The Head of Steam

April 5, 2018

Last night I was at a pre-launch evening for the Head of Steam, a big new pub on Market Street that opens tonight.  Run by Hartlepool brewers Cameron’s, it’s an intriguing initiative that shows how the more enterprising of the pub companies are responding to the changing market.


There’s now 18 pubs around the country branded as Head of Steam, all of them marked by a really good range of draught real ales, cutting edge craft beers in keg, and some exotic Belgian and European specials too.  Leicester is no exception, with the current draught selection including – obviously  – a couple of Cameron’s own ales including their flagship ruby bitter Strongarm, plus local brews from Framework, Charnwood and Langton. Craft beers include the extraordinary hazy, full of tropical fruit pale DDH Engima Ekuanot from cult brewers Cloudwater, who also supply a Baltic porter, plus  various lambics, saisons, IPAs and wheatbeers.  Gratifyingly there are screens displaying information about the beers available and beer matching suggestions on the food menu  – there is an effort to actually sell the beer here, not just have it as window dressing.


So far, so micropub. But this a big old barn of a place spread over two floors and which is a mile away from those cosy ale and conversation places that have made the running in the industry recently. There’s music, fruit machines and a few familiar lagers here too. There’s also a big cocktail and hoptail menu which were going down well last night but I don’t really hold with them so I stuck to the beers.

food1There’s plenty of restaurant space and a big food menu – burgers, pizzas, multicultural tapas and a few specials.  On this evidence it may not be worth a special trip but it’s perfectly competent pub food to soak up the beer. My chicken Milanese was crisp where it needed to be crisp and tender where it needed to be tender and harissa spiced salmon was tasty enough, though no great subtleties of flavour.

It’s hard to judge service on a trial night  – aspects of it were quite chaotic but the staff were by and large lovely and seemed well-chosen. They are going to have to sort out service routines quickly but the ambience is good. Given the somewhat grim, anodyne venue the Head of Steam replaces, this is a huge improvement. It’s great to have a big commercial venue with the clout to get some otherwise hard-to get beers and to support small-scale locals – creating more of a market should encourage them to invest and improve.

  • Edit February 2019: Cameron’s have announced they are closing the Head of Steam and rebranding to their Sanctuary format. They say that have “listened to Leicester” and that the new bar is “more aligned with the sport and late-night economy and demographic in Leicester.”
    So that doesn’t sound too promising – back to being a run of the mill drinking barn possibly.  But I can understand it too – the place had a poor start and I heard bad things about the management post-launch – but  it never seemed to match its beer offering with an appropriate atmosphere. I think beer drinkers in Leicester are still wedded to the idea of smaller, convivial environments – such as the very different Blue Boar and Two-Tailed Lion both just around the corner from the HoS.  Still, good news Camerons are sticking by Leicester and I will check the Sanctuary after its opening due on 1 March.




Shortly after yesterday’s post, I heard of another intriguing opening.  It’s been whispered for a good few months but we now have confirmation that craft beer and chicken concept Broood (yes, there are three o’s) is to open on King St/New Walk.

The new operators completed on the lease this week for the building that recently housed Sloanes bar and before that Out of the Vaults. Most significantly though, it was home to Vin Quatre (or more commonly Vin IV), one of the first bars that came out of the liberalised licensing regime of the 9os and which has legendary status among a whole generation of Leicester hipsters. It was, famously, hugely busy and massively profitable.

“We want to evoke the spirit that the bar had in the 1990s,” say the bar’s owners with a laser-eye on their demographic  “If you are of an age, you will have drunk there – we want you back. No excuses. You’ve got no kids now. You didn’t have any then.”

There is already a  Broood in Hinckley – with eight or nine real ales and craft beers mainly from small regional breweries and a food menu that focuses on piri piri chicken, wings in hot sauce, hot dogs and pies.   The Leicester branch – which should open before Christmas – could fill the hole left by the demise of The Pub on New Walk – if it goes a step further and can rival the popularity of Vin IV, then happy days all around.

