Pub review: The Fox and Grapes, York Road, Leeds

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THIS was not our intended destination. We had headed east from Leeds to Thorner, a few miles beyond the ring road, to check out the Beehive, a pub with a strong reputation for its food, and a long-time dining favourite of those who live that side of the city.

The Beehive’s website confirmed its opening times, and we’d already made some tentative choices from its enticing online menu.

And yet, as we drove into the village, the pub was shuttered up and dead. It was clear that the hive had been abandoned, so we were obliged to make a beeline for somewhere else. We called in at the nearby Fox in Thorner, though they apparently only do fish and chips, and only on a Friday. On the upside, they do have a defibrillator outside, and it’s entirely possible that these two facts are not unrelated.

By this time we were getting a bit desperate. “Oh, there’s always the Fox and Grapes,” came a voice from the back seat, so I did a swift three-point turn and we headed out to this landmark dining pub beside a sweeping bend on the A64. It has been here for generations, and serves as a handy meeting place for families converging from Leeds, Tadcaster, York and Wetherby. We last came here for my mother-in-law’s 80th birthday, a day chiefly memorable for my daughter letting slip one of the giant helium balloons we had bought; this giant silver “8” was last seen rapidly gaining altitude and heading due south towards Castleford.

Lacking any natural catchment area, the pub has always relied to some extent on passing trade, as well as being a dining destination. But when we walked in through the rear doors from the car park we found it decked out with ghosts, skeletons and cobwebs in a bid to attract those in search of a halloween pub experience.

The last time we were here, this was a Vintage Inn, part of the giant Mitchells and Butlers chain, but since then it has passed into the hands of the Stonegate Pub Company, which also owns brands like Scream and Slug and Lettuce. The farmhouse-style interior seems largely unchanged, all cosy and comfortable, with lots of rough beams, chunky furniture that doesn’t match, and artwork on a non-specific historic theme.

There’s clearly a commitment to real ale. There’s a beer festival going on until the end of the month, with a host of changing real ales on offer; a huge display of pump clips around the broad L-shaped bar plays to the theme. I chose a pint of the refreshing, zesty Yorkshire Gold.

But while this choice might seem a step up from its Vintage Inn days, the food proved something of a disappointment. The menu covers all of the major bases and on the face of it offers well-priecd sturdy family dining. Yet though it was all perfectly edible, it just left us feeling that we had been slightly short changed.

The steak was poorly presented, the pie was overcooked, the “creamy mash potato” bone dry and with that tell-tale artificial taste that lets you know it’s either pre-packed or Smash. And all this on a Monday night when the bar was practically empty and the chef certainly wasn’t rushed off his feet.

A pub whose business is built around catering for those passing by on the A64 should try a little harder to make sure they keep coming in.

FACTFILE

A64, East Leeds

Type: Family dining pub

Opening Hours: 11.30am-11pm Mon-Sat, noon-10.30pm Sun.

Beers: Changing selection of real ales including plus a good choice of lagers

Wine: Decent choice of wines available by the glass or the bottle

Food: Wide range of pub meals available noon-9pm daily

Children: Welcomed. Kids meals available and high chairs available on request

Disabled: Straightforward access. Disabled toilet facilities but some split-level areas.

Entertainment: Piped middle-of-the-road music, fruit machine

Beer Garden: Yes, areas to the front and rear

Parking: Large areas to the side and rear

Telephone: 0113 393 5009

Website: www.classicinns.co.uk

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