I have had a coffee at Carluccio’s a time or two. Its branches are all bright with a contemporary Mediterranean air. Cool blue and turquoise, banquettes and vinyl tables. Yes, Carluccio’s is a great spot for an espresso.
Every catering company or supermarket has its range of Christmas fare, and it was at their recent presentation that I was introduced to the non-coffee goods that will be available from Carluccio’s for the festive season. One felt wafted to a very classy dinner party in Tuscany or Naples or Rome. Perhaps, in reality, not exactly a dinner party but rather more a picnic with posh props. One had the chance to admire the exquisite packaging as well as graze on the contents and sample the specialities.
Well, logic runs that if the deli side of the Carluccio’s empire has such high standards then perhaps the restaurants might also reflect some of that epicurean polish, so we were bound to investigate. Carluccio’s Richmond was our target and it couldn’t be a more convenient location, just across from the Station.
Carluccio’s has felt the rage of riots in Ealing, and a slight timidity on behalf of the diners in other London locations. Tales of restaurants being raided by looters has often kept people at home and that is indeed a shame. We should surely be supporting businesses on our high streets. Small independent restaurants in particular, but even chains like Carluccio’s, employ ordinary working folk.
The manager explained that there had been a slight drop in numbers due to the threat of thuggish behaviour, although Richmond escaped almost unscathed. Despite this assertion we found the restaurant almost full of those who seemed to be regulars. This is a town with a good number of convincing eateries, so these locals were evidently in the know.
We arrived around 7 on a warm and sticky evening and there were a few families with youngsters finishing their meals. Several couples were taking advantage of the outside seating area, but we chose a table by the window in order to people-watch and feel thoroughly Italian.
The menu isn’t huge but it offers classic dishes to suit every taste. There are lots of starters and small dishes to get one into a Latin mood: Parmesan chunks served with aged balsamic vinegar to dip; Focaccia; Pasta Fritta – pasta “crisps” with herbs and sea salt; olives; Bruschetta – fresh ripe tomatoes with oregano, basil leaves, roasted peppers and extra virgin olive oil on garlicky Italian bread; Pâté Di Fegatini Di Pollo – smooth chicken liver pâté, toasted Tuscan bread and cornichons. We wanted a little nibble of an overview so ordered Antipasto Massimo to share – Focaccia, Napoli and Milano salami, roast ham, stuffed chicken, green bean salad, caponata, roast vegetables, and olives. This is a visual stunner and it serves as a tasting platter for the deli goods on offer from the shelves by the door. The best kind of advertising, if you ask me.
No surprise that Carluccio’s has a raft of pasta dishes, and Linguine Ai Frutti Di Mare – linguine pasta with squid, mussels, clams and prawns with garlic, herbs and chilli – will be my main dish on my return. But I was craving a simple and unfussy main meal and chose Milanese Di Pollo – flattened chicken breast, breadcrumbed and fried, served with a garnish of green salad. This was far more substantial than the versions I have encountered in other Italian restaurants. A whole chicken breast, which was thick and moist. It had been flattened till it was half the size of a dinner plate, so come with an appetite if you want to stand any chance of managing this acreage of poultry. Nothing mucked about with here, it’s just exactly what it says on the menu. Delicious and natural with well-dressed leaves.
My guest ordered Saltimbocca – pork escalope wrapped in Parma ham, pan-fried with sage and white wine, with sautéed potatoes. This is a traditional dish and straightforwardly full-flavoured, with a light sauce. The included potatoes had not been tinkered with and the courgettes my peckish companion requested were hardly necessary, although they added a buttery note of vibrant green hue. Nothing added to mask fresh flavours.
I can seldom manage a whole dessert, but my many reviewing guests do me proud by bringing their hollow legs and allowing me to enjoy just a corner of their afters. This evening was no exception, with the man across the table savouring the very prospect of a sweet treat. Meringa Con Panna Al Frutto Della Passione – raspberry meringue with a passionfruit cream and fresh raspberries – was his pud. Think Eton Mess and you will have the picture. The ratio of cream to crisp meringue made this a comforting dessert rather than it being teeth-achingly sweet when too much meringue is used.
We finished with espresso and Biscotti – a plate of artisan biscuits from Italy, some of which reminded me of those I had enjoyed at the Christmas presentation. Cantucci from Tuscany, Masserini from Piemonte and Carluccio’s hazelnut shortbread. It’s amazing how one can find just that little space than needs to be filled!
Antonio Carluccio is a true ambassador of Italian food. The chain bears his name but your admiration for the man isn’t the reason you will return. It’s solid and sensible food that garners a loyal following.
Monday to Friday: 8am – 11pm
Saturday: 9am – 11pm
Sunday: 9am – 10.30pm
31-35 Kew Road, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 2NQ
Phone: 020 8940 5037
Fax: 020 8332 1307
Visit Carluccio’s here
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018