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"No man is lonely eating spaghetti; it requires so much attention"
Member Name: SWSt
Advantages: Nicely designed, delicious coffee and cakes, friendly staff
Disadvantages: Massively over-priced meals, very limited choice if you don't like certain ingredients
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
Summary: Nice for coffee and cake; find somewhere else for main meals