Did you ever get the sense that you’d turned up too late to a party and missed all the fun? That was how Oliver felt on visiting Bird and Beast, off Central Road, to be confronted with an almost entirely empty restaurant on a Bank Holiday Sunday.
It turns out the 8pm booking made a few days earlier shouldn’t have been taken as the restaurant, touted as ‘the home of awesome chicken’, usually closes early on a Sunday after a hectic lunch and dinner service earlier in the day.
Staff didn’t want to mess us around on discovering the error, so allowed the booking to stand. The result is Oliver and his eating buddies being the only diners in the place for nearly two hours.
As an eating experience, it could have ended up being very awkward. We braced ourselves for most of the food being unavailable and staff looking like our presence was keeping them from heading out into town.
In the end, we needn’t have worried. Exemplary, enthusiastic service, combined with a simple yet highly effective menu, meant we left two hours later with nothing but compliments for this new independent venture.
Opening in April in a unit at the end of the often-overlooked Central Arcade but with its front door opening out into the street, Bird and Beast is the brainchild of Simon Shaw, owner of Michelin award-winning tapas restaurant El Gato Negro in Ripponden.
On the face of it the food offering is simple: a choice of whole, half or quarter rotisserie chicken (the free range birds come from Sykes House Farms in Wetherby) combined with a small selection of sides and salads.
It’s hard on this basis not to compare it with Nando’s, the ubiquitous purveyor of Peri-Peri chicken whose outlets are a feature of every high street and shopping centre the length and breadth of the UK. But this comparison recedes from the mind the moment the food arrives.
Happily, Bird and Beast comes off better in every regard. Though its half chicken is £1.75 more expensive than that of its rival, the difference of succulence, appearance and taste is obvious.
Standard practice is to go for half a rotisserie chicken per person, we’re told, but we err on the side of conservatism by ordering a whole chicken between four, along with the selection of wings, drumsticks and thighs, a summer salad and the full gamut of sides.
The chicken, brought out in a hot pan, is the stuff a hungry carnivore’s dreams are made of. Moist, flavoursome and not at all greasy, with crispy skin that has clearly been well served by the rub applied before cooking.
The selection of wings and thighs come in a tangy, sticky BBQ sauce. Rather than take the dish away when we finish this first, in a typically personal touch the waiter gives us a spoon so we can dollop some of the leftover sauce on our plates for the rest of the chicken.
An unexpected star of the show is an innovative rocket salad served with chunks of firm mozzarella, chargrilled peach, pine nuts and shreds of cooked red onion.
Well-cooked fries, chargrilled sweet potato wedges, coleslaw and corn on the cob are all superior versions of side-dish standards.
The warm double chocolate fudge brownie for dessert is thick but not as heavy as it looks. It lasts only a matter of seconds on our plate.
Drinks-wise, there’s a good wine list with more options than the food menu and a selection of three draught beers (including two pale ales from Marston’s) and a cider.
We wonder aloud where the ‘beast’ bit of the name comes from, as the only animal in evidence on the menu is chicken.
As it turns out there are other meats available but only on a Sunday between midday and 8pm, when the roast dinner options include 28-day-aged rib of beef and roast belly pork as well as rotisserie chicken. Sadly we’ve arrived just too late for this.
There are nice touches such as the branded hot towels, (sadly bone dry by the time we came to open them at then end 0f the meal) and the small chocolate versions of its ‘chicken foot’ logo placed on the desserts.
Our host was clearly passionate about the food and our dining experience, while the fact that we were eating before closing time meant we got a couple of free beers to sweeten the deal still further.
Décor is modern and airy, with a long bar at one side of the room, a long banquette on the other, exposed brick and pipework on the ceiling. Tables and menus (always a potential hazard when so many are eating with their hands) are spotlessly clean, as are the toilets.
Despite the absence of paying clientelle at the time of our visit, the place still has a buzz about it - though we could have done without seeing the staff taking out bin bags while we tucked into our main courses.
The waiting staff are young and enthusiastic - at one point racing downstairs in unison to watch someone take part in the ‘ice bucket challenge’ outside - and the food is brought out quickly.
It’s hard not to be impressed by the friendly service, staff went the extra mile in accommodating our booking and didn’t just go through the motions.
In all the meal comes to less than £88 for four, superb value for belt-loosening quantities of high quality food. It’s no surprise a second branch in Manchester city centre is already planned. On Monday nights the restaurant offers a Monday night curry club for £7.50, which Oliver suspects would be well worth a visit.
We wander off into the night, full of food that has exceeded our expectations.
Just as the recent glut of new upmarket burger joints in Leeds and beyond has done wonders for the reputation of the humble beef patty, Bird and Beast is one in the eye for anyone who thinks you can’t make chicken and chips into great food.
Address: Central Arcade, Central Road, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 6DX.
Opening times: Midday-10.30pm Mon-Sat and midday-8.30pm on Sunday.
Tel: 0113 245 3348.