Pub review: The Kirkstall Bridge, Leeds

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ONCE the Old Bridge, this famous old pub has been renamed to reference both its location and ownership.

It sits right beside the west Leeds suburb’s busy River Aire crossing, ideally placed to attract passing traffic on the routes between Stanningley, Bramley and Headingley.

It re-opened in 2013 after a lengthy refit by its new owners Kirkstall Brewery, whose premises are a short walk away, just beyond the canal.

In less than two years it has garnered an enviable clutch of accolades, including an award from English Heritage as the best refurbishment in the country.

Perhaps inevitably, this sensitive re-invention of a great old pub, combined with its renewed commitment to real ale, also won for the Kirkstall Bridge Leeds CAMRA’s prestigious Pub of the Year prize in 2014. That it should now go on and repeat the feat in 2015 speaks volumes.

370 pubs are eligible for the prize and I’m sure the CAMRA members made sure they enjoyed themselves thoroughly while assiduously whittling this number down. The Kirkstall Bridge emerged as the winner, finally beating off finalists including the Duck and Drake and two Fleeces, one at Pudsey and one at Farsley,

“It’s a great venue,” Leeds CAMRA branch chairman Mike Hampshire tells me over a pint at the celebration event this week. “It has great heritage, it’s been a really good refurb and it has a great selection of beers. The staff are good too,” he adds, just as manager Ian Forster walks into earshot. Some people will do anything to get a free pint.

Ian has been here for nine months, and is proud to show off a range of eight cask ales, which starts with the very sessionable Kirkstall Pale (4% ABV) and progresses by way of the pale and hoppy Three Swords (4.5%) – the brewery’s bigest-selling brand – to the dark and full-bodied Black Band Porter (5.5%). Blackboards are chalked up with strengths and prices.

The brewery grew out of the Vertical Drinks business and naturally some of that company’s excellent packaged products feature in the Kirkstall Bridge fridges, not least from the Sierra Nevada and Odell Brewing Co ranges.

My favourite Kirkstall beer is Dissolution IPA, a lovely golden ale with a soft peachy aroma and some interesting malty, toffee-ish characteristics which add welcome balance to the bitterness of the hops. In bottle, the stronger Dissolution Extra IPA is fabulous.

The beers’ name echoes the turbulent time towards the end of the reign of Henry VIII, when the Cistercian monks of Kirkstall were forced to surrender their beautiful abbey to the crown. The pub is just a short walk from the ruins, which are well worth a visit.

Though it’s not nearly as old, stepping inside the Kirkstall Bridge is to step into a pub where tradition is clearly prized. From the car park you enter an intimate downstairs bar of simple furniture and wooden panelling. A stairway leads to the pub’s upper bar at roadside level where the same theme continues. Every wall is hung with posters, mirrors and advertisements, where great companies from the history of brewing are celebrated – Allsopps IPA, Ind Coope, Cains Superior Ales and Bass Burton Ales. Further displays echo the beery theme.

Some quality food is served most sessions. There are pub standards like fish and chips (£8.50) and cheeseburger (£8.50) but these are joined by imaginative alternatives like a cheese and meat platter (£5), tequila chicken salad (£8.50) and a black pudding pizza (£7). “We also do the best Sunday roast in Leeds,” says Ian. “The Cross Keys do a good one, but ours is better.”

FACTFILE

The Kirkstall Bridge

Address: Bridge Rd, Leeds LS5 3BW

Host: Ian Forster

Type: Quality real ale house

Opening Hours: Noon-11.30pm Sun-Thur, noon-12.30pm Fri-Sat

Beers: Kirkstall Pale (£3), Three Swords (£3.10), Dissolution IPA (£3.30), Black Band Porter (£3.40) plus three guest ales, Cornish Gold cider (£3.80), Veltins Pilsner (£3.80) and up to twelve craft keg beers including Generous George (£3.80) Kirkstall Framboise (£4.80)

Wine: Good selection available by the glass and bottle, from £14-bottle

Food: Decent pub meals served noon-9pm Mon-Sat, plus Sunday roast menu served noon-5pm

Entertainment: Sunday country and bluegrass music sessions plus Wednesday quiz

Disabled: Pub is on two levels. Access is easier to the downstairs bar from the rear car park.

Children: Welcomed, no special facilities

Beer garden: Picturesque riverside drinking area

Parking: Large car park to rear

Telephone: 0113 278 4044

Website: www.kirkstallbridge.co.uk

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