Six of the best Leeds bars

I get frequently asked which are the best bars or pubs in Leeds: by colleagues visiting the city, by friends on trips and by random folk on Twitter. It’s quite a tricky question because like everybody, I have my favourites. Depending on my mood, the weather, and a whole host of different reasons I will select an establishment based on a specific range of criteria.

It’s also tricky getting to a top six as Leeds is blessed with lots of very good places to have a drink. So I approached this task with a very specific mindset – which are my ‘go to’ places, where I know a welcome will await and result in an agreeable drink and perhaps some food. But that’s for another list; this top six is all about the booze.

So right now, in the summer of 2013 here are my current top six places I like to go in Leeds for a drink. I should point out that these are in no particular order.

The Cross Keys

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What’s not to like about The Cross Keys? Olde worlde charm in an urban environment, log burners in the winter, sunny courtyard in the summer. A peerless collection of local and international beers combined with a small but decent wine list means the drinks easily match the mood. The playlist is always good and the efficient hipsterish service rarely found wanting. It’s a great place to relax over a beer after work that very quickly turns into a low-key dinner as the food here is very good too. I won’t dwell on the food too much in this post, that’s for another list.

Maven

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No street signage, a bouncer on the door and a dodgy flight of stairs are the inauspicious signs that something interesting is going on.  Maven oozes cool that’s part understated confidence and part speakeasy flair. The only bar on my list that doesn’t serve any food at all, is a bit of a hidden gem in the city. It definitely channels a different kind of NY charm with cool clientele and even cooler bar staff. Cocktails are the main reason to come here and they are as good as you get anywhere. Early doors relaxed drinking morphs into beats and dancing later, attracting a younger crowd.

Friends of Ham

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A relative new boy to the scene, FOH is tucked away in the city centre and its unassuming frontage belies its stature in the city. A great list of beers, a very well curated wine list (supplied by local merchant Latitude) and, of course, the titular charcuterie. The only establishment on the list (or in the city for that matter) to have shuffleboard, FOH is a perfect location for a swiftie, a session, a leisurely snifter or indeed a tapas-style feed. It’s a reassuring sign that the place is always rammed and its position in the top six has been cemented by Observer food columnist Jay Rayner’s recent rave review.

The Adelphi

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This venerable old watering hole holds a special place in the heart of the Leeds drinking fraternity. Just over the river, this beautiful old pub wears its trademark acid etched windows with pride. One of the last pubs in Leeds that still retains its identity as a proper boozer, The Adelphi is now part of a chain, but you actually wouldn’t realise that, but in a good way. It’s really all about the beers and every taste is well catered for, and if you’re peckish, the food offering is reasonable too.

The Midnight Bell

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No list of the best pubs in Leeds would be complete without representation from Leeds Brewery, who leads the new wave of brewers in the city. Their growing portfolio of Leeds drinking houses is fast becoming a mini booze empire and the city is all the better for it. The Midnight Bell is two or three doors down from The Cross Keys, in the perfect location to service the growing number of media businesses in the area. The crowd is eclectic, dudes with beards rub shoulders with old school locals and its courtyard provides probably the best outdoor drinking experience in the city. No pub could survive these days without a decent menu and although the food is very good, but it definitely plays second fiddle to the beers.

The Reliance

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It’s very telling that most of the bars or pubs on this list also serve excellent food. For me it goes hand in hand and I can’t think of any place in the city where the booze isn’t supplemented in some way. The Reliance is a consummately cool bar and dining room in the Northern quarter with a distinctly lower east Side New York vibe. During the day, light streams in through big glass windows and on an evening a relaxed ambience takes over. Great local beers and ales combine with a well-judged wine list to make this a perfect stop off for drinks or an extended dinner.

So that’s my top six.

Let me know if you disagree or there are any glaringly obvious omissions. There’s bound to be some controversy I realise and even as I type this I’m thinking about other places I’ve missed. Notable mentions should also go to:

The Alchemist / Angelica  – favourite of the Leeds fur coat no knickers brigade, the city does love its glam and The Alchemist and Angelica sit astride the newly opened retail cathedral, Trinity. I do like a bit of glamour, mind.

Leeds Bar and Grill – see above re fur coat but this city square stalwart is still a boisterous place to grab a glass of Pino Grigio and possibly a granny too.

Whitelocks – Oldest pub in Leeds etc, this place is always great for a mid shopping pint, it still retains its eighteenth century charm along with a loyal clientele. Nice pub to hole up of a winter’s afternoon.

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The Whippet Inn

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Monday night is fast becoming gig night in our house. This Monday saw us hop on a train to see the rather wonderful Simone Felice play live in York. Now in my book, there is absolutely no point in travelling over to a great city like York without experiencing the culinary delights of the city. So we did.

