I had a lot of time for the Black Swan on Call Lane when it first opened. The beef dripping fries were among the best you could find in the City and the pizzas were a cheap and speedy lunch option which, for a while at least, made the Swan one of my go-to venues for a working lunch.
Then something unacceptable happened: somebody thought it was a good idea to start marking up the halves on the taps at full pint prices and that was me out the door, quite literally. The last time I visited the place I left without buying a drink. I can’t recall another time that’s happened. Now I’m not sure if many others felt the same way but something certainly changed and eventually, the purveyors of fine old-school chips closed their doors.
Although a number of other areas in the City such as the pedestrianised Merrion Street and the re-emerging Greek Street scene, are vying for the nightlife crown, Call Lane is still one of the more desirable locations. It wasn’t going to be long before those doors opened again.
In walks the appropriately named Cuckoo from the people behind other popular venues in Leeds: Tiki Hideaway, Call Lane Social, Verve, and Mean-Eyed Cat Bar. They haven’t just put a new sign above the door and mopped the floor. No, far from it. They have dropped most of the interior walls, I’d wager all those that aren’t holding up the ceiling, which makes far better use of the space. Then, in line with the name, they went a bit cuckoo with the interior. Think brightly decorated animal heads, neon lighting and spray painted leather upholstery. It’s nuts and it certainly won’t be for everyone, but I liked it because it’s different, it’s not safe and that doesn’t stop with the decor either.
The guys in the kitchen have clearly been taking inspiration from the funky decor and are equally creative with the pizzas. Yes, pizzas. I know there are so many places to get pizzas but anyone who takes over this venue takes on the gigantic pizza oven that’s been installed since the days of BRB. I can’t ever see anyone shifting that beast, so pizzas it is.
However, the similarity with the majority of other establishments ends with the equipment they use to cook them. Start thinking of the craziest topping you would be unlikely to eat. These guys have already done that and then piled it onto well made, super thin bases. We’re talking nachos, marmite and maple bacon among a number of unusual ingredients and those with sweet tooths won’t be disappointed either. You’ll find marshmallows, salted caramel and cinnamon all making an appearance.
The fun doesn’t stop in the kitchen. On the bar, the wall of taps and the overpriced ‘speciality’ beer they provided has mostly gone. Behind the bar, yet more colourful neon illuminates a fine selection of spirits. It’s cocktails, not craft beer they want you to drink in here. Peanut Butter Martini anyone? It’s clear that experimentation with ingredients is all part of the fun at Cuckoo.
There are new bars opening every week in Leeds, yet many aren’t worth commenting on for fear of repetition. It’s not to say you have to reinvent the wheel but with so much choice you do need to do something to attract attention. These guys are hardly hiding in the shadows.
OK, this is anything but a new addition to the expanding fine dining scene in Leeds so it’s hardly going to have Michael or Liz worrying about empty tables. It’s also unlikely to be back on my working lunch circuit but the new management at 37 Call Lane isn’t aiming for that. However, if being experimental with your pizzas and trying new cocktails with your mates is what you’re after then it’s well worth a visit. You’ll need to be right miserable sod not to enjoy yourself.