Ricci’s is a firm favourite in Halifax and history now looks as though it’s about to repeat itself in Leeds says Amanda Wragg.
Michael Ricci has had a presence in Halifax for a number of years; his Ricci & Capone bistro on Powell Street was something of a culinary landmark when there wasn’t a great deal of choice in the town centre, and his move to Dean Clough heralded a new dawn in sophisticated but sat-back dining. The tapas and ciccetti restaurant in the magnificently renovated 19th century carpet factory rightly turned heads, and his stable grew with a ‘small plates’ venue in a handsome bank behind the town hall. Having conquered Halifax, Michael Ricci has turned his attention to the bright lights of Leeds.
Infirmary Street in the city’s financial hub has no shortage of decent eateries, and given the cost of rents, it’s fair to say Ricci is taking a risk. The Grade II listed former bank is huge, and it’s split between a cocktail bar, 53 Degrees North and the vast dining room. I came in through the bar entrance and instantly felt underdressed; nobody’s judging you of course but I wish I’d worn something a bit less farmhand and a little more WAG. The palette is a sort of coolly pale grey, and at six in the evening the over-sized, padded banquette booths are filling up with glossy city types and be-suited financial analysts; it’s all a little bit Mad Men without the constant smoking.
There’s a fair amount of post-industrial piping in the ceiling, and the exposed brick walls and weathered wood is an echo of his Halifax joints. A high, square, slightly intimidating brushed steel bar occupies the centre of the room – I try to hop elegantly onto a stool but fail horribly. But no-one’s looking at me because at one side, a corner has been sectioned off as a Laurent-Perrier champagne ‘lounge’ with a floor to ceiling fine silver chain curtain, behind which there’s a bit of a party starting. On a school night this might seem a bit sybaritic, but for all I know this is what hedge fund managers do on a Wednesday.
I’m led through a lift door (it just opens one side and then the other without going anywhere) to the huge dining room with enormous windows, more sleek banquette, stone floors and frilly white designer chairs. There’s less bling in here, but more clatter. Music is ‘a killer soundtrack featuring DJs from around the world’.
There are many decent-sounding dishes on the broadly Mediterranean menu. We start with Padron peppers, roasted and sprinkled with Ibizan salt – always a winner with your first glass of Rioja. A plate of Piquillo peppers stuffed with whipped goat cheese follows in short order, the crumbed Jamon Iberico adding crunch. Another classic Spanish snack, pan con tomate is surprisingly hard to get right, and they don’t; it’s soggy and quite unpleasant. We abandon it in favour of sweet potato wedges, the first of a series of deliciously dark offerings. Sticky with figs and honey, a chilli kick saves it from sickliness. Chargrilled butternut squash is dotted with boozy raisins soaked in Pedro Ximinez sherry, spiced cashews and Rio Vera goats cheese. It’s a belter; smoky, sultry and slightly blousy.
The fish section appeals; it’s hard to resist salmon tartare with grilled asparagus, miso crème fraiche and beetroot mooli, or braised octopus with roast chorizo piperade, but I’ve got my eye on Kaleatoni found in the ‘pasta & risotto’ section. It’s hand made kale rigatoni, on this occasion served with shredded ham hock and mustard cream. It’s not an attractive plate of food but it’s deeply satisfying, creamy and sharp at the same time; it’s a memorable dish. I had something similar at Ricci’s Place in Halifax (Genovese trofie pasta with shredded shoulder of lamb, mint and capers) and it’s stayed in my memory; this will too.
From the specials sheet, beef fillet strips arrive perfectly pink and sat on spinach trumpet pasta, wild mushrooms, broccoli sticcoli and peppercorn sauce; it’s like a Borrowers’ dinner, small but perfectly formed and a snip at seven quid. Elsewhere on the specials menu, the likes of salt and pepper squid with seaweed aioli, marinated tuna with kimchi coleslaw and ‘surf & snout’ pork fillet with scallops, prawns and chilli.
We’ve over-ordered of course; next time, the Sicilian roast baby poussin and pan fried lamb lollipops will get my attention. Perhaps I’ll find room for the flourless orange cake or a bowl of Gelato. But I’ll definitely put some lippy on and even comb my hair.
Ricci’s Tapas & Ciccetti, Goodbard House, 15 Infirmary Street, Leeds LS1 2JS. 0113 856 0011, riccistapasandcicetti.co.uk/leeds. Open: Monday to Saturday,11.30 to 11.30pm; Sunday, 12-9pm. Prices range between £3 for padron peppers to around £10 for beef fillet, with most dishes coming in at around £7.