Category Archives: tapas

Ricci’s Tapas and Cicchetti and 53 Degrees North opening in Leeds, by Lucy Reynolds

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.

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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!

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

Ricci’s Tapas & Cicchetti

Goodbar House

15 Infirmary Street

Leeds

LS1 2JS

http://riccistapasandcicchetti.co.uk/leeds/

Photos by Lucy Reynolds and The Influencer  Group. 

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Ricci’s Tapas & Cicchetti and 53 Degrees North launch, by Lucy Reynolds 

My oh my, am I excited about this launch! On the 7th July (press launch) and the 11th July (public launch), Leeds will get to experience the already well established and acclaimed 53 Degrees North, which had risen to attention in the grounds of the Dean Clough building in Halifax, along with the experimental tastes and textures of Ricci’s Tapas and Cicchetti, courtesy of restauranteur Michael Ricci. With the offer of soft shell crab, goats cheese churros and a DJ set from Tom Findlay of Groove Armada, it looks like Leeds will experience what Halifax has held so dear for all this time.

Whilst Ricci’s Tapas and Cicchetti will offer the diner a gourmet range of tasty delights, it sounds like 53 Degrees North will offer the same quality in beverages, with eclectic cocktails, sophisticated mixology and the only place in the UK to offer Estrella Galicia 1906 Reserva Especial on draught. My tastebuds and alcoholic tendencies are tingling at the thought. Blog to come soon…after I’ve slept off the effects of the amazing cocktails.

Opera Tavern, Covent Garden 

There are times when I find myself over faced with food, greediness takes over and before I know it, I’ve eaten far too much and kicking myself! You ever been in the same situation? Well early last month we’d hopped on the train into London to go for dinner, it’ll all been booked but having arrived around lunchtime which is basically 12pm in our house we couldn’t let it slip us by and started wandering around Covent Garden with more purpose. Around Covent Garden there’s so much choice it’s difficult to single one place out so we stepped off the track a touch, into the Opera Tavern. I knew the name rang a bell and it soon came clear it was a sister restaurant of Salt Yard, a place we’d enjoyed a birthday dinner last December. 

With a similar menu to their Salt Yard counterparts they offer up their small plates/tapas  which is fantastic for grazing, however, also too easy to over face yourself without realising and ending up with a hefty bill at the end of the meal. Trying to pace ourselves we ordered a selection from the charcuterie, bar snacks and tapas sections of the menu. During the lunchtime service it started to get busier with tables filling up, the pace of service fluctuated and the odd dish was forgotten about and staff needed reminding. As far as the food goes, there were lots of positives – a benchmark is always the charcuterie and the Iberico ham was soft, delicate in its savoury acorn nuttiness. I’ve had it carved thinner, but on taste and texture it was bang on.  The ox cheek was melt in the mouth, like it should be and the accompanying liquor and puree did all the right things to cut through the richness of the gelatinous flesh. Padron peppers had a good balance between charring, tenderness, heat and saltiness, then the crispy pigs ears were the perfect snack to nibble on, lasting a matter of a few minutes.

The only fault I could really find were in the scallops, even though they were cooked to perfection – on the fence to whether they were translucent or not, there was a bit of grit, argh! What a shame because it really spoilt them. 

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Crispy Iberico pigs ears
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Padron Peppers
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Jamon Iberico de Bellota
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Patatas fritas with alioli and bravas sauce
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Braised ox cheeks with PX, carrots puree, agretti and anchovy dressing
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Scallops with parsnip, saffron puree, muscatel butter and jamon migas
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Pinchos Morunos – Iberico pork with paprika and cumin

Yes, there were a couple of mishaps, however both were handled well by the staff, rectified and wouldn’t stop me from going again in the future. 

Opera Tavern

23 Catherine St

London

Greater London

WC2B 5JS

http://www.operatavern.co.uk

 

José Pizarro, London

Apologies for any delay in posting this continuation from the all day session that started with Lantana Cafe, just the usual stuff like life getting in the way again. So after brunch at Lantana, a steady wander around Spitalfields and a few drinks later at a local pub followed. As always the idea of sustenance was never far from our minds, so the job came to me to find somewhere to graze – tapas was the suggested option. Fine, I was ok with that and had a couple of suggestions up my sleeve – the first was Copita Del Mercado, bit was the closest but their opening hours didn’t work for us. So my second option José Pizarro, part of the regeneration of Broadgate Circle worked out perfectly as it’s open all day!

With classy interiors and legs of ham hung from the bar, the place means business and all the better for it, as we were all well up for a mid-afternoon feed to match the watering we’d already had. Greeted by friendly staff, even though we had an idea of must-haves from the menu, our server was well on hand to make suggestions, which on this occasion I was happy to receive.

