With a passion for Italy larger than any meatball, I am always on the hunt for new Italian restaurants to whet the appetite. Having stumbled across various venues of the Carluccio’s chain in London, when I spotted a branch in Birmingham whilst away for the weekend, I couldn’t resist booking a table. Having already chowed down on sweet treats from their deli / patisserie front of house section, I was keen to try their main food selection, to see whether it was just as delectable and moreish as their wonderful sweet selection.
Visiting on a Sunday night at around 8.00pm, the restaurant was surprisingly quiet with a gentle hum of relaxed background chatter and the occasional laugh as small groups of friends and family unwound before the working week started again. I found that Carluccio’s was styled in a very similar fashion to other big known Italian chains, such as Wildwoods and Ask – they all seems to utilise pale wooden shelves that hoard stacks of dried pasta packets and jars of artichokes and sundried tomatoes, all artfully arranged and presented. This decorative store cupboard look was paired with minimalist silver bricks, glossy mirrors and plenty of stark white walls, attempting to accentuate the space of the slightly ‘z’ shaped room. It felt light and airy and it still looked lovely, I just didn’t feel that it looked very unique.
We had a fantastic table though I have to say. Next to one of these arrays of shelves was an orange cushioned sofa that followed the line of the wall. Tucked in the corner was a circular table where both guests could sit on the sofa seating, more next to each other than opposite. Both comfortable and cosy with a great view of the rest of the restaurant, it really was a great spot to perch. Placing our drinks order, I attempted to ask for a glass of their specialty white wine – it sounded so different with orange blossom tones – however they had run out, so I had to quickly scan the menu to pick a second choice. I went for the Planeta La Segreta Bianco, which hailed from Sicily and promised rich, aromatic and fruity flavours. Sipping this bold white, I loved the full bodied flavour that was both intense and fruity while also being refreshing and very drinkable.
For starters, we decided to share the new Bread Tin. Literally presented in a rustic loaf tin next to a dish of olive oil blobbed with balsamic vinegar was a selection of rolls for us to rip in to. Two breadstick spears stuck out the top as they were tucked in among a range of crusty rolls. There were small, round rolls and also triangular shaped rolls, stuffed with green and black olives. Although I loved the extra flavour of these rolls, I found all of the roll varieties to be a bit too crusty on the outside, although they were like ciabatta on the inside, with large air pockets. I just made sure to do plenty of dunking to soften them up slightly. We did had one square slab of focaccia which was wonderfully soft and bouncy in comparison. We munched our way through most of the rolls, although I made sure to save one to have with our main courses.
As a traditional Italian style restaurant, there was not a pizza in sight so it was all about the pasta, the antipasti boards and the meat dishes. In the mood for pasta, this was the section of the menu I was instantly drawn to. With a surprisingly small amount of dishes available, I decided to pick something a bit different and go for the Venison Tortelloni, which is basically a form of filled pasta, like ravioli. Although I enjoyed my dinner, I was a little disappointed and half wished I had ordered something else, such as Dan’s divine looking Spaghetti Carbonara for example. The pasta itself was delicious – it was so silky and cooked to perfection, so you couldn’t doubt the quality there. The filling however was a little bland for my taste. It was meant to be cooked in wine, however I didn’t really get those flavours coming through and I couldn’t even place the game notes of venison. It tasted more just like a meaty paste filling, which was still tasty but not at all what I was expecting. I was hoping for a stronger and more rounded flavour that would stand up to the pasta. The dish was served in a pool of melted butter I think, so keeping it stripped back and simple – this was great to dip my leftover roll in once I had finished eating the pasta. The pasta portion was also quite small in my opinion, so didn’t take me too long to polish off. I was even able to help Dan finish his carbonara – I particularly liked the crispy cubes of bacon that cut through the cheesy sauce.
Dessert on the other hand completely knocked my socks off with how completely lovely it was. I chose a chocolate bread and butter pudding, served with a vanilla cream. It was absolutely amazing and I would eat it all day if I could. The bread and butter pudding was made with some form of croissant, so it had a wonderfully flaky and buttery texture that enhanced the sweetness of the dish. In between these pastry / bread layers were rows of gooey chocolate that looked like it had come from melted chocolate chips as some chips still remained tucked in the sauce. The vanilla cream turned out to be a thin, pale custard that was very light to eat and flecked with seeds from the vanilla pods. The whole dish just worked in perfect harmony, the flavours and textures providing the ideal combination. It was just lovely and my favourite course by far. Dan’s dessert was also a winner, as he chose the meringue, served with raspberries and passion fruit and cream in an eton mess style dessert. Stealing some meringue, it was wonderfully textured with some pieces being chewy and sticking to your teeth while other pieces crumbled with a satisfying crunch as you bit into it. The fruity cream tied the dish together nicely.
I enjoyed my visit to Carluccio’s and I would return – I have my eye on the Saltimbocca to try next time although I love the idea of the big antipasti sharing platters too. No matter what I would have for mains though, dessert is clearly this place’s specialty and one they carry off with flair and attention to detail. I loved the fact that my bread and butter pudding was a classic that had been given an Italian makeover so that it was completely different, yet still within my comfort zone. It really was something special. The service was good also and the prices not astronomical so certainly worth a second visit in my book!