Sarah Cotterill has a chinwag over breakfast bao butties with general manager Dan Harding
As ketchup finds the gaps between my fingers, and glutinous bun flour sticks to the front of my teeth, I contemplate what might be the world’s worst interview food. Luckily Harding is no stranger to a breakfast bao, or the saving grace of the greaseproof paper lining the polystyrene bowl, branded with Little Bao Boy’s stickers. “I’ve had about three or four,” he confirms, “…a day”.
I don’t blame him. The bao has that squidge you get from cheap white sliced bread, best friend to bacon, especially the morning after a night on the tiles, or maybe the taps, in this case. I’ve mopped up a hangover with every carb going, but it’s not often I find myself eating breakfast in a bar. I ask about North Brewing Co’s decision to open round the clock: “We want to be a place for everybody and anybody.” Harding is certainly inviting. “I wasn’t sure what the clientele would be, because we’re in the financial district of town,” he continues, “but we’ve had a pretty eclectic mix…families early doors, right through to people staying in here for the whole night.”
We want to be a place for everybody and anybody
The menu projected above the bar, corroborates this message. They have clearly aimed to cater for a mass market; alongside eighteen different beers, there’s Prosecco and Aperol Spritz on tap, with Espresso Martini soon to be added to the line-up. You may as well plug yourselves up to the kegs and drink intravenously. The white wine has gone down a storm, and number twenty-one, a Tempranillo Bobal red Harding describes as a super fruity “drink now wine”. I look at my watch: not yet ten o’clock, I’m still going on my mug of coffee, the Taproom’s own blend by Darkwoods.
"We just do filter coffee here,” Harding states, keen to cast away any aspersions of the trendy single origins, which he describes as “funky”. I nod to his experience of seeing “notes of plum” when you just want a cup of coffee. Having said that, there is something of the hipster about the place; the Cold Brew Tonic from Fitch, number nineteen on tap, and the abundance of Sriracha on offer.
The latter is James Ooi’s doing, better known as Little Bao Boy, who’s joined forces with the Taproom, to feed the crowd, all day long. The £3 breakfast baos have been a hit, as has the two-for-£7 lunch deal, plus his fresh take on the office staple: the pot noodle. Harding is an avid fan; “He does a beef and kimchi one, and a sesame miso, they’re so good.” James who is on-site, grins. Craft ale has long been partnered with Asian flavours, so everything about this collaboration makes sense. They’ll soon be doing a menu of paired baos with third pints, and have been playing around with prawns in beer batter and IPA laced hot sauce.
With more street food in Leeds than you can shake a kebab stick at, I wondered how important it was for them to open with such an established name on the scene. “James’ ethos and work mentality fits quite nicely with how North operates”, Harding clarifies, “I think he was a bit sceptical at first…but he’s been really busy, he can’t make baos quick enough.”
Over in the corner, Ooi is rolling out circles of dough by hand, bamboo steamers stacked up high beside shelves lined with every colour of Flying Goose imaginable. Growing up drying pots at his Dad’s Middlesborough noodle bar, Ooi has a familial relationship with the local Chinese wholesaler. “We go through more Sriracha Mayo than we do Sputnik”, he laughs. With Ooi’s Hyde Park venture, Aiyo recently closing, the stability here at the Taproom must be welcome.
Bao butties aside, I ask Harding what separates this from other North Bar venues: “It’s bigger and shinier” he decides, “there’s a lot of thought gone into the design of this place…all the wood…the arrows on the cans, it’s all on brand at ten degrees.” Looking around, he’s not wrong, even the fluorescent light tubes are hanging at a jaunt. With tall windows, looking out on to Sovereign Street, the space feels larger than it’s one-hundred seater capacity. It’s clean and open, with modular panelling by Leeds based Plaey Workshop. Despite the 180 jesmonite tiles that make up the bar, North Brewing Co have turned the site around in less than six months.
Operating European style table service, Harding is keen to keep the staff “happy and well informed”. The ever-changing taps include a couple of one-off specials. “We have the ability to syphon off some of the beer before it goes into the barrel and do cool stuff with it” Harding enthuses. “At the minute we’ve got a blueberry and raspberry sour…it’s amazing, it looks like an Innocent Smoothie.”
Having managed Preston and Further North, he’s seen the expansion first hand. I wonder about his thoughts on progression in the industry. “The staff retention of the group is pretty good” he advocates, clearly passionate about the North Bar community. “I always say when someone asks me…it’s a nice place, with nice drinks for nice people, that sums us up not bad.” Not bad indeed.
North Brewing Co Tap Room, 3 Sovereign Street, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 4BA