Bar review: The New Conservatory, Leeds

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The New Conservatory has a library, a lounge, a kitchen and – if you’ll forgive the fact that it’s eight-ball pool – a billiard room.

Small wonder that manager Lee Williamson’s business card is designed like the Cluedo board game.

So, with my wife doing a passable impression of Miss Scarlett, we find a seat in the library, alongside rows of hardback books and keeping one eye open for someone loitering suspiciously with a length of lead piping.

Right in the heart of the city centre in Albion Place, the Conservatory has been through lots of changes since it first opened as a bar some time in the 1980s.

Originally this vast underground space was the vaults for the local stock exchange, though photographs displayed close to the entrance show how this was also once the YMCA. Photographs on the fabulous Leodis website chart the changing face of this fine old street.

If the weather’s fine, it’s certainly worth taking a seat at the pavement tables outside, because the perversely-named Conservatory itself is a storey underground and utterly lacking in any natural light.

A recent refit has seen it given a revamp with the decor tarted up and the menu given a serious shift upmarket.

At some point the word ‘New’ has been appended to the name, perhaps to emphasise that this represents a proper break with everything that has gone before.

From Albion Place, a flight of steps take you from street level to this subterranean wonderland. Its Grade II-listed status precludes the addition of a lift, so disabled access is very poor.

This gaping space is dominated by ornate central bar formed around a dramatic carved wooden sculpture and invitingly lit with half-globe hanging lamps picking out the colours of the spirits: the brass bar rail attached by a row of fearsome polished demons.

Chunky white pillars are a decorative reminder that this cavernous space lies beneath three storeys of real estate.

It seems quite a feat of Victorian engineering to have created this open-plan underground void.

Steps lead up to the raised library area, where we take our drinks. One might easily be in the drawing room of some exclusive gentlemen’s club in Mayfair, even if the books, on closer inspection, turn out to be volumes of the Reader’s Digest.

Part of me had worried that there might be no real ale here, but the New Conservatory doesn’t neglect this great British product.

The selection of four real ales changes regularly. On my visit they include two very familiar ales – Leeds Best and Wychwood’s Hobgoblin and two rarer finds, the pale Boondoggle from Ringwood in Hampshire and lovely Northern Monk from downtown Holbeck.

And during the oversized happy hour here, from 5-10pm daily, there are two-for-£5 deals on Dortmunder, cider, Peroni, spirits and mixers. The price of a bottle of wine is slashed to £8.95, too.

With the relaunch has come a renewed commitment to food, with the new menu offering a proper gastropub experience.

It effortlessly crosses continents – I started out east with the Japanese-style Panko King Prawns with a devilish lime and chilli dressing (£6.95), moved half a world west for the Cajun Chicken Skewers (£11.95), ending up on the banks of the Thames with the Eton Mess Sundae (£5.95), before staggering back up the steps and blinking into the last of the evening sunlight.

FACTFILE

The New Conservatory

Address: Albion Place, Leeds, LS1 6JL

Telephone: 0113 2461853

Website: www.thenewconservatory-cafebar.co.uk

Host: Lee Williamson

Type: Quality bar and restaurant

Opening Hours: Noon-11pm Sun-Thurs; noon-midnight Fri-Sat

Beers: Changing choice of four real ales, all £3.70; plus Amstel (£3.70), Heineken (£4.20), Fosters (£3.50), Coors (£3.70), Cobra (£4.20), Dortmunder (£3.90) and Guinness (£4.20) and great selection of bottled beers. Happy hour 5-10pm daily

Wines: Decent wine list with selections from £3.50-glass and £16-bottle

Food: Quality food served noon-9pm Mon-Sat and noon-6pm Sun.

Disabled: Bar is down a flight of stairs and has split level areas inside. No ramp or lift access ­

Children: Welcomed, kids’ meals available

Entertainment: Open mic night on Thurs, DJs Fri-Sat, occasional live bands, pool table, grand piano for competent customers to play

Beer garden: No outdoor tables yet

Parking: Multi-storey areas nearby

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