and there's tangy honey and cherry swallow. Absolutely not a session ale, but surely the most delicious pint I had all night.
Like I said, the Mad Bishop and Bear (is that Paddington Bear?) is actually a pretty nice pub, although as I don't travel through Paddington Station I'm not likely to drink there very often. It took us maybe ten minutes to find a seat, but the last time I was in a pub in a train station is was we might as well have just given up; the staff were not rushed off their feet (not under-staffed, in other words), and were professional and knowledgeable. We got dinner from a very attractive and large menu, reasonably priced, and above average for pub-grub. My only gripe might have been the beer range, but even that was pretty good for a tied house. This place gets my unreserved thumbs up.