City guide: Leeds
The thing about Leeds is, everyone who lives there knows it’s the best, and that everyone else is just jealous.
Words: Katie Taylor
Wednesday 18 July 2018
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The thing about Leeds is, everyone who lives there knows it’s the best, and that everyone else is just jealous. Big enough to be a real, thriving cultural hub and small enough to feel like the friendliest of hometown highstreets, Leeds doesn’t awkwardly straddle small-town and big-time. It wanders with effortless cool in its own direction, throwing trends in food, drink and nightlife out into the night in its own time, in its own way.
A city with no fewer than three universities’ worth of international students to cater for as well as a truly multicultural native population, it’s as passionate about local produce and traditional pubs as it is about hipster street food and game-changing breweries. Underneath the stag do facade, there’s a vibrant world that brought its underground scenes out into the daylight a long time ago.
The other thing about Leeds is, it’s special. And you won’t truly understand that until you’ve been and experienced it for yourself.
GRAND OLD PUBS
In Leeds, if you’re the type who enjoys a good pint of Landlord in old-world surroundings, you’re spoiled for choice. The Town Hall tavern is a great spot for exactly this (plus delicious food made with impeccable local produce), and The Angel hasn’t changed it’s dark and musty Samuel Smith roots for what feels like thousands of years. Old pubs are the backbone of this city and, if you’re in town, you need to do justice to these historic beauties.
The Cardigan Arms
364 Kirkstall Rd
The Cardigan Arms is one of those perfect Victorian pubs built for long Saturdays. A firm favourite over the years, it was bought by nearby Kirkstall Brewery in a genius move, saving it from the fate so many of these wonderful buildings suffer. Still boasting a big, circular bar, and plenty of snugs to while away the hours in, years of neglect have been scrubbed away to reveal a real gem. Stocking it with the finest beers from across the country – of course including Kirkstall Brewery’s own range – has brought it right back to its former glory. Also well worth a visit is sister pub, The Bridge Inn.
Turks Head Yard, Briggate
An island of calm in a sea of bustle, Whitelocks, with it’s incredible beer selection and gleaming copper bar, is a salve for the soul and a verified wonder of the world. Hidden down a sidestreet right off the main Briggate shopping street, you’d be forgiven for walking past. Once you’ve found it though, it’ll become ‘your’ bar. Trust us. It aims to champion exceptional local beers and does it well. When you can class breweries like Magic Rock, Northern Monk, Vocation, Roosters, Sunbeam, Eyes and Saltaire and more as local… that’s a noble aim.
Duck and Drake
As the city has morphed to suit new residents and visitors, The Duck and Drake has not. With traditional cask ales pulled in an environment of copper, dark wood and mirrors, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d stepped back in time. That is until the band of the night turn up - it’s also a live music venue and hosts a weekly jam night.
3-5 Hunslet Rd
A beautiful example of the care and attention Victorian architects put into their pubs. Striking, ornate and sympathetically refurbished, it’s any pub lover’s dream. It’s not stuffy though, and in-amongst the heavy opulence, booths, snugs and banquette seating is a bar that welcomes tap takeovers, a surprisingly brave supply of craft beers from all over the world and delicious modern classic food. Come for the roast lunch, stay for the evening.
Leeds loves food. So much so that its highly-prized restaurants gather praise as some of the best in the country. From high-concept modern cuisine to unique takes on good northern grub, if you’re feeling fancy, there’s something special in the city waiting for you to discover it.
An article about Leeds’ food and drink scene wouldn’t be whole without talking about Home. A surprisingly relaxed and friendly restaurant that offers fine dining tasting menus, head chefs Elizabeth Cottam and Mark Owens are reimagining familiar British dishes using amazing local produce. You’ll eat some of the best food you’ll ever taste and feel welcome and comfortable while you do it. It’s probably the best place to eat in Leeds right now.
The Man Behind The Curtain
68-78 Vicar Ln
Delicious. Delightful. Unusual. Occasionally bonkers. Michael O’Hare’s labour of love and experimentation is unlike any other restaurant in Leeds, or anywhere else for that matter. To deliver heartbreakingly beautiful and impeccably prepared food here isn’t enough - it’s also served so stylishly you’ll weep at your own sartorial inadequacies. That’s right, you’ll be jealous of a fish fillet. Step inside and prepare to be shooketh.
11-15 Wharf St
Combining food and the arts is always an intriguing venture and Shears Yard do it with a light, graceful touch. Contemporary and led by seasonal local produce - an admirable trend you’ll see many kitchens in Leeds slavishly adhering to - you can dine on a light fixed price lunch alfresco, or choose their delightful tasting or dinner menu for a more formal style supper. They also offer a bottomless brunch every Saturday that’s well worth getting out of bed for.
FOOD AND DRINK
In Leeds, you don’t have to choose. You’ll rarely find a place that’ll let its drinkers go hungry - that’s just Yorkshire hospitality. You’re more likely to starve to death trying to decide on just one place. Our advice - two dinners and three suppers.
