BY PALOMA LACY
Chain restaurants are subject to an awful lot of food snobbery, but like most things in life, there is a time and a place for good chains.
Carluccio’s is one with a reputation that precedes it, and for good reason. For me, it was a busy lunchtime and the place, Bluewater.
Decent chains prop up shopping centre dining, and having a few stalwarts that you know you can trust up your sleeve is pretty reassuring when your tummy is in the hands of the food court.
With this in mind, I skipped along to Carluccio’s with the promise of a good family dining experience, with the ultimate crack squad, a friend, her almost two-year-old, and my 10-month-old.
A variety of likes and dislikes, with a good number of different needs to meet thrown in, provided a challenge.
Our older child was given a colouring book as we sat down, which kept him amused for a while, as us mums checked out the kids’ menu.
Kids eat for £7.50 – three courses, including a side. For my little one, this was the first time we’d braved it out with no food from home, and the menu served us well.
There were many dishes to choose from, all suiting babies who’ve graduated on to solids.
We had breadsticks, greatly received and much appreciated.
Next up: rotelle pasta with tomato sauce, and a side of broccoli, made baby-ready with a fork. With pudding included too, yoghurt with fresh blueberries and raspberries arrived.
Carluccio’s has done its homework and offers up a kids’ menu few could quibble at.
Meal times with children can be hectic, but the team here made things easy, from their friendly, warm attitude to the quick service of winning dishes.
Us grown-ups didn’t fair badly, either. Sicilian arancini hit the spot as a starter – two crispy rice balls, one with mozzarella and basil, the other with beef ragu, peas and provolone cheese, served with red pepper sauce.
One of my favourite Italian starters and it lived up to expectations (£5.95).
Pretty full already, I went for a simple main course, chicken Milanese (main picture) at £12.95, a well-seasoned breast dipped in rosemary and Grana Padano breadcrumbs, served with mixed leaves, plum tomatoes and mustard dressing.
No need for starters here, a complete lunch. The menu is substantial, but without being unwieldy, taking in almost every popular taste, from beloved pasta to grilled meat and fish.
Highlights I believe are worth coming back to try include gnocchi gorgonzola, cauliflower orecchiette, and veganesca spaghetti, which happen to be veggie friendly, in the first instance, and the second and third, fit for vegans, showing Carluccio’s deliberate commitment to appealing to a wider audience.
Carluccio’s is an all-day dining affair, so it’s just a case of whether you’re looking to have breakfast before the serious art of shopping begins, or perhaps it’s a post-shop lunchtime pit stop, you will never be disappointed.
Breakfast consists of a myriad of different ways with eggs, benedict, royale, as you might expect, then there’s those with an Italian twist.
Eggs served with pancetta on ciabatta – an egg and bacon sandwich by any other name.
The Diavola looked delightful – fried eggs, tomato and spicy nduja paramsan, served on toasted ciabatta.