La Dolce Vita Comes to Cardiff Bay! Restaurant Review: Carluccio’s – Mermaid Quay, Cardiff

Situated in the idyllic surroundings of Cardiff Bay, perched at the water’s edge, the newly opened Carluccio’s is the ideal place to go for contemporary Italian food in Cardiff, especially when the sun is shining.

The Carluccio’s brand was established in 1999 by Antonio Carluccio (pictured below), a well-known chef and restaurateur who developed his passion for food whilst growing up in Piedmont, Italy. Today, there are over 90 branches of the restaurant throughout the UK, in addition to overseas restaurants in Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

Photo of Antonio Carluccio by Tony Briggs

Photo of Antonio Carluccio by Tony Briggs

The restaurant also has its very own food shop and deli selling quality Italian products, many of them sourced direct from small artisan producers in Italy, including olive oils, aged balsamic vinegar, freshly made pasta, coffee, biscuits, wine and more.Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Carluccio’s places an emphasis on honest, simple Italian food with the mantra: “Minimum of fuss, maximum of flavour.”

Focusing upon fresh seasonal ingredients, the menu offers something to suit all tastes; from tasty sharing platters, freshly made pasta and crisp salads, to seasonal fish, meat and vegetarian mains, alongside delicious desserts. The prices are fairly reasonable too, with two courses costing from just £15.

Our visit

Recently, I visited Carluccio’s in Cardiff Bay for dinner with a friend.

As we pondered over the menu we sipped on Sicani Bianco, Cantine Settesoli, Sicilia (£4.20 (125ml); £5.25 (250ml); £14.95 (bottle), made from Inzolia and Trebbiano grapes. Our waiter recommended this wine to us after we asked him for a medium white, fruity wine. With a fresh and citrusy taste, it was quite an enjoyable wine, although perhaps just a touch too bitter for me.

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We also shared a savoury bread tin (£3.95), consisting of freshly baked focaccia, Ligurian crisp bread, grissini and sliced Tuscan breads with extra virgin olive oil, affectionately served in a small loaf tin.

All of the breads were soft, fresh and flavoursome, but I particularly enjoyed the Tuscan breads and the Ligurian crisp bread. The olive oil was of an excellent quality and had a really strong taste, although some aged balsamic vinegar would really have topped it off.

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To share, we ordered one of Carluccio’s antipasti sharing platters, each suitable for 2-3 people. We went for the Grandioso (£15.95); a seemingly never-ending array of Milano and Ventricina salami, Parma ham, pancetta-wrapped king prawns, Buffalo mozzarella, roasted peppers with pesto, chargrilled aubergine and courgette, bruschettine, marinated olives, caperberries, balsamic onions and homemade focaccia, beautifully arranged on a wooden plank..

This was a very impressive platter and I would definitely order it again. Everything was fresh and tasty, while the portion sizes were just right. My favourite part of the dish was the pancetta-wrapped prawns; succulent and juicy, the flavours of the smoky bacon had soaked right into them.

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To accompany our Grandioso platter (as if we needed anything else!), we ordered the Pepolata Arancini (£3.95) from the Italian small plates selection; three balls of pepolata and mozzarella rice, rolled in breadcrumbs and fried until golden brown, served with a peppered mayonnaise for dipping.

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Inside, the balls were filled with hot Carnaroli rice, chopped red and yellow peppers and creamy mozzarella cheese – like little balls of risotto in breadcrumbs.

Our only criticism was that there were only three of them; this would’ve been fine as a starter for one person, but as the arancini are listed as a small sharing plate on the menu and they cost £3.95, we felt that four balls would be a more appropriate portion size.

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We were both fairly adventurous when it came to our main courses. Usually I tend to play it safe with my choice of meat, rarely ever straying from chicken, beef or lamb, but after trying venison recently at Purple Poppadom in Canton and falling in love with it, I went for the Tortelloni Di Cervo (£9.35); handmade fresh tortelloni filled with wine-braised venison.

I was so pleased with my choice of dish. The tortelloni was perfectly formed, stuffed with rich, meaty venison and served in a well-seasoned, light buttery sauce. It was a great example of the honest, simple Italian food that Carluccio’s prides itself upon dishing up.

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Meanwhile, my friend opted to try lobster for the first time in the form of the Lobster Spaghetti (£12.95); a new addition to the Carluccio’s menu consisting of fresh lobster tossed in spaghetti with crab, fresh tomato, basil and chilli.

This looked fresh and vibrant. My friend really enjoyed the lobster and the spiciness of the dish was really to his liking. I’ve tried lobster before and I wasn’t keen, but I tried some of this and it was quite tender and pleasant, although the dish would be too spicy for me to eat in an Italian restaurant.

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For dessert, Carluccio’s offers a tempting range of ‘dolci’ – delicious desserts inspired by Italian cuisine, from Tiramisu and Panna Cotta, to chocolate torte and even an Italian cheeseboard, alongside a range of gelatos and sorbets.

I couldn’t resist the sound of the Chocolate and Salted Caramel Sundae (£5.50); scoops of homemade vanilla ice cream drizzled with chocolate and salted caramel sauces and topped with crushed Amaretti biscuits and a Carluccio’s wafer.

It tasted just as amazing as it sounded on the menu – the vanilla ice cream was smooth and creamy, while the sauces were thick and sweet and the Amaretti biscuits introduced an interesting taste to the dessert.

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My friend ordered the Meringa Con Panna Al Frutto Della Passione (£5.25) – in plain English, that’s a meringue with a passion fruit cream, fresh whole raspberries and a raspberry coulis. Served in a small glass bowl, this looked rather appetising and it went down well with my guest.

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We both enjoyed our first visit to Carluccio’s, and I’m sure it won’t be my last! The food was superb and reasonably priced, the service was smooth and friendly and Cardiff Bay makes for a beautiful setting for the restaurant – what’s not to like?!

Carluccio’s
2 Mermaid Quay
Cardiff
CF10 5BZ
www.carluccios.com/restaurants/cardiff/mermaid-quay
(029) 2046 0201

I was invited to Carluccio’s as a guest and our food and drinks were provided complimentary; however, I was not obliged to write a positive review.

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