* Prices may differ from that shown
~Hot Dog! I'm not eating that~
I have been aware of the Italian chain 'Carluccio's' for several years, ever since I spotted a long queue outside one of their branches at the Bicester Outlet Shopping Village. The line had left its impression by convincing me that it was probably very good, but I'd not been curious enough to hunt down a branch. I knew Antonio Carluccio from his television work as a passionate champion of Italian cookery but I'd never eaten in one of their outlets until this week. I'm sceptical about chain restaurants, but you shouldn't knock what you haven't tried and I'm very glad we tried the Carluccio's in Chester.
It hadn't been our intention to go there. We had a booking at a place called 'The Weighing Room', a superb but rather quiet tapas restaurant where a group of us had eaten about 6 weeks earlier. On this occasion we needed somewhere for a farewell dinner for a team member who's joined a different part of the business and I was happy to suggest The Weighing Room. Imagine my shock - especially since I was the one who'd recommended that restaurant - when we got a call in the car whilst we were still driving there. A few other people had already arrived and were calling to ask if we'd gone mad because there was no way we'd be able to eat there, especially with two non-meat eaters in the team. What had so recently been a tastefully decorated place serving up-market tapas had just reinvented itself as a 'youth' place complete with mock graffiti on the walls and a menu of hot dogs and buckets of beer.
We needed to find an alternative pretty damned quick because there was no way we could eat there. We headed off down the road, leaving the empty restaurant behind us (clearly not too many people were buying into dogs and beer) and by sheer good fortune, we stumbled across Carluccio's. It only took a quick glance at the menu in the window to convince us that they had more than beer and dogs and we wouldn't have any trouble to find something we wanted.
~A Fortunate Find~
The restaurant is on Bridge Street, one of the central Chester streets with the city's trademark black and whist two storey row buildings. From the street, it looks more like a traditional Italian grocers and it's very appealing. The restaurant is laid out behind the shop front and on this Tuesday evening it was pretty quiet with just a handful of tables in use. Whilst the food might be very Italian, there's none of the usual traditional Italian paraphernalia of cramped tables with red and white checked cloths, or pictures of famous buildings on the walls. Instead it's light, bright and stylish with the tables nicely spaced out. We asked for a table for seven and were shown to one set for eight in the heart of the restaurant. To avoid that one poor soul would end up on their own at the lonely end of the table, one person volunteered to sit at the head of the table so it was balanced all the way down.
Our first impressions were that the staff seemed pleased to see us, the temperature of the place was just right and it wasn't noisy. And best of all, no hotdogs. I think it could have been rubbish and we'd still have liked it. Everything looked good. I hung up my coat and headed off to find the ladies which turned out to be quite a trek up several flights of stairs and along narrow corridors. I wondered if I should have taken a basket of white pebbles so I could find my way back again.
Back at the table, baskets of bread had already been brought to the table along with a tub of mixed olives. We devoured these whilst making our selections from the menu. It wasn't easy to choose as there were so many great dishes on offer and I really struggled. As a fishitarian on a diet I can usually count on the options being pretty limited but I could have easily found three or four different starters and mains that I really wanted to try. I opted for a tomato and onion salad off the side orders menu rather than a full starter and the waitress didn't bat an eyelid at my cheapskate approach (I wasn't paying so I wasn't really being mean). For my main course I asked whether it was possible for the fish soup which contained 'spicy sausage' to be done without the sausage. She confirmed that it wasn't so I had to pass on that. I then asked what sort of sauce the seafood linguine came with and she said it was normally oil based but if I wanted something different, they'd change it for me. Would I like it tomato or cream based instead? I asked if it was possible to have a tomato base and she said that was fine. I loved her flexibility and it certainly showed me that my dish was really going to be made to measure.
Whilst we waited for our food one of my colleagues requested some more bread. The waitress gave us the impression that nothing was too much trouble and came back with not one but two tubs of bread and two more pots of olives. I assume we got charged for them but I liked her enthusiasm to give us what we wanted. When someone ordered a bottle of red wine, she smoothly persuaded them to switch to one that was on 'special' that she thought they might like more and apparently they did. I was on fizzy water and a diet Coke all night so I can't confirm how the wine was.
My salad was simple but delicious, just a plate of thin tomato slices topped with finely sliced red onion. I'd asked for it without dressing and it came just as I'd wanted. The waitress brought a black pepper grinder - not one of those large phallic ones - and I took a twist or two. My main course seafood linguine was absolutely perfect and the colleague who'd ordered his 'straight' (i.e. without challenging the sauce base) was really jealous that mine looked better than his. The linguine looked so good that it was worth the risk of ruining a very new very white shirt in the process of eating it.
The tomato based sauce was chunky and fresh, the seafood was varied and abundant and the waitress brought a separate plate for the mussel shells and a spoon to help me get all the sauce all of this without me even having to ask. I ate the mussels first to get rid of the shells and they were excellent. A good half dozen or more big juicy tail-on king prawns were balanced with squid rings, mussels and cockles and the pasta was cooked to perfection. It was a bigger portion than I realy wanted but somehow it all got eaten. I would have hoped it might be a bit more spicy and I'd have liked a touch more chili in the sauce, but there was plenty of garlic and herb and it was very tasty indeed.
Everyone around me seemed to be tucking in with gusto and I heard no complaints. There was only one really dud dish which - sadly - turned out to be the boss's choice. She went for a vegetarian pasta dish with weird little spinach balls and giant penne and the balls were so gross I spat out the one I tried. Daintily of course. We had an Italian with us who said it was pretty good and better than a lot of Italians outside Italy which is pretty good praise.
~Time to Go Home~
I had a long drive home so I skipped off when my colleagues were all still looking at the pudding menu and I didn't stay right to the end. I also didn't see the full bill although the person who paid told me it was around £200 for seven people which seemed like pretty good value and certainly a lot less than we pay for our normal team meetings in Amsterdam. Quite a lot of that was wine and drinks. To give an indication of what to expect, starters were around £4-6 each, salads were £7-9, pasta dishes from £8-12, and meat and fish main courses were around £11 - £16. My tomato salad was £3.95 and my linguine £11.95. The full menus are available on the website if you are the kind of person who likes to spend all day thinking about what to order and knowing that there will be something they want. There's a separate gluten free menu which looks pretty extensive and a children's menu is also available.
Various 'deals' are offered including a two course fixed price meal at £10.95 and three courses at £14.45. I thought both were good value and even I could have found something on the short menu if I'd wanted to. For Christmas season, they have a three course meal for £22 or four courses and a glass of fizz for £10 more.
I don't have a lot of time for Italian (or even worse American-Italian) restaurant chains and this is the first Italian chain that I've really liked. The staff were lovely and ultra-helpful, the food was simple but excellent and fresh, and the ambiance was fine for a meal with a group without too much background noise. I was very impressed and I'd definitely plan to return.
Carluccio's is my go-to chain restaurant. You know you are going to get authentic Italian food, and something that will suit all our family.
Carluccio's is an Italian eatery, and each branch (at least that I have been in) has a bakery / on site food store, from which you can buy Italian staple ingredients, breads, pastas, oils, sauces, meats, rice, cakes and chocolates etc. You can even buy the appropriate utensils to recreate the delicious foods you have just eaten, as well as a selection of cookery books.
The food there, in the restaurant, is delicious and the closest to the delicious flavours I experienced in Italy, of all the chain restaurants I have tried. I especially like that they offer regional specialities, and that, in my experience, someone there could explain them to us, including to my picky and specific son. On our last visit, we tried the particular giant olives from Puglia.
The pasta is just like I recall it from Italy, beautifully aldente, and with a particular texture. I was delighted to discover, that, if you buy the dried pasta to take home, this is easy to recreate at home. I have also taken home delicious cake, bressaola and wonderful bread.
