Nestled on the corner of Infirmary Street, the opening of Ricci’s Tapas and Cicchetti and 53 Degrees North has been something that most foodies in Leeds have been waiting for with baited breath and salivating tastebuds. Restauranteur Michael Ricci, after gaining acclaim with his Halifax based restaurant and bar of the same name, is branching out into the opulence of the grade 2 listed building Goodbard House in Leeds, bringing a fusion of experimental Mediterranean tapas and exciting mixology.
Arriving at the restaurant for their press launch evening, we were stamped with the phrase #diehappy, which also adorned the back of the t-shirts that all the staff wore. Quite a bold claim there, but I do like the confidence that comes with that statement and when you are handed a glass of elderflower champagne the minute you walk in a place, it sets off the tone of the evening nicely.
Being eager beavers, we arrived dead on 6.30pm, which meant that there were still work men busily making final touches to the restaurant, which I quite like. It makes the anticipation even more heightened and really does show the huge effort that goes into the preparation of a place for its first public showing. The staff were brilliant, being incredibly attentive to us and always checking if we wanted another drink (the answer is always yes). When the launch finally got started, at around 6.45pm, the waiting staff began circulating with some incredibly tasty tapas treats, which are going to be on the regular menu from the 11th, which is when they open to the public.
Our first taste was salmon tartare, with miso creme fraiche, cucumber and capers on a soft tortilla, which was a wonderful, fresh mouthful. The caper’s salty zing worked well with the creme fraiche and the natural flavour of the salmon. We also had some deliciously seasoned squid, with a squeeze of charred lime, which is always a crowd pleaser and delightfully moreish.
We managed to foster a friendship with some of the waiting staff, who obviously realised how greedy we were, as they made a beeline to us with each new plate of tapas, which were then greatly received with our NSFW groans and moans when we saw each new plate of food porn laid out in front of us. Our next offering was manchego cheese and bittersweet figs wrapped in Serrano Gran Reserva, dressed with a touch of balsamic glaze. It was delicious, and would be perfect with a cool crisp glass of Estrella. My friend Michaela loved this salty sweet mouthful so much that she near enough offered to sell her kidneys to the waiting staff to get them to bring her more. I suppose #diehappy doesn’t seem so far-fetched after all!
We also greedily devoured a bowl of smoky chorizo slices and some beautifully arranged crab and avocado mousse treats, served inside a cherry tomato. These were bursting with flavour and again showcasing how fresh and seasonal the produce is, a factor that Ricci’s prides itself on.
Whilst my friend kept a beady eye out for more manchego cheese wrapped in Serrano ham, we were treated to a bowl of sweet potato wedges, figs, goat cheese, chilli, honey and pomegranate seeds. This was a real trip to the Mediterranean, with the heat of the chilli perfectly balancing with the sweet fig and potato wedges, the vibrant burst of pomegranate and the creamy, earthy cheese as a cool background note.
As I mentioned in my previous blog about the opening of Ricci’s, it currently holds the prestigious honour of being the only place in the UK to serve Estrella Galicia 1906 Reserva Especial on draught.
From tasting the food, I can tell that most dishes would be perfectly paired with Spanish beer or wine, blending the citrus notes of the alcohol and the vibrancy of the flavours being used in the kitchen. In particular, the fried Padron peppers with Ibizan salt would be a perfect pairing with a cold glass of Estrella – close your eyes and imagine yourself in the sunset of Ibiza (blocking out the traffic of West Yorkshire, that is!)
Next up was an Iberico pork and Riojan chorizo burger, which was absolutely divine – juicy, well seasoned – a carnivore’s dream which elicited more inappropriate moans from my friend and I ( a must-try if you go in). If we weren’t yet on the edge of a hashtag happy death, we were just about finished off with a seared pigeon breast bruschetta, with pea and broad bean cream fraiche, and a dairy cow aged fillet bruschetta with sweet onions and peppers. Whilst my friend wasn’t too keen on the gamey pigeon, I enjoyed the flavour along with the creamy pea bed it was perched on. The aged cow fillet was definitely the show stopper though. It was so tender it would probably try to seduce you with a Barry White medley. The sweet onions and peppers complimented the joyous savoury smack of the beef – if I hadn’t already eaten myself close to a food coma, I would have had many more of these.
