We’ve been watching the rise of Northern Monk Brew Co. over the last few years very closely, and we’ve been waiting patiently for the Refectory… it opened just in time for this, our 175th review!
Northern Monk is quietly establishing itself as a kind of “BrewDog south of the border”, with similar ambition, marketing and (most importantly) beer quality. The brewery has just moved into new premises in the old flax store of Marshall’s Mill, on the edge of Holbeck, and they’ve opened this taproom upstairs.
We went twice for this review — once on a preview evening (most of our photos are from then) and once again over the weekend when they were fully open. It was clear even in those few days that they’re constantly taking feedback and making improvements, and we expect they’ll just keep getting better.
The Refectory is a large airy space with huge windows on both sides. Most of the seating is at communal benches but there are a few more romantic tables with proper chairs by the windows. The décor is beautiful, with exposed bricks, industrial relics, jars of hops/malt and art (for sale). [I’d like to give special mention to the (gender-neutral) toilets as probably the most amazing toilets we’ve seen on the Quest. If you like that sort of thing.]
Oh, right. The beer. There are sixteen kegs (8 Northern Monk and 8 guests) and two Northern Monk casks on at all times. Beer is available in ⅓pt measures (as well as ½pt and 1pt) which is great if you want to try a lot of them. There are beer menus on the tables and a blackboard listing all the beers (this is one of the things they improved in 3 days). The prices are pretty amazing for the beer quality you’re getting, even for the guest beers. As well as on tap, there’s a well stocked fridge featuring a good mix from Ilkley, Weird Beard, Founders, Kernel, Magic Rock, Sam Smith’s, Buxton, Partizan…
The other main draw here is that Leeds’s legendary Grub & Grog Shop has found a permanent home in the Refectory’s kitchen. This means that breakfast, lunch & dinner there’s incredibly cheap food cooked to all kinds of recipes that you can’t find anywhere else. We’ve been big fans of G&G for a long time now and it’s so exciting to be able to eat there any time we like!
Music is awesome and played at a reasonable volume. When the bar is quiet it’s incredibly peaceful in here. When it’s busy it’s pretty noisy (apparently acoustics weren’t important to the designers of flax stores — who knew?) but I still found I was able to find a table corner to read a book with my beer.
All the staff are amazing and really listen to their customers: something that has always set both Northern Monk and Grub & Grog apart from their competition since they started. I guess the only criticisms we have are that there’s currently no wifi or outdoor seating, and it’s completely inaccessible for people who can’t manage a flight of stairs (again, not a concern for Victorian industrialists…!) but other than these it’s close to being our perfect bar in Leeds.
Northern Monk is exactly what happens when you take the brewing expertise and enterprise of someone like BrewDog and give it a Yorkshire accent. Do we have to review the rest of the bars on the Quest, or can we just live here?