The Owl, Leeds Kirkgate Market - a review
Updated: Dec 2, 2020
Back in November 2019, I read an interesting review from the restaurant critic Grace Dent in The Guardian about a new restaurant which had opened up in Leeds Victorian market on Fish and Game Row called The Owl.
The restaurant/gastro pub received a rave review with quotes such as “It shouldn’t really work, but it really does: an oyster bar and restaurant in Kirkgate Market that is cool - but not too cool!” and “It’s fancy, definitely. But still proper food” these had me intrigued. I planned to make a visit and then just forgot!
A few weeks before the Corona Virus lockdown, I was asked by Radio Leeds to come into their office in the centre of Leeds one Tuesday to do an interview with them about Yorkshire TV and Film location tours. After the interview I decided to take a stroll through Leeds Kirkgate market which was close by and get some fresh fish for my tea.
On walking past the fish stalls, I stumbled on a black fronted building which looked like a pub but which I have never noticed before. Then it clicked – this was The Owl which I had always planned to check out. It was lunchtime, I had no tours that day and so I thought I would treat myself with a quick lunch.
From the outside it didn’t look anything more than a market tavern, but once entering what is essentially 4 market units/stalls locked together, I found a busy restaurant (particularly for a weekday lunchtime) with a number of the tables already reserved. Fortunately they had no problem finding me a table for one and I was taken to my seat past the oyster bar with high stools.
Before talking about the food it is worth me giving you a bit of background about how The Owl came to be the first Pub to open in Leeds City Markets for 150 years. The Owl is run by Liz Cottram, a former Masterchef contestant who went on to open the popular Leeds restaurant Home. Her business partner is Mark Owens who has cooked at La Gavroche and was formerly head chef at the formerly Michelin starred The Box Tree in Ilkley.
Cottram’s vision was a fine dining gastro pub, using fresh produce form the market such as pheasant, oysters, crab and wild boar, to make hearty dishes then serving it with good wine and champagne and good beer.
I found the attached quote from Liz Cottram on Chapter81’s website which I think sums up The Owl’s philosophy :
“Mum and dad owned spit-and-sawdust pubs around Leeds in the 1980s, and we’d shop at the market almost every day. It was thriving and buzzing back then, and was very much part of my childhood. It was no frills, but good quality. Some products were artisanal, some mass-produced. But then supermarkets happened, convincing us to buy pretty food in out-of-town stores. It was sad to see it decline.
But, thank God, people are now learning more about produce, becoming aware of the choices they are making, and being more discerning. I think it’s about time our markets got back to their former glory. ”
They have cemented a great relationship with local beer supplier Northern Monk and stock a range of their ales and beers, along with many other suppliers on rotation.
Back to the food. The waitress was really friendly and when I commented about the cool reggae sounds being played I was informed about the owners passion for the genre and how they had carefully created each playlist.
The choice was tough, mains included Game Wellington with mash, veg and gravy, Roasted Game bird, Scottish Scallops & Pork with granny smiths apple and pork belly as well as a braised game Sausage Roll.
I ordered the Trio of Oysters for starters, which were served beer battered with parsley butter, bacon and mushrooms. This was not too filling but delicious.
For my main course I had the Whitby Crab Gratin with Lincolnshire Poacher cheese – this was served with wilted baby gem lettuce and crab toast. I ordered a lovely glass of dry white house wine which complimented the dish perfectly.
The meal was very rich, but wonderfully tasty and whilst not huge in size left me feeling completely satisfied.
The service was friendly and professional but without being to over the top or in your face. I spent the best part of an hour in the restaurant with just my book for company and the sweet reggae tunes. It was a real treat, a real spur of the moment decision to dine there on my own and made such a change from either grabbing a quick sandwich on the go or visiting country pubs and tea rooms entertaining clients.
It was not cheap, the crab gratin was £20 alone – but the restaurant was busy and booking would be essential for tables at lunchtime or the evening at the weekend. It is worth mentioning that The Owl opens at 8.30am for breakfast serving dishes like omelette Arnold Bennett and a four-cheese sourdough stack with Gentleman’s Relish pickle. Once the corona virus lockdown ends I will certainly be heading back to sample breakfast with my wife!