So a couple of years ago the Boys Book Club made it’s annual trip to Madrid. We were blown away by many things about that great city but one of the best things were the ‘ham bars’. I’m not sure that is their technical name but it was what we called them and they were basically our idea of heaven, no nonsense bars serving beer, slices of Iberico ham and fantastic cheese. You ordered the beer and then stood around with a crowd aged 17-70 with the ham slices, bread and cheese in a napkin in your non beer holding hand and then you threw the napkin onto the floor when you had finished. The napkins were not swept up so the way to tell a good ‘ham bar’ was to look at the amount of napkins on the floor, the more there were the better the bar. The other thing that was amazing about these bars is that time seemed a relative concept, we never managed to find one that would not serve us !
I think fondly of the Spanish approach to food when I look around Leeds which, despite some notable exceptions, for me fails to deliver if it wants to punch it’s weight as a European city. There is however a new beast on the block that is looking to change this and that is Friends of Ham – what a great name for a bar. It breaks the first rule of bars for me which is never go in a bar near a railway station but Leeds is bucking the trend here and is developing quite a thriving little independent cafe and bar culture around the station.
It’s a great chilled out place with a fantastic selection of beers and wine but what really makes it different it the meat. As soon as you walk into the bar there is a leg of Pork waiting to be sliced – I can’t think of anywhere else in Leeds that this is the case. I asked the bar staff for a mix of meat and cheese and was incredibly impressed by what they produced. The staff could explain what was what, who the suppliers were which gave real confidence in the food. The same applied to the drinks be that the local beer or wine from a particular estate. The whole set up is exactly what I want in a bar and we left incredibly impressed and will return
The evening in Friends of Ham was due to lead us up to watch the Palma Violets at the Nation of Shopkeepers but when we got up there the band had finished. Now I appreciated that licensing laws dictate certain things but for us of a certain age it felt faintly ridiculous to wander to the venue and to see all the bright young things outside excited about a band that us oldies could not see as they were already tucked up in bed.
After failing to see the band we went on to the Town Hall Tavern, arguably one of the best bars in Leeds but who at 10.30 were not serving any more. I think that we will be sparing with our custom in future. If Leeds wants to punch it’s weight as a European city then it needs to have venues and the supporting infrastructure open to support this aim.
So massive thumbs up to the Friends of Ham who appear to be looking to provide something different in a city that is sometimes awash with indifference.