With so many amazing independents in Birmingham, I always feel a little bit guilty visiting chain restaurants, especially as they often disappoint (Ask Italian, I’m looking at you..). But I’m always happy to be proven wrong, so when Carluccios invited me along to try out their revamped menu I went along with an open mind and an empty belly.
We started with ‘Lemon Spritz’ cocktails – limoncello, Limonata and prosecco. I’m not a huge limoncello fan so would never have picked this from the menu, but it was light, refreshing and not too sweet – a promising start to the evening.
Before sitting down for dinner, we were treated to a chefs table full of cheese, olives, charcuterie, vegetables…so basically everything good ever. It also included bite-size versions of some of the new starter dishes for us to try. One of the development chefs was on hand to tell us about everything on the table – some of which he had been out to Italy to help source – and it was great to hear about the food from someone who was clearly passionate about it.
Highlights of the table included the beautiful parma ham and the caponata, which I’ve never tried before. It’s a Sicilian sweet and sour aubergine-based dish, served with bruschetta. I absolutely loved this & have already spotted a recipe for it in the Antonio Carluccio ‘Vegetables’ book so I’m definitely going to give this one a try at home!
Carluccio’s menu has been redesigned with the ‘mof mof’ (minimum of fuss, maximum of flavour) concept in mind and there are about 50 changes in total. Here’s our menu for the evening, which gave us a taste of some of these changes:
I wouldn’t have been disappointed with either of the starters if I had ordered them off the menu. The crab flavour of the macaroni was quite intense (in a good way) and it wasn’t as heavy as I thought it might be. Although I enjoyed it, I’m not the biggest fan of the fish + pasta combo so I have to admit I would have preferred straight up mac and cheese!
The arancini were much more up my street. They were generously sized, crispy on the outside with a rich, gooey risotto inside. They were served with a delicious pepper sauce which cut through the richness of the dish perfectly. I could happily sit and eat a whole bowl of these…
Mains-wise, one of the big changes Carluccio’s have made to the menu is that they have replaced the pancetta in their carbonara with guanciale (made from pork cheeks). This is apparently more authentic, and it definitely works – this was my favourite dish of the night. The guanciale is smoky and salty and worked perfectly with the rich sauce without being too heavy. I rarely order carbonara in restaurants as the sauce is often too stodgy and thick but the Carluccio’s version was lovely and moreish.
The duck pappardelle tasted good but the duck could definitely have been stronger – it got a bit lost within all the other flavours. Similarly, the rum in the chocolate and rum dessert was nowhere to be seen.
Overall I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the food – so much that I returned a few weeks later and ordered pretty much exactly the same thing…adventurous I know.
As an extra starter, we had the calamari which was pleasant but unremarkable. The seafood linguine got good reviews from us, as did the rosemary and garlic potatoes (although definitely not needed alongside the large portions of pasta!).
The one big disappointment was the mixed salad. At £3.95, this was a pretty mean little portion. A side salad is certainly not a night ruiner but a little extra lettuce to pad out the salad would have left us feeling a lot more satisfied.
Carluccio’s serve up good, hearty Italian comfort food in a relaxed setting. With so much choice in Birmingham I don’t think I’ll be a regular visitor to Carluccio’s but, if I was in the vicinity and in need of dinner, I wouldn’t hesitate to dine there.
Disclaimer: I was kindly invited by Carluccio’s to their new menu tasting event, which was complementary. I was not obliged to write a review, and as always my writing and opinions are mine, all mine!
Carluccio’s have a number of restaurants in Birmingham. I ate in the Brindley Place restaurant at The Water’s Edge, Birmingham, B1 2HP. WEBSITE.