Food and the city..the hags are here to eat and then tell you about it!

Saturday, July 16, 2005

CARLUCCIO’S CAFÉ

Putney Wharf, London, SW15 2JQ

Tel: 020 8789 0591
Fax: 020 8789 8360

Open: Mon-Fri 8-11, Sat 9-11, Sun 9-10.30

Website: Carluccios

Nearest Tube: Putney Bridge/ Putney BR

Average price per person: £25 for 3 courses including a glass of wine

Shop front

The Other Hag summed it up for me nicely. The first time was wonderful. The second visit was utterly atrocious. The third time was to reassure ourselves that the second visit was just the cook having a lousy day – food was still woefully abysmal. The fourth time – well, we decided to give Carluccio the benefit of the doubt. Just because one branch can’t lift its game doesn’t mean other branches should be condemned into oblivion. We’d give it another whirl. The thing with restaurant/café chains, it’s hard to maintain consistency in the quality of cooking. Having said that – McDonalds and Burger King seem to be doing quite nicely, thank ya very muchly.

Delicatessan

Deli

The entrance is very impressive with their delicatessen setting the tone for the rest of the restaurant. Chic and trendy. Traditional, authentic Italian products line the shelves irresistibly. You have pasta from Puglia, olive oil from Sicily, risotto rice from Veneto, biscotti from Tuscany. Of course Carluccio plugs his own line of cookbooks in handy paying distance – wouldn’t expect anything less, I would too. To the front you can buy fresh antipasto ingredients, meat balls, cooked chicken pieces, custard and lemon tarts.

Shelves

Hmmmm

Inside

We were seated outside as it was one of those sultry summer evenings perfect for Putney people watching. There are quite a few bars around and there were plenty of people chilling, chatting and savouring their beers. We were able to order promptly but it did take some time for our orders to arrive.

Their menu pretty much remains a constant force in all Carluccio branches. Two soups and one daily special feature at £3.95 each. The Antipasti selection is quite broad including various antipasto dishes, deep fried rice balls, grilled sardines, bruschetta, parma ham. These range from £4.25 to £9.95.

A modest range of salads are on offer – garden, calamari, pasta, mozzarella with tomatoes, tuna with cannellini beans are all mostly £6.25.

Mains cover ribeye steak, lamb steak, sword fish, lasagne, risotto, calzone and a whole range of pasta dishes – all cooked in the traditional way. Prices range from £6-£11.

Desserts along with their starter and antipasti could be there forte. Sorbets, gelato, tiramisu, torte, panna cotta, cheeses all sound delectable at £3.25 to £5.25.

A decent range of wines range from £2.85 - £5.50 for a glass and £10.95 - £23 for a bottle.

The prince consort and I had the Insalata Di Fagliolini e Calamaretti (£6.25) which was a generous sized portion of squid marinated in red wine with new potatoes, green beens and sundried tomatoes. The combination worked well together but somehow lacked any real pizzazz or oomph. I felt I wanted to add more pepper and salt to make it tastier.

Squid salad

The Other Hag had the fabulous Antipasto Di Verdure (£6.75) which was probably the wisest move of the whole table. It consisted of sweet roasted halved peppers filled with pesto, roasted tomatoes, olives and a refreshing green bean salad with mint. A fantastic combination. A perfect summery dish.

Antipasto

It all fell through for The Man. He was cozened into the same snare as I had (the last three times). Whenever I see the description Zuppa Di Punghi Con Pancetta (£3.95) – a rich soup of mushrooms with bacon I instantly dream of a large comforting bowl of silky hot soup with a medley of exotic fungi. You don’t expect to find a tepid bowl of salty, dilute soup. No siree. This was exactly how it was on this occasion. Actually on the last visit to the St Christopher’s Place branch (off Oxford St) the same soup tasted like a reckless, high on crack individual had accidentally tipped a whole bag of salt into it. It was inedible. Thinking back…I should have sent the soup back. But two years ago I wasn’t as confident (or demanding) as I am today. So the morale of this sad tale is DON’T ORDER THE SOUP. They are clueless.

Mushroom soup

The Man also ordered the Penne Giardiniera (£6.50). It looked quite unusual when it came. Interesting presentation. Spinach balls were deep-fried with parmesan and garlic. It looked like one of those tumble-weeds out of a great western flick. I half expected a Lilliputian version of Clint Eastwood to swagger out into the centre of the dish and hurl penne at us. Despite its attempts to avert our attention, the balls did indeed taste like tumble-weed and the penne was bland.

Mushroom and spinach penne

Definitely a hit and miss kind of place when it comes to eating good food. We keep on coming back again (at infrequent intervals) because the prices are very reasonable with a great atmosphere to boot. Service could be better though. This probably is like most places that hide behind the name of a celebrity chef. Ronald McDonald and his side kick Grimace are more likely to be caught flipping burger patties than Carluccio making it in especially to toss your salad.

HRH

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5 Comments:

Blogger Sam said...

Back in the late 80s, when I first lived in London, I had my first ever fancy dinner at Carluccio's "Neal Street Restaurant". I'll never forget it - my first taste of white truffles in a sublime cream pasta that I can still evoke the memory of the taste in my mind. For dessert - a creme brulee with a topping so caramelized that the waiter came to our table to break the surface with a little silver hammer. Really.

Then, next door to it a deli, where I would often treat myself to a takeaway lunch of marinated mozzarella with a slice of foccacia. That was something quite different back then, 15 years ago, though more common now.

I went to one of his new style cafes before I left for the usa - the branch just north of oxford srteet and wasn't overwhelmed. That must've been 5 years ago. A couple of years ago, or maybe 3, I went to the one in the base of Fenwicks on a return visit to the UK and we had a better experience.

But nothing ever again so good as that first magical, memorable trip to The Neal Street Restaurant. sigh.

8:04 pm

 
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've also been suckered by the beautiful shop frontage. Thrice I've been (the St Christopher and the Smithfield branches), thrice I've been completely underwhelmed. I almost always have the closest approximation of tomato spag on the menu: if the kitchen can make this well the rest of the menu probably will be okay. So ... ever-so-slightly overdone pasta in a ever-so-slighty flabby sauce (I think it was an arrabiata which has no excuse to be limp-wristed). Mind, it wasn't bad - merely in that twilight area where you can't really complain but are nonetheless feel you've been let down. Add that however to the fact that you can't get bad pasta in Italy (and I have tried - including tiny, grim regional airport buffets, always using the standard of spaghetti pomodoro) + the completely overhyped atomsphere of the place heaving with other diners all smug in the thought that they were eating Da Best ... I am confused.

11:28 am

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well the penne giardinieri that I had in Tunbridge Wells Was to die for

9:28 pm

 

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