My very favourite thing though, and this is achievable in all the branches I have visited, is that, if you love the Chicken Liver Pate (which is especially delicious) you can ask them to put some in an espresso cup and they will sell it to you by weight to take home. if you do this, and also get a loaf of the ciabatta, you can have the most delicious lunch in your own home - or possibly a starter to a lovely summer meal outdoors.
My only criticism is that, sometimes, the staff in the bakery / food shop can be a little less informed as to the foods they are selling than the restaurant staff.
It is a more expensive option than most Italian chains I have visited, but, the food and experience are much better, so it is definitely worth the extra.
Carluccio's is a bakery/coffee shop/eatery which is part-owned by the Carluccio brothers that you may have seen on cookery programmes on the TV. It serves a mixture of light snacks (pastries, cakes) and larger meals (hot and cold). Naturally, it has a heavy Italian/Mediterranean bias in terms of the food available. There are a few branches scattered across the country and I have tried a couple of different ones in Stratford upon Avon and in Chester. Once I was impressed, the other time less so.
Having been in a couple of branches, it's clear that the design and location of tend to follow a pattern. They can generally be found located near (but not on) the high street and usually comprise of an outdoor seating area, together with a more traditional indoor area.
The interiors tend to be the same - large, open spaces which stretch back quite a way and are filled with tables. The design is bright, clean-looking and airy making them very pleasant places to sit, eat and chat. Although each restaurant actually has quite a lot of tables, the interior doesn't feel too cramped and, no matter how busy it gets, you don't feel as though other people are intruding on your conversation.
Staff in Carluccio's also have a knack of being unfailingly cheerful and helpful. Personally, if I had to spend all day waiting on tables and responding to some of the bizarre requests customers make, I'd end up throttling someone (probably not the greatest career move!). Staff in Carluccio's are always approachable and chatty without being over the top. They will happily laugh and joke with you and make conversation whilst taking/delivering your order, but they don't pester you. Staff at both branches of Carluccio's I've visited have managed to make me feel like there is nothing in the world they would rather be doing than bringing me plates of food.
Service is generally quick. Orders are taken quickly, drinks brought promptly and food served efficiently. We visited the Chester branch on a busy Sunday lunchtime and expected a bit of a wait, but the food was delivered to our tables within 15 minutes of us sitting down. Since we were in a bit of a hurry that day, this was a really positive thing.
Where the experience has been more variable is in the food and the value for money. The first time I went, I had a coffee and a pain au raisin. The coffee was perfect - strong and black with just the right hint of bitterness - and the pain au raisin was approximately the size of Belgium! It was very clearly freshly baked and tasted like it had only come out of the oven about ten minutes earlier. Both items were fantastic and good value for money. I can't remember exactly how much I paid, but it wasn't much more than you would pay for something half its size in somewhere like Costa or Nero, and it was far, far tastier.
It's when you fancy something a little more substantial than a pastry that things are more disappointing. This was the case on our second visit, when we were looking for more of a lunch than a light snack.
First of all, I genuinely struggled to find something on the menu that I could eat. Whilst I'm not a fussy eater (honest!), I have a mild gluten allergy which ruled out all the pasta dishes since, as far as I could tell from the menu, there was no gluten free option. I also don't like fish, cream or mushrooms and these all featured pretty prominently in about eighty per cent of the dishes. I know you could argue that these ingredients are staples of Italian cooking, so what could I expect, but I've never had any problem finding something to eat in other Italian places.
In the end, both Mrs SWSt and I opted for a goat's cheese salad. When this arrived, it was a mound of salad, the odd bit of tomato and pepper with small bits of goat's cheese crumbled over the top of it. Whilst we had no complaints about the quality of the dish - it was delicious - we didn't actually feel that it offered very good value for money. It wasn't the biggest portion in the world and, since it was mostly salad, I would estimate that it cost no more than a couple of quid to put together. The menu price was £7.95, which we felt was way over the top in relation to the size of the dish. To put things into perspective, Mrs SWSt had another goat's cheese salad a few days later. This was exactly the same size, had more goat's cheese in it, but cost just £4.95 - a much more realistic price. So whilst the food at Carluccio's was good, it was massively overpriced - it's very clear you are paying an additional premium for the name attached to it.
A definite plus side to this meal was again the coffee. As I had had a very taxing morning (and was due for an equally exhausting afternoon), I opted for a massive jolt of caffeine in the form of an espresso. Whilst I like espresso, one thing that sometimes puts me off is that it's gone in more or less a single mouthful and can leave you feeling thirsty. Carluccio's serve espresso the way it should be. Yes, you get your lovely shot of strong coffee, but they also serve it with a glass of fresh water, giving you the best of both worlds.
So, there you go. In our experience, Carluccio's is a bit of a mixed bag. If someone suggested going there for a coffee and a cake, I'd be there like a shot. If lunch was proposed, I'd probably try and persuade them to go somewhere else.
© Copyright SWSt 2013
There has been a Carluccios in Tunbridge Wells for at least ten years in the same place. I had my 30th birthday in there (I am now 37) which was so diastrous I didn't step foot in there for about 5 years! In that time the chain was sold, with Antonio Carluccio staying on as a consultant.
I have started venturing back in there in the last couple years after my mother (who is never slow in the complaining department!) started raving about the place. I was pleasantly surprised. The layout and decor had altered, and the food and service had massively improved.
The décor in Carluccio's is light and bright - pale wooden floors, chairs and tables. On the far wall is bright blue banquette style seating underneath huge pictures of Italian scenery/dishes. The tables are spaced closely together which does have a hint of school canteen about it. Consequently, the place can become rather noisy at peak times, being one of the most popular eateries in Tunbridge Wells. It is also popular with families and as a result I wouldn't recommend it as the best place for a romantic lunch, although evenings are obviously quieter.
Carluccios offers a very authentic Italian menu with the notable exception of Pizza. If Pizza is your thing there is a whole plethora of other Italian restaurants in Tunbridge Wells. Given the sheer number of Italian restaurants in Tunbridge Wells I find the lack of pizza quite refreshing! Starters range from Mezze style (Stuzzichini) nibbles including olives and focaccia to soup and antipasti sharing platters.
I love the range of main courses in Carluccios. The emphasis is on freshness and flavour. Of course there is a huge range of quality pasta dishes including Ravioli, Linguine and Tortellini. However some of my favourite dishes are the seafood dishes including Fritto Misto which consists of calamari, whitebait, prawns and sea bass dusted in flour,golden fried and served with garlic mayonnaise. Other favourites include Milanese di Pollo (flattened chicken breast in breadcrumbs) and an excellent steak dish. Sides dishes I would recommend include spinach with garlic (I could happily eat a bowl of this on its own) and rosemary potatoes.
Puddings are generally Italian staple dishes including Panna Cotta with candied orange, Tiramsu and of course various ice creams. Personally I would recommend the Panna Cotta, the other puddings are of a good standard, although not outstanding.
As already mentioned the restaurant is popular with families and Carluccios offers a good quality children's menu which includes a small jigsaw, Italy related worksheet/menu and coloured pencils. My daughter always opts for the lasagne which is very good quality. For pudding she usually chooses a watermelon sorbet which has a fantastic refreshing flavour.
Service is generally excellent and we always recognise the waiters and waitresses, as there doesn't appear to be the high turnover of staff which you find in some restaurants. The waiters/waitresses have aways been friendly and accommodating.
Carluccios has never been the cheapest of the chain restaurants on the high street, but I don't feel the charges are unreasonable for the standard of food. There is generally a set menu offered which is good value. In addition, the end of the meal you are generally offered a card to fill out leaving your home address and email address to join the Carluccio newsletter. I have been sent offers through in the post including a free bottle of house wine with any main meal which have been welcome!
