GEOFFREy Boycott, the Prince of Wales, Alastair and Jonathan Brownlee – the opening of the Brownlee Arms in Horsforth takes to four the number of famous people I have met who also have pubs named after them.
I may have forgotten someone; if there is a Peter Gabriel Arms or a Terry Venables Tavern somewhere, I apologise.
Whether it’s a gimmick and whether it’s actually too early for these two great young athletes to have a pub named in their honour, this place is certainly a significant lurch up-market for the old Grey Horse. That straight-up locals’ boozer has now been re-fitted in gastropub style with dark wood, subdued lighting and acres of plush carpet.
That the Brownlee is now very much a dining house is evident the moment you cross the threshold. To your right, all the tables are set for dining with comfy chairs, folded napkins at every place and the enticing twinkle of candlelight. Part walls and alcoves neatly divide the tables, creating a little extra intimacy; at the rear a family dining area is abuzz with happy voices. It’s someone’s birthday, evidently.
The refit, which saw the pub close for three months, brings it into line with its two sister pubs – the Chevin Inn at Menston and the lovely old Stansfield Arms at Apperley Bridge whose towering reputation for great food gives the Brownlee a tough act to follow.
It’s a point I put to deputy manager Nathan Matthews when he wanders over for a chat. “We’re not trying to replicate what they do at the Stansfield,” he tells me. “It’s different here. Our chef has his own idea about things.”
And though I’m not dining on this occasion, some of the food which is carried close by certainly looks to be top-notch. Though with main courses going from about the £10 mark upwards, it’s not in budget dining territory. Choices include braised lamb shank (£14.95), pan fried king scallops (£15.95) and steak and ale casserole (£11.95). Sandwiches are £7.95, salads £9.95. An early bird menu reduces prices early evenings on weekdays.
And it all makes me wonder how this had gone down with locals, who have seen their much-loved watering hole with its pool nights, entertainment and dart board, altered beyond all recognition. “It really needed a change,” says Nathan. “We get people coming in who had known the Grey Horse for years and even they have been won over.”
Tellingly though, he expresses the changes in terms of the food – the new chef, the changing menu, the restaurant quality. When I ask about the competition he points up a local bistro, where I would have thought that the Woodside, the Eleventh Earl or the Bridge Inn would have been more appropriate comparisons.
And though there are some fabulous real ales here, only the small area immediately to the left of the front door is free of the foody accessories. Here stone flags and simple copper-topped tables denote an area devoted to drinkers pure and simple. A row of real ale handpumps assert the Brownlee’s commitment to beer, amidst all the obvious devotion to food. Wharfebank Brewery brews the house Brownlee Gold ale, though the choice will change regularly.
And it’s here that I find myself a high stool at a table near the bar, where I sit with my pint of lovely crisp, refreshing, earthy, Timothy Taylor Landlord – still, for me, the quintessential Yorkshire ale. For here I watch the comings and goings and scratch out shorthand notes in the lovely leather-bound notebook which my mother bought me for Christmas. Hemingway used one just like this, Picasso too. There may be pubs named after them too, but we never met.
At these three or four tables there remains a pubby feel – a group of gents are chatting over their beers while the barmaid offers romantic advice to a love-lorn punter at the end of the bar: “You do know it’s Valentine’s Day next month?” she asks.
“Is it? I need to make the most of that.”
Name: The Brownlee
Type: Food-led real ale house
Host: Tracy Carroll
Open: Noon-11pm Mon-Thurs, noon-midnight Fri, 11am-midnight Sat, 11am-11pm Sun
Beers: Timothy Taylor Landlord (£3.30) plus changing choice of four other real ales, all £3.30. Also Becks (£3.20), Stella Artois (£3.50), Budweiser (£3.20), Peroni (£4.30), Stowford Press cider (£3.10), Guinness (£3.50)
Wine: Good selection
Food: Great range of high quality pub meals available noon-9pm Mon-Thur, noon-10pm Fri, 11am-10pm Sat, 11am-8.30pm Sun
Disabled: Easy access, disabled toilets
Children: Welcomed, kids meals available
Entertainment: Occasional live music
Beer Garden: Yes
Parking: Large area
Telephone: 0113 2581608
Beer of the Week
Dorset’s Badger Brewery – perhaps best known for their sturdy English pale ale style Tanglefoot – gives us this fruity, hoppy, zesty beer, which is brewed to a mid-strength 4.4% ABV.
I might easily have been tempted to suggest that this interestingly named beer was their perfect summer ale, were it not for Badger’s wonderfully peachy and floral Golden Glory, which is just made for warm evenings around the barbecue.
This one has a little more substance with suggestions of toffee and malt forming the backdrop to this bright, light copper ale with its attractive foaming head.
You’ll find it available to buy in lots of places; I bought mine in Sainsbury’s.