76-78 North St
The Reliance is an outsider in the best possible way. Sitting back and chilling on the outskirts of the city centre, it might give off a relaxed, brilliantly-stocked bar vibe, but its food is as sharp as a Sabatier. Head upstairs to the dining room to see the open plan kitchen and eat something special. And listen to this - they cure all of their charcuterie in-house, using rare-breed Yorkshire pork. Have you ever read a more beautiful sentence than that?
Friends of Ham
4-8 New Station St
These guys are committed to serving the best beer, cheese and charcuterie, and what more is there to life than good beer, cheese and charcuterie? Five menu-pages of bottled beers, including an impressive page of sharers (they’ve got Burning Sky Saison Anniversaire, shall we just?) only reaches the base of the tip of the iceberg. There are, of course, taps too.
Wapentake is about as Yorkshire as it gets. That means it’s packed with artisanal flair, fierce white rose loyalty and you’ve guessed it, a passion for exceptional local produce. Guesting local breweries on their taps to match their twist-on-trad menu was a no-brainer and it brings everything together very nicely indeed.
The Old Flax Store, Marshalls Mill
Northern Monk’s tap room is an obvious choice for any discerning beer drinker in 2018. A brewery on par with some of the world’s most exciting beer producers, it’s got to be your first stop on arrival in the city. The Refectory was created as part of Northern Monk’s Patrons Project initiative, and as well as serving their amazing beers, showcases some of the best food from the North of England.
51 Boar Ln
Tapped is an American-style brewpub serving 27 draft beers and more than 100 bottled beers from all over the world. What’s more, they make a mean stone-baked pizza, made from scratch. If they seem a little familiar to you, it’s because they’re part of the group behind Euston Tap. They’ve got tons of delicious toppings to choose from but honestly, they’ve nailed the humble funghi.
20 New Briggate
It’s underground, but everybody knows about it. Head down the steps - careful, careful - and make your way to the bar, which is always under the control of cool, smiling people. A fun place to drink great beers and listen to live music (jazz, funk and soul for your nerves), they also have a fantastic collection of spirits and serve delicious stone-baked pizza until midnight.
Bundobust v The Cat’s Pyjamas
6 Mill Hill
We all love Bundobust - that’s a given. The place is faultless for both deliciously spicy indian streetfood and incredible made-for-Bundobust beers like Bombay Dazzler by Northern Monk. Plus, it’s right by the station, so it’s easy to get to first (or last.) We also need to give a solid mention to The Cat’s Pyjamas, which also serves delicious Indian street food and also has great beer on tap and in the fridges. You’ll just have to visit both.
82 North St
Nine keg lines, five cask lines and arguably the best meat, vegan and vegetarian roasts in Leeds. Slightly out of town, The Brunswick is the recommendation locals don’t give because you’ll steal their table. Stunning dishes like karachi dumplings or the scallops with cauliflower and turmeric are all made with locally sourced ingredients, nodding towards Leeds’ multicultural make-up.
North Beer Co. Tap Room
Taverners Walk Estate
As well as the full range of its own beers, North offers guest beers on tap, plus an exciting range of tap room exclusives which really caught our eye.
The Old Red Bus Station
101 Vicar Ln
This all-vegan plant-based cantina is a real find in the heart of Leeds. Offering good food, good beer (and Red Stripe - a Leeds essential) it’s also a gritty venue. Championing “underground” acts, they claim to own the hardest soundsystem in Leeds, and are home to the city’s only weekly jungle and drum and bass night. It literally could not get any more Leeds than this.
DELICIOUS AND CHEAP
Sometimes the highly-recommended eateries of a town aren’t the most extravagant. In most cities there are hidden gems with canteen furniture and laminated menus that serve exactly the type of food you were craving. Leeds is no exception.
Maureen’s Caribbean Food
105 Roundhay Road
Maureen’s place is a takeaway, but she has tables too. With the amount of food you’ll be buying, it’s probably better if you take a seat. Known throughout Leeds as the best place to grab goat curry, plantain and dumplings, it’s worth the short journey out of town.
Please do not visit Leeds without visiting Safran. A Persian charcoal grill hidden in plain sight opposite the Duck and Drake. It’s got hand-painted murals, throne-like seating and they’ll add an extra table if you order a lot of food, which you should. Get the homemade hummus, dolmeh and flatbread before anything else. Seriously.
Thai Aroy Dee
120-122 Vicar Ln
Most young people in Leeds know Bangkok’s street food firsthand thanks to gap years and TEFL qualifications. Luckily for them, and you, Thai Aroy Dee has been serving authentic Thai dishes for years to curb those wistful hot and sour cravings. Unfussy and delicious, you can take your finds from Little Leeds Beerhouse and the legendary Beer Ritz to enjoy with your meal - it’s strictly BYOB.
BOTTLE SHOPS INDEX
Tall Boys might have sadly closed its doors but there are still some exceptional indie shops to get your take-out fix from in Leeds.
Beer Ritz - the original and best. 14 Weetwood Lane, Headingley. www.beerritz.co.uk
Little Leeds Beerhouse - fill up your flagons or stay for a tasting event. Leeds Corn Exchange. www.littleleedsbeerhouse.com
Growlers Beer Shop - Deliveroo friendly and full of goodies. 29 Otley Road, Headingley. www.growlersbeer.co.uk
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