This imposing, curiously-named pub sits alongside the A63 Selby Road, just a short hop from the Crossgates stretch of the outer ring road.
And, as the Brown Cow, it has done for years, though the addition of the Dragon reflects more recent developments in the business.
As a part of the giant Tetley pub empire, this was always a popular community local, serving the folk of Whitkirk, Halton and Temple Newsam, as well as those passing by on this busy arterial road out of east Leeds. A nearby church, community centre and shops and then the addition of a budget hotel next door, helped ensure a steady stream of punters.
From Tetley’s the Brown Cow passed through the ownership of various different pub groups before ending up as one of the 300-or-so owned by the St Albans-based Orchid group. Just 13 of those were given the “Dragon” treatment – combining traditional English pub values with the addition of a Thai menu. There’s one in Nottingham, and the rest are in London.
As a traditionalist, my instincts tell me that I should hate the idea, and it does always come as a disappointment to find a much-loved local has suddenly adopted a new Oriental persona. I passed one in Bradford recently which has been horribly retitled The Inn-dian.
It’s a route which a number of pubs have tried in recent years, not least the beautiful and ancient Bingley Arms at Bardsey, which for a while turned its upstairs into an curry house. Thankfully they resisted the temptation to change its name to the Bengali Arms.
Here, they simply added the name of a mythical creature to that of a solid Yorkshire beast. They’re strange bedfellows, but the locals soon embraced the partnership:“Initially it went down very well,” says manager Chris Lloyd. But that didn’t last. “Unfortunately it was badly managed and began to attract the wrong sort of people.”
So after he came in four years ago, Chris says he spent the first nine months “turning things around and getting all the undesirables out”. It was almost exclusively male clientele: “It wasn’t pleasant, and consequently there were no women in here at all.”
Judging by my visit this week, The Brown Cow and Dragon has turned a significant corner. Scattered around its various rooms were groups of women, sports fans, real ale lovers, couples, families; some drinking, some dining, some watching the rugby, some all three at once. There was a good mix of ages, a lively hubbub of chatter. This may never be a destination pub like, say, the Bingley, but it seemed to be doing a fine job serving its local community.
Its credentials as an ‘English Pub’ are evident as soon as you walk through the door and find six real ale handpumps lined up along the bar. Only Burnley’s Moorhouses brewery has been given a permanent place on the bar and it’s their seasonal Elves’ Bells right now. The other real ales change all the time; I am impressed by crisp and fruity Pennine Gold from Bridestones Brewery at Hebden Bridge. All the ales are sourced from small breweries through the Society of Independent Brewers.
We take our drinks to one of the sofas in the pub’s back room, where plasma screen TVs at either end ensure that everyone can see the action if they wish. Having said that, the sound is turned down, so it’s not so intrusive. The decor is all crimsons, golds and creams; staff are busily dashing backwards and forwards from the kitchen with dishes for the diners. And for all the Pads, Heds and Himmaparns on the menu, it seems to be the fish and chips (£7.95) that is most popular tonight. Other choices include gammon and eggs (£11.75), sea bass (£10.45) and a giant mixed grill (£14.95).
“We stick very much to a traditional English pub menu down here,” says Chris. “We do offer a taste of the Thai menu in the bar, but we do the full Thai experience in the restaurant upstairs.”
On this occasion we aren’t dining, so we sup up and head out into the night, secure in the knowledge that the curious combination of a cow and a dragon is serving the people of Whitkirk well. It’s just a good job they’re not behind the bar.
Name: The Brown Cow and Dragon
Type: Lively local alehouse and Thai restaurant
Host: Chris Lloyd
Opening Hours: Noon-11pm daily
Beers: Moorhouses ale (£3) plus choice of five other real ales, priced up to £3.35, dependent on strength. Beck’s Vier (£3.10), San Miguel (£3.30), Peroni (£3.65), Stella Artois (£3.15), Guinness (£3.20), Strongbow (£3.05)
Wine: Good choice from £2.45-glass and £12.80-bottle
Food: Breakfasts available 7-9am weekdays. Bar meals served noon-10pm daily, restaurant 5pm-late. Takeaways available too.
Children: Welcomed until 9pm
Disabled: Easy access, disabled toilets
Entertainment: Sky Sports TV, monthly DJ, games machines, occasional quizzes and other themed events Beer Garden: Small patio area to the side
Parking: Area to the side and fromt
Telephone: 0113 264 6112
Beer of the Week
The prominent “8’ on the label of this Belgian beer might have you think the Trappist monks brew it to a formidable 8 per cent ABV. They don’t – Rochefort is actually even stronger at a mind-blowing 9.2.
The Abbey at Rochefort was founded in 1230, and started brewing sometime in the 16th century, though for a hundred years after the French revolution the site was abandoned. The Trappists returned in 1887, brewing began soon after.
Served in simple third-litre brown bottles, the pale label and Gothic script speaks of something dark and mysterious about this beer; prising off the cap releases a wisp of smoke and an aroma packed with fruit.
Some lovely rich Christmas cake flavours dominate the taste, though its dark heart of potency reveals itself in a magnificent finish that seems to cosh you with a headrush of alcohol. This would be great with a mature cheese, I reckon.