It is ironic that I was quite comfortable during lockdown with my daily walk and two or three trips to the shops each week but since the restrictions have been lifted I feel that it is a great effort to go out and start socialising again. I am not afraid of becoming infected it is just that I have got into a routine which has seen me keep fit and lose weight but has become a bit of a rut. Somebody once told me that a grave is only a deep rut so I resolved to snap out of it and get back into the fray.
If I needed an incentive to resume my previous life, Eat Out To Help Out was just the catalyst required. Having paid tax for over 50 years I thought that the least the government could do was to bung me a tenner to go towards a decent meal but having perused the list of those taking part in the scheme I decided that I would ditch that strategy and put my ten spot towards a superb one instead.
When I was a kid – now you know I am back to my old self – the only eateries in Kirkgate Market were a pie and pea stall and another selling tripe and vinegar. I loved them both but now the culinary range is vast and goes from greasy spoon to fine dining, as exemplified by The Owl, a gastropub run by Liz Cottam and Mark Owens who also have the amazing Home restaurant in Kirkgate. I was invited to the launch of Home which was held in the grounds of Harewood House as the restaurant was not yet open, and the food was terrific. Under normal circumstances I couldn’t afford to frequent places like these, which is another reason I threw caution, and my credit card, to the wind.
On arrival I was met at the door by Emily, who was to be my waitress. She politely asked me to use the hand sanitiser before entering, gave me a disposable slip of paper on which was a mobile phone number to which I was asked to send a text with my name, and then showed me to my table. I was asked if I would like to see the lunch menu or the one displaying the bar food. I opted for the former, I think that the title of this website explains why I did that.
I was given time to sit down and make myself comfortable before Emily returned to ask if I would like something to drink. She had brought a glass of water with her anyway. I asked for a Pinot Noir but was told that this was no longer available and had been replaced by a Montepulciano so I ordered that instead. Both of these wines are favourites of mine but can be of variable quality so I hoped for the best. I needn’t have worried, in fact I was cross with myself for doubting for even one minute that this place would serve anything which didn’t come up to muster, it was superb. I had already looked at the menu on-line and so I knew what I wanted which meant my stopping Emily in full flow whilst attempting to tell me what the catch of the day was. I must apologise for my rudeness.
As I was taking the first sip of wine a bowl of beer bread arrived along with two small quenelles of butter, one seaweed flavoured and one Marmite. The bread was warm and delicious, as were the varieties of butter. My only problem was that the bread had a coating which was still sticky but Emily quickly saw my dilemma and brought me a finger bowl.
For starter I had chosen North Yorkshire red deer tartare, blackcurrants and beets and charcoal oil. It attracted a £2 supplement to the fixed price lunch but I really had to try it. The combination of flavours was superb and the addition of pickled carrot added the extra dimension of acidity to the dish. The red deer was amazing and I couldn’t help but wonder as to whether it had come from the aforementioned Harewood Estate, via their Food Project. I was pleased to see that it had been chopped into pieces which could still be identified as meat. So many times I have had steak tartare cut so finely as to be almost mince and displayed as though it were a raw burger. This was satisfyingly chewy, although not overly so, and the flavour tremendous. It was also surprisingly filling.
The second course was another masterpiece: Herb roasted poussin, pearl barley stew, summer vegetable and truffle. When I saw this on the menu at home I didn’t know what to expect, I couldn’t have imagined that I would be presented with two incredible dishes in one course. It appears that kale is the summer vegetable as mentioned in the description as it was an element in the stew and presented crispy on the poussin. The bird was perfectly cooked, moist and tender with the herb seasoning having coated the outside to an extent so as not to overpower the meat. There were several small – obviously – pieces from different parts of the bird and the shaving of truffle along with some enokidake mushrooms made up the dish. The accompanying stew of pearl barley, kale, truffle and lardons in a creamy broth was a meal in itself and a sublime combination of flavours equalling more than the sum of its parts. I had been initially supplied with a knife and fork with which to eat the course but there was no way on earth that I was going to leave any of the stew uneaten so the ever obliging Emily brought me a spoon to finish the job.
My good intentions of sticking to two courses were soon forgotten as I didn’t want this experience to end, and I had also seen one of my favourite combinations on the dessert menu, chocolate and cherries. The exact description was Cherry and chocolate cake, bourbon sauce and cherry ice cream. The cake was layered like a sophisticated Black Forest Gateau without the cream, and topped with a small chocolate truffle. It looked and tasted superb. The ice cream had a sour cherry tang which was just the thing to counteract the richness of the confection. The bourbon sauce, which had been ceremoniously poured between the two other elements, by guess who, certainly had a kick to it and added the third dimension.
I ended with a black Americano which arrived with a petit four of fudge. It was made just the way I like it, being strong and flavourful rather than the weak concoction often served at even fairly upmarket restaurants. A wonderful way in which to end a memorable meal.
I was immensely impressed by my lunch today. Every element was damned nigh perfect. The food, the drink, the presentation, the attention to safety and the service. I am so pleased that I made the effort to clamber out of my rut before it got too deep.
The bill came to £30 after the Chancellor’s contribution so was still more than I would normally pay but you can’t put a price on perfection, salvation and a reminder of just how wonderful the good things in life are.
Don’t miss my review next week when I will again be taking advantage of the government’s half price offer, although I have a feeling that Rishi and Boris will only be stumping up for 50% of beans on toast.
The lunch menu at The Owl is £24 for two courses and £27 for three and is served Tuesday – Saturday from noon until 3.00pm. Two of the starters, one of the mains and a dessert have supplements. The Montepulciano was £7.50 and the coffee £3.50.
I would just like to add a point of clarification. Although I have met Ms Cottam a couple of times in the past, she was not there when I called today and the review was done, like all of the others on this site, totally incognito.
All photographs by Stan Graham