After nearly eating our weight in tapas, we decided it was time to experience 53 Degrees North, Ricci’s cocktail bar which is joined to the restaurant by a shiny lift style set of door, which offers a ‘sound scape’ whilst diners wait for one set of doors to close and another to open. Inside you are treated to a visual exploration through a field of greenery, whilst ambient chilled house music plays. An unusual and entertaining experience, but I do wonder what it will be like when it is 11pm on a Saturday night and, if it is anything like the lift doors in my apartment block, they jam, leaving you to hammer desperately on the doors whilst chill- out tunes drown out your cries. Sorry – got a bit carried away with myself there…and there is a corridor that joins the two buildings together too so my vision of claustrophobic panic needn’t be a reality.
When we entered 53 Degrees North (named after the line of latitude that the original bar lies on in Halifax), the atmosphere seemed much more relaxed – that Balearic sound scape must have worked a treat. The bar is central and open, offering a 360 degree view of the surroundings, with DJ booth in one corner, and a fringed off area in the other, possibly for VIP seating/ private parties when the bar opens to the public. There is a sense of eclecticism to the furnishings, with luxurious beige velvet booths to sit in around the bar, and exposed brick work and metal pipes which seem to be de rigueur in most trendy bars nowadays. If you take a little walk around the building, and down to the hidden gin bar near the bathrooms (and a private boardroom and dining area) you experience some amazing graffiti art by Ben Allen. I’m a massive fan of street art and often prefer to search for this when I travel instead of looking at the tourist favourite art works in galleries. Allen’s work is fantastic and deserves more than a moments consideration when you are on your way down to the bathrooms after one too many cocktails.
Talking of cocktails, we managed to have a look at the menu and were blown away by the range on offer. Due to this being a launch night, there was a limited selection on offer to the press (fair enough) so we plumped for a passion fruit champagne cocktail and a Bull Dog G&T. The passion fruit cocktail came with a shot of champagne, which was an unexpected but lovely surprise, and the G&T came festooned with a smattering of lavender on top (not such a lovely surprise). Now, don’t get me wrong – these two things are a joy to behold. Gin and tonic is one of my favourite drinks and lavender is one of my favourite scents, and I understand how lavender could really compliment some of the botanical undertones of the gin. But when I have the insides of a potpourri bag emptied into my glass, it just means that I have to spend the next ten minutes pulling lavender buds and stalks from my teeth as I try to drink. My friend even laughed at me until she tried to do the same thing, which I caught on camera for comedic value. Maybe the lavender, if so essential to that brand of gin, could have been made into a syrup or sugar that could have been mixed in with the drink or placed around the side of the glass? As lovely as a shower of lavender looks in a glass, it doesn’t enhance the drinking experience and means you end up having to drink with a straw, when I feel G&T should be sipped, especially when in such lovely large glasses.
Aside from lavender stalks in my teeth, I think that Ricci’s pairing of innovative cocktails and exciting Mediterranean cuisine is a real boon for Leeds. Yes, Leeds is bursting at the seams with similar places, but Ricci’s has a unique identity all of its own and most importantly, the food is amazing and the price is reasonable. Set in the financial heart of Leeds, I can see many suits clamouring to get a seat in here, and with the added bonus of the Ibizan DJ booth in 53 Degrees North, it holds the potential to be an up and coming music venue in the future too. You could go for a meal then transport yourself, via the soundscape lift, into the cool interior of the cocktail bar, without stepping outside into the inevitable Yorkshire rain. Now that’s got to be worth a few sprigs of lavender in your teeth.
15 Infirmary Street
Photos by Lucy Reynolds and The Influencer Group.