Carluccio's is an Italian chain restaurant which I have been to a few times. The one that I have been to the most often is the one in Richmond, but now that I have moved the closest one to me is on Upper Street (Islington) and I went there last night with my sister in law.
--- Location ---
The location of this Carluccio's is good as it is on a very busy and accessible street so it is very easy to get to and is particularly convenient for people who have been doing a bit of shopping on Upper Street or who want some dinner before going to the cinema as there are two cinemas really close by.
The nearest tube is Angel, but Highbury and Islington is not that far either and there are loads of buses which stop fairly nearby, such as the 43 which goes all the way down Upper Street and various others.
--- Atmosphere ---
I like the atmosphere of this Carluccios. Carluccio's restaurants are all decorated differently so even though it is a chain, they do have a certain amount of individuality. This one looks quite homely and traditional as it still has its original shop front from when the building used to be a food store, so it has a kind of magical sweet shop vibe to it from the outside due to the windows and the lights inside! Inside, it looks clean and fresh with wooden floors, light bright wood tables and light walls, but there is also a "red room" at the back with vibrant red walls. The atmosphere is warm and welcoming. It is doesn't seem like the most original restaurant, but it doesn't feel quite as chain-y as the likes of Pizza Express or other well known Italians.
The staff there are friendly and welcoming. We were there on a Thursday night and it was not too packed out, noisy or chaotic at all. It wasn't loud and we got a table straight away.
--- Menu ---
The menu offers more or less what you would expect from an Italian, with the exception that they don't ever seem to do pizza. They have lots of pastas, risotto, ravioli and a few meat and fish dishes as well as lots of salads and sides. The prices are also pretty much what I would consider normal for this type of place, with mains costing around a tenner or a bit more.
We saw yesterday that there was a very good value offer on where you could have two courses for £9.95 and if you want a third, this was an extra £3.50. This was great value, as some of the main courses included in this offer were more than £10 on their own, and the starters generally cost about £5 or £6, and the desserts about £4.50, so we decided to go for this. The only disadvantage of this deal is that only certain meals are included, but that was okay with us as we could each find something we liked on this offer menu.
The wine menu offers a fair amount of different wines and gives prices for small glasses, large glasses or bottles. You can also get prosecco.
There is also a special Christmas menu with seasonal food for the winter season. I had a quick look in it and saw that these meals sounded really nice, like comforting winter food but not too boring, so I might go in and try some later in the year.
--- Our Food ---
I got bruschetta as my starter, and my sister in law got the chicken liver pate.
These starters are pretty big and come on a full sized large plate. I was actually quite full by the time I finished it. My bruschetta had loads of tomato and rocket on it and it tasted flavourful and fresh. My sister in law liked her pate as well, which came in a pot with large pieces of bread to dip. I didn't try it as I'm not keen on pate.
For the main I had penne with spicy sausage. Whenever I've been to Carluccio's in Richmond with my brother he has often ordered this so I thought I would give it a try. My sister in law got ravioli which I think had spinach and ricotta inside. The main portions are also fairly large.
My main tasted nice and it was spicy without being too hot for me to eat. The sausage meat is minced up small, so it doesn't have big chunks of sausage in it. I did feel it was a bit plain and I often cook meals not too dissimilar to this myself at home as it is very quick and easy, so it didn't feel like that much of a treat or special meal really, but I did enjoy it. If I had paid a lot for the meal I might have expected something a bit more special but as it was on such a reasonable priced deal I was happy with it. As I said, it did taste perfectly nice, just not that exciting or unusual.
My sister in law liked her main but I didn't try it so I can't really give my opinion.
We had a bottle of pinot grigio with our meal. This cost about £16 which I thought was not too bad. The wine was easily drinkable as it was really, really light. It was not quite as flavourful as Pinot Grigio normally is, but it was nice enough.
In the end we did decide to get a dessert (they left quite a big gap between starter and main, so I wasn't so stuffed anymore by this point!) I got tiramisu as that's one of my favourite desserts and my sister in law got panacotta. They also have various ice creams and also other desserts, but I think only our ones and ice cream were on the deal.
The desserts are also not skimpily sized and are good portions. My tiramisu was nice, but not the best one I've ever tried. It was very creamy and sweet and the coffee taste did not come across as strongly as it sometimes does elsewhere, but it was enjoyable. We also had a cappucino each and this was good coffee.
In total I think we paid £56 for 3 courses each, olives to share, two coffees and the bottle of Pinot Grigio. I think this is pretty good value.
--- Service ---
The waiter was fine. He checked if our food was okay but was not coming over constantly, which I think is good, as I hate it when you are trying to talk and the waiter just keeps on coming over for more or less no reason! We were there to have a good chat and catch up so I was glad the service was not intrusive. When we wanted to pay the bill was brought without a massive wait.
--- Over all ---
This is a pleasant Italian restaurant if you want a reasonably priced meal in a nice atmosphere and a convenient location if you are in the Upper Street area. The food is not the most amazing or unusual but it is tasty, simple Italian food. I am sure I will go again.
Carluccio's opened their 61st outlet in Chichester in September last year. We were due to dine there in October, but we had to cancel as I had a stinking migraine. We finally got around to rebooking our long overdue meal there at the end of January. For those who have never heard of the chain, Carluccio's is a range of Italian style "caffès" that were originally developed ten or so years ago by Antonio Carluccio and his wife Priscilla. Since their initial enthusiasm, Signor and Signora Carluccio have divorced, fallen out, and Antonio has taken more of a backseat with regard to the chain. Carluccio's still bears his name (obviously), but he has sold most of it off and now only acts only as "consultant".
You might recognise Antonio's white hair, grizzled persona and grumpy manner from the TV show "Two Greedy Italians", which he co-presents with his old friend and colleague Gennaro Contaldo. Having been quite entertained by his antics on TV where he cooked and grumbled his way around Italy, we were quite keen to try his restaurant. Added to which, we'd downloaded the menu from their website (www.carluccios.com), and it all sounded quite simply delicious. Both of us were hard pressed to pinpoint which dishes we wanted as they all sounded so mouth-watering. I can normally read a menu in seconds and know what I'm going to have, but with the Carluccio's menu, I kept changing my mind.
~*~ LOCATION AND INTERIOR ~*~
Carluccio's is located in a brand new, freshly developed "plaza" at the bottom of East Street in Chichester, West Sussex. It faces out into both East Street and the newly built Eastgate Square, and it's nestled next door to another celebrity chef outlet - Raymond Blanc's Brasserie Blanc. There is no parking to be had outside Carluccio's (or Brasserie Blanc) so diners need to leave their vehicles in a nearby pay and display car park, either the big one in Market Avenue or the smaller one at New Park Road (lunchers will have to pay, but they're both free to park in after 6pm). Carluccio's is located inside a brand, spanking new building with huge picture windows to the front and side. It's quite a large restaurant, and it's nicely fitted out, with lots of tables for parties of any size. There's banquette seating to two sides of the room, and some comfy booths for larger parties just in front of the open-plan kitchen area. The bar area is massive, and as with most Carluccio's outlets, there is shop-delicatessen-cum-foodie-area where you can buy all sorts of Italian delicacies - pasta, coffee, herbs/spices, biscuits and sauces as well as over-priced wines from Antonio's private vineyard.
