When asked to review the latest addition to the Carluccio`s caffé restaurant empire that recently opened in Exeter`s trendy Princesshay, I have to be honest and admit that my expectations were fairly low. It`s not that I don`t enjoy Italian cuisine, I just tend to associate Italian restaurant chains as somewhere to host convenient lunch dates with friends or to take advantage of discounted mid-week meal deals rather than somewhere to go for an evening meal.
However on arriving the restaurant my first impressions were surprisingly positive. Once inside the first thing that greets you is the authentic Italian delicatessen and food shop. The aromas of the cheese, olives and salamis on display certainly got my senses going and my appetite heightened for the meal ahead.
To start we chose the chicken liver paté from the specials menu, which proved to be a popular choice judging by the volumes of the dish we watched being delivered to neighbouring tables. The paté was nicely presented in a tall ramekin with three portions of toasted bread. As often happens when I chose this dish there didn`t seem to be enough bread to finish the paté which was a shame as it was very nice. Soon after our plates were cleared the main courses arrived. I had opted for pan-fried sea bass with tomato salsa and sautéed potatoes and my partner went for the flattened chicken breast fried in breadcrumbs with a green salad. Our initial reaction was that the portions seemed to be quite small, particularly the chicken breast served with only a few green leaves as an accompaniment, so we ordered an additional portion of potatoes. The sea bass was beautifully cooked and went well with the salsa and I am told the chicken was very tasty but benefited from the additional potatoes to make it more of a complete dish.
Because the portions were quite small we had just enough room for desert and we chose the chocolate bread and butter pudding and the cheese board. The cheese board was well stocked with a variety of cheeses and biscuits and the chocolate bread and butter pudding was delicious and served with a wonderfully light vanilla cream. Throughout the meal the staff were very attentive and the service was slick and friendly, although the atmosphere in the restaurant failed to deliver the traditional Italian warmth that I love about independent Italian eateries.
Overall we had a very pleasant night at Carluccio`s and would certainly return to try another of their outlets. I would recommend Carluccio`s for a relaxed lunch or somewhere to host a rendezvous with friends or colleagues. The food was tasty, reasonably priced and the menu slightly surpassed that of its Italian chain restaurant rivals. I will definitely be visiting the deli again soon to shop for some Italian ingredients and perhaps even start my Christmas shopping in the well-stocked food shop.
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