  • One more thing as I clear the decks before going off on holiday tomorrow – thanks to Miguel Holmodinho for a tip about Merhaba, a new Eritrean café restaurant on Churchgate.  It’s obviously first and foremost a venue for exiles but its not intimidating to others and we had a lovely lunch in there this week. Eritrean food is at core stews and vegetables served on injera – a sourdough flatbread with a soft  spongy texture. Typically it’s all served  on a big platter and eaten communally.

    We had a lamb stew with fairly fiery berbere spicing and spinach with onion and spices – it was different and delicious. It’s particularly delightful as the sauces soak into the bread. There are plenty more things on the menu that I have little idea about but will go back after a bit more research. Meat dishes are around £6-£8, various vegetable ones around £3-£5. Note the bread is available in gluten-free form made with teff grains.

    There’s not many reasons to venture down Churchgate nowadays. Lebanese restaurant Cedars and Caribbean takeaway Johnnycakes (of which more in the near future) are two. Now we have another.






The Parcel Yard

March 1, 2013

Earlier this week Leicestershire brewers and pub company Steamin’ Billy opened their seventh pub, this time right in the heart of Leicester. The Parcel Yard had actually been run by them for a good few years as Time, a large cocktail bar right next to the rail station drawing a young crowd. Now though they’ve shifted it into a more mainstream pub approach. It’s a big old barn of a place but the refurb has done a good job of softening the edges and making it that bit more comfortable and more food-oriented, with a range of areas including high bar stools, booths for four or six and a more restauranty area down the far end.

Big venue, named after a building’s previous use, real ales, pub food, loyalty cards  –  the comparisons to Wetherspoon’s mount up, but this is pitched a fair bit higher than that highly successful megachain.  I had a really good club sandwich  – huge pieces of chargrilled chicken breast, nice crispy bacon, and a pile of perfect fat chips.   Not dainty, refined  – well you wouldn’t really expect it of a club sandwich – but good enough to make me think I might risk going for one of the main courses such as coq au vin or confit duck  (around a tenner) on another occasion. Maybe not a big meal out occasion, but certainly an informal something nice before or after the match occasion.

The Parcel Yard

The Parcel Yard

It’s also great to have a good pub right by the station.  The Sheffield Tap at Sheffield station, opened in collaboration with Thornbridge, has been a great success as a destination beer pub.  I could only see three of Steamin’ Billy’s own real ales  behind the bar but you’d hope that range will expand in due course. A nice way to mark your arrival or departure from the city anyway.


The Pub

April 12, 2010

Eyebrows were raised when Paul from Out of the Vaults on New Walk/King’s Street and Cathal, previously of the neighbouring King’s, formed a new  business and took it across New Walk to what had been archetypal Friday night style  bar Pause.  “You don’t sell real ale in surroundings of leather sofas. recessed halogen lights and blonde wood”, seemed to be the consensus. Paul and Cathal’s view was precisely the opposite – that the sticky floor, rustic look did no-one any favours and just served to alienate people who might be quite keen to explore beer culture.

Anyway, it seems The Pub hasn’t alienated it’s traditional consitituency, there were plenty of paunches, beards and middle-aged pony tails on view when we visited. You can understand why – the beer selection is fantastic and the surroundings are not intimidatingly smart by any means – it’s actually a little endearingly shoddy around the edges. 

It’s a shame the link through to  Welllington Street has been blocked off because the bar is now something of long cave and I found it a little claustrophobic up the far end. They reckon to serve some 33 draught beers at any one time – including a fine array of continental styles as well as a wide variety from local brewers. We had some delightful Oakham Inferno, an IPA from Derbyshire and a remarkably tasty German wheat beer.   Staff were on the glamourous  side (sorry Cathal, I don’t actually mean you) but were skilled and helpful too.

There’s a sensibly short menu and my sausage baguette was as good an example of pub grub as you are likely to come across. A huge, thick  11inch sausage from Grasmere farm in Lincolnshire was juicy and flavoursome and came with sweet mustard and even sweeeter onions. It was just perfect with the beer. Chips seemed to be of the oven variety but were at least crisp and dry.

I hope it is succeeding in bringing in a new clientele to the real ale market, but whatever, The Pub has a good offer and deserves to be checked out. It’s already been made Leicester CAMRA’s Pub of the year for 2010.

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