The décor in Carluccio's is very light and bright - lots of pale wooden floors, chairs and tables. I was worried it was going to be rather canteen-like once inside, all echoey and vast, but it certainly wasn't. It has a nice welcoming and warm ambiance, and the tables are nicely spaced and as private as you'd like them to be. One of the walls is decorated with huge pictures of Italian scenery and dishes, and it adds a nice vista to the place. Large picture windows give you a view right across to Brasserie Blanc. Outside is a good sized seating area underneath a jaunty blue awning - a lovely spot for a summer lunch or dinner if you enjoy watching the world go by, but totally out of the question in chilly January. It was a Sunday evening when we dined there, and the restaurant was rather empty - I'd say less than 20% full. The welcome we received was friendly and due to the quietness of the evening we were asked where we'd like to sit. We suggested one of the curved booths for four thinking we'd receive a negative response as our party was only two. Amazingly, the waiter didn't seem to think it would be a problem and we made ourselves at home in our nice curved and comfy booth.
The tables were all decorated with tiny flickering tea lights, which made the place look really pretty. The atmosphere was slightly marred by the god-awful music wailing its way out of the restaurant speakers. This was the second time in a month I'd had my ear drums assaulted by restaurant speakers, but I'd have listed to the 70's themed ersatz in Las Iguanas any day of the week over the terrible Italian accented jazz that emanated from the bowels of Carluccio's - it was dreadful. One thing missing from the table are salt and pepper pots. The waiter asked us if we wanted black pepper with each course and then ground it for us. However, we couldn't spot any salt for ages. We then noticed a small saucer on each table with granules of sea salt in them. I would imagine that this is terribly unhygienic, unless of course they provide a new saucer every time someone takes up a table. This certainly didn't happen when we moved into our dining booth, and who knows who'd previously dipped their fingers into the salt saucer left on our table...or what they been doing with that finger beforehand!
~*~ THE MENU AT CARLUCCIO'S ~*~
Carluccio's offer traditional Italian dishes, with the notable exception of no pizzas. There is a good range of antipasti, pasta, salads and risottos on offer, but not a pizza in sight. This certainly isn't a problem for me as I tend to think pizza is one of the most over-rated food stuffs of the 20th century. However, if you like your Thin 'n Crispy, your Calzone, or your Baked Crust you'll be in the wrong place if you choose to dine at Carluccio's, and you'll do better heading off to Prezzo, Zizzi, Ask, Pizza Express or Pizza Hut.
You can kick things off with Stuzzichini (small Italian plates - a bit like Spanish Tapas) at Carluccio's or got straight for Primi or Antipasti (starters). Stuzzichini consist of things like olives or bread - be in garlic or Focaccia, with prices ranging from £1.95 up to £4.95. They're designed to nibble on whilst you peruse the menu. The starters on offer at Carluccio's are Italian favourites like Zuppe (soup), Bruschetta, Prosciutto and Mozzarella dishes. You can also share Antipasti platters of cold meats, breads and olives. Primi range in price from £4.95 up to £6.75 with the sharing Anitpasti platters ranging from £11.95 up to £18.95.
Providing you're not a pizza affectionado, you'll find more than enough to tempt even the most jaded palate on the Secondi (main courses) section. You can choose from a range of Insalate (salads) at around the £7 to £8 mark. Pasta dishes are plentiful and innovative with thirteen different choices from Linguine, Fettucce, Lasagna, Tortellini, Spaghetti, Ravioli, Rigatoni or Gnocchi based dishes. Can't make up your mind on your favourite pasta dish? Carluccio's offer a Trio di Pasta option where two people can share three different pasta dishes from £18.95. There are a great range of meat and fish dishes too from Osso Bucco (shin of veal), Branzino (sea bass) or Bistecca (steak) as well as daily blackboard specials. Main course prices tend to range between the £11 to £16 mark, with pasta coming in at slightly less being around the £8 to £11 level. The dessert selection is of course dominated largely by old Italian favourites such as Torta di Limone, Tiramisu, Panna Cotta, Gelato and Sorbetti (ice-creams). Dessert prices range from £4.00 to around £6.00 each.
~*~ OUR MEAL ~*~
We were offered a choice Stuzzichini dishes of either olives or garlic bread when we were seated to go with our drinks order, but we decided to have hold out for starters instead.
My partner was tempted by Calamari Fritti (squid rings), but as he was going to have seafood for his main course, he did a swift about turn and chose the Zuppo di Fughi con Pancetta (£4.95), described as a rich soup of mushrooms, Italian bacon and fresh Focaccia bread. Antonio Carluccio is famous for his mushroom recipes, so we thought any mushroom soup he puts his name to has got to be good. Sadly it tasted more like packet soup rather than anything conjured up by hand or with a good stock in the kitchen. You can taste homemade soup a mile off, and this was anything but - it had a slightly salty and powdery taste to it. To be fair it had a more than generous portion of mushrooms in the liquid, but they couldn't disguise the fact this wasn't a freshly made soup conjured from stock. As for the Pancetta - there was no sign at all - perhaps it had been liquidised? The Focaccia bread was nothing special at all despite their claim that they make it fresh by hand every morning. I'd have expected it to be a lot tastier and definitely more flavoursome than it was.
I chose Tortino di Tonno (£5.25) which is homemade tuna and caper fishcake with garlic mayonnaise and salad leaves. Sadly, once again, this was nothing special at all. It was a patty of tuna and potato coated in some tasteless bread crumbs. I could definitely taste a hint of tuna, but the capers appeared to be hiding. On the plus side, the green salad was fresh and tasty and had a very moreish balsamic vinegar dressing on it. The garlic mayonnaise was pretty good too...but not good enough to make up for the lack of flavour in the fishcake. It didn't look all that appetising either - just plain bland breadcrumbs. If we make fishcakes at home we add a good handful of herbs like parsley, coriander or tarragon to the bread crumbs to make the mix not only tastier, but give it more eye-appeal. Perhaps they need to have a rethink on the breadcrumb front at Carluccio's.
For his main course, my partner chose Fritto Misto (£12.95) which was calamari, whitebait, prawns and sea bass tossed in seasoned flour and lightly fried. This was served with garlic mayonnaise, but nothing else at all. I think a green salad would have been a good side for this dish as the mound of seafood was generous, but it needed something to cleanse the palate between nibbling on different pieces of fish or seafood. We were also amazed that the dish was served without a wedge of lemon. A squeeze of lemon always brings out the flavour of fish and seafood and it was most remiss of them not to provide one. Luckily I'd been served a wedge of lemon with my chicken (which wasn't entirely necessary), so I passed it over to himself. All in all the dish was tasty enough, but there wasn't really enough of it to qualify as a main course portion wise, and it definitely lacked some kind of inclusive side dish.
I went for Milanese di Pollo (£10.95) which is a traditional Italian chicken dish where the breast meat is flattened, covered in breadcrumbs and shallow-fried. This was served with a green salad. I also chose a side dish of Patate (rosemary potatoes) at an extra cost of £3.00. The chicken was nicely presented and a good generous portion. Unfortunately, it was rather bland and tasteless. I was hoping the breadcrumbs would have more life to them than the ones in my starter did, but sadly they didn't. It was a perfectly presentable dish - just lacking any depth of flavour. The green salad was tasty and drizzled with some more of the balsamic vinegar dressing I enjoyed with my tuna fishcake. The rosemary potatoes were the worst disappointment of all. I was expected some flavoursome pan fried slices with a hint of rosemary. Instead I ended up with a bowl of greasy cubed potato without a hint of any herb at all, let alone rosemary.
We don't usually linger and have desserts when we eat out, but on this occasion we pushed the boat out and had not just desserts but coffee too. I went for Meringa con Panna al Frutto della Passione (£4.95), which was raspberry meringue with a passion fruit cream and fresh summer fruit. The dessert was served in a glass and was basically Eton Mess Italiano style. No matter - it was delicious and the nicest thing I ate all night. The meringue was nicely crunchy to the edge yet gooey in the middle, and the passion fruit cream wonderful. I followed this up with a superb cup of Caffè Latte (£2.25), and it really was a lovely cup of coffee. I don't often drink coffee as I love the smell but find the flavour often disappoints. No such disappointment here - the taste more than matched the aroma. I shall definitely return to Carluccio's for their coffee if nothing else!
