Not one to turn down food, I jumped at the chance and found myself amongst the great, the good and, let’s face it, the greedy of Cardiff.
Mingling amongst the celebs, sports stars and business leaders, the cheerful staff handed out bellinis and canapés whilst a rather original accordionist belted out old favourites such as “Volare” and “That’s Amore” along with tunes not often associated with the eating of Italian food – the Spice Girls and Tom Jones being heard to echo around the room.
Aside from the weather, the only dampener on the evening was the conspicuous absence of Antonio Carluccio. Simon Kossoff, Managing Director of the chain and our host for the evening, explained that Antonio had sadly been taken into hospital that day but we were assured that he was ok and that he planned to visit the Cardiff venue this summer.
Whilst the king prawns wrapped in Parma ham and ragu and mozzarella stuffed arrancini (deep fried risotto balls) were perfectly moreish, the carpaccio bruschetta with tarragon cream lacked pizzazz, and the red pepper bruschetta just tasted of grease. The Parma ham wrapped grissini (Italian bread sticks) also failed to wow and somehow managed to lack that salty intensity found with the prawns.
The crowd-pleaser on the evening was the roast hog, which had been cooking away all day outside the venue. Served in fresh ciabatta with rocket – these proved to be a hit, with the party-goers returning for more.
But what of the normal menu? All of the canapés except the rather lacklustre pepper bruschetta are missing from the spring menu and I doubt the hog roast will be making a regular appearance. It would have been nice to sample some of the dishes normally served in the restaurant, if but a mouthful, to get a true feeling of what the venue is capable of producing.
Unperturbed I slipped back to experience the “Carluccio” breakfast – opting for the Uova e Pancetta. Described on the website as “Free range fried eggs with grilled pancetta on toasted bread” what I was actually served was a plate of the lightest, fluffiest scrambled eggs I have ever eaten – yet rich with cream and flavoured perfectly with chives. The pancetta was crisp, salty and full of umami. All this sat atop some delicious, toasted ciabatta, heavy with the fruity flavour of olive oil. Washed down with a cup of mint tea, made with fresh mint leaves, and some mineral water, this was arguably one of the best breakfasts I’ve eaten in Cardiff. However, at just over £10, it was also one of the most expensive.
Carluccio’s would argue their lunchtime set menu of 2 courses for £9.95 offers good value for money, but with other Italian restaurants in the area offering the same, or more, for less, it may have to rely on more than the name.