The corner of Fish Street has been the home of all day dining in Leeds for over one-hundred years. With the cloth trade starting at dawn, this narrow passage between the Yorkshire Penny Bank and a reputable Tailors, was once a place to find tempting bargains before breakfast. In the 17th century, Fish Street formed part of the sprawling shambles; a 120-yard-long alleyway of stalls, slaughterhouses and butchers, where merchant shopkeepers roared the catch of the day to the rooftops. By nine o-clock, the surrounding cafes and public houses were a tune to the clatter of Ale pots, knives and forks, as the ravenous traders gulped & guzzled before heading out to pedal more wares.
Imagine the myths and legends these walls have heard? A place to chew over the price of cattle. Where stories came alive; perhaps talk of Town Hall’s stone statues rampaging through the streets at night, or exotic beasts hiding in the City Museum…. Where guests were lionized and appetites quenched.
In the 18th century, Leeds’s population and industrial prowess grew, and the Shambles were rehoused under Kirkgate’s covered market at the junction of Vicar Lane. Fish Street Dining Rooms soon fed hungry audiences ready for an evening of star-studded variety performance at the nearby Empire Palace Theatre, which opened its doors in 1898. Every night, the Manager, Leo Lion, would stand welcoming crowds pouring into the majestic foyer, immaculately dressed in gold braid. Perhaps Charlie Chaplin liked a dollop of the local delicacy - Fletcher’s tiger Sauce on his bacon butty before rehearsals? Or gravy with his Yorkshire pudding?
Breakfasts, dinners and teas were the order of the day at Cafe Strega – as new owners took over the restaurant in the early sixties, inviting locals under its luminous green awning for a bite to eat before work. With its magical witch’s hat logo and patio seating out front, this was a place where Italian café culture intertwined with the British tradition of the no-frills fry up.
In 2022, under crumbling brickwork, the original red and gold signage has been reclaimed and restated. Now, The Empire Cafe offers a place for old-school values and new wave cookery. A place where seasonal produce is licked with smoke and fire and presented with love. Whether bobbin’ in or out, you’ll still get proper cuppa and a bap for brekkie, and a serious steak and chips for y'tea. Where you can watch the world go by from the pavement seating, or cosy up downstairs with friends and family in the private dining room.
Where menus change daily, glassware sparkles, and cocktails flow. Where rotisserie chickens rotate around the clock. So, if a greedy Tiger has left you nothing to eat, come with stomachs growling for y'breakfast, y'dinner, or y'tea.
© The Empite Cafe 2023