Back in May last year, I reviewed Carluccio’s Italian restaurant in Mermaid Quay, Cardiff Bay and I was very impressed by my experience. The food was authentic and of a high quality; it exceeded my expectations for an Italian chain restaurant which has almost 100 branches throughout the UK. A couple of months later, I wrote about my experience of meeting the restaurant founder himself, Antonio Carluccio.
Cardiff is lucky enough to be home to two Carluccio’s restaurants. In addition to the branch in Mermaid Quay, there is another Carluccio’s restaurant opposite Mill Lane, classed as part of St David’s shopping centre. I was kindly invited along to the restaurant this week to to try some of the food and find out what the Valentines Day menu has in store.
Arriving at the restaurant, we were greeted by the manager and shown to a large round table with booth-style leather seating. It made for a pleasant, informal atmosphere in which to dine with a friend, or even that someone special! The dining area is fairly large and there is a lot of seating available, although I would recommend booking in advance as it got fairly busy whilst we were there.
Our waitress, Aga was very friendly and welcoming. She got us some drinks to start off with; I ordered and a glass of Prosecco and my guest opted for an apple juice as he was driving. We also had some water for our table, served in an authentic Italian glass bottle.
The menu is very extensive, featuring a variety of pasta, meat and poultry dishes, alongside a number of vegetarian options. As we decided what to order, we shared a selection of freshly baked Italian breads (focaccia, olive bread, ciabatta and grissini), affectionately served in a small loaf tin with a small bowl of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping. This was delicious. I tried not to eat too much because I didn’t want to start feeling full before my main course, but that didn’t really end up happening; it was just too more-ish!
The Valentines Day menu at Carluccio’s offers a three-course meal for £19.95 per person (not including drinks) including a choice of three starters, four mains and one dessert.
To start, I chose Antonio’s Chicken Liver Pate – a homemade, smooth chicken liver pate served with toasted ciabatta bread and red onion jam. This is one of the starters available on the Valentines Day menu, although it also features on the main menu at a cost of £5.95. I actually think this was the best pate I’ve ever had the joy of tasting; it was mild and creamy, topped with a thick layer of fat. Meanwhile, the ciabatta was crisp and fresh and the red onion jam introduced a tangy, slightly sweet flavour to the dish.
My guest began with the Prawns Marinara from the main menu; marinated king prawns in a sauce of olive oil, white wine, cherry tomatoes and fennel seeds, served with toasted focaccia bread (£6.50). The prawns were fairly large and succulent, while the sauce was delicious – the bread tasted amazing dipped into it for a few seconds, the flavoursome juices soaked into it.
For my main, I really liked the look of the Chicken Saltimbocca from the Valentines Menu (also on the main menu for £13.50) – a Parma ham-wrapped chicken breast in a white wine and sage sauce, served with rosemary and garlic roasted potatoes.
However, I eventually decided upon the Pappardelle Con Pollo, a new addition to the menu featuring a mixture of chicken, mushrooms (shiitake, oyster and button) with creme fraiche, white wine and toasted pine nuts, tossed in fresh egg pappardelle (£10.95). The waitress kindly grated some fresh Parmesan cheese on to the plate for me too, giving the dish a subtle cheesey taste. She also recommended a few drops of lemon oil; this introduced a slightly zesty flavour to the dish, but it still would’ve tasted great without it. I was really pleased with my choice of main and there was plenty of it too!
Fancying some steak, my guest ordered the Bistecca di Manzo (£15.95) from the main menu. This included a grass-fed, 21-day aged 8oz chargrilled ribeye steak, served with fresh rocket and potatoes roasted in rosemary and plenty of garlic. The steak was tender and cooked medium as requested, while the potatoes were crispy and scrumptious – we could really taste the garlic!
To accompany our mains, we shared a portion of Funghi Fritti (£3.95) – different varieties of mushroom, coated in golden breadcrumbs and served with fresh lemon. The batter was deliciously crispy, while the mushrooms were juicy and full of flavour. The portion was perfect for two people to share and would make a great accompaniment for a number of dishes on the menu.
With just enough room left to spare for dessert, I ordered the Arabica Coffee and Bitter Chocolate gelato ice cream (£3.95), served with a Carluccio’s-branded Italian wafer. This was a generous portion, consisting of two large scoops of each ice cream. The chocolate gelato was dense, rich and sweet, while the coffee one was strong and aromatic, making for a pleasant combination of flavours.
My guest chose the Dolce di Cioccolato for dessert (£5.50), a warm chocolate pudding baked with almonds and Kahlua, served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and garnished with a mint leaf. This looked really good, although I think it would’ve been too heavy for me to eat after such a big meal.
Once again, I had a great time at Carluccio’s and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone looking for decent Italian food at affordable prices. The food is beautifully presented and tastes far better than it does at your average chain restaurant, while the service is attentive and the staff are very knowledge about the menu. Carluccio’s would be the ideal restaurant to go to on Valentine’s Day, although I would be more than happy to go there at any time of the year!
16 Mill Lane,
(029) 2023 2630
Have you been to your local Carluccio’s? Let me know what you thought of it in the comment box below – I love reading all your comments!
I was invited to Carluccio’s as a guest and our food and drink was provided complimentary. However, I was not obliged to write a positive review.