This is what Birmingham lacks

The Owl

Back through the mists of time, before I’d started school and when we lived our lives solely in monochrome while listening to George Formby singing about windows, my gran would take me to Birmingham’s bomb-damaged Bull Ring market and buy live eels.

The wriggling creatures would be wrapped tightly in newspaper and put in a shopping bag that smelled permanently of fish before we set off back to Perry Common by bus.

At the council home that I, my parents and grandparents shared, she’d then render a few vicious blows to the hapless eels’ heads and, a few hours later, we’d eat them with plain boiled potatoes and a gloopy white sauce studded with cut parsley.

All of which explains, perhaps, why I’m not at all squeamish about food and why I have a great love of markets.

In Spanish and French cities, I make a bee-line for the market to enjoy the bustle, the colours and the smells, usually finding a cafe, bar or restaurant to sit and enjoy a cold beer and something to eat.

How sad Birmingham’s current market lacks the vibrancy of the old Bull Ring or the markets abroad.

It’s been neglected by those without vision or an understanding that markets are the soul of any city.

My sense of loss was amplified by a visit to Leeds’ Kirkgate Market – a large and impressive Victorian building that has been preserved rather than torn down to make way for a shopping mall packed with the same boring names that you find in any city.

There are stalls selling the usual meat, fish, vegetables, hardware and clothes, but also a few eccentric places adding colour and fresh excitement to the market.

There are plenty of good places to eat and drink, too.

Including The Owl – a recently-opened pub and restaurant with proper ambition.

Not the sort of ambition that causes a chef to brandish tweezers to place flowers  strategically on a plate.

Rather, the sort of ambition that demands that they use great produce and treat it with great skill to create wonderfully flavoursome and satisfying food.

It’s jointly owned by Liz Cottam and Mark Owen, who have a fine dining restaurant, and the Northern Monk brewery.

The Owl

The menu is short and based on local ingredients.

The vibe is chilled and service is friendly, but professional and efficient.

There’s plenty of game and fish and a few vegetarian dishes.

Four of us ate lunch there and all of us left replete and impressed.

The Owl

The soup with which I began was beautiful stuff – buttercup gold parsnip soup deftly curried so that the heat and sweetness were in harmony.

In the centre lay a king scallop that had been cooked precisely and, on top, were ribbons of fried parsnip that were crisp and intense.

Oysters and a wild mushroom soup were equally well received on our table.

The main course to which I progressed combined properly pink chunks of gamey venison with house-made crumbly black pudding that was some of the best I’ve eaten.

Roasted jerusalem artichokes added sweetness to the plate and there was a deep jus cut by a tangy mustard sauce.

The Owl

As enamoured as I was by main course, I cast a covetous eye at the game sausage roll, roasted cauliflower and fish pie dishes that were being eaten by my companions.

My meal was rounded off with a plate of tangy local cheese with the Yorkshire ginger cake parkin and truffled honey – a winning combination of sweet, savoury, salty and gently spicy flavours.

The Owl

This is the kind of hearty but refined food that I could eat every day.

What a pity that Birmingham doesn’t have a market like Kirkgate… boasting a gastropub as good as the Owl.

Need to know

Expect to spend £40 a head for food and drink.

There’s a cheaper set menu.

There’s a short we list and plenty of craft beers.

Check the website for opening times.

The Owl

Fish & Game Row, Leeds Kirkgate LS2 7DT.

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