Restaurant Review: Piccolino, Park Row, Leeds

Silence, they say, is golden.

Fair enough, it's probably wholly unrealistic to expect the atmosphere in any restaurant to ever reach, or even aspire to, that gold standard.

I mean there's nothing worse than sitting in the ringing silence of an empty eatery, where your every word is clearly audible to anyone inclined to listen.

But a noise level hovering somewhere comfortably in between the two is always infinitely preferable to having your over-the-table chit chat reduced to the sort of lip-reading, squint-eyed conversational guessing game normally reserved for a nightclub.

Or jet engine testing facility.

All credit to the management at Leeds' unfortunately loud Piccolino though – they quite clearly know how to get the customers in.

The restaurant has built a fabulous reputation for itself, with the promise of top class food in decidedly swanky surroundings, and you can hardly blame them for making hay while the sun shines.

On our Saturday night visit we were greeted with a restaurant absolutely packed to the rafters with diners enjoying a seasonal get together or office party, perhaps attracted in no small part by the fact the restaurant was named Best Italian in last year's Oliver Awards – with said coveted trophy clearly on display.

Unfortunately for my companion and I that meant any hopes of an intimate meal were instantly dashed as, waiting at the bar for our table, we struggled to hear one another over the relentless auditory barrage.

After a short wait in the busy bar area, it didn't get any easier on the ears as we were ushered to our table by a warm and friendly member of staff.

That being said, glancing round as we made our way, it was clear the management have expertly maintained an elegant and stylish beauty with the decor, a task which is difficult to achieve in what is such a large setting.

After being handed our menus, and making every effort not to be distracted by the office bore with the ear-splitting, machine gun-style laugh 'entertaining' his colleagues on the next table, we looked over the choices.

The menu is perfectly-sized, by no means small but without an over-facing number of options.

Foregoing any bread and olives, we decided to dip straight in.

I decided on an old Italian favourite, carpaccio – thinly sliced peppered beef fillet served with rocket salad and parmesan.

The beautiful presentation was bettered only by the chef's ability to make such a simple dish absolutely stunning.

Packed with deep, salty flavour and with the rocket giving a perky, fresh finish, I would've had no complaints whatsoever if this had been served as a main course, it was so deliciously satisfying.

My companion opted for another Mediterranean favourite, bruschetta.

Despite being somewhat tomato-heavy, it was nonetheless a light and easy-to-enjoy starter which set up whichever main was to follow nicely.

Starters are priced around the 7 mark with plenty of tempting meat and fish options there to choose from, including grilled asparagus, sauted king prawns, crispy fried squid, and sauted chicken livers.

Having given up on any hopes of being able to hold a between-courses conversation – after the first few attempts were been drowned out mid-starter – we pressed ahead with our mains.

My eyes had been inexorably drawn to the anatra arrosto – crispy duck served with a few honey roasted apples and a wine sauce.

Again wonderfully presented, the portion did look rather small at first but proved to be not only filling but exquisitely cooked, light and crispy at first then satisfyingly meaty and rich, with the apples giving a slight tartness that complemented the duck itself superbly.

To accompany my dish, I ordered some garlic and rosemary roast potatoes which were dainty and delicious and served in a perfectly-sized portion.

My companion decided on a sliced 10oz rib-eye steak served with roast tomatoes, rocket and parmesan.

In contrast to my own main, this dish looked quite dauntingly large.

But the steak was well very well cooked and seasoned, juicy and tender with the parmesan and rocket contrasting well with the steak.

Needless to say I was more than happy to finish what my companion wasn't able to.

Hand cut chips were also ordered but, alas, went mostly uneaten.

Main courses are fairly expensive, coming in at around 15-20 for meat dishes.

But there are plenty of salad, pasta and fish dishes to choose from as well including a tempting-looking rigatoni with slow-cooked beef and porcini mushroom ragu, a braised lamb shank, with mushrooms, black olives, tomato and rosemary and a whole boneless seabass cooked with parsley, garlic and lemon.

Still with just enough room for dessert, I decided to challenge Piccolino's take on an Italy's signature sweet, tiramisu.

Creamy and sweet with a light texture offset by the coffee liqueur, the dessert was a definite winner.

My companion, virtually full to bursting, decide on a passion fruit sorbet in the hopes of a light and easy finish to the meal.

Unfortunately that wasn't to be the case as what arrived was a rather large portion of a very strong-tasting and somewhat thick sorbet.

And whilst there was no question it had been made with fresh ingredients, the sheer number of seeds in a passion fruit made each mouthful of what is usually a refreshing and melt-in-the-mouth dish frankly slightly irritating.

Along with drinks and a couple of coffees to finish, the bill, including a 10 per cent service charge, came in at just under 88 – not hugely expensive, but certainly not cheap.

Having said that, we didn't have much to quibble with in terms of the food – all well presented and prepared, served by staff who were friendly and quick in a beautiful setting.

It just would've made for a much more pleasant experience if we hadn't had to wait until we'd left to be able to hear each other say that.

Piccolino still has much to recommend it, unfortunately the size of the restaurant coupled with the inevitable festive rush took it's toll on the atmosphere and rather spoiled the evening.

FACTFILE

Piccolino, 11/12 Park Row, Leeds, LS1 5HD

Tel 0113 244 3220

www.piccolinorestaurants.co.uk/leeds

Opening hours Monday to Saturday noon - 11.00pm, Sunday noon - 10.30pm

STAR RATING

FOOD................................. ***

VALUE.................................. **

ATMOSPHERE.................... **

SERVICE ...................... ****

***** EXCELLENT **** VERY GOOD

*** GOOD ** AVERAGE * POOR