Himself partook of a portion of Tiramisu (£4.95) which is one of his favourite desserts. The Carluccio's version is made from Savoiardi biscuits soaked in espresso coffee and coffee liqueur with mascarpone and chocolate. He enjoyed it, but said it wasn't the best of Tiramisu he'd ever eaten as it lacked freshness and creaminess. He rounded things off with a Bicerin (£2.80), as he thought the description sounded interested. A Bicerin is evidently a traditional drink from Torino which consists of three jugs on a tray - one of espresso coffee, one of Florentine drinking chocolate and the third one of cream. The idea is to mix the cream, coffee and chocolate into the perfect beverage. Unfortunately the staff had only served the coffee hot, and by the time he added in cold cream and luke-warm hot chocolate, the resulting beverage was somewhat tepid. A nice idea, but I think serving hot coffee, chocolate and warmed milk/cream would work better.
~*~ DRINKS & SERVICE ~*~
As with the menu, drinks at Carluccio's are of an Italian theme. In fact, all the wines are Italian, and no other countries are represented. You can choose from Frascati, Pinot Grigio, Valpolicella or Chianti to name but a few, with price starting from £4 per glass or £13.95 per bottle. Beers-wise they offer draught Peroni at £3.60 a pint (served in a wonderfully tall and thin glass), but that's about it. Mind you, having draught lager is much more preferable than having to drink the over-priced bottled beers that you find in Zizzi, Prezzo et al. If you fancy drinking Italian as well as eating Italian you can partake of a Campari, a Bellini or a Limoncello - all priced around the £5 mark.
The service was attentive and friendly enough at the beginning of the meal, although the waiter did insist on addressing us as "guys" every time he spoke to us. Towards the end of the meal, the staff were keener on closing up and clearing down than they were in seeing if we wanted desserts or coffee. We watched them move all the outdoor furniture indoors and wind down the outside awning before they got back to us about whether desserts were required. Our welcome was good, the serving of the starters and main courses timely and prompt, but the staff then let themselves down by virtually ignoring us after that point. We got fed up waiting for anyone to clear away our coffee and dessert plates, and there was no one around to ask for the bill. In the end we went up to the till to pay as that was the only way we were going to get out of there quickly.
Whilst we were waiting for some kind of normal service to resume, we both checked out the toilets and compared notes. The toilets involve a walk down a long corridor and it was an icy cold corridor. The toilets weren't much warmer and they certainly didn't smell too fragrant. Both toilet roll holders in the ladies displayed empty cardboard tubes - not good. Luckily there were some spare rolls beside the toilet. Evidently the gents was better than the ladies, but even so - they obviously hadn't been checked recently by any member of staff. On the plus side, I must mention the hand dryers in the loos - they were turbo-charged and quite the most quick and powerful hand driers I'd ever come across before.
The bill came to £62.00 which isn't such bad value for two three-course dinners, three drinks and two coffees. However, we were in possession of a discount voucher from one of the voucher sites which entitled us to "Two Main Courses for the Price of One", and once they'd applied this, the bill was bought down to a more reasonable £51.00.
~*~ RECOMMENDED? ~*~
Carluccio's slogan is "Minimum Fuss, Maximum Flavour", but I think they really need to work on living up to this claim at the Chichester branch. "Minimum Fuss" could apply equally to the fact that the food on the menu is quite plain and simple, or to the indifferent service we received. However, "Maximum Flavour" really couldn't be applied to the dishes we tried - excluding my wonderful coffee and scrumptious dessert. On the whole the food was fair to middling, mostly lacking in flare and flavour, and really nothing special at all. To be frank we were rather disappointed, as we were expecting better things from a menu that Antonio Carluccio had put his name to. The menu descriptions are tempting and they promise a lot; unfortunately they just don't deliver. Just like with Zizzi and Prezzo, Carluccio's is basically generic high street cooking with an Italian theme, and it's really not at all special. To be fair to Carluccio's the pasta dishes we spotted all looked delicious and very plentiful, so perhaps we should have stuck to one of those instead of choosing the dishes we did.
Carluccio's gets three stars from me; nice enough food, fairly reasonable portions, but really nothing special at all. Antonio rather needs to up his "consulting" with this chain, or disassociate himself entirely, as it seems to be letting him down.
~*~ THE SMALL PRINT ~*~
Carluccio's is a UK wide chain and there are around 60 outlets - the majority of them in London.
* Open seven days a week - Monday to Friday = 8am - 11pm, Saturday = 9am - 11pm and Sunday = 9am - 10.30pm
* The restaurant has no private parking, but there are two pay and display car parks nearby - one in Market Avenue and another smaller one off New Park Road (NB: parking charges do not apply after 6pm)
* All the major credit cards are accepted
* Good access for the disabled or infirm with a specially designated disabled toilet
* The website displays the full menu, a restaurant search facility, and an online reservation system (which we didn't try)
* Dress code is relaxed and informal
* Children are most welcome at Carluccio's (I spotted several high chairs) with a special menu at £6.50 inclusive of drink, breadsticks, main course and an ice-cream pudding
Review summaryfor the review "Minimum Fuss, Maximum Flavour? Well sort of...."
My husband and I recently visited Carluccio's at Cabot Circus in Bristol for a special occasion - our first wedding anniversary. We have always liked Antonios receips so we thought we would give it a go.
The restaurant is our view has an American Diner feel about it - contemporary in style but with twists of class and relaxation. The staff we felt were very welcoming on our arrival and certainly very attentive throughout despite it being quite busy. We had booked ahead using the online facility that is offered on the website which we felt was an excellent idea though had we turned up on a had hoc basis I have to say we would have been disappointed as it was packed out.
The food that was being served around us looked very good and so we opted for a starter of just olives and breads followed by a couple of pasta dishes. We also had a couple of vodka & tonics each, and a dessert option each. The whole meal cost us just under £60 which we felt was reasonably priced for what we were served. Our only grumble was that the breads though they were very nice did cost us nearly £7 for a basket for two which given that we had less than half a small loaf between us did seem a bit extortionate. The pasta was excellent and whilst we couldn't manage a dessert from what ew could see they were certainly appetising.
I would definitely go back as the quality of the food and the service were excellent, but I wouldn't have the same 'starter'. A nice relaxing evening in nice surroundings with very attentive staff.
I have recently dined at Carluccio's within Milton Keynes Centre for the first time. We were initially annoyed about having to wait 20 minutes for a table, but that was the least of our problems. The service was poor, our orders were partially ignored or forgotten completely and within a few hours of eating there myself and the two friends who accompanied me were all ill with exactly the same symptoms. I had already decided I would not go back after the poor service but as a result of also falling ill I would now actively discourage people from dining here. Definitely somewhere to avoid! My very generous one star rating is only because I am not able to give zero stars.
In my line of business, it's not unusual to be invited out to lunch by key suppliers every once in a while. It's a great way to catch up and cement relationships in an informal setting, and whilst the old adage "there's no such thing as a free lunch" still has a ring of truth to it, it's easy to forget about the corporate wheel-greasing over a 12oz ribeye with sautéed spinach and rosemary roasted potatoes.
The success of chef Antonio Carluccio's Italian restaurant and deli chain has provided the business community with a readily accessible and credible place to take clients for a slap-up meal without necessarily breaking the bank, a big plus in these budget conscious times. However, these establishments are also perfect for occasional family dining, as we have discovered with the Carluccio's in my home town of Walton-on-Thames.
Given that there are now forty-five locations up and down the country, you don't have to go far to find one. In my experience, the consistency of service, the atmosphere and quality of food doesn't vary much between the locations I have been to, which in this case, is a good thing. This review is based on an amalgam of my experiences at number of locations in and around London: Walton-on-Thames, Richmond, Canary Wharf, The West End, Kingston-upon-Thames, Reading and Putney.
