ONE of the real pleasures of my job is introducing people to the great beers of the world – whether that’s through this column or at the occasional beer tastings which I stage around the city.
A couple of weeks ago I was with Leeds University Union’s Real Ale Society, and though I was largely preaching to the converted, it was fun to share some unfamiliar ales with these young drinkers. Anyone who still thinks that the city’s students just drink cocktails and over-hyped lagers would only have to meet this switched-on bunch and get their informed views on the subject.
The Hyde Park offers significant further evidence. I wandered in on Sunday afternoon to catch a little of the Millwall-Leeds game and was immediately struck by the two lines of real ale handpumps along the counter. This is a pub very much in the heart of studentland – close to the Leeds Uni and Leeds Met campuses, on the famous Otley Run pub crawl, and within easy staggering distance of halls of residence, shared houses and student bedsits – and yet real ale clearly forms a crucial part of its business.
The four they were selling on Sunday weren’t the obvious choices either – there’s no Tetley, no Landlord, no Black Sheep. Instead I found myself choosing between rich dark Hobgoblin, pale and refreshing Golden Pippin, and an unknown quantity in the form of Marston’s Pedro.
However, I was immediately drawn to the Hyde Park Blonde Ale, which is brewed specially for the pub by Naylor’s Brewery at Keighley. Good it was too, as pale as the name suggests yet quite malty and full bodied, smooth and easy drinking. The pub must sell plenty – two of their six handpumps are dedicated to this house ale.
The sixth features a real cider, Old Rosie Scrumpy, and of course there are also plenty of shiny beer fonts selling all manner of lagers. There’s even John Smith’s Smooth, an inclusion which always puzzles me in a pub where lovers of British ales are perfectly well catered for. And for students (and beer writers) who are perpetually counting the pennies, the pub handily chalks up the prices of each of these beers at the base of each font and handpull. In a city where £3-a-pint is becoming increasingly commonplace, it’s good to find somewhere that offers a good pint of real ale for £2.40 and a decent choice of lagers starting at £2.55.
All of which is good news at a pub which has endured a variable history of ups and downs, at least in the time I’ve known it. Now under the wing of the Stonegate Pub Company, things appear to be looking up.
Bearing in mind the location, its captive clientele, and the fact that it comes near the end of the Otley Run when most of the participants are half-cut, the pub is by necessity designed to take some significant hammer from a relentless throughput of drinkers.
On entering the pub, the L-shaped bar is dead ahead, currently decorated with some early Christmas lights and baubles. This half- frames a square drinking area of semi-circular booths, high tables and tall stools, with plenty of space in between, for when the sheer volume of customers makes vertical drinking a necessity. The wooden floor gives way to chequerboard tiling around the bar.
Ahead is a raised carpeted area perhaps best suited for dining, to the right, a long drinking space is dominated by a giant screen showing the football, though carefully-placed plasma televisions throughout the pub ensure that you have a good view of the action, wherever you happen to sit.
As well as beer, the Hyde Park goes big on food too, selling cheap- and-cheerful meals from the Stonegate menu. This starts with a fulsome full English for £4.15, and continues into a daytime and evening menu covering most of the pub favourites like fish and chips, sausage and mash, scampi, chicken tikka masala (all £5.95). Burgers start at £5.95, steaks at £6.45 and pies at £5.95. If there are two of you dining you can get still better value: many of the main courses are available on a two-for-£6.95 deal.
Though some people were eating when I called in, the majority were engrossed in the football. It didn’t end well.
Name: The Hyde Park
Type: Popular food and ale house
Opening Hours: From breakfast time until late, every day.
Beers: Four real ales, currently: Hyde Park Blonde (£2.50), Copper Dragon Golden Pippin (£2.40), Marston’s Pedro (£2.70), Hobgoblin
(£2.70) plus John Smiths Smooth (£2.35), Fosters (£2.65), Carling (£2.75), Becks (£2.55), Stella Artois (£3.15), Peroni (£3.55), Guinness (£2.95), Strongbow (£2.90), Old Rosie Scrumpy (£2.65)
Wine: Decent choice
Food: Meals served all day until 8pm
Children: Not especially suitable
Disabled: Easy access from main entrance, disabled toilets, some split level areas inside
Entertainment: Big-screen TV, games machines Beer Garden: Some outdoor tables
Parking: On-street parking nearby
Telephone: 0113 274 5597
Beer of the Week
With my surname I should be pre-disposed to all things Welsh, though my dad was fiercely proud of being born and raised in Shropshire, a few miles inside England. His family were all Jones and Griffiths and Pridding – but determinedly English, and rather evangelical about it, like border people often are.
Sloe-black, crow-black Brains Dark is as Welsh as Dylan Thomas, as powerful a symbol of Cardiff as the Red Dragon Rampant and the Arms Park. It is the beer which has slaked the thirst of the city’s working men for generations, the flagship product of Brains Brewery which remains the country’s biggest, on the eve of its 125th anniversary.This was one of the beers which I tried out on the students, many of who picked up treacly, smokey, chocolatey notes to both the aroma and taste of an easy-going, refreshing ale, which was good enough even to convince those tasters who normally steer clear of anything so dark.