Best Place to Drink – Friends of Ham
THE NORTH STARS
Meet the couple who travelled the world to bring the best of the craft beer revolution back home to Yorkshire.
When Friends of Ham opened in July 2012, craft beer was still a niche interest. According to Claire and Anthony Kitching, the couple behind this cafe-bar in the centre of Leeds, they could have easily stocked ‘every single good beer’ produced in the country at the same time. Since then, there’s been a beer-making revolution – 170 new breweries in the UK in the last 12 months – and they have to be more choosy, ‘or there’d been no room for customers’.
Friends of Ham is a magnet for craft-beer devotees, who come to sample the latest IPA from a local microbrewer such as Northern Monk in nearby Holbeck or an obscure import from the US (400 Pound Monkey IPA by Colorado’s Left Hand Brewing Company was a standout from my visit) – but it doesn’t feel elitist. They’ve limited themselves to just nine beers on tap and there’s no muttering into beards if you don’t know the different between cask and keg.
Most of the draught beer is British, with a good range of local names – Yorkshire has a strong brewing tradition – but inspiration for the bar itself came from abroad. In 2010, after packing in their jobs in London (Claire worked in recruitment, Anthony in construction), the couple embarked on a rad trip across America. ‘We thought we’d be drinking Bud Light the whole time’ says Claire, ‘but then we got to Portland and the beer was incredible.’
Like many in craft-beer scene, they returned full of enthusiasm for the current generation of American brewers, champions of small-scale production and big, hoppy flavours. The attention to detail in US bars didn’t escape their notice, and at Friends of Ham much thought has gone into presentation with a range of glassware and wooden flights available to sample everything on tap.
Trips around Europe also yielded inspiration. Mixing ideas from Belgium, Italy and France with elements of a British pub might sound potentially disastrous, but the Kitchings have made it work. The ground floor, a recently expanded bar displaying cured meats and cheese, look less like a Leeds boozer than something you’d be pleased to find in Madrid. Downstairs a low-lit space with benches, armchairs and table service, has the laid-back feel of a continental cafe.
The magnificent plates of Serrano ham and Colston Bassett stilton are, the Kitchings inset, just as important as the beer. Much thought, too, has gone into the wine list. (They also serve sherry and cider, but no spirits). It’s a combination that seems to please almost everyone – even the real ale traditionalists; last year, Camra nominated Friends of Ham for a pub of the season award.
Early on, locals were occasionally dubious about some of the more intensely flavoured beers on offer, and according to Claire there was a resistance to the very un-Yorkshire idea of small measures. ‘Guys would say, ‘That beer sounds delicious, I’ll have a pint.’ We’d say ‘It’s 10.5%, why don’t you have a third instead?’ and they’d say ‘Oh no, I don’t have anything smaller than a pint.’
But, according to Anthony, who grew up in near-by bradford, attitudes are changing fast. ‘There are more forward-thinking beer fans our there than there used to be.’
Killian Fox, page 45, The Observer Food Monthly MagazineBack to Reviews