The Regal has always sold a wide selection of real ales at very reasonable prices (most are currently £1.85 a pint) but in the past quality was often a disappointment. Beer was regularly served too cold and too "young" i.e. it hadn't been given time to mature in the cellar. Full measure could also be a problem.

However, having been given a bad name, does this dog still deserve it? As a patron of the Picturehouse cinema upstairs, I use the Regal pretty regularly and have been more than happy with the ale recently. I arranged therefore to meet with Steve Strange who has managed the pub with his wife Sarah for the last three years to get his side of the story.

Steve told me he had previously been at the Crosse Keys in London, which sold phenomenal amounts of real ale. He arrived at the Regal to find the cellar in a poor state and beer quality equally bad. He has since overseen the installation of proper stillaging in the cellar and replacement of all the beer lines. He also arranged a lot of cellar training for his staff. More recently Steve took the decision to go for quality rather than quantity on the cask ale front. There are now three regular beers (Marstons Pedigree, Greene King Abbot and Theakstons Best) plus three changing guest beers, rather than the five or six of previous times. This had led to better turnover and better quality through longer settling time on the stillage.

The proof that this is working can be seen in the pub's real ale sales. From 700 pints a week when Steve arrived, sales have now reached 2300 and are still rising. Eight or nine firkins of Abbot alone are sold every week. The guest beers come from the East/West beer agency who offer a huge choice of ales (and Steve will try to meet any particular requests from customers).

A year or so back, the Regal was re-branded as a LIoyds No 1 bar, which means that music is played, albeit not until 8pm most nights. Steve acknowledges that the change has put-off many more mature drinkers but he wants to stress that the pub is noise-free until mid-evening. The Regal now opens at 9am and the cheap breakfasts are proving very popular.

So far as national developments go, Steve has nothing but praise for the relaxed licensed hours; there has been a lot less trouble since the pub was allowed to open for longer thus giving drinkers more time to wind down. He is also looking forward to the smoking ban (and there will be improvements to the outside drinking area to cater for smokers).

The sheer size and busy-ness of the Regal means that it will never be the pub of choice for many ALE readers. However, if you want interesting real ales in good condition at a low price then you're likely to be pleasantly surprised should you pop in there. I've always found it pretty civilised up until mid-evening and it's a long while now since I had to take a beer back. Put your prejudices aside and give it a try.

Paul Ainsworth