OWT, Leeds: Memories of Indian food in a transport café at popular new Leeds restaurant

Amanda Wragg and friends enjoy a journey down memory lane – and of Indian food in a transport café – as they make a tastytrip to the new premises of popular Leeds restaurant OWT.

It feels like a lifetime ago that after work we routinely poured into the Corner Caff (as it was affectionately known) from the Queen Hotel on Burley Road at the back of YTV. You took your pints with you as it wasn’t licensed.

We were whippersnappers, working in various departments; I was in the typing pool clacking away on a manual, busy with Emmerdale Farm scripts. It was 1976, so it actually was a lifetime ago.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The original Corner Café was a small transport caff serving Indian food as a side line – one of the first Indian restaurants in Leeds. It’s been an institution ever since, always spoken of fondly and with steadfast customers.

OWT in LeedsOWT in Leeds
OWT in Leeds

I haven’t been for a long time – after moving out to the sticks, I missed it – so I was pleased to hear that OWT, one of my fave city restaurants, had taken up residency after Kate and Karim retired. (The Queen Hotel is now a Tesco Extra. Make of that what you will.)

Just before the pandemic a chum and I had a good lunch in what was then Liz Cottam’s ‘pub’ The Owl, a re-purposed black shed in Kirkgate Market.

After we’d eaten we nipped across the aisle to OWT and sat with a coffee and chatted to Esther Miglio, the smiley French stallholder. Her English partner James Simpson was in the tiny kitchen cooking up the likes of shakshuka, pork loin and pumpkin seeds and deep fried cauliflower and squash – a limited range on account of cooking pretty much on a camping stove, but boy it looked good.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

When a unit came free upstairs at the Corn Exchange they jumped at it and moved in at the precise moment the pandemic struck. But they came up with a Covid-safe scheme: customers ordered food online and collected it from wicker baskets lowered from the first floor windows, which gives you an idea of this couple’s ingenuity.

Chicken and Ranch at OWTChicken and Ranch at OWT
Chicken and Ranch at OWT

When it was safe to reopen they served up gloriously hearty, rustic dishes with influences across Europe but with a strong lean towards France, as you’d expect, and very good wine coming from Esther’s family home, a biodynamic vineyard in Provence.

Keen to expand, they didn’t waste any time making known their interest in the Corner Café when it came on the market – and started trading pretty much as soon as they got the keys.

"There was so little work to do,” says Esther. “Karim and Kate left the place immaculate and we more or less turned up and started cooking!”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

I have a happy memory rush walking in on a freezing Wednesday night – so many good times have been spent here, particularly with one special friend, sadly no longer with us, who went so often she practically had her own table.

Prawns Pil-Pil at OWTPrawns Pil-Pil at OWT
Prawns Pil-Pil at OWT

Tonight I’m making new memories with a handful of chums - which can only mean one thing – we can work pretty much through the entire menu. There are about a dozen plates: here are the highlights.

A gently smoked Burrata sits in a zingy herb sauce, with toasted homemade focaccia to scoop it up – the bread is good too for the insanely smooth humus (I remember this from the Corn Exchange days).

There’s a cracking winter root salad – carrot and parsnip nicely dressed in lemon and tahini and dish of sautéed tenderstem broccoli with black olive tapenade and toasted cashews – lots of the food here is good for non-meat eaters.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"I’ve never knowingly eaten tofu,” claims Colin, diving into a dish of it. Judging by his reaction it won’t be the last time.


Chicken & Ranch is a thing they’ve been cooking since the Kirkgate days, and it rightly rarely leaves the menu. I think I described it previously as ‘KFC with actual flavour’ which is harsh but accurate. Here, the chicken’s succulent, the batter feather-light and perfectly seasoned, and the sauce is rich, creamy and herby and not just mayo with who-knows-what chucked in… you get the picture.

There’s an unseemly fork fight for the massive prawns pil-pil and we have to get more bread to mop up the buttery, garlicky juices. Some of these dishes might sound simple and easy to make – but there’s a lot going on under the bonnet here. James hasn’t had any formal training but he’s picked up a wealth of experience working in kitchens up and down the country and in the French Alps.

During summer breaks from university he worked in the kitchens at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships before moving to Leeds and cooking for the Real Junk Food Project in Armley and at the Brunswick. He and Esther met at a music festival in France (when he’s not behind the stove, he’s behind a drum kit) and they returned together to the UK. So simple dishes, yes, but that’s part of the charm of his cooking – they’re beautifully balanced, with fine attention to detail, and seasoning so precise there’s no salt on the table.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Just to hammer the message home, a note-perfect, pink, sweet and tender leg lamb steak turns up with a fabulously smooth but spiky salsa verde and a tangle of green veg.

The drinks list is short but clever; a couple of cocktails and mocktails, cans from Kirkstall Brewery, a couple of Italian reds and whites and, of course, Cháteau Gasqui cuvée Silice rosé from Esther’s dad!

We’re a table of foodies: cooks, bakers and avid restaurant-goers, some of us quite hard to please, but dinner has gone down a treat and we’re all fireworks happy. No one has room for bread and butter pudding but it’s never stopped us before, and it’s a beauty – rich, soft and cinammony with sharp stewed apple and a dollop of whipped cream.

Lamb PlateLamb Plate
Lamb Plate

Esther and James have filled the space appropriately, respectfully – and deliciously.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

OWT 104 Burley Road, Leeds LS3 1JP t: 07933 973395 www.owtleeds.com

Welcome 5/5

Food 5/5

Atmosphere 5/5

Prices 5/5

Hours: Monday/Tuesday closed. Wednesday 6 -10. Thursday – Saturday 12 – 3, 6 – 10. Sunday 12 – 8

Related topics:

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.