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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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Chaophraya Graduation Menu, by guest blogger Lucy Reynolds 

With all the new pop-ups and high profile restaurants opening in Leeds, it is easy to often forget the old faithfuls that have served the city amazing food well before the culinary revolution of the last few years had taken hold. Chaophraya is one of those places – a steadfast beacon of high quality, traditional Thai cuisine in beautiful surroundings which seems to have always been in Leeds, and well respected as a place for fine dining. Due to the saturation of new places opening in Leeds, offering competitively high quality fare, it does make you wonder how older establishments compete with the new influx of trendy eating spots, including award winning Zaap, which boasts Thai street food. I think the answer has to be quality – or to put it more bluntly (yet grammatically incorrect) : if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!  
I had been to Chaophraya years ago and was very impressed with the exotic interiors of the restaurant and the sumptuousness of the food (not to mention the traditional procession with drum beating which seemed to happen comically every time my friend and I were having an in-depth conversation). This time round, nearly 6 years later, nothing had changed. It looked exactly the same and had the same sense of class and glamour that I had remembered from my first visit. Even my friend, who works as a chef and who had accompanied me as my plus one, commented on how fancy it was – and that was just the bar area. 

The event we had been invited to was the launch of their new Graduation menu, tied in with a few of the other experience packages they offer, like the cooking school and cocktail making masterclasses. We felt really lucky to be taking part in this as there were only two other bloggers there, which gave us a glimpse of what a private cooking class might feel like. After a complimentary glass of bubbly, we were whisked upstairs to the demonstration area, where Fon, our lovely hostess, showed us how to make our first delicacy, sweet corn cakes. We all donned a surgical rubber glove (and avoided the inappropriate gags running round our brains) and got stuck in, mixing sweet corn, red Thai curry paste, flour and eggs and making small patties to be fried. It was easy, fun and lovely to see them all fluffed up after being cooked. We also tried our hand at making vegetarian Thai spring rolls, with the help of the amazing Lady Noi, a senior chef from the restaurant who could chop vegetables up at lightning speed and work a wok like a true culinary artist. After she had cooked our fillings for the rolls, it was now our chance at donning an apron, a tall paper chef’s hat and mimicking Lady Noi’s effortless spring roll preparation. Whereas hers took seconds, mine took minutes and whilst my first effort looked like a flabby Swiss roll, after a bit of practice, I had actually learnt how to roll a spring roll. Chiyo! as they’d say in Thailand.(Yes, I googled that). Fon also taught us how to make golden baskets too, with a skilful twist on the tying of the same wrap used for spring rolls

After cleaning up, we sat down to our beautiful set table and were promptly served with our homemade sweetcorn cakes and spring rolls with lashings of sweet chilli sauce. Alongside these we also received two more of the Graduation menu appetisers, with scallops and black pudding and Mahoh (finely diced pork, with palm sugar, sweet turnips and peanuts, served on pineapple) being served up with a real eye for artistry.

Our Sweetcorn cakes were absolutely delicious (definitely something I’m going to try to cook at home) and the Spring rolls were crispy, light and delicious when dipped in the addictive chilli sauce. The Mahoh, whilst looking like little peanut butter balls resting on the back of a pineapple swan, were less appetising, being far too sweet for my palate. I couldn’t taste the pork at all and it didn’t appeal to me or my diners, but I’m sure the sweet toothed may enjoy it. The real star of the appetiser line up though was the scallops and black pudding which, Fon told us to our horror, was being taken off the menu due to not being as popular as the other dishes. This would be a gastronomic tragedy! The scallop was perfectly cooked, with juicy slices of mango and spicy chilli, which were perched on what has to be the best slice of black pudding I have ever tasted. Everyone sat at our table agreed how wonderful this dish was, so I hope this heartfelt plea stops the powers that be at Chaophraya from removing this from the menu. Save our scallops!

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The portion sizes for the appetisers were incredibly generous,so much so that we had to take some home with us (my colleagues at work were jealous the next day – spring rolls beat sandwiches any day). Our main meals were then presented, again with hugely generous portion sizes, offering up roasted duck in red curry, steamed sea bass with ginger and soy sauce and wok chicken noodle with sriracha sauce and a mountain of steaming egg fried rice.

Each meal was as delicious as the next, with the sea bass fillets beautifully dripping in sticky soy emulsion and the tender duck being strangely yet deliciously complimented by a mixed berry sauce which worked well with the spice of the red curry. The sriracha dish was probably my favourite, as I am a huge hot sauce fan, with the soft noodle and tender chicken melting in the mouth and the spice being well balanced so as not to overpower the tastebuds. From looking at the menu, vegetarians also have a great choice for the mains, with a veggie green curry, sweet and sour crispy tofu and stir fried aubergine and basil being offered. 

