Review in Pub & Bar Magazine by Charles Campion
Charles Campion dropped into Friends of Ham in April 2014…
If our local guide is to be believed, the correct term for anyone born and bred in Leeds is a “loiner” – he would have it that “loiner” is to Leeds what “scouser” is to Liverpool. It all sounds a bit implausible, but if it is an elaborate spook it is a magnificent one and in central Leeds, loiners do pretty well for themselves.
The craft beer revolution has hit the area around Leeds station like a runaway train. Bars like the Tapped Brew Co. on Boar Lane are full of happy people. This temple to craft beer is owned by the people who opened the Euston Tap in London and have half a dozen bars mainly in the north of England. There’s an on-site brewery with shining kit behind a glass screen so the air in the bar is so laden with malty aroma that you can taste it.
Behind the long bar you’ll find a couple dozen craft beers on tap, and serried ranks of bottles from all over. No wine, no G&T – just beer. With a mini pizza or two to act as ballast. To a Londoner, the prices here would look like a bargain. but what is most impressive is that this bar can thrive while selling beer and cider.
For dinner we moved on to a place that must be a contender for the jolliest name of all time – Friends of Ham. Formerly a city pub, the ground floor retains a bar and that bar offers a splendid range of craft beers. If you are lucky enough to snag one of the handful of bar stools, you can sit opposite the hams and salamis and while away a few glasses. The bottled beer list is extensive – one section, on one page, lists 14 IPAs that range from “All day IPA” (4.7% ABV, £3.60) from Founders Brewing Co. In Michigan; to “Hop Rod Rye” (8% ABV, £5.50) from Bear Republic in California; by way of the excellent IPA (7% ABV, £5.25) from The Kernel in London. When you’ve drunk your way through the IPAs, there are Rauchbiers, Dark Beers, Fruit Beers, Red Ales, Saisons, Wheat Beers, Trappist Beers, Barrel Aged Beers – more than enough to keep you in mischief for years to come.
There has always been some debate over whether a bar, pub or gastropub can be taken seriously if it only sells cold food. The Friends provides a perfect example of a good meal and exemplary flavour matching without the kitchen having to light the gas. Chefs have always known that good buying is every bit as important as good cooking and at Friends the management has obviously pondered what goes well with beer and then decided to major on charcuterie and cheese. The formula works. Venture downstairs and you’ll find yourself in a large cellar room – no windows; porcine artwork on the walls; mis-matched tables and chairs; cutlery brought to table in a pimenton tin; and some high tables with barstools. It’s a pleasant buzzy place, although there are tales of it getting rather overcrowded and somewhat sweaty at the weekends.
The menu is pared down to ‘Food’, ‘Snacks’, ‘Charcuterie’ and ‘Cheese’. The grub comes to table on boards. The Yorkshire board (£15.50) features two salamis from the Reliance and two Yorkshire cheeses (the epic Richard III Wensleydale and Harrogate Blue, both in excellent condition). A small salad by the way of garnish, fig and ale chutney, decent sourdough bread and butter. Well presented and with the salami sliced exceedingly fine to maximise the flavour. What a grand complement for a beer or two. Purists, and indeed any true friends of ham, will opt for a plateful of the Iberico Bellota from Extremadura in Spain – four years old, acorn fed, black footed pigs – a real treat at £17.50. There is no fussy theme restricting the menu, just good things that are sourced wherever they can be found – so stilton from Colston Bassett jostles Monte Enebro from Spain. Another star turn is the ‘Cecina de Leon’ with mozzarella di buffalo’ (£6.50). There is a rock sad with torn shreds of mozzarella and wafer thin cured beed – a kind of Iberian bresaola. The chicken liver pate (£5) – which credits the makers ‘Billy and Mitch’s Much’ and comes with toasted sourdough – is topped with red grape jelly and is really rather good. Or how about sharing a ‘Torta Canarejal’ (£15), that splendid turrent shaped Spanish sheep’ milk cheese? Just slice the top off and dip in, Vacherin style. Then there’s ‘Lardo di Colonnata’ (£6) – very self-indulgent, cured back fat – something that really does melt in your mouth; or a top notch ‘Finocchiona’ from Tuscany – a salami shot through with fennel seeds (£5.50).
For the minority who do not wish to frolic among the moody beers, there is a short but interesting wine list, with all the wines available in a 175ml glass – at £4 the entry point which is wholly reasonable.
Friends of Ham is a very jolly place and being single-minded about the food offer works well. As for the implication that it’s not a proper ‘restaurant’ or ‘gastropub’ because there is no cooking involved…that’s tosh. As anyone will tell you if they’ve been happily browsing their way through the beer list while enjoying a perfectly conditioned cheese or a giant slice of salami sliced so thinly that you an almost read through it. Friends of Ham is certainly very friendly to both loiners and non-loiners alike.
page 32-33, Issue 66Back to Reviews