It feels like some cosy beach hut, only with lasagne. By Neil Sowerby
STREET food? Name me a street that hasn’t got food. Some of the streets in old Palermo were so crumbling they were hardly streets, but they still had food that was so ‘street’ it was like chewing cement and cobbles.
Hardcore Sicilian snacks are not for the faint-hearted. Challenging dishes we attempted on a recce around capital Palermo’s Piazza Ballarò Market included Pani ca' Meusa, a sandwich of lard-fried spleen with ricotta and caciocavallo cheeses. This at least was easy to get down, but a mix of cow spleen, lung, and trachea grilled on skewers, called Stigghiola, was uber-chewy and reeked of mortality.
It’s enough to make you run scared and leap off the 747 bus en route for Burley Road’s POCO Sicilian Street Food and immerse yourself instead in the Emmerdale Studio Experience (perhaps Zak Dingle’s cough was down to a dodgy Stigghiola), but duty calls.
Set in the first row of shops and cafes you come to after the urban prairie all the way from the A58M interchange, fledgling deli POCO looks like sunshine. It’s equally bright inside. A riot of colour (deep green, yellow and blood orange) with plants typical of Sicily – cacti, palms and lemon trees, against white painted brick. Hard to believe the site was badly hit by the 2015 floods.
'These arancini are juicy little works of art'
Under new ownership, it’s an offshoot of Culto in Meanwood, just adding that Sicilian twist of lemon to proceedings. Eating in consists of a counter and row of stools; eating out, a single table on the pavement for when that Southern Italian sunshine cracks the flags (or perhaps let’s just settle for a mild day in mid-May).
Primarily it’s a takeaway, but in the style of what the French call a traiteur – properly home prepared dishes to save cooking at home. There’s no booze licence either to help you linger; still sit-in margins are minimal and it feels like some cosy beach hut, only with lasagne.
Oh yes, POCO’s happy to serve the standards. The meat lasagne had a rich, savoury sweet ragu and a heartwarming cheese quotient. We didn’t tackle pizza, sold by the slice, but the large tray of veg-topped dough that came out of the kitchen looked and smelled the business and a couple of regulars dropped in while we were there for a specially ordered calzone – plus several pastries. And that’s so Sicilian.
Everyone in Sicily has a sweet tooth, a fanatical worship of confectionery. How did POCO’s stand up? We went for a trio of flaky, sugar-dusted parcels, two with a lurid pistachio cream filling, the other the inevitable Nutella. A pleasant sugar kick, but no more.
Then we spotted the true cannoli little tubes lurking at the back of the display cabinet. Cinnamon-scented casing, packed with sheep’s milk ricotta – the works. As were the reason we’ll be popping in regularly on our way to dog walking at Kirkstall Abbey – the arancini (deep-fried rice balls).
Like cannoli, ubiquitous across Italy, but also the true product of its greatest regional cuisine, Sicilian. So we’ve saved the best bit of POCO till last. These really are worthy of the Sicily this tiny place is a homage to. Not just a lazy way of using up leftover rice, these arancini are juicy little works of art (poco means little in Italy). Hard to decide between the fillings, the veg version with spinach and peas or the meat version, so we bought some extra to carry out. Emmerdale could wait for another time.
Poco Sicilian Street Food, 360 Kirkstall Road, Leeds, LS4 2HQ (Opposite the Cardigan Fields Retail Park).
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Arancini 9, mozzarella foccancini 5, lasagne 8, small pastries 6, sheep’s milk cannoli 8
Mediterranean island dreaming
Friendly, liked the free pizza bites for customers