After filling up another take away box with the delicious remnants of our mains, we were faced with the task of making our own fruity cocktail. Headed by a friendly barman from the restaurant, we all learnt how to properly mix our cocktail, blending mixed berry purées with a shot of vanilla vodka and Chambord and shaking it like a Polaroid picture. It was wonderful fun and the cocktail tasted brilliant – so fruity that you hardly noticed there was any booze in it – dangerous and moreish, like a good cocktail should be. This was then followed up by our dessert, a bubbling chocolate fondue with exotic fruits served in a pineapple. A lovely fresh way to end the meal, although none of us were sure about the combination of pineapple and chocolate, so stuck with the old favourite of strawberries instead. 

In my opinion, if you had just graduated, Chaophraya would be a great place to celebrate, with the opulence of the surroundings and the high quality of food adding to your special day. The set menu is innovative and delicious and would satisfy anyone’s taste buds, especially if the black pudding dish remains. The cooking demos and cocktail classes are great fun (Lady Noi is a legend!) and would be suitable for hen parties, birthdays or any get together with like-minded friends who love good food and getting their hands dirty. Chaophraya may not be one of the newest restaurants in Leeds, but it is one of the best, showing that quality always keeps people coming back for more. 

Chaophraya

20A Blayds Court

Swinegate

Leeds

LS1 4AG

http://chaophraya.co.uk/venues/chaophraya-leeds/

Photos by Lucy Reynolds

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.

Polpo – guest post by Lucy Reynolds

It’s been an exciting wait for Polpo to open in Leeds. The critically acclaimed London restaurant has branched forth into the glorious north and laid their hat in the luxurious surrounding of Harvey Nichols, blending Venetian style with an added touch of rustic charm. This really was the hottest opening in town so my friend and I got dressed up and hot-footed it to the top floor of the fancy shopping centre to see what Russell Norman’s latest bacaro has to offer. Thanks to Harvey Nichols for the free invitation!

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If you like the small plate style of eating, then Polpo is for you, offering up tapas style food with a distinctly Venetian flavour. We sat at our table and were welcomed by a complimentary cone of calamari and courgette which, whilst lacking seasoning, was a lovely way to start snacking whilst perusing the menu for what to indulge in. The surroundings were busy and created a cosy atmosphere with unique lighting which made it feel like you had walked into a family run Italian bistro, a move away from the slick glass and metal modernity of Harvey Nichols.

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The staff were very friendly, advising us to order quite a few dishes to enjoy between us and giving us personal favourites to help us order. In the end, after much deliberation over which type of meatball to order (yes, the struggle is real!), we plumped for a mix of seafood, meat and a couple of the staff favourites. First arrived our cicchetti (meaning very small), which were the stuffed fried olives and ham hock and mustard crostini. Along with this came our cocktails, elderflower martinis which came in daintily small glasses. They were delicious and the size was deceptive – I had three, thinking how something so small wouldn’t have much effect. My head didn’t agree the next day. Note to self: don’t be greedy! Anyway, enough of my lack of self control, more about the food! 

The fried olives, stuffed with anchovies, were worthy of the recommendation from our waitress – crispy, salty and moreish, a perfect partner with a crisp glass of white wine or a cold beer. The ham hock and mustard crostini looked delicious and was piled high with meat, but was slightly less successful than the olives in terms of taste. The pork was succulent but, similar to the calamari, lacked seasoning and a sense of piquancy – in fact, it was pretty difficult to pick up on any mustard on the crostini. Tasty, but slightly bland. Possibly a opening night oversight. 
Our pizzette – a light alternative to its doughy namesake was topped with spinach, parmesan and a soft baked egg. This was a surprising find, with a different texture from what we expected, with the spinach topping forming a soft mousse consistency, cradling the perfectly baked egg. With a generous sprinkling of parmesan, this was a light and satisfying dish which we thought would make a great lunch if you weren’t wanting a filling dish. From trying the spinach offering, I’d definitely go back for the other three pizzettes, with the prosciutto, scamorza and pickled radicchio flavour sounding very tempting.    

