Leeds City Station
0113 247 1676
by Michel Houellebrecq
What, or maybe more precisely who, in the name of God is a ‘Wetherspoon’? Sure, the website blathers on with some cheerily happy-clappy explanation, but I’m not convinced. If he (sorry) is a bloke, rather than a piece of undecidable cutlery, then I’d like to imagine he’s a pretty decent, salt-of-the-earth kind of (Northern) bloke, fresh back from a day’s honest graft to get in a couple o’t’ales for t’lads. It’s more likely, however, that he’s currently reclining on an inflatable lilo, sipping umbrella’d Pina Coladas as a fleet of nymphets (sorry, again) pamper his tootsies and buff his W-monogrammed belt-buckle.
Whoever he is, if the Leeds examples of his offerings are anything to go by, he’s onto a winner and his brand has turned things around, casting off images of sticky-carpeted hovels filled exclusively with the disturbed, the aggressive and the lonely. I was on a fleeting visit to Yorkshire and, whereas five years ago I would’ve pretended I’d gone to the infinitely classier (or slightly less shameful) All-Bar-One instead, I’m proud to publicly state that the only licensed hospitality I received during my time in the UK’s third-biggest city was from J.D. Wetherspoon Esq. Yes, you heard correctly.
I’d been impressed by the Thursday nite vibe of the Beckett’s Bank Branch. We’d wandered in there half by mistake: we were tired and hotelling in the vicinity, your Honour. I had to do a double take. This wasn’t the Wetherspoons of old. Where were the broken chairs? The shattered glass? The muscly dogs? The eight-man brawls? They’d been replaced by families, cross-cultural groups drinking coffee and having intelligent-looking debates, craft beer, real ales and fancy ciders. No-one was being beaten up, especially not me. We were so impressed, in fact, that we made a date for an early breakfast the following morning at the Station branch (this one didn’t open early enough); the newly-launched menu looked promising.
I wouldn’t normally dream of eating, or drinking (or maybe even breathing) in most British train stations, but if you put the depressing thought of the guy on the fruit machines gambling hard at 7.30am on a Friday out of mind, it was a joy. Cheap, decent, tasty, well-cooked, I might even dare ‘hearty’ fodder: what’s not to like? £4.60 for a ginormous ‘large’ cooked breakfast, £3.90 for a much more sensible ‘traditional’ version of the same. Everything you’d want was present and correct; sausages had substance, toast had poppy seeds (POPPY SEEDS!) and it was just the right side of greasy. Yeah, so the mushrooms might’ve been slightly on the soggy side, and they insisted on giving us each half a grilled tomato (who the hell actually eats them?), but I’m splitting hairs. They even have a selection of porridge and fresh fruit with ‘Greek-style’ honey. All the calories are clearly displayed for the post-5/2 generation. Coffee was good (hot, strong) and you get free refills until deep in the afternoon. Under £11 for breakfast for two. It’s a bleedin’ public service. Criticising this would be like slagging off a sunny day, although, rest assured, I’ve been known to do that. Whether Herr Wetherspoon is an honest sod, or a smily spiv, it matters not. His gaff is worth a (re)visit.