An Italian restaurant chain has arrived in Norwich with a reputation as larger than live as its famous founder. SARAH HARDY bids ciao to Carluccio's.
There was a fair bit of speculation when Borders bookshop shut in Chapelfield Plain in the city — what would go in the rather large space? Well, the area is fast becoming a restaurant hot spot and the latest to join the party is Carluccio's, a popular restaurant chain set up by the grand dad of Italian cooking, Antonio Carluccio.
It is a very pleasant spot, all wooden floor boards, plenty of big windows and more. And it opens all day, serving all manner of dishes whether you fancy a full meal at 3pm or simply nibbles in the evening. Lazy breakfasts are becoming a real hit.
I've been a couple of times and find it very easy and good fun. It's usually pretty full so there's a nice, buzzy atmosphere, with the outside tables the ones everyone wants to grab.
The menu is crammed with Italian favourites from salads to pastas, breads, soup - and puddings, of course. But more of them later!
You can recreate those sun filled days in Rome, Florence and so on with calamari fritti, pasta alla puttanesca or lasagna tradizionale.
I visited with a group of girl friends one Friday evening and it was very jolly, helped along by a glass or two of Prosecco. My starter was a bruschetta at �5.25 which was nice and crunchy with plenty of juicy tomatoes while others enjoyed a bean and vegetable soup at �4.65. I really fancied one of the mixed antipasto platters - packed with olives, breads, peppers, salamis and more. Next time, for sure.
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I then went on to the Milanese di pollo at �10.95. To be honest, this was a bit like a large chicken nugget and took a fair bit of eating! Others went sea bass with a salsa sauce and potatoes at �13.50 which was greatly enjoyed while another tried the spinach and ricotta ravioli at �7.95.
I feel that you do need the odd side order which does up the bill but I'm a big fan of spinach so tried the spinach and garlic at �3 while the mixed salads are �3.95 and go well with most of the dishes on offer.
There are plenty of specials up on various boards around the place, several were with asparagus when I visited as it was bang in season.
Look out for their lovely wines, there are plenty of changing specials (I had a great white wine from Sicily which was very moreish) and
the cocktails are fun - who can resist a Bellini when life is hard? Not me. Look out for Italian beers such as Peroni, too.
The puddings are serious, with tiramisu and pannacotta as the are real stars. The tiramisu is powerful, the espresso hits the spot immediately, and the ice creams are ultra creamy - everyone had a little sample.
One of the great deals is their equivalent of the menu of the day offer. You get two courses for �9.95, with three courses costing another �2.50. There are three to four choices per course and it must be one of the best deals around.
Otherwise, prices are reasonable - starters are around �5, main courses are from about �8 to �15 while desserts are from �4.
Another great little extra is that the place also has a deli so you can tuck into all sorts of yummy stuff and then buy it! Or you can pop in during your lunch hour and treat yourself to a better than average takeaway.
Their picnics are highly recommended, too. You can order various combinations 24 hours in advance and off you go - shame you can't always order the weather.
I'm not quite sure a self respecting Italian would be totally at home here but it's a fun place, with food that is accessible and well priced.
Sure it is not a charming little independent but I like it. It's good for cosy supper a deux, family gatherings and those essential girlie suppers.
Open: Mon-Sat 8am-11pm, Sun 9am-10.30pm
Prices: Starters from �4.65, mains from �7.95, two course set menu �9.95
Vegetarian options: Plenty
Wheelchair access: Yes