Restaurant review: Lamb & Flag, Leeds

Slow braised brisket.' PIC: Bruce Rollinson
Slow braised brisket.' PIC: Bruce Rollinson
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Leeds Brewery has added another pub to its portfolio and the Lamb & Flag in Leeds is a real winner says Amanda Wragg.

In their latest bid for world domination brewers Sam Moss and Michael Brothwell, aka Leeds Brewery have splashed out renovating the derelict building next to Leeds Minster, and launched it as the Lamb & Flag. Add that to the existing pubs in their portfolio, from The Midnight Bell to The Crowd of Favours, it’s easy to draw the conclusion that this pair can do no wrong.

The college mates got their business heads together, launching the brewery in 2007, the first independent in the city. They opened their first pub, the Midnight Bell in Holbeck in 2008 and have gone from strength to strength.

On a sharp December night the trot from the station through hordes of commuters confirms my dislike of cities but reaching the bottom of town a kind of calm descends as the pub hoves into view. When it was built, this part of the city would have been a huddle of squalid housing and extreme poverty but it’s scrubbed up very well. It’s an outstandingly handsome mellow red brick building with huge windows, all lit up, drawing us in. Well, I say us. This is one of those evenings that starts off badly.

I can’t find Diana, my co-diner and according to her texts, she can’t find me either. It’s a big place, but not that big. Finally we work out that she’s in York at a pub called the Lamb & Lion. I’ve sent her to the wrong pub in the wrong city. She’s remarkably calm, saying I’ll jump on the next train, see you in 40 minutes, which she did. It gives me chance to have a good look round with a cheeky glass of prosecco.

Three spacious, flag-floored, high-ceilinged rooms and a second upstairs bar give plenty of choice. I spot a door leading onto a first floor terrace and the view of the Minster is unparalleled. The whole place is buzzing, with an impressive range of ages and types, including a bunch of die-hard vapers who occupy the rather impressive flagged yard. I make a mental note; that will be a fine place to sit out in the spring.

There’s a wide range of Leeds Brewery beers, as you’d expect, including the delightfully floral Leeds Pale, light, hoppy Yorkshire Gold and the mean and moody Midnight Bell. I would have loved to be in on the meeting when they named their beers; Gathering Storm, Monsoon and Hellfire ... they’re not so much beers as weather systems. It’s not all ale though; the wine list is well considered – it comes from House of Townend, a well-respected Hull merchant.

I’m pleased to report the Lamb isn’t yet another gastro pub; the streets of Leeds and indeed any number of towns and cities nationwide are littered with so-so reviews of pubs whose reach exceeds their grasp, food-wise. I don’t know about you but I’ve had it up to here with towers and smears on huge plates in pubs. Whoever designed this menu has got it right – the offering is simple but the execution quite sophisticated and it’s all the better for that.

Four starters include pulled pork fritters with piccalilli and winter vegetable soup and parsnip crisps, but it’s the Yorkshire Gold rarebit made with Hellfire cheddar for me. It’s very good – the cheesy topping is tangy enough to do indecent things to the end of my tongue – could be the addition of the mighty Henderson’s Relish (or Hendo’s as we Sheffield folk have it). It arrives on slices of griddled sourdough with sharply dressed leaves.

Diana is still on the train from York and misses out on starters so we dive straight into mains when she arrives. There’s a steak and ale pie that deserves some attention, but not when there’s braised brisket in Gathering Storm gravy. OMG as the young people say. My mum, a busy pub landlady served this over the bar in a previous life and people came from far and wide. Well, Buxton. Hers bubbled away for days; I can’t vouch for the same cooking time here but it’s totally tender and falls apart at the fork. I miss a hit of salt and the poached egg is half a minute overcooked but I’m splitting hairs. It really is a terrific dish.

Diana’s steak is almost blue, as requested, with roast vine tomatoes and good (Leeds Brewery?) chips. Charging 1.50 for peppercorn sauce seems a bit mean when you’re shelling out 17 quid for your steak thoughd. Elsewhere there’s Leeds Best battered haddock, Yorkshire Dales sausages and mash and a token shallot tart for the non-meat eaters. We watch a burger come through to the next table and a fine looking thing it is too – and there’s a veggie version, chickpea, coriander, cumin and chilli which could very well hit the spot.

We don’t need deserts but it’s never stopped us. Cherry Bakewell gets a look in but we’re recommended the brownie and it’s a good steer. Darkly dense with a top that cracks as the spoon hits it and paired with Gathering Storm ice cream it works well. The Yorkshire cheese board isn’t as successful – the sweet one just adds a duff note – but then I’ve never been a fan of sweet cheese. And you don’t need herb butter.

Service is worth a mention; manager Josh is charm personified and makes sure we’re happy. The young staff are cool and informal without being annoyingly hipster.

So, it’s a nicely renovated boozer with a friendly, relaxed vibe and a menu several notches above pub grub. You’re not going to swoon at anything but sometimes we don’t want to be beaten over the head with technique. Just remember it’s in Leeds, not York.

The Lamb & Flag, 1 Church Row, Leeds LS2 7HD. 0113 243 1255, lambandflagleeds.co.uk Open 11am to 11pm seven days a week.

VIndia Silvani-Jones, a vegan chef based in Leeds, has been running pop-up cafes across the city for the past two years. She is now looking to launch her own restaurant called The Jungle Kitchen.

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