The very first cookbook I purchased was by Antonio Carluccio, so it was an absolute privilege to meet the man himself at his Metrocentre restaurant this week. He was in Gateshead signing copies of his new book, Vegetables. He was enthralled by the smallest member of our family, who sat beside him and clapped her hands in delight as we talked. I was too afraid to ask for a photo, but he gamely volunteered for one with the whole family. It is such a great shot! I’ve had a browse through the recipes already and I’m adding his Tiano Di Cavolini (Sprout Gratin) to our Christmas lunch menu. I’ll be veganising the cheese sauce first, however!
Following on from this great honour, we were invited to try out the specific Vegetarian and Vegan menu Carluccio’s have available. This was not something I was even aware existed until someone helpfully pointed it out on Twitter. Many Italian dishes are already suitable for veggies, but vegans do seem to struggle with the egg pasta and an abundance of cheese used.
It has to be said there isn’t a huge amount of choice on the vegan side of things, with only one main course suitable. We started off ordering the Baby Plum Tomato and Caponata Bruschetta (both vegan, £5.50 each), which were simple but well executed. Having made a Cauliflower Caponata in the past (you can see the recipe here) I’m now keen to make the traditional Aubergine version after eating it in Carluccio’s.
For main course the Teen chose the Spaghetti al Pomodoro e Basilico (£7.60), a classic but simple dish. This is vegan without cheese, although he requested a generous sprinkling on top.
My usual bugbear with Italian restaurants is the Parmesan issue. I was assured by the staff that theirs is suitable for vegetarians, which was a relief.
It would have been great if my entree of Risotto Al Funghi (£12.95) was also suitable for vegans too. Such a robust and hearty dish would definitely be popular, especially as the truffle and chilli pack a punch. As many known, risottos can be thick and creamy without adding any cream or cheese while cooking, making them a great choice to add to a menu. I hope this is something that is taken on board in the future. It was brimming with different types of meaty mushrooms and was incredibly filling. I almost didn’t have room for dessert, but I wanted to give their Melon Sorbet (vegan, £3.95) a try.
The sorbet was a creamy consistency so it almost felt like eating gelato. Amalfi Lemon and Mandarin flavours are also available.
I expected the Teen to order something ‘safe’ and familiar to him, like Chocolate & Rum Fudge Cake or the appealing Chocolate & Salted Caramel Sundae topped with crushed Amaretti biscuits, but he decided upon Chocolate Bread & Butter Pudding instead. He wolfed it down in no time and proclaimed that I should try and make it at home for him. Maybe I will..
With the dreaded ‘C’ word looming, many restaurants are now offering a special festive menu. Carluccio’s is no exception with their Menu Festivo, priced at £17.99 for two courses or £19.99 for three, on offer now. Vegetarians can sample the Zuppa di Zucca (Squash Soup) and a special Risotto, which includes toasted walnuts and ricotta. Those who eat meat and fish are covered with Italian specialities such as Saltimbocca di Pollo or a Sicilian Seafood Linguine.
It would be great to see a few more adventurous vegan dishes added to the menu, like a Lentil Ragu or a Fregola, but hopefully this will happen in time. It is pleasing that there has been a recognition by the team that veganism on the rise and needs to be catered for in their restaurants.
The staff were absolutely great, with nothing too much trouble. Complimentary breadsticks were brought for Dinky to chew on, and our lovely waitress made a total fuss of her throughout the meal. As Italian chain restaurants go, Carluccio’s is definitely one of the better ones on our high streets.
Thanks for reading,