Ahead of their ambitious expansion, Neil Sowerby revisits the beery brethren’s Leeds HQ
TICKETS have been on sale since December for Hop City at Northern Monk Brew Co (now sold out). The UK’s first hop-led beer festival returns to their Old Flax Store HQ for Easter Weekend, 33 breweries celebrating the tastes at the core of the craft beer revolution.
It’s an appropriate venue as Russell Bissett and his merry monkish crew inch ever closer to a £1.5m crowdfunding bonanza, enabling them to triple capacity and expand into Manchester and London with new bars. So it seemed a good time to check out the original Refectory tap, occupying the first floor of the the industrial chic Grade II listed mill building.
Refectories, of course, were the communal hub of real monasteries, where manifold devotions could mingle. My own particular object of worship in NM’s early days, exceptional beer aside, was the pop-up food offering from Grub and Grog, now decamped to their own premises under a mile away in Sheaf Street. We featured it recently in Accidentally Vegan – 7 places to eat vegan without even trying. It’s still the same formula that entranced a couple of years ago in the Refectory, vegan-led with meat and fish dishes marked with an ‘m’ and ‘f’.
Manchester and London are both going to be very lucky cities...
Recently Northern Monk’s pop-up kitchen takeover has featured different trader each two months. Currently it’s Caribbean Kitchen; next up, starting April 3, is Wapentake - the Yorkshire centric bar and diner we enjoyed immensely on our Dog-friendly indie bar crawl round Kirkgate/Call Lane.
Talking of canine chums, NM’s resident pooch Morag (whose duties include escorting brewery tours) has just won a national photo competition to find the top office dog. Her rangier predecessor Alfie was partial to sharing a small plate or two with you but, alas, no more; we noticed his memorial on the wall. He’s now ‘flying with the Valkyries to Asgard’.
What would Alfie have made of our spicy chickpea balls (£4), half a jerk chicken (£8.50) and a special of goat curry (£10.50)? We certainly found the going wuff. Billed as mild, the tender goat’s spicing was as coarse as one of those old Chinese takeaway curries, the accompanying coconut rice/peas rice and steamed veg anaemic.
Across the table the sweet potatoes were dry and stringy, the jerk chicken, a decent texture but one-dimensional. Big hand, though, for the deep-fried crispy chickpea balls, which are perfect beer nibbles.
And what beers to choose from across sixteen keg lines and two cask, most brewed on site; the next table were hitting the DIPA cans with glorious abandon. We went for the stalwart Eternal IPA, then moved up to New World IPA. It was lunchtime and it seemed wise to spurn the allure of 9.5% Strannik Russian Imperial Stout or the even stronger You’re Not Getting Any Blueberry Milk Stout, one of several guests from Belfast’s Boundary brewco.
So the food may be patchy, but NM’s beer offering takes some beating. Manchester and London are both going to be very lucky cities when their crowdfunded Northern Monk taps arrive.