In Munich, drinking is a civilised business. A visit to a Bierkeller might be a jolly affair, but it’s a far cry from the tourist excesses of the Oktoberfest, where drinking casualties (mostly of the English-speaking variety) often have to be stretchered off into waiting ambulances. Likewise, Biergartens are relaxed, family-friendly spaces, where you can enjoy halb’ Hendl (half a rotisserie chook) with your drinks, and the kids start on the Radlers (beer and lemonade mixes) early.
This is the spirit of Stein’s. While there’s no grass at this ‘beer garden’ (much like the Richmond original), the view from either of the decked terraces, overlooking a peaceful and leafy section of the Thames, is as pretty as any in the Englischer Garten. On our visit, seven swans queued patiently at the river’s slipway, as if waiting for the number 14 bus. Talk about a bucolic scene. Or, if it’s too cold for outdoors (in England? Surely not), the inside is tricked out in rustic ski chalet chic, all rough-hewn woods and chintzy carved hearts.
Tables are blonde. Staff are not. On our visit, many were bilingual, and all gamely sporting a uniform of Lederhosen and Dirndls (his and hers Bavarian dress). Though it was after noon, we broke with tradition and ordered the Weisswurst (in Munich, once the church clock in the Marienplatz strikes 12 and the wooden folk in the clockwork do their little dance, locals consider it too late in the day for this speciality). These were terrific: two soft, springy sausages of finely minced pork and veal poached in a delicate broth and correctly served with a freshly-baked pretzel and süßer Senf (sweet mustard).
A classic pork Schnitzel (beaten to within an inch of its life, breadcrumbed and fried until golden brown) may have originated in Austria but came with a traditional South German potato salad complete with a dressing of oil, vinegar and mustard. Barrel-soaked sauerkraut was flecked with caraway seeds. To close, we side-stepped the common-or-garden strudels for a terrific sweet dumpling, fashioned from flour and quark (a tart fresh cheese, rarely seen on our shores), with a sweet filling of poached apricots and a buttery breadcrumbed topping.
Traditional steins of helles and dunkles (pale and dark lagers) come courtesy of Munich breweries Paulaner and Hacker-Pschorr, while Weissbier (cloudy wheatbeer, served in a special vase-shaped glass) is by Erdinger, a brewery based in nearby Erding (about 45km from central Munich, an easy S-bahn ride). Wines take a scenic tour through Germany, Austria and Italy; schnapps and liqueurs come from the Bavarian distillery Lantenhammer.
But Stein’s is not without its flaws. Service, though pleasant, was desperately slow (not helped by the fact that dishes such as our pud have a long cooking time, not stated on the menu). Many dishes, though authentic, are on the heavy side, and one – a slab of pork shoulder with red cabbage and potato dumplings – was positively dull. Still, on a sunny day, over a cold tankard of beer, it doesn’t get much more civilised than this.