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Gastrophysics: Town Hall Tavern, Leeds City Centre

July 6, 2011 2 comments

Anthony Bourdain in his article “A Drinking Problem” (collected in The Nasty Bits) entertainingly ranted about an imagined London pub that had just “gone gastro”.  Good food and good beer, he said, should be nowhere near each other.  Pernicious foodies ruin traditional English pubs.  He has since retracted this view, but it’s a commonly-held one.

My own view on gastropubs is divided.  I like good restaurants that serve decent beer; and I also like good pubs that do good food.  What I don’t want is for a good pub to become merely a restaurant-in-pub’s-clothing;  one of those places that you get in London where you walk in, order a pint and the manager glares at you like a spent scratchcard for refusing to order food, a poor return on his investment.

The Town Hall Tavern in Leeds is a relatively historic pub (1926) which has recently “gone gastro”.  A Timothy Taylor house opposite the courts, I used to come here on an irregular basis for a well-kept pint of Landlord or one of the less widespread Taylor’s beers such as Ram Tam.  Beyond that, the old pub didn’t have an awful lot going for it: certainly friendly enough but with too much pine, too much carpet, a fruit machine and pointless televisions.  Because it’s opposite Leeds Combined Court Centre it historically had a lot of legal clientele; but I think when Veritas opened, with its wine list and charcuterie boards, that was more the type of place suited to today’s counsel and solicitors.

When the Town Street Tavern was revamped I was initially sceptical.  The new exterior looked like it was trying too hard: a bit art deco with some unfortunate purple strip lights.  But inside it’s surprising and also considerably improved: floors stripped back to the wood, new green tiles on the walls, no more televisions, a blackboard, some old Timothy Taylor’s ads, and photos of old Leeds, alongside random pub ephemera including (of course) Beer Street and Gin Lane prints.  There are some self-consciously quirky teapot lampshades, memorably described on The Apprentice recently as an “idea” rather than a “concept”.

What is perhaps most surprising is the selection of beer.  Whilst the cask range is, as before, exclusively Taylor’s (Landlord, Ram Tam, Golden Best), the keg beer includes three from Staffordshire’s Freedom Brewery.  They’ve even opted for Freedom’s pleasant roasty Stout in preference to Guinness.  The fridges have an interesting selection of imported bottles from Beer Paradise, including O’Dell Cutthroat Porter, Sierra Nevada and Flying Dog Pale Ales, Jever and Tripel Karmeliet.  There are also cocktails and a wine list.

The menu looks attractive and I opted for a simple fish and chips, which was very nice indeed and came in suitably gastro-sized portion (“feed not fill”).   You can check out more about the food on the website and this mouthwatering Leeds Grub blog post.  I should also mention that the service was excellent.

So overall I’m happy with the makeover and it will make me visit more than previously.  Whilst the Town Hall Tavern is not quite a destination beer bar to rival Mr Foleys or North Bar, it is a much-improved pub where you can eat and drink well.

Importantly, on a Friday evening it didn’t seem to me that there was too much pressure to order food rather than simply drink.  That puts it in a pleasant category with a few other places like The Adelphi (and indeed Veritas) where you might have a few good beers, see another table tucking into some very well-presented food and decide to stay for a light or full meal.  That gastro Goldilocks zone where it’s not too restauranty, not too pub grubby, but just right.

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Dales Way Pubs: Bar T’at, Ilkley, West Yorkshire

Our last day on The Dales Way was from Burnsall to Ilkley, which took us beyond the Yorkshire Dales National Park and also from North into West Yorkshire, having started in Cumbria five days before.  We were fortunate to have another sunny day to wander the last 12 or 13 miles down the Wharfe past caravans at Appletreewick, the Yorkshire Dales ice cream van at Barden Bridge, sunbathers at Bolton Abbey and a family of ducklings on the pavement in Addingham.

Ilkey was the end of the Dales Way for us, although it’s the start for most, and many people stay there for the night before they set out on the walk.  After reaching the official end/start of the walk at the Old Bridge, we walked into town for a beer.  There’s actually a pub just by the end of the walk: Ilkley Moor Vaults.  I’ve visited once, after being caught in the sleet, and found both decent beers and an open fire.  However it was a warm day and I intended to court Mary Jane: there’s no better way to do so than Bar T’at

Bar T’at is a Market Town Tavern pub, along with Arcadia, East of Arcadia and Veritas in Leeds, Cooper’s in Guiseley, The Narrow Boat in Skipton and nine others.  The churlish might accuse them of being overly similar; one could more accurately say that they’re consistently very good, with nice food, helpful staff and a wide selection of ales, from Yorkshire micros and regionals in particular.

Bar T’at didn’t disappoint on this Thursday afternoon and at the end of our walk we quickly sank a couple of glasses of  the lovely, pale, hoppy Ilkley Mary Jane before I also decided to try Goose Eye Chinook, another local pale beer (from Skipton) with a satisfyingly crisp, bitter aftertaste.  I began to notice that one can’t walk through the Dales for five days without picking up at least a hint of a country aroma (i.e. sheep shit with a hint of wild garlic) so it was time to catch the train back to Leeds for a bath.

I hope that this short series of posts is useful for those planning the walk (although make sure you take the Cicerone guide and all the OS Explorer maps). If you are, good luck and I hope you’re as fortunate with the weather as we were.  I really enjoyed our five days on the Dales Way, although the aches compounded throughout the week and by the last afternoon every stile earned a swear word.  Good beer and food in friendly pubs along the way helped a lot, as did the roaring fire at The White Lion at Cray and the warm bath at The Red Lion, Burnsall.

