Is Michael Ricci making a bid for a Halifax takeover? Alongside his tapas and cicchetti place in Dean Clough he’s opened 53 Degrees North, a cool cocktail bar and now, Ricci’s Place, an all-day restaurant occupying a corner of Crossley Street in the town centre. If ‘all day restaurant’ fills you with dread, fear not. It’s about as far from a greasy spoon as it’s possible to get, so if it’s a fry-up you’re after, move along, nothing to see here.
Ricci’s Place occupies a rather grand Grade II listed building built in the 1800s by the Crossley brothers as an ‘extension’ to the town hall. This might sound a bit nuts but if you’re planning a trip it really is worth having a gander at the town hall – it’s an extraordinarily beautiful building, created by architect Charles Barry who was rather famous in his day for designing the Houses of Parliament and Palace of Westminster. Just pop your head round the door, tell them I sent you. Here’s what happened on the day it was opened: “358 trains brought 70,000 people, and thousands more walked to attend a two-day session of openings and visits in Halifax by HRH the Prince of Wales on 3 and 4 August 1863. There was a grand procession to the Town Hall on 4 August, through decorated streets. This was followed by a service in the Piece Hall at which thousands of children sang hymns while 870 police controlled the crowd. To much public disappointment, it rained.” It’s no surprise that the weather was rubbish – but that’s a lot of police!
So, you walk into Ricci’s Place and get a real sense of history. They’ve retained some of the features – the original vaulted brick ceilings and sash windows have survived. Floors are scrubbed wood and a nice light is borrowed with white leather banquettes along the walls and stylish, sturdy white plastic chairs. There’s a whiff of post-industrial (an echo of the Dean Clough tapas joint) with drop metal lights and steel tables, but it doesn’t feel grafted on. There’s not much in the way of fabric to soak up the clatter, but it’s not too distracting, even on a busy lunchtime.
The place opens 9am to 9pm and as we fetch up at midday brunch diners are just finishing. There’s a brief hiatus before it fills up and by the time we’ve done the place is heaving. Not bad for a wet Wednesday in Halifax. You can start the day with eggs benedict, an omelette or porridge and there are smoothies (The Rejuvenator isn’t a new Schwarzenegger movie, but a pick-me-up involving beetroot, blackberry and apple).
Sandwiches are served from 11am – they all look good but white onion focaccia with balsamic wild mushrooms and taleggio sounds ace. ‘Breads’, ‘nibbles’ and ‘antipasti’ kick in at 12pm and include vine tomato and basil bruschetta, shallow fried Padron peppers from north- west Spain and tapioca and panko fish bites (with pickled chilli yoghurt). There are a handful of risottos too – the salt cod with pancetta, peas and parsley is what I’m having next time.
It’s rare I pick up a menu and want to order all of it. I’m regretting the boiled egg I had for breakfast. You’d think that the breadth of the menu might deliver some duff dishes, but there weren’t any on our table and I kept a sharp eye on what was coming out of the kitchen and landing elsewhere. Crispy baby squid, rocket, chilli, lemon and aioli is a classically rustic bowl of food – not great looking but packs a punch and is a lot of starter for £6. In comparison tuna sashimi (tuna rice paper rolls, wasabi mayonnaise) has such economy it’s a haiku; incredibly subtle, beautifully balanced and a real looker. I could have framed it.
Pasta is made in-house every day. Wild boar lasagne with Speck and duck eggs, and crab linguine both get my attention but in memory of the best pasta I’ve ever eaten I order the seabass filled ravioli. We were on the terrace of an ordinary family restaurant in Castiglione del Lago overlooking a murky lake. The ravioli in question was perch and tench – both bottom feeders from that lake and simply not considered fit for consumption here – but it was sublime. Or maybe it was the location. Or the wine. Whatever.
The big bowl of fishy pasta that arrives today has none of the Italian subtlety – in fact it smacks you round the chops. It’s uniformly pink and I’m thinking hmm, am I going to work my way through this? One mouthful confirms it’s not going to be a problem. It’s full of flavour and a great texture, a creamy crab sauce the perfect backdrop to the ravioli, and at £10.50 phenomenally good value.
I’ve never come across trofie pasta before – it’s rolled and flat, twisted at the ends and originates in Genova. It turns up in a broth with shredded confit shoulder of lamb, mint and capers and is simply one of the most rewarding mouthfuls I’ve had a while; earthy with a touch of sweetness and big on flavour. It nearly matches the Tuscan tench. This is what’s so good about this place. Whatever you order works. Ricci doesn’t over-think his food; rather, he has a deft hand and a natural instinct.
You’ll find the usual suspects on the pudding menu: tiramisu, affogato and perhaps less obviously, Oreo cookie cheesecake. I can’t be alone in fooling myself into believing panna cotta is a light and virtually calorie-free dessert. We share one, just in case I’m mistaken. It’s got the perfect wibble and some sharp fruit coulis to offset the sweetness.
Offering food 12 hours a day, six days a week and maintaining quality is a hard trick to pull off but he does it. The range of food is impressive; mostly it’s rustic – bold, colourful and full of flavour – happy, crowd-pleasing food. Service appears effortless despite the busyness of the place, our unflappable waitress almost second-guessing what we need.
I should mention the music. A DJ, Andrew Sykes has ‘designed’ the soundscape. Some might think music’s not important when you’re eating. I believe it either adds to the fun or drives you out of your mind. Sykes has judged it well; it’s a little bit Café del Mar, a little bit Ennio Morricone and rather cool.
Oh, and you can score a fry-up, I was fibbing. It goes by the name of Ricci’s House Breakfast and contains free range eggs, Lishman’s sausages, roast vine tomatoes, Bury Black Pudding and field mushrooms. Just don’t expect a chipped mug of tea and a copy of the Sunday Sport.
Riccis Place, 4 Crossley House, Crossley Street, Halifax HX1 1UG. 01422 410203. www.riccisplace.co.uk. Lunch for two: two courses each plus a shared dessert and soft drinks: £49.25.