It’s been a good year for scoffing in Calderdale.
Back in the summer there was that trip to award-winning boozer-with-rooms The Shibden Mill Inn for beer-garden supping and gutsy scran. Then there was the staggeringly good lunch up at Norland’s Moorcock Inn, with its billowing ovens and smart take on seasonality. And, just a few weeks ago, the happy discovery of Elder, firing out its punchy small plates within the opulent Piece Hall.
And our return to Ricci’s Place in Halifax starts promisingly enough, too. It’s Saturday-night chocka but, although we haven’t booked, the cheery front-of-house manage to bag us a table and we’re soon elbows deep in a platter of antipasto that’s a plentiful roll-call of good things.
You know the deal, alongside hams and cheeses come crunchy bread, a wodge of pate, and for those inclined, a fistful of peppery leaves. As far as assembly jobs go this is one of the better examples of things-bought-in. I even neck the artichoke.
All good things must, however, come to an end.
Like a cut-price James Martin yakking on about value for money and Yorkshire portions, I defended Ricci’s pile-it-high philosophy after our first visit (“Yorkshire folk love getting loads!”), and, back then, blamed the overcooked pasta on the scoffer’s decision to slip out for a sly smoke just as the plate landed on the pass (“Yorkshire folk aren’t bothered about al dente!”).
I’m relatively local you see, and for reasons of lazy convenience wanted to like the place so a blind eye was turned. But what I previously convinced myself was a kitchen’s generosity and desire to please comes across this time as bung-it-on belligerence. “You ordered seafood pasta”, the overfilled plate shouts, “so here’s three kilos of it. Eat up! THERE’S LOADS SO IT’S GOOD!”
But it isn’t. It’s a shrug of a dish featuring an unappetising mound of drenched and drooping pasta, a soupy sauce and a (admittedly abundant) pile of seafood pissing about awkwardly at the edges trying to fit in. Nothing marries, nothing entices.
Monkfish with patatas bravas fares no better. Absent are the morishly crozzled cubes of fried spud you’d rightly expect to find here. Instead; a handful of halved and boiled new potatoes, waxy and joyless, prop up two tiles of over-cooked monkfish that have left most of their appeal in the pan. That ‘brave’ sauce is decent enough, but as a whole it’s such a chore to eat I stop paying attention.
And, yep, we mention this to the affable waitress, but I can’t imagine that asking chef, mid-service, if he could “just reduce the pasta sauce a bit, stir the seafood through and nip to Sainsburys for some better potatoes” would go down too well.
Besides, nobody else seems to be complaining, so maybe I’ve missed the point and should just enjoy getting sloshed like they are at other tables; the food just a backing track to a festive jolly-up.
So, still hungry, I get a pizza on the way home and do just that.
Seafood pasta: £12
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See also: Ricci’s Tapas.