Award Winning Chef Liz Cottam On The Owl In Leeds


What was The Owl’s original inspiration when it opened in 2019?

liz cottam

I opened Home, my first restaurant, seven years ago, and we were situated in a building opposite Kirkgate Market in Leeds. It’s the most beautiful building in Europe, and we didn’t think it was utilised how other cities have embraced their markets. As a child in the 1980s, I was taken around the market as my parents had pubs, and they bought produce from Kirkgate. It was thriving back then.

I spent time in the market researching and my idea was to take three units and open one each year – each with a distinctive offering. I contacted the council, set up meetings, and proposed the idea. The Owl is named after our Leeds emblem and is a nod to our first location on Fish and Game Row in Kirkgate Market – two owls above the restaurant, part of the architecture.

What did you want to offer from day one?

owl interior 2

The vision was for The Owl to trailblaze and show what you can create in such a space. It was an experiment, with our reputation, to take on the challenge and put a high-end price point into the market. We wanted to use fresh produce from the market and deliver high-quality dishes.

Why was Kirkgate Market perfect for the concept?

owl interior

When we first walked into our unit, it was enveloping, cosy, and warm with beautiful little nooks and crannies. You knew you were in the market, a buzzing little place. The second week we were open, Grace Dent gave us a fantastic review, which was great. At night, we were the only place open in the market, and it was amazing to bring people into this unique spot.

How difficult were the years that followed when Covid and lockdowns hit?

owl interior 4

It was tough as we opened The Owl in late 2019, and I relocated my first restaurant Home to Brewery Wharf. Social distancing was an issue at The Owl, a venue which was hard to section off. We offered a series of set menus for delivery or collection to remain operating.

Why did you move to Lockside Mustard Wharf?

We were battling with fire regulations at Kirkgate Market. The way the market operates means it’s hard to section off in case of a fire. This wasn’t discussed when we took on the lease. We were told we’d have to pay six different staff members to ensure fire regulations were met. We opened in November 2019, so we already faced many challenges. We were committed to being there, and the pandemic hit, and combined with the market’s progress, it took its toll on our plans for the other units. All our revenue was going into fire wardens, so we had to move out. I found a unique space on Mustard Wharf. The Owl, in its original guise, was perfect, but I knew we could build something around the soul of the new building. I love being next to the canal, something is awe-inspiring about moving water – we fell in love with it. It has a slight rural feel to it. We have a lovely vista, and we can hear scratchy trains going by – I love the juxtaposition. We’ve taken the heart and soul of our former home and evolved to connect with the new space.

How long have you considered introducing a brunch menu and more affordable dining options?


The move was an overnight success, and we didn’t amend much at all. Due to the economy, people don’t have as much money to spend, so we have started to reintroduce more accessible options and extended our opening hours to offer brunch. My friends from Northern Monk reintroduced guest beers, which we were doing before, and returned to our original concept. It’s been a natural evolution.

What dishes on the brunch menu do you particularly love?


It evolves all the time. I love our potato terrine, which is crisp and roasted – an unusual welcome to the plate. Other highlights include our treacle-cured bacon, and we make our sausages. We have a delicious malted waffle with confit duck leg, fried duck egg, maple, and chili sauce. We constantly change the items, but there’s always a nod to Fish and Game Row.

Why are you opening doors to children too?

This is the first venue we are trialing to encourage well-behaved children to visit the restaurant! We can do smaller, child-sized portions of the menu, as we don’t have a kid’s menu.

Is the evening menu still going to be the fine dining you have become renowned for?


I hate the term fine dining! Our dishes have been through lots of processes that bring out the textures and entertain on the plate. Are we different from every restaurant in Leeds? Yes. We want people to discover rather than expect something fancy. We have an extensive wine menu, too.

What kind of dishes will we find on the evening menu right now?


Our catch of the day and our Sunday roasts are popular with surprising elements – and more flavour. We steer clear of anything you can replicate at home – we want to excite and wow people. Our signature dish is our beef wellington, served with a rich and intense foie gras sauce. We create beautiful flavours with care and attention to detail with great ingredients.

As with brunch, what dishes are you particularly loving right now?

owl 8

My favourite is a chip shop curry sauce made with mussels and our pan-fried cod with fresh samphire. The potato terrine makes its way in there, too!

What are your hopes for 2024?

Hospitality is on its knees as costs are rising. The hangover from the pandemic is changing customer habits. I hope we get to do what we love for as long as possible until the tides change. From day one, I’ve invested time and effort in building an empowering and connected culture – we are all pulling in the same direction. We have a tight-knit team – many of whom have been with me for five years. We continue to evolve; we are used to embracing change as it’s in our DNA.


Share this Article

Written by
Must Read

You May Also Like

Did you know you can now buy or subscribe to our printed issues?


Subscribe to our newsletter

Sign up to our monthly newsletter to find out what’s on your local area, exclusive competitions, the latest launches and much more!

Select the areas you want to hear about