“THIS IS my engine room. If it goes wrong in here, the whole ship’s in trouble.”
Licensee Garth Kirsten-Landman is giving us an impromptu tour of his cellars; the nautical metaphor appropriate for someone who did his national service in the South African navy, during the dying days of apartheid.
The cask of Riggwelter is tipped steeply forward, a sure that sign it is almost empty, which is why my first pint here had tasted a little past its best. I don’t claim to be any great expert, but I do tend to know a good pint of hand-pulled beer from a bad one, particularly when it’s an old favourite, like this premium ale from the Black Sheep brewery in Masham.
Garth is evidently a little embarrassed, though he has no need to be.
I’d judge a pub less on it serving the occasional pint of poor beer, and more on its reaction to having the fault brought to its attention. In which case, the Town Street Tavern passed with flying colours – the barman pulled himself a taster glass, admitted it was a little off form, and promptly offered me a replacement from the fine selection along the bar.
I went for the basic Black Sheep instead, though a while later, down in his engine room, Garth draws me a glass of dark Timothy Taylor Ram Tam from the barrel. In some ways, this is the Keighley equivalent of Riggwelter, a dark, toasty, malty, winter warmer, though at 4.3 per cent ABV, rather less potent than its Masham rival.
In trying these three, I have barely scratched the surface of a pub which clearly takes its beer very seriously, as you might expect from one with “Tavern” in the title. There’s an emphasis on Yorkshire breweries – Leeds and Ilkley are among others represented here – and there’s Oyster Stout, Blackberry Mild and Aspalls cider too.
Lovers of great lager will be encouraged by a selection that includes Erdinger, Erdinger Weiss, Kaltenberg, Warsteiner and sufficient alternatives to make even the most enthusiastic Belgio-phile Kriek and Kwak with delight.
This is one of the Market Town Taverns chain, which has built a reputation for well-kept, back-to-basics alehouses offering a good choice of food and drink in simple but friendly surroundings. The bare floorboards, the displays of pumpclips and beer mats, enamelled signs and posters and further beer-related ephemera are all company hallmarks. Even so, each of the Market Town Taverns are run relatively independently; their choice of fare and their style of delivery tailored to suit their locality and the personality of the staff and customers.
As a former contestant on daytime food and drink show Come Dine With Me (in a nutshell: he served kangaroo, the women considered him chauvinistic, he didn’t win), Garth is clearly passionate about his food. And so we decide to head upstairs for something to eat. Skippy isn’t on the menu here, so we opt for more prosaic choices – for me the whale-sized fish, chips and mushy peas (£9.95), for my wife the bacon-wrapped chicken breast with crunchy vegetables (£11.95). Both are good, though unspectacular, choices, but represent the essence of Market Town Taverns – sensible, sturdy, reliable pub food at reasonable, though not basement, prices.
Talking of which, an early bird menu offers two courses for £11.25, and the Christmas and New Year menu is a good-value £19.95 for three courses.
Though previously Yorkshire-owned, the MTT group was sold a year or so ago to the same Isle of Man concern which owns Okell’s Brewery. Yet Garth is happy to report that the new owners have allowed him to continue running the Horsforth branch in the same successful way that he has for the past nine years: “They’re leaving us alone,” he tells me. “As long as we do the best we can they don’t tell us what to do. I run it as if I own it really.”
Which is presumably why he has adopted a striking twigs-and-baubles combination for his Christmas decorations in the brasserie – it’s a Swedish idea apparently – and why the traditional spicy South African dish bobotie makes its way onto the menu.
But how does someone from the Cape come to be an ambassador for real ale? “Before I came to Britain I’d never heard of the stuff, it doesn’t really suit a warm climate. I love it now, of course. It’s a wonderful, natural and fresh product with no additives.
“I still drink Castle Lager though sometimes, when I can find it!”
Name: Town Street Tavern
Type: Quality restaurant and alehouse
Host: Garth Kirsten-Landman
Opening Hours: Noon-11pm Mon-Sat, noon-10.30pm Sun
Beers: Range changes regularly, but currently includes: Black Sheep Best (£2.82), Timothy Taylor Golden Best (£3.02), Ilkley Mary Jane (£2.68), Riggwelter (£3.36), Blackberry Mild (£2.92), Oyster Stout (£3.04), Warsteiner (£3.56), Erdinger Weiss (£4.16), Kaltenberg (£3.22), Aspall’s (£3.34)
Wine: Great selection of wines available from around £14.95-bottle
Food: Bar meals served noon-2.30pm Mon-Fri, 6-9pm Mon-Thurs and noon-6pm Sat-Sun. Meals available in the upstairs brasserie 6-9pm Mon- Thurs, 6pm-9.30pm Fri-Sat
Children: Welcomed if well behaved
Disabled: One-step access to the front and some split-level areas inside. Brasserie restaurant is up a flight of stairs
Entertainment: Occasional themed food evenings in the restaurant Beer Garden: Small patio area to the side
Functions: The upstairs brasserie is available for private hire
Parking: Fink Hill car park is nearby
Telephone: 0113 2819996
Beer of the Week
This curiously named ale sounds like it might come from Asia or Africa, but it’s actually from darkest Warwickshire and is named after the Purity Brewery dog. It’s pronounced Oo-boo, apparently.
Brewed to an almost-premium 4.5 per cent ABV, this attractive amber beer has the kind of heady, hoppy aroma you might expect from its generous helpings of Challenger and Cascade hops, which also lend a rich bitterness to the taste, though some maltiness also manages to assert itself on the palate.
There’s a surprising little hint of cherries to the aftertaste too, of a quality, easy-drinking ale which in 2007 was named one of the top 50 beers of the world.