Well, with Great Yorkshire Bottled Beer all packaged up and sent to the publishers, I ventured out of my cave this week – and with a brand-spanking new bar to visit, too: Bundobust.
I’d been intrigued about this bar after hearing the concept – still at embryonic stage then – given to me by Marko Husak during this interview. It seems so long ago now, but upon walking through the doors to this fine establishment, I realised that although it may have taken Marko and his team a little longer than expected to execute their audacious idea, the wait was worth it.
Why? Well, it’s simply unlike anything that’s currently trading. Much like Friends of Ham before it, the concept seems so simple, yet no-one had really picked up the baton and ran with it before. This is not a restaurant; it’s a bar, serving great beer with great food.
The food is the ace in the pack here. You can trust the creative team behind The Sparrow to ensure that the beer is ‘on point’ without any doubt; shiny keg fonts and two full fridges showcase Yorkshire heavyweights (Saltaire, Kirkstall, Magic Rock),with US and Euro imports providing backing vocals to give plenty of stylistic choice to accompany your food. At the time of my visit, you could have opted for a smoked porter, Vienna lager, pale ale, weissbeer, fruit beer, IPA and pilsner at any one time – if you were so inclined, of course. Beer and food matching isn’t pushed here; it’s just a matter of course, casually dangled in front of you rather than pushed under your nose.
Courtesy of Prashad (the Drighlington-based, award-winning family restaurant), the menu is short, tidy and incisive, ranging in price between £3 – £6, depending on your hunger levels. Think of it as South Indian tapas (I’m loathe to use the term Street Food, given that you’re not on the street) and you’re in the right ballpark – but what food it is. Small, manageable pots of deliciousness that have you wondering what you’re going to try next before you’ve finished the one you’re enjoying. When you’re a committed carnivore – the son and grandson of a butcher – vegetarian menus can provide little comfort, but there’s nothing to fear here. Flavour, texture and variety flood the senses, and if you’ve been canny about your beers, you’ve got a unique and vibrant meal on your hands.
…and that’s perhaps a good word to use here. Vibrant. The whole bar is vibrant, with chatter and murmurs of approval, laughter and hustle from the kitchen; the staff attentive and friendly. Our dainty stack of Bhaji – held together with a sweet and sour chutney – redefined Bhaji in my book: dense yet light, the perfect blend of cauliflower, potato and spice, quite unlike the deep-friend, gram-flour heavy cannonballs usually served up. Alongside a crisply floral Coriander Pilsner (the house beer, such is its popularity), that little pot defined the menu; tasty, easy, keenly priced.
Mikeller’s bright, light US Pale disappeared in pints (and so it should, given its 2.4% abv) yet provided the perfect backdrop to a frivolous pot of popcorn and crushed poppadum doused in garlic and coriander oil. Finger – lickin’ good. Bhel Puri was the definition of moreish; cold yet strangely warming given the afterglow of heat that followed each mouthful – a pot of cold, snappy rice and vermicelli noodle, sweet chutney and chili spice. Camden Pale doused the heat here, and provided a little sweetness to balance the sour heat.
Decor-wise, you’re looking at a long room with a bar at the end, including an open kitchen and a pleasant alley outside to sit in the sun. Sure, there’s some long expanses of wall that could perhaps do with some art on them, but its early days yet. You order at the bar – food and beer – and this could cause delays on busier times. But these are minor quibbles, and ones that I’m sure the team will sort out as they find their feet. Bundobust is a welcome and well-executed breath of fresh air to Leeds’ dining scene, and they’ve scored another patron in me on the strength of a single visit. If you’ve not been, I recommend you go now before the mainstream press pick up the chatter and descend to ‘discover’ it, as I am sure they will.
The thing is, you could go here to solely to drink, such is the bar. But I know that when I go back – and I won’t leave it as long this time – I’m going to find it hard to resist ordering a little portion of Bhaji to go with my cold one. And therein lies the beauty of Bundobust.
‘It feels full-time! laughs Dave Bishop when I ask him whether he considers himself a brewer now. ‘ It’s taking over my life, but I do have a full-time job. Russ calls me a brewer, but its feel a little strange, then!’ How about you, Russell? ‘I’m doing this full-time, but I don’t have a title.’ he asserts. ‘MD or something would feel a little strange.’ Founder, I offer. ‘Yeah, perhaps…’ he agrees, taking another swig of his pint.
It’s been hard to ignore Northern Monk Brewing Co round theses parts in the last few weeks. The promise of a new brewery and a new beer has certainly set tongues wagging, and when it’s someone you know – and have watched fulfill a particular desire – it makes it all the more intriguing. I’ve known David for a while now, popping up at launches, events and festivals. He’s a talented homebrewer (He and Matt Lovatt created Joshua Jane with Ilkley Brewery – now a regular beer) with a wicked sense of humour. A likeable fellow, he’s been doing anything but seeing the humour in the creation of Northern Monk. As we talk, modes switch into total seriousness – you can feel that both he and Russell are juggling a lot at the moment; brewing, marketing, selling, launching. Talking.
