Bar review: Northern Monk Refectory

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THE creative re-discovery of this once-neglected suburb’s industrial buildings is a triumph of urban regeneration.

Northern Monk Refectory, which opened in the autumn, gives new life to the flax store which once served John Marshall’s mill.

Established in 1792, the six-storey flax-spinning mill employed 2,000 people. With fellow industrialists Matthew Murray and Thomas Harding, Marshall created in Holbeck one of the engine rooms of the world.

Its rebirth is almost as spectacular, creating in these historic streets a new place to live, work and relax. Two of my favourite Leeds pubs – the Midnight Bell and Cross Keys – sit almost side by side along Water Lane. That they are evidently thriving offers confidence that Northern Monk, a storey above ground and perhaps a further 100 metres off the beaten track, could similarly succeed.

On the evidence of my visit this week, it surely will.

The ground floor is home to Northern Monk Brewery, who started life as ‘cuckoo’ brewers – using the equipment in other breweries to create their beers. I first came across them at the International Beer Festival in Leeds Town Hall two years ago. It was in 2013 that they moved into the flax store, and now the Refectory gives them the perfect shop window for their goods.

Etched glass gives visitors a view onto the gleaming steel vessels of the brewhouse before they climb the iron staircase to the ‘Grub and Grog’ Refectory, a broad room which makes much of its industrial heritage. “It had been used as offices for some years – so they had plastered over everything and put in partition walls and suspended ceilings,” says Dan Palmer, who heads the ‘grog’ side of the operation. His partner James Hurst looks after the grub.

“We wanted to see through all that and to the original beauty of the building. So we stripped it right back to the stone floors and the brickwork.” Exposed pipework and wires, and the circular hanging lamps which hover over the plain wooden tables lend to the ‘American Loft’ feel.

Portraits of Marshall and his wife hang in the washroom; a glass cabinet makes an eye-catching museum piece of the building’s brass and fabric-hosed fire extinguishers.

The bar is dead ahead, with four hand-pumps on the counter, and a shiny black back bar studded with 16 taps. Though still relative newcomers, Northern Monk produce an impressive array of beers, and the Refectory provides an ideal showcase.

Regulars include sessionable and refreshing True North pale ale (3.7 per cent) and full-bodied, uber-hopped New World IPA (6.2 per cent). Their potent (6.7 per cent) black IPA is named Dark Arches, honouring another feature of Holbeck’s industrial architecture.

But it isn’t all the house brew. Guest cask and keg beers offer further choice for drinkers, while “tap takeover” events will allow other breweries to put their full range of beers on show.

This weekend sees the arrival of four lesser-known American breweries, as Northern Monk launch their US-influenced Faith. There will be a special American menu, too – “but not burgers and hotdogs,” says Dan.

No, it wouldn’t be. The Refectory makes serious play of its vegetarian and vegan credentials, though meat options are always available.

A breakfast menu offers Holbeck’s modern workforce a healthy start to the day; lunch and dinner menus follow.

Interesting choices include the oyster mushroom and porter risotto and the kohlrabi and pearl barley stew (both £6)

If this visit’s anything to go by, it’s advisable to book, but they deliver too!


Type: Quality brew pub and restaurant

Hosts: Dan Palmer and James Hurst

Opening hours: 8am-11pm Mon-Thurs, 10am-1am Fri-Sat, 10am-9pm Sun

Beers: Fabulous choice of four cask ales and 16 cask lines from £2.90-pint. Northern Monk beers predominate – notably their flagship True North, New World and Monacus beers

Wines: Great choice from Latitude wines

Food: Quality meals served all day, with breakfast, lunch and dinner menus

Entertainment: DJs Friday and Saturday evenings, plus occasional food and beer pairing events

Children: Not especially suitable

Disabled: Refectory is on first floor

Beer garden: None

Parking: Small car-park, plus nearby on-street and pay and display areas

Telephone: 0113 243 6430