The Owl taps into memories of Leeds’s historic Kirkgate Market while pulling in a whole new audience, writes Elaine Lemm. Pictures by James Hardisty.

The Owl, Kirkgate Market, Leeds
95%Overall Score
Reader Rating: (6 Votes)

I must admit to a great fondness for Kirkgate Market. As a Leeds lass myself, “the market”, as we called it, was a weekly destination with my mum and various aunties. We would shop, visit a cafe and always drop in at Stringer’s, to return and buy books. For those who may remember, you got back 50 per cent of the cost you had paid if you returned the book. So, to be going to review a new pub and restaurant on the Fish and Game Row was nothing less than exciting and hugely nostalgic.
The Owl is a new concept for Kirkgate and extra special as, in 150 years, there has never been a pub within the market. Plus, this is the second venture in Leeds for Liz Cottam and Mark Owens, of the nearby highly acclaimed Home restaurant. They are working in collaboration with renowned Leeds brewery Northern Monk, which I feel is a genius move given they share similar values and ambitions.
In a matter of months, they took over four units and turned them into the taproom-style bar and dining room. It is a dark, brooding place, which is so fitting in what is the oldest part of the market. We snuggled down near the open kitchen, with our table in the thick of things and a view of the even busier taproom where there’s a splendid range of craft beers and a brief list of carefully selected wines on tap from Home’s wine list.

What I could have only hoped for was that the menu pays homage to the market, and it does. Game-meats come as venison in a wellington, game dumplings, a bird of the day and wild boar in a sausage roll or a beast of a burger together with beef, bone marrow in brioche buns, four cheeses and winter pickles. For fish, there are scallops and parsnips combined in a soup, a classic bowl of mussels with white wine sauce and crusty bread, sole with potted shrimps, oysters and more, plus Mr Crab Fish Pie – but more of him later.



Steamed Dumplings: Root Veg and Mustard Sauce.

Vegetarians do not despair; there are choices for you too. My veggie starter of a suet pudding filled with roast root vegetables showed how they could cook a great dish without any flesh; it was excellent with delicious crisp pastry, a hearty filling and no stodge. Our second starter of duck parfait, though a classic dish, is one so easy to get wrong, but not here. The whipped meaty pâté we happily slathered onto toasted sourdough along with a dollop of the whisky orange chutney was terrific.
If you think a sausage roll, whether made of wild boar or not, sounds like a cop-out for the main course, think again. A sturdy chunk of wild boar came wrapped in golden pastry, served with creamy mash, wild mushrooms, root vegetables and a slab of the crispiest crackling. And cracking as that dish was, it was Mr Crab Fish Pie which stole the show. I had no idea what to expect – after all a fish pie, is a fish pie. Not at the Owl. A humongous crab shell, claws and all were sitting on a bed of seashells inside a wooden box. The shell was filled with fresh crab, prawns and salmon in a light sauce that came topped with mash and cheese, and on the side, a pot of homemade tartare plus bread with seaweed butter.
We almost passed on dessert, but were happy we didn’t. Lemon drizzle bore no resemblance to any cake I have ever eaten or made. This one was a surprisingly small and light but cleverly bold flavoured dessert of a lemon-curd ice-cream sandwich. Service was excellent and delightful, and nothing seemed too much even when I wanted a peppermint tea. Off they dashed to get fresh leaves for me, the advantage of being smack in the middle of a market.

Lemon drizzle cake ice cream sandwich.

Apparently, the Owl is not going to be alone in the market, with plans for more units to be converted. However, if there is a fear that this may be gentrifying the market too much, I would say no; instead, this daring new concept is opening it up to a whole new audience.
The market of my childhood is still there in part, the architecture of the building as beautiful as ever. And as this is the largest covered market in Europe, there is room for everything and everyone, as there should be in such a multicultural city. I loved it back then, and I love it even more now thanks to this cracking new place and can’t wait for more.



■ The Owl, Fish and Game Row, Kirkgate Market, Leeds LS2 7DT. Email Lunch for two with a beer and one glass of Spanish Gewürztraminer Albiar, £59.50.

About The Author

Following a successful career as a chef and restaurateur, Yorkshire's Elaine Lemm is a highly respected food and drink writer and recently voted one of the top 50 in the UK. Elaine is a member of the Guild of Food Writers and author of three books,The Great Book of Yorkshire Pudding, The Great Book of Rhubarb and The Great Book of Tea.

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