I have visited a few establishments since the lifting of lockdown but they were places I did not know so, as far as I was concerned, the lack of other diners might have been the norm for the time of day when I called. Today, however, I was made starkly aware of the damage done to our hospitality sector by the pandemic and the measures introduced to combat it.
The Midnight Bell used to be my local when I lived in Candle House on Granary Wharf some years ago and it used to get pretty packed on Friday afternoon so, as I was meeting someone, I took the precaution of booking a table for my lunch at 2.00. I must add that this was just before the introduction of ‘Tiers’ banning people from separate households meeting up indoors. As is my wont I arrived early, at 1.45, but instead of being met by the sound of office workers spending their dinner break discussing their plans for the weekend, I entered to the sound of my own footsteps. I had never seen it so quiet.
After the new normal procedure of checking in, hand sanitising and form filling, I was shown to a table where I was invited to scan the QR code provided in order to read the menu. I had a good idea what I wanted – a pint of Leeds Pale – which was brought to enjoy before my companion arrived. The lunch menu is reasonably varied with a selection of Sandwiches and Wraps along with some Light Bites. Whichever you choose you can opt to include a pint of Leeds Brewery Ale, Leodis Lager, Aspinall Cider, 125ml House Wine, Pepsi or Lemonade for an extra £2. No brainer.
My lunch date arrived and availed herself of the Leodis Lager offer whilst deciding on a Beer Battered Haddock Goujon Sandwich in Granary Bread with Home Made Tartare Sauce. It included chips or salad, again a no brainer! It was £7.50 and looked great. I was informed that it tasted as good as it looked.
Having perused the menu on-line before I made the booking, my fancy was taken by Crispy Pork Belly on a Dressed Mixed Salad served in a Delicate Pastry Basket, again £7.50. They use the same edible receptacle in which to serve Grilled Chicken Caesar salad but I eschewed this as I had enough of Chicken in a Basket in the 1970s.
The pork belly was cut into small pieces and certainly lived up to its description of being crisp, although still retaining the unctuous fatty middle which gives it its wonderful taste. The components of the salad were different sorts of leaves with chopped red onions, spring onions and cherry tomatoes. The tangy vinaigrette counterbalanced the pork belly a treat. Although the ‘delicate pastry basket’ looked like a popadom it was not spicy so didn’t overpower the tastes of the main ingredients.
The service, as you would expect with very few customers – a few came in after us – was exemplary and a second pint appeared without our needing to wait longer than it took to put down the empty glass on the table and indicate to the barman/waiter that we wanted a refill.
It is tragic that such a great pub seems to be suffering so badly, but as it is in the heart of the tech quarter which is so accommodating to home working, it is probably not that surprising. I also noticed that since I moved out of Candle House there is building work going on at the junction of Wharf Approach and Water Lane which renders the pub invisible from Granary Wharf, even I suspect, from the vantage point of my erstwhile 10th floor flat.
I strongly recommend a visit if you are in Leeds as they also have outdoor seating to the rear, enabling you still to meet someone from another household under the new restrictions. I just hope that they haven’t changed by the time you read this.
All photographs by Stan Graham