Marketing itself as ‘very tasty food in a quirky setting’, Rico Libré is the latest boutique restaurant to hit the Digbeth food scene. Formerly a ‘greasy spoon’ known as the Barn Street Diner, Rico’s has transformed itself into an urban tapas experience. Having grown in popularity among the city’s ‘foodie’ types, I was keen to see that it was all about.
I visited Rico’s on a Friday evening in January for after work food and drinks. Our party of six was booked for 6.30pm. Sitting on the border between Barn Street and Milk Street, its lime green frontage (on which is prides itself) is not hard to miss. The symmetrical round topped windows and foliage around the door give the pleasing feel of a small independent café in rural Spain. Upon entering the establishment, what we were greeted with was entirely unexpected. The restaurant is small, with around 40 covers in total. The main dining area backs onto a semi-open kitchen, and there is a small side room seating about 8 people. The low polystyrene tiled ceiling littered with posters gives the odd impression of a teenager’s bedroom in the 1990s. The rest of the décor comprises an eclectic collection of oddities. A wonky Che Guevara canvas borders an old Beetles shot. A plastic sumo wrestler figure sits on the window sill next to us. I’m not going to lie I found it all a bit surreal. I did, however, love how the place felt like you were visiting your mad auntie’s house. I was half expecting someone to jump up and start playing the (probably out of tune) piano in the side room.
Rico’s menu consist of a small selection of starters, 14 standard tapas dishes and some tapas specials.
To start we ordered Pan De Bara (bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar), Pan De Ajo (garlic flatbread) and the Brie and Grapes. To be honest, I found the starters a little disappointing. One of our party had visited Rico’s the week before and said our portion of Brie and grapes was a bit on the skimpy side. The bread provided looked like a supermarket baguette. The garlic bread was certainly nothing special. I was starting to wonder why the place was so popular. Then the tapas arrived…
As a party of 6, we ordered all of the standard tapas dishes on the menu. We chose to order our food in 2 sittings. I honestly cannot fault a single dish. The calamari was well executed- not a rubber band in sight. The Pescado Blanco Frito (battered white fish) came with a beautiful light batter that melted in the mouth- it was not greasy at all. An all-round favourite of the table was the Chicken Livers with Chorizo and Red Wine. It was rich, flavoursome, indulgent.
One of the real plus points for the money conscious diner is that Rico’s is not licensed. They do not charge corkage either, but ask for a minimum spend of £14 per head on Fridays and Saturdays- very reasonable. A selection of soft drinks are available should you not wish to bring your own.
Tapas: £4.50 per dish, or 3 dishes for £12
Overall, Rico Libré is well worth a visit.* Bear in mind, you’re not about to witness a polished performance. They’ll probably have to ‘break out the emergency chairs’ to get you all round the table, and they may forget to bring you knives, but stiff upper lip fine dining is not what this place is about. With the combination of homespun surroundings and friendly waiting staff, the place is warm and welcoming with added quirk around the edges. And most importantly, the food is probably the best and most authentic Tapas in the city. Buen provecho!
*My only negative point would be dining time. After only an hour and a half we were politely asked to vacate out table (despite wanting to order dessert) to make room for another booking. The website does state a strict ‘time slot’ for your meal, but in my opinion this does not fit with the lazy style of Spanish Tapas dining. Our party would have happily spent the evening leisurely grazing through their lovely menu, but instead had to continue elsewhere. Not ideal, even if we were given a discount for the inconvenience.
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