Antonio Carluccio is an accomplished Italian chef who has had his own cookery series on the BBC as well as authoring several cookery books. He opened the first of his "Caffe's" in 1999, with the idea of combining bistro style food with an integrated food shop, a concept that has been retained by the chain to this day. Antonio is no longer a Director of the business he founded, but acts as a consultant to the business, assisting with menu creation and training chefs.
Jamie Oliver trained under his tutelage at the (now closed) Neal Street Restaurant in Covent Garden, where, as wide-eyed trainee lawyer - still very much wet-behind the ears - I was taken for a client lunch and had the most expensive primo piatti (appetiser) I had ever had in my young life at the time (£16.00 for a wild mushroom medley on toasted ciabatta - and that was in 1998!).
The layout of each restaurant is slightly different, depending on the space it occupies, but the theme is very much the same. The entrance to the Caffé doubles as the entrance to the open plan shop, which has open refrigerated deli counters with various cheeses and cold meats, olives, a sweets section, shelves of vintage olive oil, Balsamic vinegars, speciality pasta, and freshly baked breads. It is a veritable gastronomic treasure trove that deserves a write-up of its own, but as I am concentrating on the Caffé itself, I have to leave if for another day. Suffice it to say that it really gets your juices flowing before you eat, and its strategically situated so you can almost never leave without taking something with you.
There is a fairly good mix of bistro style tables and chairs, and the occasional booth or padded bench, providing a mixture of seating styles. The chairs are multi-coloured, comfortable and wide, but not something you would want to lounge in for too long. The décor is clean, mainly white and blue themes with exposed pipework on the ceilings, giving it a fairly industrial feel. The tables are close, but not so close together as to make you feel claustrophobic, and most of the service stations - including the coffee making machines, waiter stations and kitchen - are open to the restaurant, giving it a busy and bustling feel. In short, it's a reflection of the Italian origins and personality of its founder - bold, brash and full of big gestures - but with the philosophy that good food equates to good times at the heart of everything.
On the three occasions I have taken my children to eat there, the last being yesterday for lunch, the staff have been superbly attentive and friendly. Within moments of arriving, kids are given a welcome pack that includes a children's menu (more on this later) integrated into a fold-out pamphlet with several games, a pack of four coloured pencils to use and keep, and a themed puzzle that can also be coloured in. The pamphlet is also themed (the one we received on our last visit was about Italian breads - some of which even I had never heard of, but we've also had ones on olives and cheeses in the past). Quality high chairs are always available, and despite my wife's insistence on wiping them down with anti-bac wipes, they have always been impeccably clean.
THE FOOD IN GENERAL
The menu is seasonal and changes a number of times during the year, however, apart from daily specials, it is constant across each location. In addition, every now and again the chain takes a regional focus, highlighting dishes from a specific part of Italy. It is diverse without being daunting, with each dish clearly explained. There is a wide variety of salads, panini, antipasti, pasta, gnocchi, risotto, traditional Italian specialities such as Ossobucco and Milanese di Pollo, as well as the usual types of meat and seafood dishes you would expect to see on a bistro-style menu. Perhaps surprisingly, there is no pizza on the menu. A full copy of the menu is available on line at: www.carluccios.com
Carluccio's also offers a good value set menu for lunch at £9.95 for two courses, or £12.95 for three. For starters, you get the choice of chicken liver pate and toasted ciabatta, bruschetta or chargrilled garlic bread. For the main, you choose from spinach and ricotta ravioli cooked in a butter and sage sauce, penne pasta with a spicy Italian sausage sauce, or gnocchi with gorgonzola and spinach sauce. If you have room for a third course, you get to agonise over tiramisu, panna cotta or traditionally made Italian gelati. Good luck with that.
The wine list is refreshingly brief, providing a broad spectrum (in both price and variety) of nine reds, nine whites and two rose', most of which are available by the glass or by the bottle. A small glass averages around £5, a large glass £6.50 and a bottle will set you back anywhere between £13 to £36. The "house" beer is Peroni, which is available in three different brews (Nastro Azzuro, Red and Gran Riserva) at around £3.50 for a standard 330ml bottle.
OUR LATEST EXPERIENCE
Having just heard that my six month "career break" was finally coming to an end after a confirmed job offer just before lunch, I decided to take the family out to our local Walton-on-Thames Carluccio's to celebrate. We arrived (wife, 5 year old daughter and 6 month old son, blissfully asleep) just before 2pm, but the Caffé was still buzzing with the Friday lunch crowd.
We were promptly and courteously greeted and having made the grievous error of offering us a choice of three tables, our waiter patiently waited while we entered into extensive discussions on the strategic placement of our children for maximum control, optimum positioning of the pushchair and minimal inconvenience to other diners. Once seated, my daughter's welcome pack was promptly delivered, instantly silencing her vocal Oscar-winning performance of a starving waif straight off the set of Oliver!
We were immediately asked for a drinks order - very welcome in the circumstances - and settled on two Diet Cokes, and an apple juice for our budding little artist, who by now was so engrossed in colouring in her puzzle, that she barely noticed the breadsticks (grissini) that were delivered not six inches from her nose. This was a relatively late lunch for all of us and the offer of some Stuzzichini (Italian appetisers) proved much too tempting to resist, so we ordered the suggested savoury bread tin and bowl of olives.
These arrived very quickly, and we devoured them in short order as we perused our menus. The former was, as advertised, a small metal tin packed with four or five different kinds of Italian bread, accompanied by a dipping bowl of fruity, peppery olive oil and ever so more-ish balsamic vinegar. Each of the breads - some of them more akin to crispbread or crackers - delivered a distinct taste experience, with my favourite a fennel flavoured soft loaf slice studded with moist sultanas. The generous serving of plump, stoned olives contained at least three different marinated varietals which we happily speared with the provided cocktail sticks. Lunch was off to a cracking start.
My wife and I both decided on a three course set menu at £12.95 each (chicken pate, penne and tiramisu for me, bruschetta, ravioli and panna cotta for her) and then ordered from the kid's menu (£6.95) for our daughter, which included a soft drink and gelati for dessert. She got to choose from a selection of pasta shapes (tubes or strings) and sauces (tomato, pesto, butter or ragu), lasagne, ravioli or Milanese di Pollo (flattened and bread crumbed chicken breast) with a tomato dipping sauce and rosemary potatoes and eventually settled on the chicken, but only after extensive cajoling from her impatient parents.
> Starters <
Our daughter's chicken arrived with our starters and, tasked with cutting it for her, I was well impressed with both the size and quality of her food. Too often, kid's menus are seen as prime opportunities for restaurant's to cut corners but, having sneaked a morsel while hacking away at it (for review purposes obviously) I found it perfectly cooked, with nice and crisp breadcrumbs and a depth of flavour a kid used to frozen nuggets simply would not appreciate.
My pate was served in a deep little cone shaped pot covered with a layer of chilled butter with a side of three generous slices of toasted ciabatta and some tiny cornichons. Breaking through the golden seal of butter unearthed a delightfully creamy rich pate with a lovely depth of flavour. As if more fat was needed, I discovered more small nuggets of butter as I delved deeper and deeper into this generous, seemingly bottomless helping of delectable pate.
It seems churlish to complain that the portion was probably a little too large, not that you would have known given how enthusiastically I was manoeuvring my knife around the bottom in an attempt to extract every last morsel. I can't really comment on the taste of my wife's bruschetta as she would not let me anywhere near it, but despite its unusual presentation (the tomato and basil topping was on the side like a salsa, leaving her to pile it on to the single large slice of ciabatta that had been provided) she thoroughly enjoyed it.
