Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The Cross Keys, Holbeck Urban Village

You will find The Cross Keys tucked away on the edge of Leeds city centre, in what is now known as "Holbeck Urban Village" - yet it is definitely no ordinary urban pub.

Holbeck Urban Village (HUV) sounds slightly pretentious and, for those who know the area, somewhat euphemistic; once the industrial heartland of Leeds, more latterly Holbeck had become a semi-derelict red-light district. However a program of regeneration has seen the beginnings of a transformation into a cool new mixed use business and residential community.

Built in 1802, The Cross Keys was a hostelry for local foundry workers and boasts a colourful history. Then in the 1980s the pub was closed and left to decay, until it was rescued by the folks behind the legendary North Bar. Following an extensive renovation, life has now been brought back to this historical landmark from the height of Leeds’ industrial past.

Step in off the street and you are transported into 21st century pub heaven. It has all the qualities of a traditional British pub, but with a modern twist. There are some great original features; wooden floors, beams, brick walls and a wood-burning stove and the decor is all vintage mirrors, old pictures and patterned china plates. The result is a rather cool urban hang out, rather than some olde worlde pub, but it strikes a great balance and still manages to be cosy and full of character. There is also a rather amazing outdoor courtyard for alfresco drinking and summer BBQs.

On the bar you'll find some excellent local ales, usully including an offering from Roosters of Knaresborough, accompanied by three changing guest beers and a great wine list. There is also an extensive inventory of draught and bottled beer and cider.

We ordered a couple of pints of Roosters and grabbed a table in the bar. It was Thursday evening and the place was busy with a lively mix of people eating and after work drinkers.

They serve an interesting menu of traditional British food made from locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. It is a limited menu (in size, not appeal) but is usually complemented by a couple of specials. They explain that by "British" food they mean dishes that capture the heritage and heart of the nation's food culture, recreating and reinventing long lost recipes and traditional classics indigenous to our islands - not some generic homogeneous gastro pub menu offering Thai spiced fishcakes or tomato mozzarella tart. On our last visit I enjoyed a really smashing rabbit pie, so was keen to find out what was on offer on the autumn menu.

For his starter Dave chose the Cullen skink with thyme croutons. It was served with the rich velvety soup in a jug to pour over the moist smoked fish, potatoes and croutons.

I had the Gloucester Old Spot pork terrine, pickled onions and toast; a generous slab of porky terrine slathered onto thick hot toast with a welcome hint of piquancy from the onions.

For mains I procrastinated over the intriguingly sounding cauliflower cheese with deep fried duck egg, autumn greens and tarragon dressing. However in the end neither of us could resist the Swaledale lamb - rump and breast of lamb with pearl barley, fennel and rosemary juices (definitely not jus!). We also went for a side order of buttered kale, despite advice from our helpful waiter that the portion would probably be sufficiently hearty without any extras. The lamb was tasty and well cooked; the rump slightly pink, the breast rolled and slow roasted until meltingly tender. I don't recall ever having seen lamb breast on a pub menu before and although it is undoubtedly fatty, it is a very tasty cut. The pale green fennel puree was perfectly smooth and added a welcome freshness to the rich, earthy dish. It also benefited from the addition of the kale which gave added colour to what was essentially a delicious but quite brown plate of food.

For desert we shared a chocolate tart with salted lavender caramel, which was a revelation. The pastry was thin and crisp and the subtle salty notes from the otherwise sweet caramel sauce provide a perfect balance to the bitter chocolate.

I cannot testify (yet), but hear they also do an excellent Sunday Roast.

What's more there is a real attempt by the owners play an active role in the revitalisation of this emerging part of the city and to connect with the local community. They hold seasonal markets in the courtyard, a weekly quiz and offer take away fish & chips as well as a parcel minding service for locals.

The short walk into Holbeck is more than worth your while for a traditional but chic pub with an impressive ethos and a fantastic menu of hearty food and proper beer.

The Cross Keys
107 Water Lane, Leeds LS11 5WD