Please note that since I wrote this article Owt has relocated to the magnificent Corn Exchange. Another reason you should give it a try.
I have learned a lot since I began doing my restaurant reviews but the one thing which has struck me more than the rest is that, as a rule of thumb, the nicer the owners, the better the food.
When a friend and I decided to call into Kirkgate Market for old times’ sake, her father once had a stall there as did my great grandparents, we had to try one of the newer establishments which have sprung up in the last couple of years. Not only does the food hall at the exit to the open market have a great choice of excellent eateries, but the delicacies on offer in the main part of the building have also moved upmarket – literally.
Owt is one of these establishment which is situated on Fish and Game Row and, as its name implies, sells anything which is available and in season from the surrounding stalls so the menu changes on a regular basis with the fish dish being reviewable weekly. For my readers who are not from the County of Yorkshire, many of them are not even based in this country, the word ‘owt’ is a part of the local dialect and means ‘anything’. The main use would be in the phrase, ‘As tha gorr owt teat?’ Which roughly translated means, ‘Would you happen to have anything which would serve to satisfy my appetite?’ Na tha nors (now you know).
As it was fairly early for lunch, being just turned noon, we were not exactly ravenous, just a little peckish so we decided to share a Fish Butty. This request was greeted with a cheery smile and we were asked to take a seat. A jug of water and two glasses were swiftly provided as were the coffees we had ordered at the same time as the sandwich. As the fish was cooked to order it arrived a few minutes later complete with the other elements described on the menu, viz Tartare Sauce, Lemony Slaw and Triple Cooked Chips. The bread part of the dish was a large toasted bread cake and the whole shebang was garnished with chopped parsley.
I suspect that the fish in the butty changes according to availability as it was not the normal cod or haddock but a tasty darker species, yes I know, I should have asked. The breadcrumb coating was wonderfully crispy and the fillet lay atop the chips and the base of the bread cake. The tartare sauce had the sharp hint of gherkin but it was much richer and creamier than normal so didn’t overpower the other ingredients, the slaw added a freshness being akin to sweet and sour. All in all, a triumph. Now then, here’s the rub, the butty came in at £7 which was good value in itself but the coffee was also included and, not only that, we were asked if we would like a refill. I mean, two coffees would normally set you back four quid which made this dish of fish and chips in a bun ridiculously cheap. Even though we split the sandwich we were both still provided with the beverages and water at no additional charge.
The owners were the most delightful people and couldn’t do enough for us thus reinforcing my initial statement. Oh, another thing I have learned since writing my reviews is that as well as the conventional five base tastes in food; salt, sweet, bitter, sour and umami, there is a sixth and one which I have come to be able to taste above all the rest, and that is love. It is present in several establishments in Leeds and at Owt it is the one thing which never goes out of season.
All photographs by Stan Graham