Pub review: The Head of Steam, Mill Hill, Leeds

The Head Of Steam.
The Head Of Steam.
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Between the urgent bustle of Boar Lane and the low thrum of the Dark Arches, something rather wonderful is taking place.

Where once the Scarbrough Taps ruled supreme, a whole host of pubs and bars have created the most exciting little pub crawl in the city.

A spiralling two minute walk takes you from Leeds Brewery’s Tap in new Station Street to beer-and-curry joint Bundobust in Mill Hill by way of alco-charcuterie Friends of Ham, craft brewhouse Tapp’d, mainstream food and beer pubs the Griffin and the Black Prince, the wonderful Scarbrough Taps and Prince of Wales and - the newest arrival on this scene - the Head of Steam.

It replaces tired old Spencers, which had struggled on manfully for years, but finally succumbed to the inevitable following its takeover by north-east giant Cameron’s, who plan to roll out the branding to others across their estate - though only in pubs close enough to railway stations to justify the name.

A six-figure refurbishment has seen this corner pub with its distinctive curving frontage, given a new lease of life.

Yet despite the investment on new windows and flooring, decor inside and out, a new kitchen and new furniture, it is recognisably the same, with a series of intimate drinking and dining spaces clustered around a really beautiful central bar. After years of decline, this lovely old building is finally being treated with respect.

People who would never before have ventured over the threshold are now coming through the door.

The pool table has gone - as of course has the mismatch of football flags which gave this place a rather seedy, dangerous feel. A glass and steel sculpture of beer bottles spirals from the bar towards the ceiling, drawing the eye to the narrow balcony which is sadly not broad enough to serve as a drinking space, but may play host to live acts in future, like minstrels playing in the gallery.

Those familiar with the HoS at Huddersfield station will recognise the formula - a host of quality beers, decent food and a great atmosphere. But with a strong emphasis on craft beer and a bewildering range of bottles, the Leeds branch, which opened just before Christmas, takes this concept to whole new heights.

“It’s much about the quality and variety of what we do,” says manager Paul Stephenson showing off his seven real ale handpumps and rows of shiny fonts and all manner of sculpted bartop furniture dispensing cool Americans and interesting Belgians.

“We’re still finding out which beers are going down well, before we decide on a more settled range, but we’ll always have a good mix of light and dark, strong and weak. The blonde beers have popular.”

Behind the bar, fridges hold 180 different bottled beers, primarily from Belgium and the US. Drinks menus on each table detail the whole range. “We’ve got some of the familiar ones like Vedett and Duvel, but there are lots of others which will be familiar to people who have tried the Abbey beers on holiday in Belgium.

“Quite a lot of them are unique to us. The company has built up a good relationship with some of these breweries and we can access beers which other places can’t.”

The barman edges into the side of our conversation, proferring a shot glass of something dark and fragrant: “You really must try this. It’s life-changing.”

This rich, jet black beer is from the Saugatuck brewery in Michigan; its distinctive, 
sweet but not cloying combination of vanilla, strawberry and chocolate flavours perfectly combined in the name Neapolitan Milk Stout.

Like all the beers here, it is available in two-thirds and third-pint measures - and though pricey at £4 for a two-thirds pint schooner, is worth it for the experience alone. And if you and your mates fancy chipping in £80, you can share a three-litre Jeroboam of Chimay Blue.

Naturally, there will always be a Cameron’s beer on the bar, and they are contractually obliged to serve Carlsberg too, though why anyone would choose it, amid this wealth of choice, is a mystery to me.

Paul admits that he faces a daily logistics challenge, adding: “We get people coming in, telling us what they like, and what other beers they would like us to serve.

“It’s a nice problem to have.”


Name: The Head of Steam

Type: Modern beer bar

Manager: Paul Stephenson

Opening Hours: 11am-midnight Mon-Sat, noon-11pm Sun

Beers: Changing range of seven real ales currently from £2.60- upwards, plus rotating range of draught Belgian and American beers.Also Carlsberg (£3.60), Moretti (£4), Staropramen (£3.80), Brooklyn lager (£4.40) and many more. Three third-pints of draught ales for £4.50.

Food: Pizzas and burgers served noon-9pm Mon-Sat

Children: Welcomed

Disabled: Slightly tricky access

Entertainment: Background music. Free wifi and USB phone charging sockets. Some live acts with more in future

Parking: City centre car parks nearby

Telephone: 0113 243 9070