Simple, serious and superb – The Owl Restaurant review
By Lee-J Walker, joint managing director of TheBusinessDesk.com
I think it was during the “letting out” in the first wave of the pandemic that I’d mentioned on social media I wished to try out The Owl in Kirkgate Market in Leeds.
I’d been completely intrigued by this restaurant that sat essentially like a shack with no airs or graces, just below the fish stalls.
I received a notification from RSM Tax partner, Tim Parr stating we should go and it was his treat.
As soon as we could we went along for an unforgettable “long-lunch” early in September 2020. We’ve remained lunch chums ever since.
I was still startled by this place, a completely odd concept where the venue itself was not showy but the food very much is. I particularly remember the red deer tartare, I’m a big fan of game and an even bigger fan of tartare.
Owned by chef patrons Liz Cottam – a former Masterchef semi-finalist – and Mark Owens, head chef, they have now very much upgraded their venue to Lockside at Mustard Wharf, a stone’s throw from the railway station and part of the very trendy new South Bank on the Leeds Liverpool Canal.
I love this part of Leeds now. It has certainly changed somewhat since our head office operated from the nearby Round Foundry Media Centre, pre-pandemic.
Liz and Mark have launched a new menu and my wife Zoe and I thought we’d give their seven-course taster menu and wine flight a go.
The venue is stylish but not glitzy. It retains its simple charm and vibe from its origins in Kirkgate. This is a restaurant that does not need over-the-top glamour to prove itself.
It is a cool, open space, small restaurant with large windows looking onto the canal. It has simple wooden tables and nice touches such as earthy wooden cutlery holders. You know as soon as you walk in, this is a restaurant that is serious about its food and not all about porn star martinis, thank goodness!
A taster or set menu to me should always be a journey, like a good book or musical composition. It should carry you through from start to finish perfectly with the correct balance of flavours, portion sizes and of course the exact accompaniment of wine to pair and end with the correct note to finish.
This is one of the best set menus I’ve had in a while. It hands down beat the one I had a few weeks back at a Yorkshire institution I won’t name as I don’t wish to embarrass them. It certainly proved to me that the new contemporaries are smashing some of the local classic establishments with a new tone, style and seriousness of excellent food. We loved it.
With a big focus on locally sourced ingredients, the set menu started with snacks of rye bread and local chorizo and an amazing entrée of braised salt aged Yorkshire beef with pickles for sharpness to limber up the taste buds for the next salmon tartare course.
I had a minor victory as it nicely included a dollop of salmon roe caviar, something Mrs Walker has always refused to consume even with lots of encouragement from me. But on this occasion and I suspect with the Dutch courage help of the Kir Royale aperitif prior to this dish, she happily dived in.
Next up was a second fish course, something I appreciate on a taster menu, to not go too heavy, keeping it light and maintaining that story and sensory build up.
The catch of the day was Stone Bass served with “The Owl” curry sauce. I had to read that twice to ensure it wasn’t owl curry sauce which could have been a rather different experience. Although I have stated the entire meal was perfectly balanced and sized appropriately overall, my only constructive criticism is that I would have liked a little more fish on this course as it was so goddamn good.
It really was a superb dish whereby the sauce didn’t steal or overshadow the flavours of the meaty Stone Bass and the samphire and Shetland Mussels underpinned saltiness.
The real star of this course though was the wine pair of the Tormaresca, Calafuria Rose wine. Rose isn’t a wine I often reach for but without a doubt, this was the best wine out of all of the wines this evening. A nicely aromatic wine with a touch of notes of strawberries it was outstanding and all the wines were excellent on this flight. I will try to order a case for use at Christmas.
The meal went on for a meat course of soft Hogget and Whitby crab; a salty rich melted Tunworth cheese course with raisins and honey, a dessert of chocolate cake with hazelnut ice-cream with bourbon sauce and petit four and a coffee to complete.
The chefs are obviously highly knowledgeable about how they use pickles and mustards, mayos and salty foods to ensure each dish meets the bullseye of tastes and textures for the palette.
Not stuffed and not broken and by no means too squiffy, we both felt complete and satisfied and content with our entire experience.
It is a great restaurant Leeds can be proud of and it is worth mentioning that it is not limited to set menus but also offers a very affordable à la carte offering and Sunday lunch menu.
I shared our gratitude and thanks with Audrey, our handler for the evening, a nice French lady from Lyon with an obvious adopted quaint Yorkshire accent. We promised we’d return again soon for more Owl joy!
Go try the Owl if you’ve not already and know you’ll be in good and well accomplished hands.