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Along with our pizzette came one of the Venetian classic dishes: meatballs and spaghettini. The choice of meatball at Polpo is pretty impressive, with a customer being able to choose the ‘classic’ beef and pork, lamb and mint, spicy pork and fennel or a chickpea, spinach and ricotta offering for the vegetarian diners. You also get the choice of tomato sauce and spaghettini or meatballs ‘alla vedova’, which means the meaty morsel is deep fried in a crispy crumb. We plumped for the classic sauce and pasta option and really enjoyed it, with the mixture of the beef and pork giving the ball a firm texture and a deftly balanced, savoury flavour. We inhaled them greedily, fighting the urge to play out a scene from Lady and the Tramp (I’d have been the tramp, just in case my friend is reading this!).

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Our last duo of dishes were the roast pork belly with braised apple and chilli and garlic prawns, which are always a great partnership in my opinion. The prawns were well seasoned and cooked (I could have eaten two dishes full of them) and the crackling on the pork was devilishly crispy and delicious. The actual pork belly and apple combination, a natural pairing, unfortunately followed suit with the previous dishes due to a lack of seasoning. It should have been a stand out dish but paled into the background with the soft apple adding little taste to the overall plate. 
But never fear, the desserts were here to save the day – and did they ever!
My friend and I would both own up to being massively sweet-toothed, so when we saw tiramisu on the menu, there was no debate – it had to happen! I also decided to try the flourless pistachio and almond cake, because those two flavours are personal favourites of mine. Now did I mention how greedy I was earlier? Yes…well, we saw chocolate salami on the menu and had our curiosity piqued. The waitress offered to bring some over as well and y’know, who were we to refuse? It would have been rude not to.
The tiramisu pot was sumptuously silky and boozy – everything that a tiramisu should be. However, the stand out dish was the pistachio and almond cake, coming with a HUGE dollop of mascarpone drizzled in honey (my pet peeve is when restaurants give you a meagre serving of cream – so thanks Polpo for your dairy generosity!). It was light, moist and one of the finest sponges I’ve eaten in a long time, The pistachio flavour shone through and was delicately accompanied by a wonderful almond essence which lingered in the mouth. It is worth returning just for this cake – a masterpiece!
And the chocolate salami, I hear you cry? Well it was very simply slices of chocolate, nut and fruit – we’d nearly eaten ourselves into a coma by then so didn’t finish them, but it was a lovely side dish and I could imagine children loving this accompaniment, or it going down a treat with a cup of coffee. 
The evening was really enjoyable and the food, on the whole, was tasty and definitely well worth the prices. Leeds is pretty jam packed with restaurants at the moment but I think the placing of Polpo in Harvey Nichols, along with its reputation, will see it thrive.     Hopefully small niggles like seasoning will be ironed out in the first few weeks of opening and if I was to recommend anything, go in for coffee and the flourless pistachio cake, or a pizzette and an elderflower martini (just don’t drink three on a work night – your liver won’t thank you, mark my words).   

Polpo 

Harvey Nichols

107-111 Briggate

Leeds

LS1 6AZ

http://www.harveynichols.com/restaurant/leeds-dining/polpo/

Disclaimer: this review was written following a free invitation to Polpo’s preview launch.

Photographs: courtesy of Harvey Nichols 

New Trading Opportunities @ Kirkgate Market

Leeds’ much loved Kirkgate Market will soon show off the results of a multi-million pound refurb. Recently voted as Britain’s Favourite Market, part of its new development will include a fresh food hall where meat, fish, game and a whole host of other fresh produce will be available in one dedicated area. Its long-standing traders will still be in attendance selling their top quality produce, however there’s an opportunity for the regions speciality food producers to become part of the market and set up shop in one of the food halls spots. It could be an ideal chance for artisan producers to showcase their products to a wider audience, especially with fresh impetus from the much anticipated new opening, as well as the possibility of extra customers from the footfall that the Victoria Gate shopping centre may bring when it opens later this year. The hope is that these new traders will enhance what is already a list full of quality on the market’s roster. 

Leeds City Council is eager to introduce a diverse range of artisan and local businesses, here’s an example of the areas they are most interested in …..

Local organic or farm produce

World food; fresh, speciality, niche, supermarkets

Savouries – pies, homemade/handmade, hot and cold

Eggs, dairy, cheese

Delicatessen

Artisan breads/bakery

Sweet things – patisserie, ice cream, handmade chocolates

Drinks – micro brewery, smoothies, shakes, bubble tea, coffee, wine

For any artisan producers/retailers interested in the possibility of being a part of Kirkgate Market, Leeds City Council are hosting two events for those who want to find out more this month:

Monday 15th February, 5.15pm – 6.30pm

http://kirk1.eventbrite.com

Wednesday 17th February, 7.15am – 9.00am

http://kirk2.eventbrite.com

These places are limited so should book early, or you can find out more by contacting them by phone 0113 378 1950 or email markets@leeds.gov.uk.