Sunday 28 September 2014

Leeds Walkabout

I was recently "oop North" as us Londoners patronisingly say when going anywhere past Watford, to celebrate the wedding of two good friends. The ceremony took place in the model village of Saltaire, upstairs in the Victoria Hall which had a great view of the rolling hills and fabulous scenery. I had a lovely time, partly because of the fun company and also because Saltaire Blonde was on tap and even though it was being served too warm it was still tasty and it was great to drink it in the village where the brewery is based. Things got even better when some bottles of Saltaire Triple Chocoholic showed up, one of my favourite chocolate stouts - a rich, delicious treat. With a buffet of cheeses and amazing pork pie on offer, I'm amazed I managed to leave the venue without a serious case of gout.

The next day me and The Lovely Jemma had a look around Leeds, fifteen minutes away by train. I'd never visited the city before and I was excited to visit the city pubs mentioned in the Good Beer Guide. First up was Whitelocks Ale House, a small traditional pub nestled down a side alley off the main shopping drag. This place oozed character with ornate mirrors, shiny brass tables and a intricately tiled bar. The serving staff are on a higher level, and the young well bearded barman loomed down while I chose a drink. I went for another Saltaire brew, the Pride, and enjoyed its classic bitter flavours in this welcoming pub. A group of Americans were tucking in to what looked like a very decent Sunday lunch, but sadly I didn't get the chance to eat there. A charming pub to start with.

At the top end of the high street was my next stop, the Victoria Hotel. This Nicholson's pub is very grand inside, with high edged booths, a spectacular fireplace and wood and brass fittings everywhere. I spied Tetleys on cask, which I never see down south so I tried a pint. I wasn't expecting much but to be honest it wasn't bad, and was a perfectly serviceable session ale. Tetley's is no longer brewed in Leeds but it was nice to enjoy a pint in the city anyway. We had some food as well and sadly it was a bit disappointing, with TLJ's roast dinner missing all the promised veg and my black pudding sausages not really tasting of much. I found myself wishing I'd eaten at Whitelocks.

Across the road from the Victoria is the Veritas Ale and Wine Bar. From the outside this looks like a smart cafe rather than a bar, and inside it had the same feel. We didn't feel unwelcome having just a drink there, but I would have felt more comfortable if I was having some food as well. We took a seat by the window overlooking the moody, gothic Leeds General Infirmary, a fantastic piece of architecture. My pint of Partners Brewery Shoddy Porter thankfully didn't live up to the name, and was a very tasty, chocolatey porter. This place probably had the best beer selection of all the pubs we visited, and generally the whole place was a nice surprise. I'd like to go back there for lunch.

Back down towards the station and we popped into the The Scarbrough. Another Nicholson's pub, this had less character than the Victoria but a better beer selection. I went for Dakota from Scottish brewers Stewart Brewing and it was absolutely fine, a solid if unexciting bitter. Tetleys was also on here - presumably Nicholson's have a deal going on. While supping my pint I thought about the pubs I'd been to so far, and although they had all served a decent pint none of them had that "wow" factor that makes you glad you sought the place out, except perhaps for Whitelocks. But I still had one pub to go - maybe it would be the one.

The Hop is located under the railway arches of Leeds Station. Recently opened it felt both modern and traditional inside, and it makes good use of the cavernous space. Split over two levels this place had a bit of charm to it. It's owned by the Ottley Brewery so it's mainly their beers on offer, but they do have guest ales on as well. Both the beers I tried were from Ottley, and the Pale Gold and Silver King were good examples of blonde session ales. Around the side of the bar is a hatch dishing out award winning pies, and the Steak and Treacle pie I tried was very good indeed, with creamy mash and possibly the best peas I've ever had. There was live music on and I was glad I'd finally visited a pub with a bit of character, friendliness and even feeling a little bit trendy. Well worth a visit.

I really enjoyed my visit to Leeds, and the city felt like a mix of Manchester and Liverpool architecture and people wise. I was a bit disappointed that I didn't get the chance to visit the lauded North Bar, but I can always go there if I visit Leeds again - and hopefully I will!

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