A Punter’s View of The Owl, Leeds, by Savour writer and reviewer Dave Mackay
There’s always one restaurant that your mate bangs on about. And ‘that one’ is The Owl for my mate Carmel.
The venue was originally set up as a kind of pub come pop-up come bistro in Kirkgate Market, Leeds. Blessed with direct access to the freshest produce, The Owl has built up a reputation for good food and good value. A change in Council rules meant that remaining in the market was no longer viable, so they relocated to their new home at Mustard Wharf, near the canal, in an up-and-coming area with a vibrant scene.
The restaurant is in a lovely spot, when you can find it. If you head there, you need to be on the canal side of the building rather than the city side or you will find yourself standing outside an office looking forlorn until a kindly receptionist shouts, “Are you looking for The Owl?”
When we finally found the place, we settled with a drink in the outside area overlooking the canal. We were a little disappointed to discover that The Owl don’t do cocktails but I admire their rationale. As the waiter said, “We are a wine bar and restaurant so we don’t do cocktails”. Fair enough really, and the glass of Bacchus I had certainly made the idea of an espresso martini a long and distant memory.
The venue has an industrial vibe with exposed ceilings and pipework and a good view into the slightly open kitchen. The staff were welcoming and attentive and
there are two choices for dinner: the five-course menu (with options for each course) or the chef’s table – a larger set menu you must book in advance and the only one that offers a drinks pairing option.
Our server was, however, very knowledgeable about the wine list and we complimented her on her recommendation, a Spanish Blanc D’Engeura.
There is no specific vegetarian menu, however, each course of the five-course menu had a vegetarian option and although the first course, which is “a selection of snacks”, did not have any options at all, they did bring a vegetarian version for Mrs Punter and the little cheese tartlet was one of her favourite courses.
As ever, there was bread and butter to start and the bread was nice but the crust was overly caramelised and had a bitter taste. Our second courses were lamb and an artichoke based dish for Mrs Punter. She definitely got the better of the two and I was very impressed with hers.
Although there were some good flavours, my lamb was lukewarm at best. The third course was frustrating. Mrs M’s carrot dish wasn’t very “carroty” and my cod dish left me disappointed, however, it need not have done. My cod was barely above cold and the sauce was just about warm, which was frustrating because it was very tasty – and the sauce left me licking my finger to clean the plate.
I should point out that, the next day, we got one of those “how was it?” e-mails and I asked whether the cod was supposed to have been cold. The answer I got was, in short, yes. It is served at room temperature with a slightly warm sauce to avoid over-cooking. Had this been explained at the time of serving it would have completely changed my experience of the dish. I very much had in mind Rimmer’s gazpacho soup tale from Red Dwarf (those under 40 may have to Google that)!
Things did, however, look up from there. Red deer with cauliflower and a whole heap of truffle for me and salsify with a fruit and nut pastie for Mrs Punter. Much more like it and hot to boot.
Pudding saw Mrs Punter revert to type, having a chocolate pave with gingerbread ice cream which barely touched the sides. I, being a contrary type, deliberately ignored Carmel’s advice to “avoid the cheesey cake pudding” and I am glad I did although it was a dish that would not leave anyone without an opinion. A spiced rye cake topped with Tunworth cheese, honey and summer truffle. I really liked it and could have had double helpings.
We didn’t bother with the cheeseboard and opted for a desert wine. I chose one for me and one for Mrs M. Turns out I know nothing because she hated the one I chose for her (which tasted like sherry) and loved the ice wine I chose for me. Fortunately, I love sherry, so we both went away happy.
Price wise, it was a touch over £150 all in which, taking into account that this included two pre-dinner drinks, 5 courses each, a bottle of wine and two dessert wines isn’t too bad.
Overall this is a venue that shows a lot of promise, not quite a wise old bird yet, maybe an owlet but well on its way to spreading its wings and taking off.