Saturday, 17 January 2009
Carluccio's, 7-8 Market Place, Oxford Circus, London, W1W 8AG – A tale of salt and rubber bands cooked twice
If you want to eat a meal for half price, or perhaps eat 2 meals for the price of 1, London is where it’s at. All over London, printers are working full time printing out vouchers like they’ve never done before.
My collection of vouchers now need their own clear-binders and maybe even dividers to split them by category. The first thing I do, the moment after I sit down, even before I check out the salt and pepper shakers is wave the vouchers manically at the waiters, frightened by the prospect of having to pay full price if these aren’t presented upfront.
One of the places at which the frantic waving of vouchers was done was Carluccio’s restaurant (or Caffe as they insist on calling themselves) at 7-8 Market Place, Oxford Street with 7 other friends. The terms of the promotion said that a voucher was required for each couple sharing 2 meals, and a maximum of 3 vouchers was allowed per table. As there were 8 of us, 2 were promptly disassociated from the group.
(Anything for these discounts).
Joke, of course. We just told them that they had to order from the ‘meal deal’ menu without using the voucher.
The concept behind this chain of restaurants is that there is a deli-counter inside each restaurant. The little items sold (dips, truffle oil, pasta that kinda thing) are bargains if paying inflated prices for nice bottles is your kind of thing.
Where grocery shopping probably costs more than eating at the restaurant.
Chef must have had a salt shaker strapped on his forehead while dancing the Macarena that day, as almost every salt had dish in it (joke! joke!). The pun, I mean. The salt bit was entirely valid, as after the meal, I would have gladly consumed a goldfish bowl, goldfish and all if it had been near me. I was so dehydrated I felt like I had participated in the decathlon, drinking salt water along the way.
The dishes below have been ‘salt-rated’ for added detail.
Savoury bread tin £3.25 (Salt-rated 7/10)
Literally, a tin filled with bread that was salty, I mean, savoury. While the bread was good in texture, all fluffy, chewy and crispy (obviously not all at once, this applies to the different types of bread in the bread tin), they all had one common factor. No, not my teeth on them. They were all very salty.
Antipasto massimo! £9.95 (Salt-rated 3/10 – if you exclude the fact that the cured meats were already cured in salt. You gotta be slightly manic to add more salt to that.)
The question mark at the end of that was probably to denote how big this portion was. Ideally, it’s meant to be shared between 2. Realistically, you’d want to have this all to yourself. The different assortment of cured meat (thinly sliced and nicely chewy), ham, fresh mozzarella, bread and chutney could easily be taken as a main meal for one (or a snack if you’re one of those greedy ones).
Insalata mista £3.95 (Salt-rated 3/10)
This was part of the meal deal, where for £8.50 you got either a salad or the bread tin as the starter, any pasta (except the linguine which was not available) and coffee.
Calamari fritti £5.95 (Salt-rated 5/10)
I tried one ring, and found it to be chewy as squid should be but not crunchy (or crispy) as batter should be. There wasn’t much taste there aside from the taste of salt.
Gamberi alla marinara £6.95 (Salt-rated unsure as I didn’t try this)
This was sautéed prawns (if you consider 4 prawns as plural) with cherry tomatoes, garlic, white wine and herbs. With the dim lighting, we got all excited when we mistook the cherry tomatoes for prawns.
Spaghetti giardiniera £7.25 (Salt-rated 3/10) – originally penne on the menu
With pasta, you want it to be al dante. This portion of spaghetti with courgette and spinach balls had all the good stuff – the fresh courgette, the olive oil, chewy and crispy spinach balls, and green rubber band.
After finding 3 cm of green rubber band between his teeth, my friend took it out from his mouth and calmly put it at the side of his plate, almost as if he’d grown up eating bits of rubber band all this time. When asked, the waitress was most apologetic, rushing the plate away and promising a fresh new plate, complete with a deduction from the bill.
Second plate comes along, nearly all eaten, when the same friend takes out another bit of green rubber band from the spinach balls and puts it at the side of his plate again.
Too much of a good thing and all that, as they say.
Bistecca di bue con patate (steak to you and me) £13.95 (Salt-rated 12/10)
If this country ever had a shortage of salt, this dish would be one of the main causes for that. Chef was certainly shaking that salt shaker when he cooked this up, which was a shame because the texture of the meat was as nicely done as you could expect, and for about £7 (half price) the portion was reasonably decent.
When medium rare meant medium rare, and not crispy on the outside, crunchy on the inside. Ruined by the salt-shaker having a strop all over the steak.
Branzino con salsa e patate £11.75 (Salt-rated 7/10)
Fillet of sea-bass, pan-fried and served with potatoes and tomato salsa, generously salt-shaken again. To give this dish its full credit, the fish was fresh and nicely done, with the skin fried to a crispy finish without any over-powering fishy smell. The flesh of the fish was sweet, held its texture well even though it was eaten quite a while after being served (eating while taking pictures isn’t encouraged) and was nicely juicy. One of the better dishes of the meal.
My previous experience at another Carluccio’s (Brunswick Centre, Russell Square) was similar, minus the salt. The food on the whole is tasty, fresh and although slightly pricey without the discount, I’d still count it as one of the frequent eats on my list.
Would have been nice if some control was had over the salt-shaking, and perhaps if green rubber-band hadn’t been used as garnishing, my friends would have liked it more.
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