An evening spent in the warm environs of Carluccio’s sampling the menu festivo was just what was needed one freezing cold, dreary Monday evening.
The smoothest Sicilian red wine and a cosy table for the night ahead savouring the festive delights on the menu, helped get us perfectly in the mood for Christmas.
I was dining with my elder daughter – and between us a mix of assorted exams, assessments and deadlines meant we’d earned a night off.
We took a table in a quiet, intimately-lit spot. The interior was looking suitably festive with a backdrop to our table of festive garlands, giant baubles and fairy lights.
Carluccio’s is sprawling inside with two distinct ground-floor sections and a deli area, where shelves are laden with all manner of sweet and savoury delights. There is also a private dining area upstairs.
We were having an early dinner but the place already had a convivial feel to it with a number of small Christmas work gatherings sat at tables.
The Christmas menu offers two courses for £17.95 and three courses for £20.95 – and with a choice of four starters, six mains and four desserts, there is plenty to choose from.
While we deliberated, we nibbled on a selection of breads – delicious home-baked soft focaccia, seeded bloomer and crackers, and ciabatta, all of which we dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar; along with a selection of mixed olives and tangy giant green Nocellara olives.
It’s easy to forget the simple pleasures of nibbling on a basket of great fresh breads. A cocktail or two to hand helps too. For the daughter, a Disaronno marmalade sour, £7.50, with punchy clementine flavour, and for me, lemon spritz, £6.95 – a refreshing citrussy blend of limoncello, limonata and prosecco.
We agreed we’d go back soon – if only for the bread basket and olives with a glass of vino – it was that good.
For starters, I opted for mushrooms and kale served on toasted ciabatta – a substantial starter, the mixed mushrooms having a great garlic and chilli kick.
Across the table, starter of antipasti was going down a treat – this platter of goodies included baked ricotta, Sardinian flatbread, salami, paper-thin prosciutto, peppers, balsamic onions, caponata and green olives. It was a feast of pick-and-mix treats – especially good were the creamy ricotta and prosciutto. Our attentive waiter (who was really helpful) explained the platter was made up of foods from all of the Italian regions.
We talked about the recent passing of Antonio Carluccio, godfather of Italian cooking, who founded the chain some years back, and how we’d both met him when he came to Newcastle for the restaurant’s launch. A wonderful chap – full of good humour.
For mains, the daughter’s choice of lobster and crab lasagne was a very good one. What a filling dish – layers of creamy ricotta, spinach and tomato sauce oozing between lasagne sheets, peppered with sweet morsels of crab, lobster and crayfish. The dish came topped with garlic and herb breadcrumbs. Just divine.
My choice of saltimbocca di pollo, flattened chicken breast, wrapped in prosciutto, and topped with sautéed mushrooms, was full of flavour. It’s a dish I haven’t had in a while but the chicken was really enhanced by the rich Vin Santo sauce. It came with a portion of delicious rosemary and garlic cubed roasted potatoes, which my daughter couldn’t resist.
Both great dishes, cooked well and attractively presented. The portions were so substantial we couldn’t do them justice… but we did try.
We savoured our mains with glasses of vino – the most delicious Sicilian red for me, a Mandrarossa tipple, darkly spicy, but velvety smooth, at £5.20 a glass. While my daughter sipped a glass of crisp dry Gavi, Via Delfini, £6.50.
Dessert options included a limoncello mascarpone, which I was tempted by, and rum and raisin gelato, but my daughter was after something chocolatey. And the rich dense chocolate torte served with a pool of tangy raspberry coulis, was just the decadent treat.
My choice of Carluccio’s chocolate panettone, fluffy sweet bread drizzled with Vin Santo syrup, and served with vanilla ice cream, was a fitting finale to a very good meal with all the festive trimmings.