Lucia is in an odd spot in Harrogate. It’s opposite the conference centre – the beating economic heart of the town – and barely a step from the shops, but it’s off the beaten path of most foot traffic. If an invisible line defines a town centre, Lucia’s is on the wrong side of Harrogate’s by about three inches. All the same, it’s a smart location. It’s a magnet for those conference visitors and a natural discovery for people staying at The Majestic or The Old Swan, the two big hotels nearby.
The site was occupied for many years by Joe Rigatoni’s – the Yorkshire outpost of a small Italian chain from the North East – which served okay food at okay prices and was fine for work nights out, because nobody hates Italian food and nobody could whinge about the cost. But the competition got hotter and hotter as the Italian-inspired superbrands (Prezzo, Zizzi’s, Carluccio’s, Jamie’s) descended on the town.
Enter Lucia’s, the third branch of a wine bar chain which started out in York, then expanded east to Beverley and west to Harrogate. It’s still got Italian blood, but the menu’s bigger and broader, and there’s now also a bar, a cocktail list and a balcony. It’s pretty big. The restaurant has tables over two floors and a long bar runs down the righthand side as you enter. Customers were at the bar having a drink when we arrived and carried on as we ate – the sure sign that it’s already attracting conference trade.
The décor feels new and expensive, with a touch of glitz and shine at the bar and an easy, relaxed ambience to the tables. It’s the wrong time of year for al fresco eating, but we were beside the impressive balcony, separated by tall, veranda-style windows with ceiling blinds overhead, presumably pulled back to let the sunshine in when the weather’s better. It gives the place a touch of holiday-feel – like a bar you’d discover, pop into for a drink, then inadvertently spend the day inside, chatting and drinking until teatime.
When it comes to that teatime, the choice of dishes is varied. A range of small plates (£4.25) function either as tapas or starters depending on your approach. A healthy portion of Lucia’s chicken wings came with a fiery pot of piri piri sauce – good finger food. Garlic mushrooms had plenty of texture and a moreishly creamy sauce, though some will prefer the accompanying crostini to be more toasted.
Mains are similarly varied – more so, in fact. There’s a selection of pasta dishes and a handful of pizzas, burgers, steaks, salads and meat and fish from the grill. Sea bass fillet (£13.95) arrived nicely cooked and flakey, on a well-matched tomatoey sauce enlivened with chunks of olive. New potatoes, green beans and lightly-roasted cherry tomatoes all squared up well to the fish. A pizza topped with goat’s cheese, spinach and cherry tomatoes (£8.25) had a nice, thin base and a tiny touch of alluring crispness to the outer edge.
To finish, an affogato (£4.45) hit the spot – the rich bitterness of espresso and smooth, sweet vanilla ice cream as reliable a combination as ever. And an innocent mojito (£3.50, booze-free for a mum-to-be) had a perfect balance of sweetness, sour lime and fresh mint.
All told, it’s a decent dining experience with a great atmosphere. Music just the right volume, a touch of celebration to the drinks list, plenty of customers and enough food on the menu for anyone to find something they like. It might not scare the Italian chains but then it’s not designed to – Lucia’s is doing its own thing.