LOOKS can be deceptive. The scaffolding across the front of the Thornhill Arms could suggests that this famous old dining pub is closed for one of its periodic refits.
Thankfully, a banner draped across the top re-assures passers-by that it’s open for business. As we wander in on a Monday evening we find plenty of other customers gathered around the bar or settling down to some of the hearty pub food for which this place is best known.
Originally known as the Leopard, the pub has been here since the 17th century. The initials carved into the stonework are those of original landlords Walter and Frances Calverley. Stained glass, exposed brick and stone, low ceilings and a idiosyncratic layout of rooms each give a clue to its tremendous age.
Stepping between scaffolding poles you reach the front door and enter an open plan main room, with a long bar down the left hand side, with an array of five real ale handpulls and topped by a display of gleaming wine glasses at head height.
The pub is owned by Heineken, though Jamie Hanson has held the lease for the past eight years, during which time there have been a couple of refits – and he feels as though another is due. “There are a few places where it needs some maintenance,” he tells me over a quick drink once he has put his baby to bed. Living here, he perhaps sees the faults more readily than an occasional visitor, but it looks in pretty good shape to me.
Around the walls are little clusters of themed decoration. Vintage wine labels here, monochrome prints of local scenes there. Discreet brass plaques, like you might find on the walls of a church, remember long-lived locals. There are glass-fronted wine cabinets and blackboards chalked up with today’s prices.
This might reflect more on me than on the state of modern cricket but from the evocative photograph of a 1930s Yorkshire line-up I can quickly pick out Bill Bowes, Herbert Sutcliffe and Hedley Verity; I’d struggle to name a single player from a current day team shot.
From the beers I choose the Manchester Pale Ale, a traditional, easy-going, softly gentle bitter from the JW Lees Brewery, which proves both an instant refresher and a palate-cleansing counterpoint to some sturdy pub dining. I’ve gone for the pie of the day which today is beef, ale and shallot, as it perhaps should be every day of the week. Lean chunks of steak with a nice shortcrust topping, decorated with sprigs of aromatic rosemary. Separate bowls of chunky chips and minted mushy peas are fulsome accompaniment.
The 10oz rump steak is a hearty slab of meat, nicely bloody in the middle. Tomatoes and mushrooms are down as extras but should you really have to pay more for these?
All this is delivered by attentive staff in smart black livery; they suggest coffees and desserts but these three main courses have already rendered us immobile.
I rouse myself sufficiently to have a little wander round a pub which stretches back through a warren of little nooks and crannies, drinking spaces and cosy dining areas. It might look tiny from the front, but there are plenty of places to get lost in here.
Like I say, looks can be deceptive.
Town Gate, Calverley
Host: Jamie Hanson
Type: Quality dining pub
Opening times: 11.30am-midnight Mon-Sat, 11.30am-11pm Sun
Beers: Changing choice of up to five real ales, usually including Theakston’s beers, plus Heineken, Moretti and Foster’s lager, Guinness and Symonds cider
Wine: Good selection from £3.60-glass and £12.95-bottle
Food: Wide-ranging menu served noon-9pm Mon-Sat and noon-7pm Sun
Children: Welcomed, kids’ meals and high chairs available
Disabled: Slightly difficult access
Beer Garden: Some outdoor tables
Parking: Small car park to the rear
Telephone: 0113 256 5492