AN increasing feature at chain pubs is that customers are given comment cards on leaving, to either fill in there and then, or complete online. There is often a free bottle of wine or an entry into some grand prize draw, put out there as a shimmering incentive.
Were I merely a customer, not the guy paid to express his opinions in 700 carefully-chosen words, my feedback on the White Cross would be very simple – “Great beer, shame about the food.”
Which is rather sad really, because the choice of handpulled ales on the bar really lifted my spirits as we hurried into the pub, seeking solace from a chilly October night.
There was Tetley’s, Landlord, Adnams, Brakspears, strong Rosey cider, and more. The strengths and prices are each displayed on the handpull, while pumpclips suspended above the counter show off the range of other beers available on the other bank of handpulls around the corner.
It’s a nice touch – it saves having to muscle in on some unsuspecting drinkers leaning on the bar, just to see what’s on offer.
There are copious tasting notes and the offer of sampler glasses, and on Mondays all the real ales are £2.49 a pint all day. The pub has Cask Marque status for its beer too – the local CAMRA branch must love this place.
I went straight away for the Tetley’s, not least because after my disappointing experience at the Cardigan Arms last week, I was worried that this famous marque was now fatally flawed.
I’m delighted to report that the great Leeds beer remains on good form – refreshing, bitter, nicely balanced with a suggestion of caramel toffee, and still the ideal pick-me-up at the end of a long working day.
The colour was right too – a deep ruby red, rather than the pale golden beer I encountered at the Cardy.
So I was already anticipating a great evening out by the time we reached a table and started to peruse the menu. I’m tempted to say that it’s about now that the wheels began to come off the whole experience, but actually our dissatisfaction took some time to build – almost half an hour, as it goes, this being the time it took between us ordering starters and them arriving at the table.
They weren’t bad – a rich, coarse chicken liver pate for me, served with toasted chunky slices of baguette and a delicious fruit chutney, a generous heap of prawns with salad and a seafood sauce for my wife.
Sad to report, our main courses took almost as long to arrive again, and this time there was no quality there to compensate.
My fish was wrapped in a soggy batter, my wife’s roast beef was nice enough, but carelessly presented with an unappetising splodge of mixed vegetables and random splatters of gravy as though Jackson Pollock were working in the kitchen.
These weren’t challenging choices – pubs have been turning out all four of these dishes since at least the 1970s – and the White Cross certainly wasn’t packed with diners, so why did it take so long?
All this marred a potentially excellent night out, at a comfortable, recently refurbished Ember Inn, which sits just across the roundabout from Harry Ramsdens (or Wetherby Whaler as it is now more prosaically known).
A central feature of this chain is the open fireplace, and here a roaring fire sits beneath a central chimney, warming diners and drinkers on either side.
The decor is an attractive combination of grey-green and terracotta; the welcome from the black-liveried staff at the bar is warm and genuine.
I can sense that Heather Murray is the sort of licensee who will take my criticisms seriously and work hard to get things right here.
She and husband Jay have only been here a short time, and are bringing a wealth of experience in the trade to bear on a pub with plenty of potential.
Having clearly got the beer right and been through a major refurbishment which has got the place looking really good, they need to now turn their attention to the food, and to the quality of service which they are giving to their customers.
Name: White Cross
Opening hours: 11am-11pm Sun-Wed, 11am-midnight Thur-Sat
Beers: Tetley’s (£2.45), Brakspears (£2.55) Timothy Taylor Landlord (£3.35) plus five changing guest ales. Becks (£3.20), Coors (£3.15), Carling (£2.85), Peroni (£3.85), San Miguel (£3.35), Stella Artois (£3.25), Guinness (£3.15), John Smith’s Smooth (£2.80)
Wine: Good choice
Food: Good selection available from noon-10pm daily
Entertainment: Quizzes, free Wifi
Children: Welcomed, children’s meals available
Disabled: Easy access from rear, disabled toilets
Beer Garden: Attractiv -open air area to the front of the pub, further tables to the rear
Parking: Large area to the rear
Telephone: 01943 884305