Is Leeds turning into London?
‘They both begin with an L’
Something has taken over Leeds, and it’s emerged from a wavy sea of well-oiled beards, home-brewed lager and exposed brickwork.
In the last couple of years, the city has seen an advent of the sort of bars, restaurants and cafés that were before confined to the trendy streets of the capital – the evening hangouts of the much-parodied London hipster set.
Until a few years ago, these craft-drinking rollie-smoking cool kids existed only in small sects in Shoreditch and Dalston.
Well now they’re in Leeds, and they’ve brought burgers with them.
The hallmark of the food-conscious hipster is the gourmet burger, a dietary revolution which has recently spread like an Instagram-heavy virus over the Leeds restaurant scene.
In the past few years, the city has seen the opening of a plethora of gourmet burger joints: Almost Famous, Twisted Burger and Boss Burger have been joined by London heavyweights Byron and Five Guys.
Indeed these new arrivals are merely tapping into a demand – comfort food is at the heart of Leeds’ culinary transformation. The reimagined fish and chips and hot dogs of Trinity Kitchen are a perfect example of changing attitudes towards fast food in the city.
The backlash faced by London twins Alan and Gary Keery’s Cereal Killer Cafe on Brick Lane hasn’t deterred two Beckett graduates who this week opened Leeds’ own mecca to all things that snap, crackle and pop – one of them, Zoe Blogg, told us they didn’t copy the Keery twins:
“We’d had the idea for ages. We came up with it as students when all we wanted was a bowl of cereal as a hangover cure but all we could get was fry-ups.
“Leeds is getting there, and one bonus is the pricing – it’s a lot cheaper than London. I don’t necessarily feel that Leeds copies London though. It has its own vibe and a lot of great independents.”
Moo’d Cereal House, the first of its kind in Yorkshire, will offer 100 types of cereal in a bar setting.
It’s hard to pinpoint when or why comfort food and craft beer became so closely associated with the flannel-shirted hipster subculture, but the two have become so inexplicably linked that it’s now hard to think of one without the other.
In the city centre, one of the most popular new drinking spots is the arty Belgrave Music Hall, whose craft beer selection and obscure band appearances from the likes of “King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard” have resonated with students and locals alike.
The Belgrave’s Simon Stevens says the venue’s opening wasn’t trying to tap into any trends:
“It wasn’t a particularly unique concept – we just wanted to open a really flexible event space that served good food and drink and played good music.
“In the past I think people thought they could get away with charging £4/5 into a grotty nightclub with terrible beer and whilst there will always be people who are just out to get drunk and don’t really care how they do it, the number of people taking an interest in the beer they’re drinking and provenance of their food is definitely on the increase.”
It doesn’t stop there. Across the street the former site of raucous nightclub Bed now plays host to glamorous speakeasy Manahatta and sophisticated-sounding sports bar The Brotherhood of Pursuits & Pastimes.
“Sports bar” may be putting it lightly. The Brotherhood claims to be there “to entertain the gentlefolk of Leeds with the finest sporting events and classic drinks” – because if there’s anything the average rugby fan craves during the big game, it’s jam jar cocktails and “artisan pies”.
Likewise, gone are the days of super-cheap nightclub extravaganzas like Quids In and Tequila – superclubs and shot bars are increasingly bowing out to “Ball Rooms”, “Music Halls” and “Microbreweries”.
Get Baked’s new eatery, run by Richard Myers and Marcus Levin, The Joint stands on the former site of Halo. Co-owner Richard Myers is sceptical about the Leeds/London comparisons.
“I think for some reason people think Leeds is really ahead of the game but in reality we’re just part of the bigger picture.”
“Just because someone is opening a ‘cereal cafe’ in Headingley doesn’t mean that Leeds is turning into London. Craft beers, for example, are ‘big’ all over the country, not just in London, nor Leeds.”
“There is however one glaring similarity between Leeds and London which often catches people off guard. They both begin with an ‘L.'”
Sarcasm aside, Myers has a point – the trend for niche foods and craft beer is hardly confined to Leeds.
But it just happens to be a revolution that has spread up north from the capital – a trend in turn adapted from the changing food and nightlife scenes of US cities like Seattle and New York.
We’ve got the greasy burgers, the bacconaise-smothered chips, the Brooklyn Lager on tap. The Roxy Ball Room even has beer pong tables for guests to use.
One of the hallmarks of the LeedsLDN movement is a focus on fresh, locally-sourced produce – meaning that local farmers and brewers often benefit.
North Bar has championed local beer for years, but new names like The East Village and Tapped have been quick to forge close relationships with local breweries.
Ilkley Brewery’s Luke Raven certainly sees the change as a positive development:
“Beer is always going to be here to stay but, like everything, it goes through phases – the hipster movement is very aligned to beer at the moment, and whether we’ll see a backlash against that I don’t know.
“It’s only happened in the last two years or so, but now Leeds really is the centre of things in the north now. People in London are avoiding expanding to Leeds because the competition is so strong.”
With that in mind, Leeds’ food and drink revolution may not be such a bad thing after all.
Pass me one of those artisan pies.