“PEOPLE round here seemed to have forgotten that we have a brasserie upstairs,” says Dave Fleming, recently installed as manager at the Town Street Tavern and with a brief to revive its restaurant trade.
The bar itself was doing well – its eclectic selection of real ales, craft beers and interesting continental lagers proving as popular as ever – but the brasserie was losing trade: “It felt empty and cold, unfriendly and unwelcoming.” “We’ve improved the atmosphere, changed the menu, made it more child-friendly and generally reminded people that we do have a restaurant.” And in a suburb where there is plenty of competition, it seems to be working: “The people are coming back now.”
Dave has plenty of experience, having run cask ale pubs across the north, most recently the Little Three in Thirsk. So the opportunity to join renowned Yorkshire pub company Market Town Taverns and lead the development of one of its flagship houses, was one that he jumped at. “I’ve got family in Leeds and this pub is actually the first place where I met my wife’s father, so it has some sentimental attraction too.”
If you don’t recognise the Market Town Taverns’ name, you will almost certainly know some of their pubs – places like Arcadia in Headingley, The Old Bell in Harrogate and the Horse and Farrier in Otley. Although each quite different, all bear some of this confident company’s hallmarks. The curving black-on-gold capital script is one, as are the enamelled advertising panels and framed archive posters of beers of the world.
The commitment to great real ale is another MTT touchstone, and here there are eight. While four are changing guests, predominantly from Yorkshire breweries and with at least one dark beer, four are permanent fixtures – Leeds Pale, Timothy Taylor Boltmaker, Black Sheep and Okell’s Bitter.
The latter comes from Okell’s Brewery in the Isle of Man, and is part of the same Manx company which bought a controlling interest in MTT a few years ago.
But rather than try the house ale, I’m drawn towards the Boltmaker, a beer which is in serious demand since it was named CAMRA’s Champion Beer of Britain in the summer, following in the tradition of its stablemate Landlord, which has won the award a record-breaking four times. “Everyone serves Landlord, though” says Dave. “I thought it would be a point of difference to offer Boltmaker instead.”
Brewed to a moderate four per cent ABV, Boltmaker is in some ways an unlikely champion, having neither the intense flavour or prodigious strength of some recent winners. But it is a lovely pint, a quintessential Yorkshire bitter with some interesting spicy notes to the aroma, and a gentle, easy-going hoppy nature.
There’s an interesting bottled beer list as well, from the zero-alcohol Warsteiner Fresh to high-octane selections such as Brooklyn Chocolate Stout (10 per cent) and Belgian Delirium Nocturnum (8.5 per cent). Mind you, these are weaklings compared to Brewdog’s Tactical Nuclear Penguin (32 per cent) which is available at £6.20 for a shot. Rather valuing my sanity, I prefer to stick with the Boltmaker, which serves as the perfect counterpart to some great food in an upstairs brasserie where the welcome was warm and genuine, the service was brisk and friendly – and the fare is all you would expect of a Market Town Tavern. The ceiling is criss-crossed with twinkling trails of fairy lights; the pale greens of the decor contrast with the quite oppressive burgundies I’d commented on last time I was here. In short, it does everything Dave has been brought here to do – and judging by the number of our fellow diners, the brasserie is back on the up.
The menu offers some pub standards like sausage and mash (£9.95), pie and chips (£9.95), burgers (£9.95) and fish and chips (£10.95) – while early evening diners get the option of a fixed price menu too. Wednesday, I’m told, is sausage night.
I opt for the pork fillet (£12.95) chunks of tender meat attractively presented atop a mound of dauphinoise potatoes and moist buttered cabbage and with a fulsome hunk of black pudding imaginatively coated in a light bread-crumb batter. My wife enjoys the herb-crusted chicken with saute potatoes and a rich mushroom and truffle sauce (£11.95).
Name: Town Street Tavern
Opening Hours: Noon-11pm Mon-Sat, noon-10.30pm Sun
Beers: Regular ales are Black Sheep (£3.02), Timothy Taylor Boltmaker (£3.22), Leeds Pale (£2.88), Okell’s Bitter (£2.96) and a changing selection of four guest beers. Also Warsteiner (£3.76), Freedom Four lager (£3.46), Pocta lager (£3.90)
Wine: Good selection
Food: Quality choice of bar and restaurant meals
Children: Welcomed, kids meals available
Disabled: One-step access to the front, some split-level areas inside. Restaurant is up stairs
Entertainment: Sunday quiz
Beer Garden: Small patio area to the side
Parking: Car park is nearby
Telephone: 0113 2819996