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Carluccio's Reviewed: Does The Revamped Venue Work?

Jonathan Schofield on whether a chain can be better than bland

Published on April 12th 2012.

Carluccio's Reviewed: Does The Revamped Venue Work?

SO I went looking for an Italian restaurant in Manchester city centre last night and couldn't find a single one. 

Then I woke up.

In the race to provide the boot-shaped country's nosh, Carluccio's has always had two elements in its favour. 

1) Antonio Carluccio is very clearly Italian. He is not an Iranian/Pakistani/Brit who thinks he can do it better than the pasta boys.

2) Carluccio's in Manchester has a stunning position, headlining the main public area of Spinningfields. 

It’s a start.

Carluccio’s has seen the success of the Living Venture’s outlets around Spinningfields – especially the Alchemist - and decided they wanted a bit of that.

Not that this airy place would have been described as anything but a cafe until recently. Yes, a cafe with a late licence and loads of booze, but more of a snack-and-go place rather than a den to settle in for the evening.

Partly this is down to the windows and architecture. Carluccio’s sits in a commercial property that’s all about big clear floorplates for flexible office use. In its bones, the ground floor restaurant still feels like it wants to be a showroom for office furniture. The double height windows reinforce that mood especially during the day during quiet periods. The previous arrangement of school dining hall tables and chairs didn’t help the cause.

But changes have been made over Easter.

Carluccio's ManchesterCarluccio's Manchester

More colour has been introduced, softening booths have appeared, licks of colour have been applied to the walls and big photos of Italian scenes introduced - to add to the high shelves of cookbooks from Signore Carluccio.

The place feels more like a destination now. The new design is far better.

What can’t be criticised is the traffic-free terrace. The square in front is one of best in Manchester for people watching, especially if your specialist subject is the business fashions of 2012. 

The food is decent at Carluccio’s and always has been.

It’s the epitome of the British dream about Italian food, light, good raw materials, pretty patterns.  It can be pricey – especially in the pastas - but not much more than standard for its category, which in itself is perhaps an indictment of the UK dining out scene. My sausage and lentil dish was £12.50 which was £3 too much.

There are kids menus and gluten-free menus too. The addition of a Vespa scooter from £2,400 on the menu raises a smile.

The nosh I invariably have is the tortelloni de cervo (venison - £9.35), loaded with a thick layer of Parmesan, and black pepper. This is a perfect lunch, robust with the venison in the tortelloni, creamy with the cheese melted on the top, filling but nor stuffing the belly. Nine times out of ten the kitchen gets it right and the pasta is timed perfectly.

Carluccio's Manchester

I’d already had that in the newly revamped Carluccio’s and it had been as good as ever.

On the review visit a pair of us had the lenticchie e cotechino (Italian sausage on Umbrian lentils £12.50) and the cozze e vongole (mussels and clams, £11.95).

Nice dishes the pair of them. Not exceptional but did the job.

The lentils, carrot and cabbage on mine were just right, but the sausage chosen had the consistency of Bury Black Pudding and was low on flavour. The kitchen should get in a ballsier sausage so to speak, toughen up that consistency, help it retain flavour when heated.

The mussels and clams with white wine, chilli and garlic worked. A good briney smell wafted off the dish, the clams were particularly fine and you could spoon up the stock like a soup.

Carluccio's Manchester

Add-ons such as the bread basket and, best of all, the juicy Puglian olives gave more substance to the meal but at £3.65 each add up. The Carluccio’s focaccia is a joy by the way, perfect for the olive oil and balsamic dipping routine.

We drank Verdicchio’s, the typical white Italian refresher, large glasses £5.50, bottle £14.50, from a list that is safe. A peach bellini and a glass of prosecco brut or two which came courtesy of the house were very good, and given the airy nature of the venue, seem like a good choice for a general drink even with food.

Drink is what the refurbishment is about.

Carluccio’s has seen the success of the Living Venture’s outlets around Spinningfields – especially the Alchemist - and decided they wanted a bit of the action. So the deli area is now very definitely a bar, with a Peroni tap up, cocktails on offer, the works. A post work drink was jolly about two hours after finishing my long lunch.

It still doesn’t quite hit the mark as a bar though.

Carluccio's Manchester

Carluccio’s is trying to get an Italian ‘happy hour’ going or ‘aperitivo’, running from 5pm to 7pm, and aimed at giving people a pre-dinner dining experience with stuzzichini, or small plates. But what it also seems to want to do is appeal to the office drinkers who want to knock back the lagers and the proseccos surrounded by like-minded imbibers.

It remains a bit too cute and family chain in atmosphere at present to succeed in that way.

This doesn’t mean that the refurbishment hasn’t worked. It’s just not working the way Carluccio’s intended. Enjoyable place but not one many people will choose as their destination bar or eatery of choice on a night out. I love it for breakfast though, it's great coffee and papers, plan the day ahead venture.

And it is definitely trying really hard to be Italian.

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield


Carluccio's, Hardman Square
Spinningfields Square, City, 
0161 839 0623 

Rating: 14/20
Food: 7/10
Service: 4/5
Ambience: 3/5

PLEASE NOTE: Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20, we get carried away.

Carluccio's Manchester

Carluccio's Manchester

Carluccio's Manchester

Carluccio's Manchester

Carluccio's Manchester

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