The average pub is closing down at a rate of 29 per week - but this isn't your average pub...
With an average of 29 pubs in the UK closing every week, and the familiar old statistic that 8 out of 10 businesses fail in their first 18 months, you imagine that the balloons for Brunswick’s upcoming second birthday will be inflated with collective sighs of relief.
The odds were stacked against it pretty convincingly: its location on North Street has been “up-and-coming” for a while now, and while it’s got its fair share of places to boast about nowadays, it’s still yet to be fully embraced.
There’s no big-money hospitality group or sophisticated market research behind the place either, it exists because four friends who met while working on Leeds’ bar circuit wanted a place of their own. It could easily have turned into It’s Always Sunny In Mabgate. Instead, though, they’ve turned a difficult wedge of a plot into a unique, cool, and welcoming pub.
Big windows line the wall adjacent the ground floor bar, spilling light across naked Nordic wood furniture that create an illusion of space beyond the building’s footprint. It’s not the traditional cosy aesthetic conjured by the word “pub”, but it’s just got that pubby feel; you don’t have to wrestle your way to the bar (despite the fact staff are happy to talk you through the ten-ish ales on tap, as well as the packed fridges) and the music is kept at a sensible level and fuck me, I’m getting old aren’t I?
Back to those beers, because they really have put the effort in there. Being pally with the Tall Boys crew really pays off; this was the first pub in Leeds (to my admittedly negligible knowledge) that was pouring new-school big names like Cloudwater, Dugges, and Omnipollo.
There's a menu of dishes that are accomplished while avoiding gastro-pub cliches like breezeblock chips and Thai fish cakes
The top floor is a gallery and event space which hosts exhibitions, bands and DJs, and is very nice if you’re into that kind of thing. Personally, I’ve never managed to make it past the first floor, where an intimate dining room with chummy bench seating is overlooked by a tiny kitchen.
Up here is where you can get arguably the best roast dinner in Leeds (easily the best vegetarian or vegan roast in the city), each accompanied by a miniature Bloody Mary, just because. The rest of the week there's a menu of dishes that are accomplished while avoiding gastro pub cliches; chips the size of breezeblocks and arched, comet-tail smears of sauce leading to a spectacularly boring “Thai fish cake” or something plonked on top, and so on.
What we get instead is a menu combining simple and homely with fresh and inventive. Pastas are excellent, and made by hand in-house. Linguine, murky with squid-ink and sticky with a cured egg yolk, is brought back from the precipice of richness by tomato and chilli. I lasted two days before having to go back for more. Angels hair - a right ball-ache to make but technically near-perfect here - has been backcombed with fierce garlic and parsley, it’s like an upgrade of the best garlic bread you’ve ever had.
There’s more provincial Italian vibes in the braised chicken leg, which comes in a bold sauce with almost identical ingredients to Pasta Puttanesca (coyly translated as Slutty Spaghetti by Nigella) - so named because of its brazen combination of flavours that garlic, olives, and capers bring to the tomato sauce.
Some of the “salady” dishes - scorched baby leeks with the tart velvet of goats curd and pine nuts; poached pear perfumed with dijon and fennel, paired with brittle-toasted hazelnuts - wouldn’t be out of place in North Street neighbours The Reliance or The Swine That Dines, both in concept and execution. That's about as high as a compliment as such a thing can receive.
Because it’s 2017, there’s a brief excursion to Scandinavia (albeit via Peru) in the form of Mackerel ceviche; the skin removed and frazzled into a pungent crisp, accompanied by a hot waft of horseradish.
When the bill came to an impossibly-low sub-£35 I was compelled to give it the old “No no, I won’t accept any freebies or discounts just because I’m...y’know…”.
...Turns there happens to be a 3-for-2 offer on Wednesdays. And that big old slice of humble pie was thrown in for free.
The average pub might be closing down at an alarming rate, but The Brunswick is far from an average pub. Let’s hope it continues to defy the odds for plenty more years to come.
The Brunswick fact file
Baked heirloom potato £2.5
Angels hair pasta £7
Squid Ink linguine £8.5
Braised chicken £7.5
Verdant Fifty Summers 500ml £7.8
San Pellegrino Limonata £1.5
(Baby Leeks £6.5, 3-for-2)
(Dijon Poached Pear £6.5, 3-for-2)
Address: 82 North Street, Leeds LS2 7PN
Heirloom potato 6, Angels hair pasta 9, Squid Ink linguine 9, Braised chicken 7.5, Charred leeks 8, Poached Pear 7.5, Mackerel ceviche 8
As great as you could hope for in a pub, table service can feel a little formal at times.
This isn’t your old man’s old mans’ pub.