Restaurant review: Empire Cafe, Leeds
Empire Cafe is an exciting new restaurant in Leeds, serving up some tasty small plates and their signature rotisserie chicken.
When I first heard about Empire Cafe, I was desperate to book a table, I’d seen a few people on instagram raving about the food!
It’s located on Fish Street, a small side street just near the market. This little spot has been serving food for over 100 years, and it’s gone back to its roots being named Empire Cafe.
When the new owners were renovating the restaurant, they found the original Empire Cafe sign still intact! It’s an amazing bit of history, and you can read more about the previous cafes that have been in this space here.
The restaurant is very small, so you really do need to book in advance. They have a small bar area with some seating on the ground floor, and from there you can see through into the kitchen with the wall of rotisserie chicken. And down a small spiral staircase there is a tiny dining room with around 6 tables.
It’s dark downstairs (as you can see from my photos!) but has a real cosy feel to it. We had our table booked at 9pm, and the restaurant was full with a second sitting on each table. It was such a nice atmosphere, full of people who all seemed genuinely excited about the meal they were eating.
For drinks, I just had a tonic water but Nick asked if he could have an alcohol free cocktail made. They made him a delicious drink with a strawberry and black pepper syrup, quite different to the usual cocktails!
The menu offers a selection of small plates and a few larger plates, so you can order as a traditional starter / main format, or order several of the different plates to share. The menu changes seasonally, with the ingredients being sourced from Kirkgate Market just a 2 minute walk away from the restaurant.
Octopus wonton, bacon fat & soy
BBQ veal skewer, lemon, salsa tonnata
BBQ carrots, garlic balsamic, orange mascarpone
Steak and chips
French bean salad, walnuts, fennel dressing
Chocolate biscuit, raspberry
With the small plates, we were advised to order a few to share. But as Nick and I had also ordered a full rotisserie to share, we just ordered one of the small plates each. In hindsight we could probably have ordered three or four to share.
The absolute highlight of the entire meal was the octopus wonton, I would have happily eaten several plates of this and nothing else. There was plenty of octopus in the wonton, and the bacon fat & soy sauce was so rich. The manager told me this sauce takes 6 hours to make, and you can really tell this with the depth of flavour.
Nick had the BBQ veal (which I ate some of too), it was a dairy and gluten free option, which was clearly marked on the menu so it made ordering for his dietary requirements really easy. I’d not had veal for a long time, and really enjoyed this. Great flavour, and nice succulent pieces of meat.
Next I was really keen to order the steak, I’ve seen a few pictures of it on Instagram and it looks incredible. But I felt that we couldn’t go to Empire Cafe and not order their rotisserie chicken.
You can order the chicken as either a half or whole, and then there is a choice of lathers and crumbs. They made a bespoke lather for Nick with garlic and lemon that was gluten and dairy free, and we had the dry herb mix crumb on top. The rotisserie came with chicken schmaltz potatoes. If you’ve not heard of chicken schmaltz, it's rendered chicken fat. So cooking potatoes in this is like the chicken equivalent of goose fat or beef dripping.
The chicken was so moist, and had the most delicious flavour. I thought maybe half a chicken would be too much for me, but I ate it quickly without even stopping to think about feeling full.
We ordered the french bean salad as a side which was topped with walnuts and fennel dressing. This added a nice crunchy texture with the chicken and potatoes.
And even though the chicken comes with potatoes, you need to try the chips at Empire cafe. They are as good as chips can be! Perfectly crunchy on the outside, and soft and fluffy on the inside.
We were quite full by the end of this, so no dessert this time. But if I was going to order something from the menu I’d definitely have gone for the chocolate biscuit & raspberry. They also have a matcha choux bun on the dessert menu which I’ve seen on quite a few instagram accounts, but matcha isn’t my thing.
We loved our meal, everything was so tasty! And for the quality of food it’s very reasonably priced. There are other restaurants in Leeds serving food no way near as good as this that are considerably more expensive.
If you’ve not been, you need to check it out now and make Empire Cafe your next meal out in Leeds. I know I’ll be back again soon because I really want to try their steak and chips!
Is Empire Cafe gluten free friendly?
It certainly is! Their whole menu is clearly labelled with gf for gluten free friendly options, and there’s quite a lot of choice too with several of the small plates being gluten free, and the rotisserie and some of the larger plates too. They also highlight which items on the menu are dairy free.
Is Empire Cafe vegetarian / vegan friendly?
There’s a good selection of vegan / vegetarian small plates. On the current menu these include kimchi cucumbers, and Yorkshire mushroom tacos. There is only one veggie / vegan option on the large plates menu though which is a mixed grill - coal cooked vegetables with beer grits.
Tell me about their breakfast menu…
Empire Cafe serve food all day, including breakfast. I’ve heard very good things about their bacon sandwiches and will be popping in for one when I’m next in town in the morning.