There’s certainly something in the water in Leeds at the moment, resulting in a new wave of original and independent food and drink businesses popping up all over the city. As a city to visit for the weekend it’s up there with my favourites in the UK. It seems like there’s always something food and drink related happening in the city and something I’d say only London can compare with. As of late August, Northern Monk joined the party by opening their new brewery premises just a short distance from the city centre.
Having seen no photos of the premises before I visited it’s no exaggeration to say I was pretty staggered by the whole thing. The building itself (a converted flax mill) looks incredible - the first sight of the branded banners with their impressive artwork hanging from the front of the building framed by a dark bleak Yorkshire sky really is a sight to behold. As a package it's certainly the most impressive restaurant and tap room combo I've visited - in the UK it's pretty much unique (I'm certainly struggling to think of anywhere).
As you enter the building you’re greeted with sneak peaks of the brewery itself through the large glass windows throughout (just my luck I chose to visit on a day that no brewing action was taking place though, unfortunately). The taproom is up on the first floor is made up of a large room with exposed beams, original brickwork, local artwork and filled with a mixture of smaller bar style seating and large 10 person communal seating. As a brewery taproom, it’s pretty much my idea of the perfect place to sit and quaff a few quiet pints. Beer wise we’re looking at 16 keg options and 4 cask options – heavily focused on Northern Monk but with some cracking guests (Bad Seed, Magic Rock, Kirkstall, Red Willow amongst others on this visit) as well as a small but well curated UK focused bottle shop.
The good news is that the booze is more than well complimented by the "Grub and Grog shop" who are also based on site and provide breakfast, lunch and dinner in this ‘refectory’ area. I hadn't heard a lot about them so did a bit of reading in advance and was immediately impressed by their imaginative menus. I loved having a read through their 'Friends and suppliers’ section of a website and which in this case links to a selection of suppliers who were all impressively local.
The menu on the day of the visit was different to that on the website. This is something i'm always keen to see in a place that serves smaller dishes as it typically suggests an imaginative chef making the best of seasonal ingredients and pushing themselves rather than serving up the same old dishes day after day. On this occasion I got stuck into the following:
“Ox tongue hash, celeriac mash, pickles, kale, hop syrup and stout gravy”
This was a good looking plate of food indeed. The tongue with the mash and stout gravy was just fantastic, think rich and with a mountain of deep flavour. The kale was roasted and added a great crunchy texture to proceedings, pickle had been finely sliced and was mild enough that when mixed in with the other ingredients it didn't overwhelm anything. On a day in the height of winter when it and absolutely freezing cold outside, this was a perfect winter warmer of a lunch.
A generous portion of red hot freshly roasted seasonal vegetables served with a dollop of reassuringly stodgy home-made mayonnaise. The veg involved resulted in a mix of textures, some extremely crisped up and others more part baked resulting in an enjoyable mix of consistencies, a great little take on a boring old side of fries. Really enjoyable.
“Stuffed Mutton in Ale, glazed beetroot, sautéed sprouts and puy lentils”
I didn’t actually dig into this one myself but I was being so enthusiastic about my dish that my friend offered me a spoonful of his. The mutton was cooked well and full of flavour - the sprouts and lentils as a base made for another great hearty dish, one that seemed just as impressive as the one I was tucking into.
I don’t have enough good things to say about the Northern Monk Refectory; offering the holy trinity of excellent fresh beer in stunning surroundings and with delicious well-priced original food could not have impressed me more. It’s right at the top of my very favourite places to visit in Leeds and you’ll be sure to see me propping up the bar tucking into beer and food in here at every opportunity I get whenever I'm over the Pennines in the future.