Pub review: Black Swan, Leeds city centre

Black Swan.
Black Swan.
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For all its wonderful bars and restaurants, Call Lane has never properly catered for the real ale drinker.

The flourishing of Jake’s Bar and Oporto, Norman and Art’s Cafe came before the explosion of interest in British beer, and long before the astonishing growth in craft beers, which has brought such quality and variety to the market.

Our thirst for beer was never so evident, the range of ales to quench it never so great.

Even so, Call Lane remains primarily focussed on wines, spirits and cocktails, though this shortcoming has been addressed by the Black Swan, which opened late last year as one of Leeds’ great “secret” alehouses, quite as deserving of your custom as its more celebrated neighbours.

It’s deliberately understated. There’s no illuminated sign to show off the name, and it looks every bit an old red brick warehouse or office block. Only the swan motif in the etched glass confirms you’re in the right place.

Stepping inside, you’re immediately drawn towards the long bar, fronted with a patchwork of wooden panels, which runs along one wall. Above, behind shelves of colourful spirits, old enamelled signs for beers and breweries, cigarettes and medicines, lend the feeling of a backstreet Belgian brewhouse, the sort of place you might stumble across in some shady corner of Ghent.

It boasts two real ale handpumps as well as a fabulous selection of craft beers – choices from Anchor, Marble and Brooklyn were on display during my visit at the weekend, alongside a framboise from our very own Kirkstall Brewery.

I opt for a pint of Voodoo from the mavericks at Great Heck Brewery near Selby. This is lovely, a jet black mild, dry and bitter and slightly dusty, like an oily espresso.

Occasional tap takeover events offer a themed drinking experience. A recent one saw London brewers Kernel, Meantime and Beavertown showcase their wares here. The next will see a host of American beers flood in for Independence Day, followed quickly by some local ales for Yorkshire Day.

By then the Black Swan should be able to contribute some of their own; plans in hand for their own microbrewery, the Half Full Beer Company, to go into production soon.

This main room is largely open plan, though in the front windows, some high-backed leather booths offer some genuine intimacy.

The room to the right of the front door has some deep comfortable sofas and a small display of cobbler’s lasts, for reasons I could only guess at.

Stepping into a room further back, the rustic mismatched furniture and bare careworn brick play to that alehouse feel. There are long benches boards of rough-hewn wood and some smaller tables, each seemingly reclaimed from some former purpose.

A tired old dartboard, stripped of its numbers and punctured in a thousand places, hangs high on one wall, more for decoration than recreation.

At the end of this room is a copper fronted pizza oven, whose roaring flames add light, heat and drama in roughly equal measure.

As I arrive, a group of 25 children are just leaving after a lively pizza-making session, hosted by the chefs, demonstrating an unusual community dimension to a city centre pub.

Upstairs, the restaurant offers some quality gastropub dining. Styled as an avant garde take on authentic pub food, current choices include the beef, bone marrow and Yorkshire blue cheese burger (£11.90) or the black pudding potato cake with chorizo and fried egg (£6.95).

FACTFILE

Type: Alehouse and restaurant

Host: Adam Fenwick

Opening hours: 11am-2am daily

Beers: Changing selection of two real ales from around £4-pint, good choice of ten craft beers, plus Sagres (£4), Heineken (£3.80) and Amstel (£3.50) and big selection of bottled beers

Wines: Decent choice from £3.20-glass and £16-bottle

Food: Served noon-10pm daily, with a ground floor pizzeria and a high-end pub dining restaurant upstairs

Disabled: Two-step access to ground floor bar

Children: Welcomed – occasional special events such as pizza-making

Beer garden: None

Entertainment: Full calendar of events including student nights, DJs, live music, beer and food matching events, and brewery take-over sessions

Parking: On-street and multi-storey areas nearby

Website: www.blackswanleeds.co.uk

Phone: 0113 827 2349

Email: info@blackswanleeds.co.uk

PIC: James Hardisty

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