> Mains <
After a short interval, our mains arrived. After the triumph of the primi piatti, we were expecting great things of the main dishes, so it was a mild disappointment to find them quite good, rather than exceptional. My wife's spinach and ricotta ravioli were very well cooked - quite firm, with no hint of stodge or sloppiness - and the butter and sage sauce was delicate and flavourful, complementing, rather than dominating the pasta.
My penne, with small clumps of tomato and Italian sausage was tangy, savoury, rustic, and quite satisfying, but was never going to win any awards for presentation. Portion sizes were generous without being ridiculous, which in my case was quite welcome given the richness of my starter. We were offered fresh Parmesan and ground pepper by the server. There is a saying that the quality of a restaurant is often inversely proportional to the size of their peppermill - if that's true, then Carluccio's have little to worry about.
> Pudding <
Our daughter's gelati (she was offered vanilla and strawberry but predictably opted for chocolate) arrived straight from the on-site shop freezer in a non-descript peel top cardboard container, just as Baby H decided he'd had enough of a sleep and loudly announced his presence to the rest of the dining room. Seeing that my wife was struggling to get a bottle organised, while I was manfully digging away at the rock hard gelati with a hammer and chisel to soften it up for my impatient daughter, our waitress offered to hold back our deserts and espresso's until we got the kids sorted. When the puddings materialised, they were well worth the wait.
My tiramisu was a generous and indulgent rectangle of creamy mascarpone on a moist savoiardi biscuit base, impregnated with espresso and coffee liqueur, and finished with a thorough dusting of cocoa powder (i.e. enough caffeine to almost make my double espresso completely redundant). In contrast to the bold flavours of my tiramisu, my wife's panna cotta was a much more delicate vanilla and rum concoction that took its time to announce itself on the palate, delivering a much more subtle but ultimately satisfying experience. The rim of her plate was studded with candied orange peel, which provided a nice sharp, sweet and pronounced citrus contrast to the understated panna cotta.
Service was attentive without being obtrusive. Despite the general bustle, we never felt rushed and there was always someone on hand to help with any requests. Staff are not territorial about their covers and service at Carluccio's is a real team effort. There is no service charge for parties of less than eight people so tipping is left to customer discretion. Unlike some establishments, 100% of the tips actually go to the staff, who, given their service ethos, tend to share it out between them. Our bill was delivered within a few minutes of asking for it. All major credit cards (including Amex) are accepted and payment is made via hand-held electronic terminal at our table.
Our bill, including the appetisers, fixed price menu, drinks and coffee came to £46.00 not including a tip. In retrospect, we probably would not go for the olives and bread again, as we left the Caffé feeling like we had seriously overindulged, and quite apart from padding our waistlines, those two items alone (bread @ £3.50 and olives at £2.60) added approximately £6 to the bill.
On every visit so far (and I must be close to fifteen at various branches now), I have had consistently good food and service. The set menu is obviously good value, but the rest of the menu competes quite well too. I would especially recommend the bone-in rib steak, pan-fried sea bass and pork stew with polenta if you are ordering from the a la carte menu. Although Antonio Carluccio may have taken a step back from the business, his influence is clearly writ large in the food his namesake Caffé's serve.
It's rare to find a place that is equally at home serving a suited and booted lunchtime business crowd as well as young families with children, but Carluccio's managed to cater to both effortlessly. In my experience, it is better suited to lunch than for dinner, and if you don't mind the busy bistro atmosphere - you are generally in and out in around an hour - then you can't go far wrong.
© Hishyeness 2010
Carluccios is a regular stop of mine for a lunchtime coffee, or at least it was, now i prefer Giraffe which is just around the corner.
There's nothing particularly offensive about this cafe/restaurant, the staff are perfectly nice and the quality of food and drink is good, but you can get better elsewhere at cheaper prices. Like Giraffe! I'll give you an example, there were some ciabattas on display behind the counter at £3.50 each. What they don't explain is that price is the 'take-away' price, which is still a bit expensive, but if you sit inside they'll put 3 leaves of salad next to it on a plate and charge you £5.50! Ridickerous.
They also have their own brand food for sale in store, which i imagine they sell about 3 items per year of because, although i'm sure they're very nice, no-one wants to pay £16 for a bagel. Except maybe Michael Jackson.
Easy solution - go round the corner to Giraffe. The coffee is better too.
Carluccio's is a chain of Italian cafes started by Antonio Carluccio. Their aim is to provide great quality, authentic Italian food at sensible prices. There are 45 Carluccio's cafes around the country.
The atmosphere is light, airy and modern. The staff look quite authentically Italian in their uniform (not that I've ever been to Italy!) and although it is a cafe it feels quite formal. It feels like an occasion when you go there.
There is the opportunity to buy products from their shop while you are there. This is true of the Chiswick and Bristol venues, but I cannot say the same about all venues. However, you can buy products online. Their products are very good. They sell authentic Italian products such as risotto rice, and these gorgeous little hazelnut biscuits. You can also buy cold deli products such as antipasti and ham. Their bread, cakes and pastries are especially good. And if you get there at the right time (i.e. when they're closing) then they might give you free bread like they did to my Dad once!
Once upon a time, a young girl was taken to a fairly small Italian restaurant in Chiswick. This restaurant was called Carluccio's. The food was unlike anything she had ever tasted. The calamari was exciting, crisp, fresh and gorgeous. The gnocchi with a gorgonzola and spinach sauce was stodgy, satisfying and scrumptious. The tiramisu was dreamy, divine and delicious. But the girl was dragged away from the incredible food, many miles away, never to see it again...
UNTIL! They opened a Carluccio's in her home town! And so I tell you my tale of reliving my original Carluccio's experience.
I visited the Carluccio's in Cabot Circus, in Bristol. Everything was as I remembered it and I was beyond excited. I had been dreaming of eating at Carluccio's again.
To start I ordered calamari, eager to taste the same flavours I had tasted once before. However, I was disappointed to find that my calamari was soggy and quite greasy. This wasn't the crisp delectable dish I remembered! I forced it down because I didn't want to leave nearly a whole plate of calamari. It costs £5.95 and this is a large portion. Too much for one, enough for 3 I'd say.
I thought to myself, 'ok, maybe someone is having an off day. There's still mains and dessert to come!'
I decided to order Saltimbocca Di Maiale which is pork escalope, pan fried in white wine, wrapped in Parma ham and sage. Served with sauteed potatoes. What could go wrong?! It sounded perfect. When it arrived, the pork itself looked gorgeous. The crispy Parma ham made it look very appetising. The sauteed potatoes also looked great, although there weren't enough of them. However, there was a pale thin sauce that the pork was sat in. I am assuming this is the white wine that the pork was fried in, but it didn't look or taste that great. It was like a fairly bland gravy. And there was too much of it. It almost drowned the pork. This main cost £11.50.
So now I was thinking that at least things were improving! And my old friend the tiramisu was still to come..
I am pleased to say that the tiramisu lived up to my memories! It was a decent sized portion for £4.95. And it is incredible. Smooth and creamy, with not too much coffee or liqueur.
So, to be honest I was quite disappointed with my first Carluccio's experience after Chiswick! The food wasn't the quality I remembered, and seemed overpriced.
I have since been to Carluccio's a few times. To give it another chance! And the food was still of not very good quality. I do recommend the cakes and pastries though. I have been to Carluccio's for coffee a few times and their cakes are delicious every time. My personal favourite is a lemon tart topped with meringue and raspberries. The tarts are slightly larger than the small ones you get in supermarkets. But so much better! They cost approximately £4.
