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Friends With Benefits: Friends Of Ham, 4 New Station Street, Leeds City Centre

Friends Of Ham is a new bar in Leeds city centre, on New Station Street close to The Brewery Tap, Layne’s Espresso and, um, Yates’. It’s the labour of love of Claire and Anthony Kitching, who decided to move north from London and open a craft beer bar-come-deli in West Yorkshire.

The slightly enigmatic name relates not to the comrades of the biblical Ham, the son of Noah who was disowned and cursed for seeing his drunken father sprawled in the nip. Rather (if I recall correctly) it’s a pun on a Spanish tapas bar called something like “Amigos Del Jamon”.

The bar itself is over two levels and is remarkable. A small shopfront ground floor has legs of ham hanging from hooks above the bar. The basement, whilst cosy, must be twice the size and contains sofas, long tables, a porcine gallery and a shuffleboard table. The decor is eclectic, welcoming, quirky and thoughtful.

Whilst the bar is full of little touches that signal a unique attention to detail, the selection of food and drink shows similar care and a particular attitude. Those of us who have been following Friends Of Ham’s progress on Twitter and Facebook know that there has been a dedication to finding the best products from the best suppliers that has involved a number of gruelling tasting sessions and advice from experienced Leodensians such as staff member Tyler Kiley (formerly of Mr Foleys) and Neil Walker of Eating Isn’t Cheating (who has posted about the bar here).

Cask beers on the preview night included Red Willow Smokeless and Quantum Bitter and the keg beers included Kernel Amarillo IPA, Magic Rock Clown Juice (a delicious wheat IPA), Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, Lakeland Lager and Delerium Red (a Kriek). The back bar had a box of Ampleforth cider and the fridges contain a great range of interesting beers, from Orval to Redchurch East India Pale Ale. Interestingly the licence application included their decision not to stock spirits at all.

The food appears be good, simple and tapas style, will include a range of excellent meats, cheeses and, most excitingly for me, Scotch eggs from the Handmade Scotch Egg Company, including their amazing black pudding version, “Black Watch”. Bascially, exactly what you’d like to eat whilst enjoying an Orval, an Ampleforth cider or a glass of red wine.

Friends Of Ham is a bar and an idea that deserves to find a devoted following. It will be enjoyed by beer geeks, wine buffs and foodies. It is also a welcoming and stylish space that should appeal to a wider demographic that enjoys socialising in a relaxed atmosphere but finds little of interest in the microwaved meals, worn carpets and skidmarks of many traditional pubs.

Read more about Friends of Ham from David at Broadford Brewer here, from Mark at Opportunity Hops here, from Zak at Are You Tasting The Pith here and from Neil at Eating Isn’t Cheating here.

[UPDATE – Friends Of Ham is open as of 10 July 2012 and will be building up to offering the full food menu.   Currently it’s selling a range of meats and cheeses.]

Ilkley Beer Festival: Cask Ale, Abbey Cider, Tasty Pies and Craft Keg

February 12, 2012 17 comments

Ilkley Beer Festival is one of those events that I always hear about before the event itself, but after tickets have sold out.  In the past I’ve tended not to mind too much, because it’s a festival organised by the Ilkley Round Table rather than CAMRA: what could the Round Table know about beer that CAMRA doesn’t?

However, having had the chance to go to the festival on Saturday afternoon as a friend had some spare tickets, I can say that they did an excellent job, and I’ll be quick to snap up tickets for next year.  This is partially due to the long list of corporate sponsors for the charity event: local solicitors, accountants, architects, bankers; the great and good of this predominantly middle-aged, middle class, West Yorkshire spa town which lies in the commuter belt for Leeds and Bradford.

However having a lot of money to throw at a beer festival doesn’t in itself lead to a good festival.  The venue’s pretty good: the King’s Hall in Ilkley is a good size and ornate, certainly a step up from certain other festival venues I’ve been to. The festival also benefits from a stall from the local butchers, Lishmans, which offers hot pies, sausage rolls and “Yorkshire pasties” for a voucher (£1.25) each.

Oh yes, I meant to mention the beer.  I would find it hard to put together a much better list of English cask ale breweries, including Buxton, Mallinsons, Roosters, Thornbridge, Marble, Oakham, Bristol Beer Factory, Dark Star, Red Willow, Hawkshead, Magic Rock, Brodies, Revolutions, Stringers and of course Ilkley Brewery.

I most enjoyed Brodies Citra (on the recommendation of @misterfrosty), a great beer for 3.1%; Hawkshead NZPA and Buxton Wild Boar IPA, both excellent strong, citrusy IPAs; and Revolutions’ Milk and Alcohol, a silky milk stout that Leigh and Dean had a hand in. Another highlight was the superb Ampleforth Cider, as made by a German monk in North Yorkshire, which was a steal at £1.25 a half, given that it’s 8.3% and usually costs upwards of £7 a bottle.  I’m afraid I missed the whisky cask-aged cider from Udders Orchard.

One interesting footnote is the “craft keg” section of the beer list, which had a single British keg offering from Ilkley Brewery, alongside two American (Brooklyn Lager, Flying Dog Pale Ale) and two German keg beers (Jever, Flensburger). All but the local Ilkley beer would have been “permitted” by CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival as “Bières Sans Frontières”, which does seem a little odd.

However I think we’re in real danger of making the term “craft keg” look absurd pretty quickly if we start using it to refer to Jever: a very tasty lager from a large scale brewery which is part of the Oetker Group, the food processor which also owns “a maritime freight business, a bank, a publishing company, an insurance outfit […] and a number of high-class hotels all over Europe”.

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