Bilby Bites - the food blog from Bilby Marketing

Carluccio’s Exeter

There have been a number of occasions over the past 6 months that I have been tempted to add a review of the Exeter Carluccio's Restaurant & Caffè on the site, but as it is part of a chain, I have wrestled with whether or not it deserved to be there. I always prefer to promote local, independent restaurants for the most part, but I have enjoyed many a meal at Antonio’s place and so have finally decided to go ahead and devote some of my rented cyberspace to my favourite chain restaurant in the city.

Carluccios opened late in the summer of 2009. I had been to the Canary Wharf restaurant a number of years prior to this and had fond memories of the food and atmosphere, so I looked forward to trying them out again. As is often the case, it took me a while to finally make my way to the restaurant, but since my first visit at the beginning of 2010 I have been back around half a dozen times and enjoyed myself on each occasion. The atmosphere is one of the biggest draws here, as it manages to meld an air of Italian sophistication with a hint of an up-market cafeteria. This is a difficult balance to achieve and the only description I can come up with that best matches the vibe I feel when I am there. The cafeteria element is felt most in the speed of service and simplicity of plating, but this doesn't detract from the overall mood. As well as the restaurant, the space holds a caffé area, deli and bookshop. It has an open plan layout and this helps to create a very friendly, but continental feel, with jars of ragu di cinghiale (wild boar ragu), ceramic bottles of XV olive oil, packets of orechhiette and spaghetti al nero di seppia (cuttlefish ink spaghetti) lining the foodshop shelves, as well as a lovely selection of your favourite Italian tipples be that Pinot Grigio, Chianti or Limoncello.

The outdoor seating area is multo invitante (I am told by a piece of well-known translation software that this means ‘very inviting’) and I have had a cup or two of good coffee out there in the summer months. On one visit I ordered a gorgeous cherry tart to go with my latté, similar to a crème patissiere, the memory of which has stayed with me ever since as it was so good. All deli items and coffee can be taken away which is also an added bonus if you work or live close to the city centre. Once or twice I have indulged in buying a take away deli treat as a tasty weekend lunch, when I haven’t been in the mood to cook.

On this particular night’s visit, my very good friend JH and her little two & a half year old boy were staying with us. He is a very restaurant friendly little chap so I suggested we try Carluccio’s as JH had not been before. There are over 50 Carluccio’s restaurants gracing the planet today with 4 outside of the UK based in Dublin & Dubai (there are 3 listed in Dubai on the website!). Antonio Carluccio said recently in an interview that his motto is ‘MOF cuisine: minimum of fuss, maximum of flavour’ and this pretty much sums things up. Children are very welcome as you might expect in an Italian restaurant, and mini-JH was immediately given a Carluccio’s activity envelope which contained various puzzles and colouring-in exercises to keep young peeps happy. There is a childrens menu available with the option of a ‘meal deal’ of a main, ice-cream and drink for £6.25.

We started by ordering drinks and I had a glass of the Moscato d’AstI ‘la CaudrIna’, Romano DoglIottI, Piemonte at £3.95, whilst JH & JC went for softer options. The wine list is a good regional mix with some perky, party favourites such as a Bellini or Prosecco to get you in the mood. The menu is seasonal, and we had the choice of selecting from either the Autumn menu or the daily set menu with 2 courses for £10. Both JH and I opted for the set menu, with JH ordering ravioli with spinach and ricotta and myself opting for the Chicken Milanese. JC instead plumped for the lasagne, his favourite, from the main menu. On previous trips JC had been a little hungry after the lasagne so he also ordered the rosemary potatoes (patate) just in case. It is worth noting that if you order a main course you will get precisely what you ordered and nothing more, so the side dishes are often a good idea. My Milanese di Pollo was described on the menu as a breast of chicken flattened, bread-crumbed and fried, served with a green salad. No guesses for what arrived in front of me. I also ordered a side of the rosemary potatoes which were extremely good. The ravioli, as you would expect, is homemade and served with butter and sage. I have had this before myself and it is simple, but very tasty. A side salad is again a good idea unless you are fine with avoiding vegetables with your meal.

Desserts are again, served in quite a basic manner, but the flavour and quality is of a high standard. JC went straight in for the Tiramisu, whilst Juliet and I headed for the Chocolate Bread & Butter pudding, a slice of which arrived perched on the side of a large white plate. Excuse the photos as I took these on my phone in the dimly lit restaurant. The low lighting is usually a large bonus for me as I can’t stand brightly lit rooms when I’m eating my meal, but it’s not great for taking decent pictures. Overall, we had a lovely meal that was reasonably priced. The average price for a pasta dish is around £8, whilst mains range from £10-15 and desserts just under £5. Basically you can spend as much as you like, but with deals like the 2 courses for £10 it can be a relatively cheap outing. The thing I really like about Carluccios is that it feels like an authentic Italian experience (albeit in Exeter!). Sipping Prosecco, nibbling on a shared plate of antipasto whilst at the same time not feeling as if I've just been mugged by the owner is a rare experience and one that I can't help singing about.