Recently I spent an evening at Rico Libre in Digbeth with some good friends. We laughed and gossiped, ate far too much and polished off a decent amount of wine for four women who all had work the next day.
The coming together of friends over food is one of the reasons I enjoy tapas so much. I love sharing good grub and conversation with likeminded people; the communal experience of enjoying a feast with friends is joyful. At Rico Libre this notion is at the forefront of everything you see, who you meet, and what you eat. The sound of chatter and laughter bounces off the walls, and whether you’re looking at the food or the relaxing surroundings it radiates happiness and charm.
The place itself is casual, feeling more like you’re in someone’s home than a restaurant. Tables with white cloths are squeezed together, the walls adorned with mismatched picture frames. I’m told it’s had a facelift fairly recently too. It’s not meant for those seeking a fine dining experience, and nor is it trying to be; it’s humble and homely.
We arrived for a mid-week supper laden with bags clinking with wine bottles and all ravenous. This BYOB restaurant welcomes you to have a table groaning with pre-bought booze so long as you order a decent amount of food. If I’m good at anything, it’s uncorking wine bottles and over ordering, so I knew we’d get along just fine. Kicking off, a toasted flatbread unashamedly heavy on the garlic. The Pan de Ajo (£3.80) was joined by Pan de Bara (£3.80); warm from the oven bread served alongside Kalamata and Halkidiki olives. Moving to mains, the arrival of a whole Baked Camembert (£8) from the specials board made my heart happy. If there is a greater sight than a garlic and herb spiked wheel of cheese arriving in front of you when you’ve not eaten all day I’d like to see it. Simple, delicious and, ultimately, really bloody satisfying.
Speaking of the specials board, there are some fabulous finds scrawled on that blackboard. Soft Shell Crab (£8) made an impression as it arrived, a light and well seasoned batter encasing two good sized pieces of crab. Large Garlic Shell-on Prawns (£8) made for a messy but worthy dish, ordered alongside the tempura battered Gambas Pil Pil (£6.50) alternative. Both are good value for the portion size. The Duck Breast Special (£8) was, again, a great size and attractive but lacked the flavour explosion I was hoping for and was a little tough. It went down very well with everyone else though so clearly it’s personal taste.
A slice of Mozzarella Tortilla (£6) turned out to be three whopping wedges of well seasoned Spanish potato pie; I ate most of this and enjoyed every stolen mouthful. A bowl of crisp Whitebait (£5.75) topped with blanched samphire was pleasant, although I enjoyed the Calamares (£6) more. This is a ridiculously large bowl of fried squid, and is well worth ordering as a sharer. It’s not as tender as the squid I’ve had previously at El Borracho de Oro (my favourite place for authentic Spanish food in the city) but you can’t knock the size for the price tag. Finally, a colourful Scallops Special (£8.50) which represents ludicrous value considering the shellfish quality, and several bowls of Patatas Alioli (£5) which were snaffled in next to no time.
An absolute steal of a meal at just under £28 a head. This green painted pile of bricks may stand alone on a quiet street, but it’s a place where people come together to share an experience. It’s homely and charming and run by people who want you to not only love their food but also what they stand for. And what’s that? Honest cooking, portions meant for sharing and warm service. Make sure you check the specials board; the best dishes here are written in chalk.
Have you been to Rico Libre before? Let me know in the comments
Rico Libre, 1 Barn Street, Digbeth, Birmingham B5 5QD
Disclosure: We paid in full for the food. All words, photos and cheese sweats belong to me