IN A part of town which has come to be dominated by a thriving bar culture, the Black Swan feels like something of a throwback to the days of the traditional public house.
It certainly looks the part, with its imposing red brick frontage, big stone-arched windows and grand entrance. And when you step inside and cross its solid wooden floor to the long bar, you almost feel like you have slipped back to the time when Call Lane was a commercial street just like any other, before its remarkable transition to become the city’s Hedonism Central.
It’s as though this fine old pub has survived unscathed, while all around it has changed beyond all recognition, a bit like at the Grove in Holbeck.
Yet in its current incarnation as the Black Swan, this place isn’t nearly so old. This building has seen various guises since its days as the old Mucky Duck, way back when I first started venturing into pubs. And in rediscovering some of those values, it has now invigorated the old pub tradition with the new passion for beer which has so transformed Britain’s drinking scene in the past decade or so.
So when you pitch up at the bar you are assaulted by an obscenity of choice, with so many cask, keg and bottled beers that it’s almost impossible to know where to start.
And during a splendid evening of food, drink and seventies background music, I manage to work my way through several of them, starting with the softly-spoken flowery, passion fruity Nor Hop from Moor Brewery on the Somerset Levels, which was chosen on the recommendation of the knowledgeable and inevitably-bearded chap behind the bar.
Later I will try the uber-grapefruity Citra IPA from Bermondsey’s Partizan brewery, and the spicy, blackcurranty Barbarossa from Ilkley. I try more, of course I do, but somehow my notes become a little more difficult to read at this point.
But none of this is before we have made close acquaintance with the menu. When this place first opened a couple of years ago, it gained an instant reputation for its pizzas, and though the big oven still rages alarmingly with flame, an excellent a la carte menu brings a new dimension to eating here.
We find a place between the bar and the pizza oven at one of the makeshift tables of rough-hewn planks anchored by scaffolding poles; fairy lights twinkle overhead. Above the bar are rusting enamelled signs salvaged from somewhere, and advertising long-forgotten products such as Ciprico Cigarillos and La Slavia “Biere Des Gourmets”.
Similarly, the gnarled red brickwork speaks of this building’s own industrial antiquity, while the music itself is from another time – Dire Straits, The Police, Rod Stewart and Bob Marley form a nostalgic backdrop to the evening.
I start with the imaginative black pudding potato cake, dramatically topped with a big fried egg (£6.50), while my wife goes for the more delicate roasted cauliflower (£5.50) which is beautifully-presented with charred leek and quinoa in an cauliflower puree with truffle oil too, don’t you know.
The high standards set by these starters are maintained by my moist pan-fried snapper fillet, which is served with big mussels on a bed of deep green crunchy samphire in a spicy chilli drizzle (£13.50) and my wife’s hearty portion of the big-tasting beef featherblade (£13.50) with a wholegrain mustard mash.
Being in gluttonous mood, we round off a splendid evening by sharing a cheese board – from which the Yorkshire Blue is an absolute star turn – before a couple of strong coffees steady us for the journey home. By taxi, obviously.
The Black Swan
Address: Call Lane, Leeds
Type: Renaissance city alehouse and restaurant
Opening hours: Noon-1am Sun-Wed, noon-2am Thurs, noon-3am Fri, noon-4pm Sat
Beers: Amazing choice of cask and keg beers from £4-pint – and the choice changes daily
Wine: Good selection from £3.40-glass and £17-bottle
Food: Restaurant quality menu as well as meat and cheese platters and pizzas plus traditional Sunday menu
Children: Welcomed but no special facilities
Disabled: Two-step access from the street
Beer Garden: Terrace area to the rear
Entertainment: Occasional special events including DJ nights and tap takeovers – also cards and board games available
Functions: Large upstairs area is available for special events and private hire
Parking: On-street and multi-storey parking nearby
Telephone: 0113 8272349