The Cross keys has been a pub since way back. At one point it was closed down for a good while until North Bar took it on about ten years ago. The ground floor is L shaped and in stark contrast to the original North Bar, the Cross keys is not a bar at all, it’s a proper pub, homely, cosy, well done out with a real pubby atmosphere, albeit a slightly upmarket one. Outside there’s a nice courtyard for summer drinking and smoking and up a spiral staircase there’s another room with it’s own bar. The toilets which are first rate and the kitchens are also on the second floor.
On the bar and the shelves were a bit of the best of everything, a really good selection of ales, if you couldn’t find something that you fancied here then you need to give up. Staff are very friendly and helpful and really looked after us from the moment we walked in. I could have chosen several of the draught ales, four cask, seven keg, but ended up with Marble Pint, a very pale and subtle bitter, it went well with my meal. I thought the prices were pretty reasonable for the city centre. The excellent North Prototype (brewed by Kirkstall) was only £3.10 per pint, the only reason I didn’t have this one was that it’s got quite a robust taste which might not have gone well with fish.
Foodwise, I hadn’t eaten here before. I had though seen the place packed at Sunday lunchtimes with people queuing up for hearty looking traditional dinners which have won accolades. Ten of us were booked in and it’s always interesting to see how some places cope with more than four or five diners at once, some can’t even get that right. Our table was in the upstairs James Watt room (as in the famous engineer and not the Brewdog guy). It’s quite a good venue for a group like this, almost self contained, you can book the entire room with it’s own bar for functions. Everything was neatly laid out in readiness. The menu? I’d sum it up as modern British pub grub, you could have a substantial meal like Fish and chips or just a sandwich, which turned out to be equally substantial.
The only reservation I have got is the ‘mushy peas’. It said mushy peas on the menu but they weren’t mushy peas they were smashed, minted, processed peas. Folks, this is just wrong, this is a pub in Leeds, Yorkshire, The North of England. You have got to have proper mushy peas. Bachelor’s, steeped overnight with those little tablets and boiled up with salt and sugar. Yeah, they may be the vegetable equivalent of napalm, sticking to the pan and burning anyone they come into contact with, but it’s got to be proper mushy peas. Don’t get me wrong, the peas weren’t nasty, I tasted some, they were really nice, they just weren’t mushy peas. I would suggest a change of fayre or declaration on the menu; minted pea puree would be better?
Now I’ve got that out of my system, I had a fish finger sandwich. Thick granary type bread with crisply battered, quality succulent fish goujons, stacked high just waiting to be slathered with ketchup and mayo. This is the sort of thing I would make at home for myself, if they turned out like these every time I would be well pleased. The biggest problem was knowing where to start. I can see me going back again and again, just for one of these. With a shared bowl of chips, which were crispy, crunchy, chunky this was a proper belly buster of a meal.
I’m not going to into detail about every dish, but the verdict from everyone was unanimously positive, especially about the chips and the gravy accompanying some of the meals. The quality of basic elements says so much about a kitchen. The service was excellent, ten meals all arrived at the same time, piping hot. Helpful staff repeatedly and specifically returned to make sure everything was okay. We all had drinks with our meal, a plentiful supply of corporation pop appeared without asking and with a decent tip for the staff, we threw thirteen quid each into the kitty. I think that represented excellent value for money.
The Cross keys is a good place to eat and drink, it would be an excellent venue for a working lunch or a private party too. If you’ve never been I would say get yourself down to Holbeck and try it, there’s some of the best boozers in Leeds tucked away down there.
The only thing that needs changing for me is the front door onto Water lane. It’s annoyed me for ages, it’s cheap looking, stark white and I bet many people have just walked past it, none the wiser. North Bar, you really need to get a new door, and a sign writer to paint the pubs name on it. Oh, and reclassify the (not so) mushy peas.