Talking to people like me.
NMBCo’s story actually starts around four years ago, when Russell Bisset and another colleague of his entered a Young Entrepreneurs competition. The idea? ‘Well, we wanted to set up a brewery – something modern and new.’ It didn’t win, and Bristol-based Russell went back to his day job, feeling more and more unfulfilled as he went on. Russell’s keen to point out that his expertise doesn’t lie in brewing; developing business is his initial interest – so when he finally had the means to do so, he decided he wanted to resurrect his brewery idea.
Russell relocated to Shipley,moved in with family to save money, and begun to get a feel for the landscape in terms of beer and potential partners. David came onto his radar purely by his aforementioned reputation. Contact was made: ‘Dave turned out to not only be a decent bloke but also shared my ideas about what I wanted to do. He was also incredibly transparent about where he was (in terms of brewing experience) and where he wanted to be.’ Russell says. Dave’s certainly not the first homebrewer to be scooped up and ‘go pro’ – recently Wharfebank have brought Steve Crump into the team (another award-winning Yorkshire homebrewer) and the likes of Mallinson’s, SummerWine and Revolutions Brewing are built on the foundations of homebrewing.
‘It’s not actually the first time someone’s contacted me with the same proposition, so I actually dismissed the approach at first.’ Dave says. ‘A short time later, I got another email with a ridiculous amount of information on it. I decided it was serious, and that we should meet. It was great. So much work had gone into the project already, and we went from there.’
The one thing missing was a brewery.
The proposal was a simple one; NMBCo would follow in the footsteps of Revolutions, Steel City, Mikeller and many others by brewing on someone else’s kit. In this case, Ripon’s Hambleton Ales provided the hardware.
So why not open a brewery? I ask. ‘We just felt that if we started small (in terms of capacity), it might take a long time to grow. At the core of what we want to do is simply make good beer; by taking a cuckoo approach we feel that we can find our feet and experiment somewhat.We personally feel that our money was best spent perhaps making the beer; investing in ingredients and growing expertise rather than physical kit. It’s an approach we are happy with at the moment.’ says Russell, before reiterating that of course, a brewery is on the cards in the not-too-distant future.
So, Hambleton is the home of Northern Monk – for the time being at least. Other breweries were approached but Hambleton were the most receptive to their ideas and Nick Hambleton has been providing feedback – good and bad, as you’d expect. ‘Nick probably doesn’t need us there, but he seems to really understand what we are trying to do, and lets us get on with it.’ says David. Hambleton are doing the bottling, too, so the entire process is being handled in one operation. Dave explains how great Hambleton’s have been in terms of feedback, advice, help and generally mentoring him – despite the beer being entirely different to what Hambleton brew.
‘It’s difficult to go onto someone else’s kit and processes and rules; but we were fully aware of this but we’re pleased with the results.’ Dave adds.
The result was New World IPA (6.2% abv),a beer that both represents the output of a period of discovery, hard work, and bringing ideas on paper to life. Sure, the beer’s a little rough around the edges – it’s very sweet, full of boiled-sweet thickness – but has a pleasingly restrained hop snap (more tangerine and lemon-rind than Grapefruit) at the finish. It’s not aggressive – as I was expecting – and ends up feeling nicely balanced. The New World part refers to the hops (there’s some Galaxy in there, among others) but the upcoming beers will have their roots firmly in England.
‘Why IPA first? It’s the style of beer I probably drink the most.’ smiles David, matter-of-factly. Russ continues, laying out the essence of MNBCo ‘We want to do things from a British angle. There’s a lot of US influence over here, but I think we (The British) influence them just as much.’
‘We actually talked about doing a Barley Wine first, but realistically it would take too long to mature and get out there. So we settled on our take on an IPA; solid with a medium abv and nothing too harsh in terms of bitterness. I wanted it to have a bright finish -which it does!’ admits Dave.
‘We should be brewing again soon. Within weeks, actually. We plan to brew once a month, and we aim to have a range of ten beers or so eventually, with four core beers.’
The beer was launched at a hot, humid and typically joyous night at The Sparrow last week. A bloke in a Monk’s habit strode around – as did a similarly-attired dog – and the beer was accompanied by some deliciously-spiced Jerk Chicken with Mango Chutney, courtesy of Maggie Cubbler (Loaded Kitchen). The launch seemed a success, with brewers from the likes of Magic Rock and Saltaire giving support and advice to the fledgling Monks. And, of course, it was entirely right for them to work with The Sparrow at the launch. Russell and David are proud to be located in, and supporting, Bradford.
Keep an eye out for it, and tell the guys what you think. The image, labelling and website is all confidently slick and certainly sets the beer apart on the bar. Hopefully it won’t be too long until we another beer from NMBCo, now that those all-important first steps have been taken. And that’s exactly how I would pitch the beer to you, dear reader – a promising start with work to do – but certainly one to watch.
Check out David’s blog for some excellent posts about his ups and downs in his shift from homebrewer to pro – I recommend them.