The selection of beer in most places might be more limited to two or three pumps, but you shouldn’t find it difficult to find a Yorkshire bitter such as Timothy Taylor’s Landlord or Black Sheep, or a pale hoppy session beer like Mary Jane or Copper Dragon Golden Pippin to slake your thirst, if you’re very lucky something from Hawkshead Brewery like the wonderful Windermere Pale.  Trust me, no drink in the world could be better in the circumstances.

Read all the other posts in this series about The Dales Way here.  If you’ve enjoyed these posts, why not read Andy Mogg of Beer Reviews’ post about beer and pubs on the Coast To Coast walk (and his walking blog linked to in that post) and Mark Fletcher’s posts about The Pennine Way on Real Ale Reviews.

Dales Way Pubs: The White Lion at Cray, North Yorkshire

For our third day on The Dales Way (in reverse) we set off from Gearstones, around a mile north of the Ribblehead viaduct.  We walked steeply uphill against a driving wind to the top of the moor, before descending through trees and through remote farmland eventually accompanying Oughtershaw Beck, which joined the source of the Wharfe when it met Green Field Beck at Beckermonds.

We would essentially follow the Wharfe from this point all the way to Ilkley, and the section from Beckermonds to Hubberholme was very pleasant, with a lot of green pasture, sheep and birdlife along what remained a quiet, relatively calm and low section of river.  After reading some negative reviews, we had decided not to risk staying in the historic George Inn in Hubberholme, which was in any case closed at the time we reached it.

Instead we were staying in The White Lion at Cray, about a mile uphill and off the Dales Way.  However the steep uphill walk was alongside a very pretty waterfall and when we got there the pub was great.  The room (a superior) was simple but exactly what we needed, with a big bed and a clean bathroom.  The bar downstairs had a warm log fire and the family who ran it were extremely friendly and helpful.

On the bar there was a small but good selection including Copper Dragon Golden Pippin and Timothy Taylor Golden Best, and the Golden Pippin was the type of pale session ale I had begun to really appreciate after walking for 12-16 miles a day.  The food was both hearty and extremely tasty.  I went for a haggis, black pudding and peppercorn sauce starter and Kate had smoked local trout pate.  Neither of us could resist the pork belly stuffed with black pudding on buttery mash, which was even better than it sounds.  Too tired and full to stay up and enjoy the fire, we had an early night.

The next morning we had a very nice full English breakfast (with more lovely black pudding – my third dose in two meals) and picked up the foil-wrapped sandwiches we had asked them to make for us the night before for our lunch.  We headed out from the pub feeling happy, well fed and relaxed to a beautiful sunny Dales morning and a pleasant walk downhill to Buckden.

Leodis Weekend

December 13, 2010 2 comments

Phew, it’s been a challenging weekend for my liver.  On Friday I went to The Grove in Holbeck for the leaving drinks of my friends Tom and Holly, who were regulars there but are now moving to Masham.  Fortunately I understand that it’s not hard to get a beer in Masham, so I’m looking forward to visiting.

I started with Moorhouses’ Premier Bitter, but wasn’t entirely convinced so moved on to Elland El Divino, a “blonde premium bitter” which was excellent.  Good beer, food and chat in a great pub.

Saturday night found me out on Lower Briggate and Call Lane, the latter swarming with underdressed posers.  However the Smokestack was reasonably good fun and surprisingly had bottles of Anchor Steam and Liberty Ale in the fridge.  Then on to Call Lane Social, a relatively new bar opposite Oporto which had decent music and both Brooklyn Lager and Anchor Porter in the fridge, but was crammed to the rafters.

Two nights that had ended in the purchase of kebabs should sensibly have been followed by a quiet Sunday in front of the Antiques Roadshow (or indeed Last Of The Summer Wine).  However Dean from Mr Foleys had invited Kate and me out for a few drinks with James and Andy from Summer Wine Brewery.

With just a bacon sandwich to recover with, I had Crown Brewery HPA; Summer Wine Blizzard and Heretic Black IPA; and Revolutions The Original 45 Porter in Mr Foleys.  Dean’s clearly been buying in a lot of great beers recently and has nefarious plans for lots more.

Summer Wine’s Heretic is a fantastic example of the black IPA style, with only a very slight roastiness at the start and a pleasant wallop of bitterness.  Great as it is, James said that they’re going to tweak the recipe for the next brew. 

The Original 45 Porter is Revolutions’ first commercial beer, and it’s a very promising start.  I’ve had a lot of porters in recent weeks and this is one of the best.  Worth keeping an eye out for.

On to the Victoria, where nine pumps were rapidly dwindling to three.  I had a North Peak Vicious American Wheat IPA, which seems to be in every single M&B pub in Leeds just now (Palace; Adelphi, Scarbrough).  It was an unusually hoppy wheat beer – not as big and punchy as Schneider Weisse Tap 5 but at the same time less thick and sweet, seeming less than 6%.  It was very good but due to the limited choice we moved on to North Bar.

North had O’Dell IPA on keg, which James and Andy informed me uses Citra hops.  I’ve liked this beer for a long time and it’s great on keg.  Another example of knowing something’s great but not knowing why.  Andy came back from the bar with a bottle of De Dolle Stille Nacht, which was 12% and incredibly bubblegummy.

After a Leodis Lager in The Brewery Tap and a final Timothy Taylor’s Landlord in the Scarbrough Taps (both had slightly disappointing selections), we headed home.  It was very kind of Dean to invite us along and it was great to chat with him, Andy and James about beer and pubs.  I have a lot to learn about brewing but once again they were really friendly and their passion for exciting beer is infectious.  Thanks lads!

After all that, I should be ready for the Christmas party season…

(For much fuller and more informed notes on some of the beers above, see Leigh’s latest post on The Good Stuff, in which he tries Heretic, the 45 Porter and Vicious.)

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