A friend of mine is a university lecturer and has recently taken up a new position in Leeds. As he knows I have an interest in pubs and beer, he invited me to pop over for a tour of some of the city’s hostelries. Although he does enjoy a pint, he’s not a CAMRA member or beer geek, and so this was more a broad cross-section than an exercise in seeking out obscure brews. I’d asked for suggestions on Twitter, which drew a very wide response. I boiled this down to a list of nine pubs, all on the south-east side of the city centre, but in the end we only managed six.
The train service between Manchester and Leeds now manages an impressive frequency of four trains an hour, which almost makes it “turn up and go”. It was a cold, misty winter day which made the former mill villages of Saddleworth and the Colne Valley look particularly grim.
We met up in the Scarbrough Hotel opposite the station, where I joined Owain in a pint of Leeds Pale, which almost seems to have become the city’s national beer. While the pub’s name may look like a misspelling, it actually comes from its original owner Henry Scarbrough rather than the seaside resort. Note the “Ind Coope’s Ales” lettering on the frontage – while it may have ended up in the Tetley estate, this wasn’t an original Tetley’s pub. The photo obviously is a stock image and not one taken on the day.
I remember it from years back as being a bit tatty, but it’s now part of M&B’s Nicholsons chain and has been smartly refurbished. There’s a long bar facing you as you walk in through the door with more intimate seating areas at either end. There were about eight real ales on sale, including Tetley Bitter and Nicholsons’ own-brand Pale Ale brewed by St Austell, alongside the Leeds Pale. The cheerful chap pictured below was clearly getting into the Christmas spirit with some comedy headgear.
A short walk round the corner took us to Friends of Ham, about which I’d heard many glowing reports. It’s an unusual combination of craft beer bar and charcuterie and cheese delicatessen, specialising in sharing platters, which made it an ideal venue for lunch. It offers four cask beers and ten craft kegs, although the latter are listed on the beer menu in an initially confusing way where each beer is ticked off as it goes off and the next one comes on, so it can be difficult to match the list with what is actually on the bar. We began with a couple of halves of the relatively easy-drinking Summer Wine Pacer Session IPA on keg. I followed this up with a Magic Rock The Big Top India Red Ale, weighing in at a hefty 7.0% ABV, while Owain went for the similarly-coloured Credence Red from the cask range, which he was amused to see served in a half-pint dimpled mug. The photo below shows the mural illustrating the sources of ham in Spain, France and Italy.
As Owain is an Italophile, it seemed appropriate to go for the Italian Meat Plate, which comprised one variety of ham and two of salami, together with bread. This was absolutely delicious, but it must be said not hugely filling, so there was plenty of room left for a platter of three cheeses – Kirkhams Lancashire, Gubbeen, an Irish washed-rind cheese, and Stilton-style Stichelton. Again all excellent, with the tangy Lancashire being to my tastebuds the pick of the bunch. All in all, some of the best food I’ve eaten all year, and somewhere I would definitely return to. The two platters together, plus some extra bread, came to £27, which I don’t think is bad at all.
We then headed up Briggate, the main shopping street, which unusually retains a number of pubs accessed down alleyways on the western side. I was tickled to see Owain enjoying a swift fag during the walk between pubs. Our next call was what is probably the jewel in the crown of Leeds pubs, Whitelock’s, the first of the alleyway pubs. The long, narrow interior is a feast of mirrors, stained glass, brasswork and ornamental tiling. The upper end is reserved for dining, leaving it standing room only in the remainder as all the wall benches were occupied. There are about ten different cask beers available – I went for a Taylor’s Landlord, while Owain had an Ilkley Mary Jane, which has become another modern-day Yorkshire signature beer.
No visit to Yorkshire is complete without calling in a Sam Smith’s pub. There are three in Leeds city centre, but I had been advised that the keg-only Duncan and General Eliott were really only of sociological interest, so we went to the Angel, which is the next alleyway pub up Briggate, and hard to spot from the street. The approach is a little confusing as it passes through a courtyard onto which the windows of a neighbouring pub, I think the Pack Horse, also open. While the Angel looks like an old pub, it is in fact a relatively modern conversion. The ground floor has a small bar and a larger, plain room with bench seating around the walls, while there’s also an upstairs lounge which we didn’t try. Two pints of cask OBB at the usual Sam’s bargain prices, and a much more down-to-earth atmosphere than Whitelock’s.
A walk through the fascinating Kirkgate indoor market, with its rows of butchers’ and fishmongers’ stalls, brought us to the Lamb & Flag in the shadow of Leeds Minster. This is another new pub in an old building, brought back to life last year by Leeds Brewery, although sold this year to Camerons along with the rest of their pub estate. It has become a favourite stopping-off point for Owain on the walk between the university and his flat, and apparently there’s a very pleasant suntrap courtyard, although dusk on a cold, foggy day is not the best time to appreciate it.
It has a smart, modern interior on two levels, but has a relaxing atmosphere rather than being a forest of posing tables. From a range of about eight, we both went for Thornbridge Beers, Owain having Beadeca’s Well smoked porter, while I had the Hopper IPA, which is not the same beer as the much stronger Pond Hopper listed on their website. A sign of Camerons ownership was the presence of Camerons Bitter on the bar.
For our final call, we crossed the Aire by a stylish modern footbridge to reach the Adelphi, which is another of Leeds’ classic unspoilt pub interiors. Some people had warned that this was a bit of an ordinary pub in an impressive building, but there was nothing wrong with it on this occasion, with a decent range of beers and a lively mixed-aged clientele occupying most of the seats. It’s a magnificent gin-palace style place, with a variety of separate rooms around the central bar. We managed to find a cosy corner next to the fire.
Seeing Robinson’s Trooper Red and Black Porter on the bar, I had to go for that, and a couple of pints are shown on the photo above. I then finished off with another Thornbridge beer, the dark Wild Holly, while Owain, who perhaps felt in need of a change after a run of rich beers, went for a Peroni. From here it was only a short walk back to the station and I was home in Stockport before ten.
So an excellent day out with a good contrast of pub and beer styles. I haven’t commented on beer quality, as I didn’t have anything less than good all day, but apart from the Angel it must be said it wasn’t cheap drinking. The two pints of Red and Black in the Adelphi, for example, came to £8.30. I didn’t have a single drop of Tetley’s, which once would have been unthinkable in Leeds. Needless to say, there was plenty of stimulating conversation too. It’s not every day you get to discuss Garibaldi’s crossing of the Strait of Messina in 1860 (in which he was helped by the British Royal Navy) in the pub. And the food in Friends of Ham was truly memorable.
The other pubs I had on my list which we didn’t have time to get to were the Templar on the north side of the city centre, and the Grove and Cross Keys round the back of the station. The Victoria Family & Commercial was another recommendation, although that’s some distance away on the other side of the city centre. And that’s without venturing into any of Leeds’ more crafty delights such as North Bar, so I’m sure another trip will have to be arranged some time.