I’ve eaten out in York only on a handful of occasions and each time it was places I’d heard of or were well known in foodie circles – J Baker’s or The Blue Bicycle for instance. Monday nights in provincial cities in these straightened times are not exactly packed with opportunities for great food – most of the nice places take the chance to have a night off on what is usually a quiet night.

A work colleague recommended a recently opened gastro pub-type joint, which was getting rave reviews. That was enough for me and I booked a table for two.

The Whippet Inn (fnarr, fnarr) is situated just a long stones throw from the station, tucked away down a quiet side street – so pretty easy if you’re travelling by rail, which I’d recommend as parking in York is painful at best. The restaurant has a simple, well-stocked beer bar and a nicely designed dining room at the back. The emphasis is on decent ales and wine and steaks although it is worth pointing out the vegetarian options, although limited were judged excellent.

The simple but well-curated menu had an air of confidence around the produce and the cooking. The 40 day beef caught my eye immediately and I opted for rib eye (as per) whilst the sister chose a summery halloumi and courgette plate. Starters were light and well put together, but the beef is the main deal here and who am I to argue?

We selected a Navarra Spanish red, which at £19 was well priced given its quality and it complemented the beef beautifully. Prior to the wine we had a cheeky blonde Scottish beer ‘Bitter & Twisted’ which set us up nicely.

I can report the steak was first rate – worth paying extra for 40 days, rather than 25 and the extra 3 oz from 7 to 10 was also worth the investment. Service was knowledgable and attentive even though our assistant waiter was in training it was handled well without any issues.

If you’re in York, this has to be one of your favourite new places.  In a city that is not exactly wall to wall with amazing eateries, I predict that The Whippet Inn will be a huge success.

Jugged Hare, Chiswell Street, London, EC1Y

I had lunch at the Jugged Hare in the heart of The City just up the street from our London offices and as you would expect it is full of suits just, well almost just like me. The food is very country with lots of game and really different pies, scotch eggs etc on the menu. Lots of wood but not proper country as it is shiny….
My associate and I shared a suckling pig shoulder with sides of cauliflower cheese, dauphinois and red cabbage. The main came on a chopping board with proper carving knife and the sides all came in individual tiny Le Creuset pots, very posh. The crackling was superbly crispy, pork spot on and the sides were delicious. I will definitely go back time permitting as I normally eat a sandwich on the go but very occasionally it does you good doesn’t it?

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The Angel Inn at Hetton

About six months ago I’d heard that The Angel at Hetton was looking for food bloggers to give complimentary vouchers to. It’s fairly common these days for restaurants, and in particular PR companies, to engage with food bloggers to spread the word about their ‘product’. It’s very much the modern way of doing things and can be a very effective way of spreading the word, especially if the bloggers have plenty of followers.

So I applied for the voucher and it arrived, worth £25. Generous, I thought, as I slipped it into my man cupboard (where I keep all my stuff).

And there the voucher sat, for quite some time, until we decided on a run out one Sunday for a spot of lunch in the Dales. Hetton is just North of Skipton – so not even an hour from Leeds – so very easy to get to. We’d booked an early 12 noon slot and by the time we’d arrived, we were ready for some snap as we say round these parts. Opting to sit in the bar (which I’d recommend if you decide to go), by the roaring log fire was the perfect location for the top-notch lunch we were about to enjoy.

Plenty of our friends had already been to The Angel so when we told them we were going it was old news. I kind of wondered if that’s why they were trying to spread the word again via food bloggers – The Angel has been very popular for a long time and these things definitely go in cycles, with newer restaurants coming on the scene and more established places becoming less in vogue.

But the relaxed, friendly country pub atmosphere at The Angel is spot on. Not even close to pretentious gastro, it wears its food credentials lightly with only the menu the giveaway that there is some serious foodie activity here. I’d say we were in Blue Lion territory here – another outstanding, unpretentious North Yorkshire inn serving outstanding food.

We both opted for the irresistible roast beef (topside) for mains and were delighted to be asked how we wanted it served (pink), I had the black pudding scotch egg to kick off and J had the ham hock terrine. Both starters were lovely. The mains were fantastic, probably the best Sunday lunch we’ve ever had in Yorkshire. The beef was perfectly cooked, the vegetables packed with flavour and the Yorkshire pudding would have floated away if it wasn’t full of red wine gravy. Admittedly we were ready for a roast dinner and it did not disappoint.

As if we weren’t full enough, the dessert menu looked too good to miss out on and we greedily hoovered up sticky toffee pudding (sublime) and pumpkin tart (different). Hardly able to move we sipped our coffee contentedly and congratulated ourselves on our superior decision-making this Sunday afternoon.