The menu has a wide range of food, including a breakfast menu which ranges from pannetone (£1.45) to scrambled eggs with grilled pancetta, sautéed mushrooms, tomato and toasted bread. Coffee or tea and a fruit juice. (£8.95)
Their main food menu includes soup, antipasti and salads to start, as well as the usual olives and bread. There are pasta dishes, meat and fish dishes, grilled sandwiches and side dishes. This menu hasn't really changed since I visited the Chiswick Carluccio's over 5 years ago. However, they do have a specials board which changes regularly.
I would definitely urge people to try Carluccio's, because if they get the same experience that I once had then it will definitely be worth it. However, I am going to stick to the coffee and cake that they do such a good job of.
We used to eat at Carluccios in Canary Wharf quite a lot, then we moved and had a baby and eating out stopped for a bit.
This weekend though we thought we'd treat ourselves and take a shopping trip to Tunbridge Wells, whilst there we stopped for lunch at Carluccios and I was really impresed with how family friendly it was. I never really paid any attention to this pre-baby, but it makes a huge difference to your experience (and that of other diners) if there is a little thought put into how families and non families can all eat happily amongst each other!
Firstly, we were greeted (after a smallish queue) by a vey professional and I must say quite handsome manager, who assured us that he had plenty of highchairs and showed us to an area towards the back of the restaurant which seemed to be the designated "small child" area. There was plenty of room for the highchair without fear of people tripping over baby and there was also room (away from the table) to park the buggy without having to collapse it.
This area had boxes of toys and drawing materials available and was also conveniently located to the baby change area.
Now, you may be thinking "but I don't want to sit in the Nursery section", we were happy to do so, but lots of parents, children and babies were sat in the general section aswell. I think they probably direct you to this area if you need a highchair, so if you have a small baby/toddler, but it's up to you.
The food was as consistently good as always. We had starters, (Mozzerella and tomato salad for Hubby, Calamari for me) Mains (Spaghetti alla vongole and Spicy sausage penne) a side salad, 2 glasses of wine and a bottle of Peroni lager. The bill before service came to £50 which I think is very reasonable. (Baby had food I had prepared already, not a problem for the restaurant).
Service was excellent, the handsome manager came by to check and chat at several convenient times and our waitress was efficient and pleasant. Food was served quickly but with a good gap between courses.
The restaurant was extremely busy, but it was a Saturday peak lunchtime and it didn't seem to affect service or detract from our enjoyment.
I used both the ladies toilet and the baby change, both of which were clean and serviced.
With the bill we were given 2 vouchers for a free bottle of wine with 2 main courses, valid till September. We'll definitely use these.
I`m a frequent visitor to Carluccio's. The menu has choices for everyone but is a bit limited in terms of number of dishes- on average about . Food portions are normal and taste nice. Try the savoury bread tin for a starter! Starters are a little pricey- £5 for bruschetta for example. The average price of a main course ranges from £7-12- dishes include pasta, toasted gourmet sandwiches and pan fried seabass and veal.
Service is good and the staff are pleasant and helpful. The restaurant caters for families very well and we were made to feel welcome. They provided extra space for the pushchair and immediately fetched a high chair without us having to ask. There is also a childrens menu with a choice of 5 dishes and ice cream for £5.95. In most of Carluccio restaurants there is also a deli where you can purchase Italian goods, hams, meats, breads and pastries- prices are reasonable, though the quality is fantastic- i have purchased many jars of squid ink sauce and different meats and have always been satisfied.
I really love this restaurant! It is part of a chain of restaurants owned by the chef Anthony Carluccio.
It is a traditional Italian place, serving real Italian food. The prices are a little on the expensive side (probably about £20 per person for two courses), but are totally worth it as the food is delicious!
They serve all traditional Italian food, pizzas, lasagna, risottos, fish dishes, and you always get a bread plate to have before your starter as you decide, which is delicious! There are loads of different types of bread, and some are really unusual but still delicious.
The staff are all really friendly and always make you feel really welcome. The restaurant itself is really sophisticated, and is very well lit. It has a really classy design, and it all looks very clean.
They have a little shop attached to the restaurant so that you can purchase Italian ingrediants, such as fresh meats, real Italian cheese, amaretto biscuits etc to take home.
Never fearing the challenge of finding somewhere nice too eat ( see previous 15 bad experiences) we ventured over to the Brunswick centre at Russel Square (London) to check out the new facilities & see if they had managed to make it less scary around there than it used to be. We originally intended to go to the Hare & Tortoise noodle bar for a cheaper (and better because they do cheap sushi) meal than Wagamamma but it was packed so I thought we should try out Carluccios. I have wandered past many of them in the last 6 months but never managed to find time to go (too many dodgy places to eat in first) see in we went...........
Carluccios is a chain of Italian coffee shops & Deli's who happen to serve food as well, or at least that what the website seems to tell me. Find them at www.carluccios .com where they will welcome you with this introduction (saving me doing it)
Welcome to Carluccios
Priscilla and Antonio opened their first Italian food shop in 1991 in Covent Garden bringing the finest quality regional Italian food to London.
In those days, only a few products were sold and the labels were hand-written with care. Today, that same care is taken and we have created Caffès with food shops to be able to invite our customers to eat and shop in a happy, bustling environment.
The entrance to the shop is quite inviting, theres a coffee counter & basically a shop selling lots of Italian food products. Theres olive oil from Sicily, Wild boar ragu, Cuttlefish Ink sauce, Capers, artichokes, etc, all waiting to be snapped up unless you just want a meal so we quickly bypassed this & went to get a seat.
We were greeted almost immediately by a smiley waitress who even laughed when I asked for the smoking section even though she must have heard it a million times by now. The table wasn't exactly the best one in the place, too close to the waiter station but at least that meant we were being passed regularly so we got served quite quickly.
Absolutely starving we ordered the bread tin & a bowl of olives with our wine & water. The Bread was a selection of crackers,breadsticks & actual bread with olive oil which made a nice change & the olives were fat green pitted ones as I like them (not sure if they were queen, maybe just princess) The wine list had a good selection ranging from £12-£23 with most of them falling around £17, we took the Rose but it fell quite far from the Pizza Express rose mark, a little too heavy & dark for my taste but we still managed to force it down..
For main courses we had Giardiniera pasta, a penne with deep fried balls of spinach, garlic & chilli. I wasn't impressed with the taste of this that I had. The balls of spinach were too contrasting in their crunchyness compared to the soft pasta. My friend had a chicken Milanese, which was simply a flattened breast of chicken coated in breadcrumbs with salad. Now I didn't try this but one look was enough to put me off what appeared to be a findus crispy pancake
I had the seabass which was actually probably the biggest mistake of the 3 of us. Not exactly tough but neither was it melting in the mouth. At £11.75 it was the most expensive dish of the 3 & I expected it to be a bit more impressive. The tomato salsa was bland & one of the accompanying potatoes wasn't properly cooked, As with the wine, we all managed to eat it all but felt a little disappointed overall & still abit hungry.
So to puds
Chocolate pudding for £4.95 & meringue at £4.95. What has happened to London restaurants & their dessert menus? Why do we now pay 2/3 of the price of a main course for what seems to be shrinking portions of sweets? The chocolate pudding was so-so & the meringue, well, it was just a meringue with raspberries on it - how can that be £4.95!!!
We were there for around an hour so everything was reasonably spaced time-wise. The toilets were nice, clean, spacious, the décor pleasant, music at the correct volume etc but something didn't appeal to me about the place. Not just the food which as you may imagine I am becoming used to being poor value but the whole experience just lacked something. At a cost of £62 with wine for 3 it may not seem too expensive but with a tip on top youre well over £20 a head where I begin to expect a bit more of an experience along with the food.
Maybe they should have stuck with being a deli / coffee shop rather than trying to serve mains as the produce seems to be there, as you can see in the shop, just not the skill to turn it into something that little bit different enough to entice me back
The Earls score
6 broken artichoke hearts out of 10
also posted on ciao