THE change in ownership to Cameron’s seems to have made very little impact on the small chain of Leeds Brewery pubs dotted around the city and further afield.
Save for a single Cameron’s pump on the bar – apparently in a guest beer slot – there are few clues that anything has changed at all.
And the introduction of a new menu has refreshed the public face of a pub whose attractive location beside Leeds Minster and newly-improved beer garden give it a special little magnetism, all of its own.
This beautiful red brick building was once a signwriter’s store, where the Lay Verger used to have first-floor lodgings close to his place of work and worship. It stood empty for at least 20 years before its crumbling shell caught the eye of Leeds Brewery. They celebrated its ecclesiastical connection in the name; a lamb holding a flag has been a Christian symbol for centuries, adopted as an emblem by groups as diverse as medieval Knights, Cornish miners and Preston North End.
Four years on, and the Lamb and Flag has its own unique niche in the city drinking scene, offering the genuine character of a rural inn, just yards from the shops, bus station and traffic.
It’s early Saturday evening when we roll up, having taken the sensible precaution of booking a table. It’s already filling up, the space downstairs crowded with a private party, but we are shown into the upstairs dining area where bare wood, sash windows and an expanse of gnarled red brick emphasise the sheer age of this atmospheric space. Each table is set for dining; glasses gleam and candles flicker while globe lights hang from the old oak beams which cross the dramatic roof space.
Beers soon arrive, rich and malty Gathering Storm stout for me, sharp and refreshing Leeds Pale for my dining companion. The pub showcases the whole Leeds Brewery range, though others from Yorkshire Heart and Sonnet 43 in Durham demonstrate manager Tom Lancaster’s sure hand in choosing his guests.
The new menu demonstrates some imagination in the kitchen too. I’ve started with the ham hock hash, hunks of juicy pink meat wrapped in a crusty casing like a giant fish cake, surrounded by a river of pea puree and topped with a runny poached egg (£6.50). My partner makes appreciative noises about her little kilner jar of rich, slightly earthy chicken liver pate, which comes with thinly sliced foccacia toast and a swamp of tangy chutney (£5.50).
The main courses which follow maintain these high standards. For me, a mound of moist crushed potatoes has been topped with succulent slithers of sea bass (£12.95), to which crunchy greens and a rich buttery sauce, studded with the cheek-sucking bitterness of capers, add colour, taste and texture.
My partner’s sizeable chicken breast burger (£11.95) is loaded with a heap of onion rings which totter like a mound of old car tyres waiting to fall. Streaky bacon, smoky cheddar and more chips than is strictly necessary make this a choice which is not for the faint of heart.
Though food is served every day, the selection is varied by a vegan choice on Monday, steaks on Thursday, barbecues on Friday and traditional Yorkshire roasts on Sunday.
Which all amounts to the confident re-invention of a pub quite unlike anything else our city centre can offer.
1 Church Row, Leeds, LS2 7HD
Host: Tom Lancaster
Type: Contemporary pub in an historic setting
Opening Hours: 11am-11pm Mon-Wed, 11am-midnight Thur-Sat, 11am-10.30pm Sun
Beers: Leeds Brewery beers – Pale, Best, Midnight Bell, Monsoon, Hellfire, Gathering Storm and Leodis lager – plus changing choice of guest ales. Sagres lager and Symonds cider
Wine: Good selection
Food: Quality pub meals served noon-9pm Mon-Sat and noon-7pm Sun
Disabled: Straightforward access, disabled toilets
Beer garden: Yes to rear
Functions: Areas available for private hire
Parking: On-street and multi-storey parking available nearby
Telephone: 0113 2431255