Piccolino, Leeds – Restaurant Review
by Matt Callard
A cursory flip through the foodie memory bank reveals Piccolino’s has some serious Italiano restaurant competition in Leeds. At least in quantity if not in quality. Jamie’s Italian and Carluccio’s are a stone’s throw away, then there’s Ciao Bella, Bibis, Casa Mia, Zizzi, Café Italia and Da Mario’s within walking distance, not to mention suburban big hitters like Salvo’s and Diva. And that’s before you even get to thinking about your everyday pizzerias. I mean, how many outlets of Pizza Express does one city actually need?
So the neat and airy Park Row version of the 21-strong restaurant chain might be forgiven for easing up a little on the all-Italian offering, although this can be where restaurant chains fall flat – they’re ok with the simple, classic Italian stuff, but over-complicate the menu and the chefs can sometimes be found wanting. And don’t go thinking Italian chain restaurants are a sure-fire success – especially in this financial climate. The nearby branch of Strada went the way of the dodo a few months ago.
So stiff competition means high expectations and, more than ever, this is one-chance-only-dining – if they get it wrong there’s just too much competition to worry about ever going back. Oh, and we’ve no foodie grudge to bear towards chain restaurants either – some are excellent (indeed, we thought that Strada was rather good a couple of years ago – so what do we know, eh?) – and their sheer size should often bring bill benefits through economies of scale. Although, having said that, you could hardly call Piccolino’s cheap.
Not that you could quibble over our seafood starters of Scallops (£9.75) and Crab Ravioli (£8.75). Scallops are perfect starters when cooked well (which explains their ubiquity on pretty much every starter menu in the world) but I’m a fussy so-and-so by now, and if they’re under, over, lukewarm, dry or over-seasoned they’re heading back to the kitchen. These were spot on – usually a sign of good things to come. The ravioli was equally excellent – the pasta giving to the bite (heck, if they don’t get the pasta right in an Italian you might as well walk out), with some serious flavoursome crab packed inside.
So then, the test: to go off-piste. I’ve never tasted Italian style chopped liver (fegato) and bacon before. I’m familiar with Venetian liver and onions that’s usually served with polenta – a classically simple Italian dish – but I struggled to find a suitably Italian twist to this serving. Decent pub food and all that, but for seventeen quid (and a few undercooked pieces of liver), it was under-whelming.
A whole Dover Sole (£25), however, was cooked well and de-boned in front of us. Herbs and seasonings were perfect and the tender white flesh beautifully white, fresh and flaky. An ingredient as good as this deserves star billing and expert treatment. And that’s what it got. But for twenty-five pound you’ve every right to expect perfect cooking. We are disappointed that real Italian ice cream wasn’t on offer for dessert. But we still satisfied our sweet tooths with a decent affogato (£4.95).
Really, Piccolino’s is good – and the all Italian service is excellent. If they could only manage 20% of that dreaded bill. Then, in these turbulent times, it would certainly stand out as a premier choice among the excess of Italian eateries in Leeds.
0113 244 3220
11/12 Park Row, Leeds, LS1 5HD
A three course meal for two, soft drinks cost £70.
Reservations Monday to Saturday: 12.00 noon – 11.00pm Sunday: 12.00 noon – 10.30pm.
Editor’s Update: Since this review, Piccolino Leeds has closed down. The Ilkley and Wetherby branches remain open.