Tetley’s, was as much a part of Leeds as United and the Town Hall clock, or at least it was until 2011, when owner Carlsberg announced it was closing down and moving its operations to Wolverhampton.
The Tetley dynasty began in 1822 and grew to become the north’s biggest brewery. By the 1970s Joshua Tetley & Sons owned half the pubs in Leeds, more than 1,000 in Yorkshire and 2,000 in the rest of the UK. They produced a million barrels a year and local delivery was by dray pulled by a team of shire horses that were only retired in 2006.
Its closure was a bombshell, not only for the workforce, but also for the legion of loyal Tetley Bitter fans who mourned not just their beer but the landmark red neon sign and the whiff of hops in the Hunslet air, all an enduring part of the city for nearly 200 years.
There was a campaign to save it with CAMRA protests, petitions and early day motions in Parliament. But it closed anyway. A wake was held outside the brewery on the day it shut on June 17, 2011.
The brewery was demolished last year but the 1931 art deco headquarters was saved. Project Space Leeds, a contemporary art and education charity, has helped turn Tetley HQ into an art gallery, workshop space and, as we discovered within a week of its opening, a rather good bar and restaurant.
We arrived on a day when central Leeds was in lock-down after high December gales had closed Bridgewater Place and various streets around. Having negotiated police barriers and wild winds we finally arrived by foot at the polished mahogany reception desk like some latter day Arctic explorers
After the grand reception area with its superb black iron lift (sadly not in use) and the war memorials engraved with the names of Tetley staff who served and fell in the Great War, the restaurant feels more institutional – but in a good way. The half panelled walls, the sash windows, the bubbled glass, the parquet flooring and the big old radiators took me back to primary school. The metal chairs are Tetley survivors and the tables are made from reclaimed Tetley timber. It’s a smart restoration job subtly integrating old and new.
A big, wide ranging menu is often a warning of trouble ahead but not here. This one goes from breakfast, brunch, platters, salads, starters, mains, grills and sides and onto puddings and afternoon tea and if the rest of the day’s cooking measures up to lunch, we’re all laughing.
With starter prices rarely topping a fiver, we sampled country vegetable soup, salt beef salad, root vegetable salad and some darkly crisped whitebait in a brown paper cone with an excellent tartare sauce. Satisfaction all round.
Next up my Pantry Platter was a board loaded with – take a deep breath – homity pie of leek, potato and onion with a grilled cheese topping, then courgette fritters, garlic mushrooms, hummus, Cheddar cheese, celery, blue cheese dip, salad leaves and bread. To state the obvious it was filling, a dessert-deterrent plateful, a steal for £9.95 and thoroughly enjoyable although the hunks of Cheddar sat a little oddly with the rest of the ingredients.
Restaurant gammon is normally best steered clear of but here their rare breed Tetley-soaked bacon chop (£12.50), thick, moist and porky, served with well grilled fennel and tomato, was a winner. Mercifully, there were no pineapple rings in sight. More Tetley’s enriched a winter warming beef and ale stew with suet dumplings (£8.50). Side-ordered chips (£3) were the business, too.
Hearty dishes of meat and ale, dumplings and potatoes then, but if this is beginning to sound like lunch with Desperate Dan, there is plenty of lighter stuff – a tick for accurately grilled salmon with celeriac, beetroot and carrots (£12.50) – and a fair choice for veggies: soup, homity pie, mushrooms on toast and two or three salads such as quinoa, beetroot and butternut squash to which carnivores can add a side of chicken, salmon or salt beef.
The dessert menu continued to assert confidence in British standards and classics: sticky toffee pudding, apple pie or rhubarb crumble served with cream, ice cream or custard, chocolate pots, Yorkshire cheeses or fruitcake with Cheddar, again all priced about £5.
Like the food, the drinks list covers a full side of A3 with some interesting wines, half a page of spirits, bottled beers and, naturally, Tetley’s on draught, but oddly they listed no wines by the glass, although, when asked, we were offered a Sauvignon and a Chardonnay. Service was efficient and staff were well clued in to the history as well as the food.
The restoration is as impressive as the kitchen. We took time out to explore the galleries and visit the oak-panelled boardroom with its oil portraits of stern Victorian brewers. I don’t know what they’d have made of the installation art around their old HQ, but I’m pretty sure they’d have enjoyed their lunch. Like a good pint of Tetleys, it all went down very well.
The Tetley, Hunslet Road, Leeds LS10 1JQ. 0113 320 2323, [email protected], www.thetetley.org. Open: Monday-Friday, 9am-11pm; Saturday, 10am-11pm; Sunday, 10am-10pm. Price: Dinner £22 plus coffee, wine and service.