One of the first things that strikes you as you walk into the Head of Steam on Mill Hill, Leeds is the chandelier made of beer bottles.
It hangs over the central circle bar like the outline of a giant upside down vortex, coiling off on a thread of steel into the distance of this artfully cluttered little hideaway.
The Head of Steam is part of the new wave of clued-up pubs whose raison d’etre is the savvy beer drinker: swivel-eyed hipsters with a penchant for the unusual would slip right in here, no questions asked. Indeed, according to my receipt, I was served by ‘Gothic John’ but this was untrue, because I was served by a person of the female persuasion (unless, of course, in this gender-skewed world, she’s decided to call herself John, in which case I apologise profusely for leaning heavily on the age-old stereotype that boys have boy’s names and girls have girl’s).
But back to the bar/pub/call it what you will. It’s nice. It’s got that kind of half-stripped back/eclectic feel to it. Some walls are bare in a stonewash pale blue but there are also murals and wall hanging involving a VW van and bits of a bike here and there. It all feels a bit like a nod to surf culture but it hasn’t designed itself out of the city centre in that regard.
Ales are what do the talking here, because they have hundreds of varieties (I didn’t count but once look at the bar/fridge and you’ll be there all day weighing up the pros and cons of various ales). With places like these, gone are the days when you could waltz into a bar and, having taking a rudimentary look at the beer pulls, make a snap decision: Carling (we’ve all done it).
So, when I walk in and the barmaid asks me what I would like, I have to tell her that I’ll need t a few moments to consider what’s on offer.
There’s Tim Taylor’s Boltmaker, Yorkshire Gold from Leeds Brewery, Moretti and more. Being in a real ale lovers paradise, I decide to try a few, in the form of: Kona Longboard (£4), Kona Fire Rock (£4.50), Kona Hanalei (£4.65) and half a Moretti (£2.05).
Moretti: decent, crisp, as expected. The Konas though, wow, what a revelation.
The labels look like they were made in Hawaii but then have been left in the sun too long to fade but the drink inside each has real depth and character.
The Hanalei was slightly bitter but has a subtle fruity undertone that does it no wrong, while the Fire Rock was more malty, again with a hint of fruit and caramel and for some reason made me think of barbecues. Finally, the Longboard, which felt like more of a lager than an ale, it was more crisp and refreshing. Service here was exceptional, the knowledge of staff astounds, while overall it remains an asset to the city.
THE HEAD OF STEAM, MILL HILL, LEEDS