“I’VE LIVED in Leeds for years and never known about this place,” said one of my colleagues when I first introduced them to the Fox and Newt on a night out a few months ago.
I’d promised a few pubs they might never have visited before, so we also called in at the Highland, just around the corner from here in Cavendish Street, the excellent underground Old Steps in York Place and the West Riding in Wellington Street.
But it was the Fox and Newt with its local-pub-in-town atmosphere and its on-site brewhouse which really caught their imagination.
It is a pub which has endured numerous ups and downs over the years, and from time to time the brewkit has been left unloved and out-of-use downstairs, but under the careful management of Imogen Bennett and her team, the Fox seems to be thriving once again.
From the tiny kitchen behind the bar, her chef prepares a really imaginative range of pub meals, from standards such as steak and ale pie (£5.25) or chilli (£4.95) to the more imaginative delights of the safari menu which includes llama, crocodile and buffalo burgers, if that’s your thing.
There are Sunday roasts, and a good range of salads, sandwiches and burgers; it is only remarkable that a kitchen so small can produce such great choice.
Similarly, the brewhouse downstairs wouldn’t suit a brewer with claustrophobia. Hemmed in by the narrow room, the coppers and fermenting vessels turn out two great core beers, the sessionable Brickyard Bitter and the lighter, gingery Laguna Seca.
Production of these ales is going on side-by-side with that of the new Whippet Brewery, which is perfecting its brews here before moving to a permanent site in South Leeds.
Again, it’s a wonder how such a small room can produce such great beers – but it’s pretty appropriate, given that this was once Britain’s smallest hotel.
The one-bedroom Rutland operated here from Victorian times – you can still see the name in the stonework – until the 1970s, when a gas explosion wrecked the neighbouring shop. When it re-opened as the Fox and Newt, the drinking area had been expanded into the blast site.
Imogen has been in charge here for the past four years, having served an apprenticeship under Paul McIntyre, who runs the sister pub The Pack Horse across the other side of the University campus. “I love the pub industry,” she tells me. “It’s all I have ever done.” Even before coming to Leeds, Imogen worked at her local in Worcestershire.
Her proud collection of pump clips displayed around the walls demonstrates the pub’s commitment to real ale – and specifically beers from Yorkshire. “We’re not about the big brands,” she tells me. “We’re a small freehold pub, and we really ought to be supporting other small businesses.”
The pumpclips offer a colourful roll call of Yorkshire’s micros, though for sheer value, the own-brewed beers trump them all. “We’ve no travel costs, so we can keep it cheap,” says Imogen, whose Brickyard Bitter is worth £2.25 of anybody’s money.
Fox and Newt
Address: 9 Burley Street, Leeds LS3 1LD
Host: Imogen Bennett
Type: Lively edge-of-city alehouse
Opening Hours: Noon-11pm Sun-Thur, noon-midnight Fri-Sat
Beers: Brickyard (£2.25), Laguna Seca (£2.60) plus good choice of guest beers (from £3). Also Fosters (£3), Amstel (£3.30), Sagres (£3.75), Guinness (£3.70), Symonds cider (£3.30)
Wine: Decent selection from £4-glass and £15-bottle
Food: Good value pub meals served noon-8pm daily
Disabled: Welcomed, reasonably straightforward access, though slightly cramped inside.
Entertainment: BT Sports, games machine, rolling TV news
Beer garden: Some outdoor tables to rear
Parking: Very limited on-street parking to side
Telephone: 0113 245 4527