Three course Sunday lunch for two came to £62, including drinks which we though was excellent value — certainly in the price range of most places in and around Leeds. The only downside is you have to get in your car to get there, but if you pick the right day weather-wise then it’s a real Brucie Bonus to behold the fabulous Yorkshire Dales in the milky winter sunshine.

Note for vegetarians – there were lots of very good-looking veggie options on the menu, definitely not just a one option afterthought. We will definitely return.

 

 

Light Night Leeds and the Townhall Tavern

Last night we ventured out to Light Night Leeds. One night, a night when the city’s artists, makers and performers get together to transform the streets of Leeds and buildings in an unforgettable evening of exhibitions, installations and events. The bonus been, it wasn’t raining!

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Millennium Square was bustling; silent black & white horror movies playing on the big screen, light shows on pavements and street food by talents such as Manjit’s kitchen, Pizza pod and Lulabelles.

At 7pm we watched zombies dancing outside our Town Hall and later we went to Get Stuffed – no not food this time but a photographic exhibition with a taxidermy photo booth! Over the past few months families from West Leeds each adopted dead pets from the Artemis taxidermy collection and if you wanted to you could adopt a Get stuffed ‘thingy’ …adoption welcome … for Leodis the Owl that is, not Phil!!

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Afterwards we went to the Town Hall Tavern, there was a good buzz with lots of people drinking and eating. The food is excellent gastro pub food. The service was efficient despite the the fact every table was taken. I think the pics speak for themselves….

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Town Hall Tavern, Leeds

Both the Haynes and the Deans had recommended the Town Hall Tavern which has undergone a resurrection. On the way to Waitrose we decided at the very last minute to take the turn off to Central Leeds and nip in for a quick lunch. The interior is all wooden floors and gastro pub colours e.g. Farrow & Ball….
The place was busy but not rammed which is positive because even though it was Saturday the place is not in the shopping quarter and being by all the Law Courts you would expect weekdays to be naturally the busiest times.
The menu is quite extensive with “home cooked pub grub” but we found the tapas style little dishes very interesting and at £1.95 per dish great value.
D had the fish fingers and chips with spicy beans. The fish and chips were excellent with little pieces of lightly battered fresh fish and a few twice fried chips but the spicy beans were a bit bland. I had 3 little dishes, pigs cheek scotch egg which was fantastic, chicken and black pudding samosa which was fantastic and spicy squid which was….. good (a tad greasy). My pint of Landlord was superb.
“We must go again” and we will.

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Lost Afternoon

As a long standing customer of Virgin Wines, we’d got some tickets for their first tasting event in Leeds. I’ve long been a fan of Virgin Wines and I love the different wines and hard to find vintages they have on offer. So we planned a full Troffers outing (apart from Jill who was in London seeing Julie Andrews, don’t ask) to give them all a try.

We knew it was going to get messy. A full afternoon, tasting the very best Virgin Wines had to offer?? We needed sustenance before we headed down to The Loft, where it was all happening.

So proceedings kicked off at The Reliance, which proved to the perfect place to fill up on great food (and beer, rather ominously). As you know, Reliance is one of my staple restaurants in Leeds and most of the Troffers hadn’t been before, so I was very pleased to introduce them to its chilled out pleasures.

Saturday lunchtime is as good as time as any to eat at Reliance (is there a bad time?) and we all got stuck in. Fish & chips, chicken livers, ploughman’s, gammon & eggs and welsh rarebit all delivered in terms of taste and were as ever, generously portioned.

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The Reliance won many more converts that afternoon – the food was excellent – simple and well cooked. The service was attentive and considerate and the Reliance Bitter was on top form.

The wine tasting was a pretty impressive affair and much bigger than we were all expecting. The Loft is a bar/club space that’s pretty sizeable and the place was packed to the rafters with a huge cross section of wine slurpers – from  in the know foodie types to gaggles of women hell bent on a great afternoon out. There were literally hundreds of wines on offer and it would have been impossible to try them all, so we all pursued the tables where our favourites were on tasting.

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Complete with glass, pen and booklet we set about the wide selection of vino with missionary zeal. The Chilean section was of particular interest to me and it seemed that they had cornered the market in massive reds, toothsome roses and spanking fresh whites. The girls hunted down the prosecco table and hogged the rose wines until they were satisfied they had tasted them all. After a while it all predictably became a bit of a blur (literally) and the afternoon ended most satisfyingly with the announcement via mobile that Leeds United had gained promotion. More wine drunk in celebration!

To cap things off, we adjourned to Anthony’s for a glass of wine (I kid you not!) and to stock up on cheese and delicious goodies for an outdoor supper around the fire in D&G’s garden. The evening carried on back in New Farnley and the treats purchased from Anthony’s were of the highest quality – the Epoisses cheese was monumental, as were the cured meats. Special mention has to go to the posh version of the old sweet shop favourites: cinder toffee and snowballs. Amazing both!