Behind the scenes at the Aviary Restaurant in Ormskirk
PUBLISHED: 00:00 15 October 2015 | UPDATED: 16:31 24 October 2015
Meet the couple who are ruffling feathers in Ormskirk. Emma Mayoh reports
Ruth and David Lea know how to think outside of the box – in their case it’s the bird box. The couple run The Aviary Restaurant and Lea’s Butchers in Ormskirk. While many dining places’ unique selling point might be the type of food they serve up or an impressive wine list, at the back of this popular eatery there is a huge polytunnel free flight aviary filled with more than 150 exotic birds David has collected. Everything from blur fronted Amazon parrots and kakarikis to finches and blue canaries. David and Ruth said it is the only restaurant of its kind in the world.
David, 52, bred birds during his childhood and has recently reignited bird keeping as one of his hobbies – the couple also keep alpacas and goats on the farm in Blindmans Lane. It is a spectacle that has visitors to Lea’s Butchers and diners at The Aviary visiting time and again.
David said: ‘People are really surprised to see an aviary like the one we have here. They think it is absolutely wonderful. You can sit out in the sun, we have it all day long, and watch the birds. It’s great.
‘There is really nothing like it that we have discovered. We have other wildlife too and people come here for a real experience.’
But it is not just the birds that have been ruffling feathers. The food coming out of the kitchen at this popular restaurant is first class. It was requests from customers at the butchers that prompted the couple to open somewhere to eat. They had originally intended to open a café serving simple food but it evolved and what they ended up with was much more.
Today, with the help of manager Marco Camacho, they run a restaurant where classic dishes like afternoon teas, Sunday roasts and breakfasts sit on the menu alongside other dishes you would expect in a fine dining venue like grilled sea bass from Neve’s in Fleetwood and organic pork belly from their own butchers – in fact the lion’s share of produce served up to diners comes from Lancashire. The couple credit the staff they have attracted as one of the big catalysts in their change of heart. One of them is head chef Michael Maslorz, who previously worked in a top notch Japanese restaurant in Liverpool.
Ruth said: ‘People are really surprised when they come into The Aviary. They say it has a real wow factor. They don’t expect it. We love seeing that kind of reaction.
‘Michael, or little Mike as we call him, is an incredible chef. He’s really ambitious and very passionate about his menus. He creates stunning, modern dishes. When we knew we would have people like him and Marco on the staff, we knew we wanted it to be more than a café. It’s just evolved and it’s fantastic.’
David and Ruth decided to launch the restaurant in July. They used to run Lancashire Geese, supplying geese to customers during the Christmas period, but that closed. The restaurant was built by David and his two sons, Mike and Tom. They removed many polytunnels on the farm and converted the former geese incubation shed into the beautiful building they have there today. Ruth took care of the lovely interior.
The Aviary Restaurant, Ormskirk
The Aviary, Ormskirk
David Lea and one of the resident birds
David and Ruth Lea, the owners
Ruth Lea chatting with customers
Brie and Aspargus Terrine with Red Onion Marmalade and Crouton
Garlick King Prawns on a bed of salad with herb dressing
Homemade Grilled Black Pudding with Chorizo and Poached Egg
Slow Roasted Organic Belly Pork with Sweet Mashed Potatoes, Lea's Black Pudding and Red Wine Jus
Grilled Sea Bass, Spinach, Vine Tomatoes, Broccoli and Dill Sauce
Smoked Haddock Risotto, Arborio Rice, Parsley, Mascarpone and Mustard
Chef, Michael Maslorz
The Aviary, Ormskirk
Today, along with Lea’s Butchers, which they have run for three years, they are now pleasing diners who travel from around the county and further afield to eat at The Aviary. They are delighted with how things are progressing. But a confession from Ruth reveals a startling phobia.
‘I hate birds,’ she admitted. ‘Having so many birds where I work and next to where I live wasn’t exactly in my life’s plan. I hate it when they are flapping around your head. I can’t stand it.
‘But I got used to the geese because they were on the ground and I used to close them up every night. But I can’t go into the aviary. It would be too much. Luckily, David has the passion for that side of things. But I love sitting outside and watching them. They are beautiful
‘We are pleased with what we have done here and seeing customers enjoy themselves when they come here is one of the best things for us. We have been constantly surprised about how much people like it here. I remember it as a bird shed. We now want to carry on making people happy and being the best we can.’