We popped along to intu Metrocentre on a regular Tuesday night last week to visit their dedicated Halloween store and I have to say, the whole centre was buzzing! I expected it to be pretty quiet but it is far from it. Carluccio's had invited us to try out their children's menu and I have to say, after posing for Halloween photographs in the mall, the kids had certainly earned it and we were all starving by the time we arrived.
Carluccio's has a very nice setting in the middle of the platinum mall - I can certainly see Steve and I sharing a bottle of wine here and watching the world go by when we return during our annual Christmas shopping weekend next month. We arrived at 5:30pm and were presented with the main a la carte, a daytime set menu (very good value at £13.99 for three courses) plus a specials menu. Normally I am opposed to so many menus but I will let them off as I think the promise of a decent specials menu when you have so much competition on your doorstep is something that will ensure I return - it's always good to try something new from a place you love rather than being with the same a la carte options time and time again (Prezzo - I'm looking at you).
The children's menu is £6.60 for three courses, an activity pack and a drink. I really appreciate it when a children's menu includes everything as it means you don't get stung for lots of extras and end up paying £10+ per child. Babies/toddlers who are weaning/not yet ready for a full children's meal can order 'dips and sticks' for £2 which I think is a nice touch and something I'd have appreciated when my three were at this stage.
In my head, Carluccio's wasn't a child-friendly restaurant or where I would necessarily think to take my children. However after visiting, it's now a place that I will happily recommend. Carluccio's get everything right when it comes to eating out with kids. For me, the main thing is speed - dining with kids isn't a leisurely experience (well for us it isn't anyway) - I like to be in and out and can't stand it when service is slow. At Carluccio's they bring bread sticks and activity packs out asap then the children's mains are brought out with starters as standard - PLEASE CAN MORE RESTAURANTS DO THIS. Nothing is worse than eating your starter whilst trying to entertain your kids at the same time and explain their food won't be long as they gaze at your plate and moan that they're hungry. I often encounter long waits between mains and desserts too - but yet again, Carluccio's were spot on and service was prompt without feeling rushed.
Secondly, the staff are superb. I will say I was feeling stressed when we were seated. Jack was working his ticket and the three kids had bickered non-stop on the way to the restaurant. I was stressed and snappy. Our fabulous server just seemed to have a magic touch about her - she immediately brought me a glass of wine, had the kids giggling and even let them order their own food on her iPad. I could honestly feel the tension slip away within minutes of being seated. The staff were fab with all of the tables - making a fuss of the kids, singing happy birthday to those who were celebrating and generally being very attentive and properly looking after their tables - this was really appreciated.
Thirdly, the children's menu has had some thought put into it. As with the grown up dishes, the pasta is all handmade and the children's dishes are of good quality. Plus kids can order any half portions from the main menu if they prefer.
Heidi is dressed as a Vampire witch as she'd just finished a photo shoot for the Halloween store in the Green Mall - I promise she doesn't normally go around dressed like this :-)
|Children's Chicken Milanese and Rosemary Potatoes|
|Children's Penne Pasta with Tomato Sauce|
|Children's Spaghetti and Meatballs|
Steve ordered his favourite Calamari from the a la carte menu. His dish was perfectly cooked and served with garlic mayonnaise - it didn't last long and I didn't even get to have a taste!
I ordered from the set lunch time menu and went for the pea, mint and ricotta bruschetta. It was nice to order something a little different to the normal bruschetta you see on menus and I was impressed.
To follow I went for the ricotta and spinach ravioli with a sage and butter sauce (also from the daytime set menu). You can really tell the difference when pasta is fresh and handmade - we loved it and you could taste the quality. It kind of made us want to start making our own pasta at home so maybe watch this space........
Steve ordered the venison ravioli from the main menu. Now he did actually let me have a taste of this and we both loved it - such a perfect dish for autumn. It was a nice portion size too - not too stodgy so you feel like you need to lie down so perfect to enjoy before a shopping trip or catching a film at the Odeon.
Sometimes kids activity packs can be a little boring, especially for Harry who is 10. This isn't the case at Carluccio's though where the activities revolve around going on holiday to Italy. I love this little press out Ravioli that the kids can make at the table - a nice touch we thought (and we now have three lined up on our dining table at home).
The kids picked chocolate ice cream for their dessert - simple but a real winner. I am not in the habit of ordering dessert when I'm with the kids as usually by this point I am ready to leave ASAP but I was so relaxed and chilled that we actually decided to order a plate of Italian cheeses to share with our coffee. It's not that often this happens in a restaurant and is a testament to how welcome families are made to feel at Carluccio's.
Cheese and coffee was the perfect end to our meal. Steve has already spotted a few other dishes he'd like to try on the menu and I'm confident we'll return to perk us up during our Christmas shopping trips next month.
Let me know if you've ever dined at Carluccio's or if you're planning on visiting soon.