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All initial thoughts of ‘we’ll just order a few dishes….’, ended up becoming quite a feast with a few bottles of Reisling added for good measure and we enjoyed every second of it. The service was lovely and the food was impeccable, including a sublime marinated octopus, beautiful Iberico ham where the fat simply dissolves on the tongue and the meat is rich, nutty and flavourful, gloriously uber soft meaty pork cheeks and prawn fritters with unctuous aioli (which I might have to try make at home). 

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Mushroom croquetas
Iberico pigs cheek with red wine sauce  
Spicy prawn fritters with aioli
Jamon Iberico!!!!
Patatas Bravas
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Padron peppers, Cornish sea salt
Marinated octopus with JP Pimenton dressing
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Spicy chicken skewers, romesco sauce
Pan con tomate
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We ate mid Saturday afternoon so the place was very quiet, with us being the only customers at the time, but I can imagine that after work weekdays it’s probably doing a good trade and I can see why. Pizarro’s has two other eateries in Bermondsey, both of which I’d love to try out…..!

José Pizarro Broadgate 

36 Broadgate Circle

London

EC2M 1QS

http://www.josepizarro.com/jose-pizarro-broadgate/

 

Salt Yard, London 

Birthday celebration meals can be a little tricky to organise for large groups I reckon, trying to satisfy different tastes can be a fiddly problem to get your head around and having something that pleases the whole crowd can take some thought!

For a mates birthday, we had a few of these issues to work around and after a bit of research I went for tapas at Salt Yard, on Goodge Street in central London. With specific dietary requirements at the forefront of my mind I was keen to make this was a matter of importance when booking. The staff at Salt Yard couldn’t be faulted in this respect, producing an individual menu for a friend with a severe egg allergy and providing extra fish and veg dishes for a couple who were Halal.

Being the Christmas season the restaurant offered two set menus, at £40 and £45 per person, with plenty of choice on each we collectively decided on the less expensive of the two. On the night, three of the party were running very late and with a need to vacate our table by 9pm, I was a little worried we’d struggle for time and knowing how stressful it can be for staff I was a bit concerned. Forty-five minutes later we were all accounted for and dinner could begin – a steady stream of dishes came thick and fast, it was obvious the kitchen and waiting staff were trying their best to get food to our table, which pleased me no end because I was starving!!

Of all the dishes, my favourites were the salt cod brandade with egg which was beautiful, a perfectly poached egg with a yolk that runs effortlessly and paired with the slightly salty brandade it was a favourite amongst the table, oh also the pork belly (typical I know!). The deep fried courgette flowers were the source of amusement on the plate, but that’s just us being childish and facetious, they tasted great though even though the batter could’ve been lighter. The meat dishes were popular, in particular the pork belly which was one of the stand out dishes of the evening. The bavette of venison may’ve looked like a mess on the plate, but the meat was beautiful, I’ve had better roasted cauliflower though (Ox Club in Leeds!!!).

Not everything was a success with the whole table – the cured mackerel was a little hit and miss, it pretty much depended on which bit you took. Some pieces were chunkier than others making them harder to eat, I was canny to choose the thinner pieces so didn’t have the same problem. The ricotta doughnuts didn’t work for me – the grainy texture was off putting and after trying a couple I sadly left the rest. 

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Smoked almonds
Brown shrimp with rocket and pesto salad
Chargrilled flat bread with homemade butter
Smoked eel croquettes, with beetroot and horseradish, mini chorizo with potato crisp and pickle peppers, crispy squash with salsa verde
Grilled polenta crostini with gorgonzola dulce
Salt Yard chilli and marjoram salami
Manchego with quince
Patatas bravas with aioli and bravas sauce
Cured mackerel with golden beetroot, sherry and shaved Jamon Iberico 
Courgette flowers stuffed with goats cheese, drizzled with honey
Salt cod brandade with poached duck egg, braised cavalo nero and crispy artichokes
Arroz negro with sautéed squid and gremolata
Venison tartare with truffle, aioli, muscatel and sour dough croutons

Confit of Old Spot pork belly with rosemary scented cannelloni beans
Beetroot with goats curd, baby chard and toasted pine nuts
Grilled bavette with roast cauliflower, spiced cauliflower puree and garlic migas
Mascarpone and vanilla cheese cake, spiced apple compote and toasted almonds
Home made Cantucci, bitter chocolate and pistachio fudge
Saffron poached pear, chocolate and hazelnut mousse with crushed Turron
Ricotta dumplings with lemon curd and raspberry compote

On the whole, I reckon the group had an enjoyable evening and the birthday girl was certainly happy with the restaurant choice. We were all pretty stuffed, even though some dishes were loved more than others, I think it’s hard to please everyone with such a diverse menu.

Salt Yard

54 Goodge Street

London

W1T 4NA

http://www.saltyard.co.uk