Saturday, 13 February 2010

writing a bad romance for Carluccio's

the redeeming bread tin
Last Thursday, B & I spent the night checking out decent restaurants for Friday dinner. After spending so much time on research (yes, I like viewing menus before heading off to dine – saves time) we’ve decided to book Villandry in Great Portland Street, but they were fully booked. Rejection was bad, it didn’t give us much choice as it was almost the weekend: most decent restaurants were busy and tables were running low. We were getting tired and irritated so we decided to go to the nearest semi-decent restaurant we can find. This is how we ended up in Carluccio’s, Market Place.

I didn’t mind Carluccio’s. Fair enough - it’s a chain restaurant. But I had really good experience at the Covent Garden branch (more due to service than the menu). So despite my previous daydreams of a really nice welcome-weekend-I’m-not-sick-anymore Friday dinner somewhere nice, I prepped myself to be laidback about dining in, technically, a café-resto. Then again, we should've had a warning.

As expected, there was a queue when we arrived. We had to wait around twenty minutes before the manager (let’s call him Benito) ushered us our ‘table’. It was a long sharing table, slightly ideal perhaps for family or private group dinners (as you can be as rowdy as you like) but not for when you’re out. You can absolutely hear neighboring tables talk dirty about doing the dirty. The tables were so wide and as twos are sat across each other we would’ve had to scream at each other to be able to hear - texting would’ve been the easiest way to understand what your date is talking about. Slightly irritated, we asked Benito for relocation help. A further fifteen minutes, we were quite happy.

We had more than enough time to review their not-so-exciting menu so we ordered right away. For starters we had the antipasto di verdure (£6) and the bread tin - focaccia, grissini, ciappe, etc - (£4) with extra balsamic vinegar & butter (it only comes w/ olive oil unless you ask). Ten minutes later, the bread basket arrived sans EBV & butter. We had to flag the nice Irish waitress (let’s call her Clodagh) and Benito before we got everything we needed for that one dish (and it’s not even a dish – it’s a blimmin’ bread basket). The veggie sharing platter came much later, which was slightly surpring because the dishes looked like the pre-made stuff from the deli café in front of the store. Surely it was just a matter of scoop and serve? Maybe it was scoop and serve and make them wait.

antipasto di verdure: sloppy looking, but i like
In all fairness, we really perked up when we had a few mouthfuls. I almost ignored the bread basket except for the top-billing focaccia - I could go to Carluccio’s all the time if only for this. I can possibly devour a whole loaf without feeling guilty because each tear is an absolute pinch of sweet, creamy, salty heaven. And it’s quite light. Simply good baked bread, the way it should be. The single-sized vegetable platter we ordered was actually good enough for us two. The caponata was ridiculously tasty that I almost forget the other bits on the plate (roast peppers w/ pesto, green beans salad w/ mint, oven-roasted tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, artichokes and olives). Albeit served a bit too colder than I prefer, the sweet and sour aubergines melted in my mouth. Yummy. We shamelessly devoured our starters in less than five minutes. We were hungry from waiting, but they were delicious, too.

Licking our lips, we promptly waited for our mains: B’s well-done lamb leg steak and my pan-roasted fillet of seabass (both £12). We waited. And waited. And waited. Tempers and hunger levels rose, we tried to call staff’s attention. The first guy (who was walking out, probably on a cigarette break) actually waved his finger as if to say ‘no-no I’m on my break!’. The second girl said ‘yes, it’s coming’. At this point, I saw two plates set on the collection area. Two waiters looked and ignored them. Bommy managed to flag Clodagh who said that Benito was sorting our mains. I saw frantic Benito stare at the counter where the two plates were, looked at us and groaned. Finally, 45 minutes after finishing our starters, our mains were delivered. Unfortunately, we realized B’s supposed well-done lamb was still bleeding so we had to send our plates back; we waited another ten-fifteen minutes before we finally got to eat.

I couldn’t even remember how my seabass tasted, to be honest. I remember not enjoying it, thinking I’ve had better homecooked food than this and I didn’t have to pay as much. It was quite boring and tasted exactly as what it’s supposed to be: pan-fried fish. I wasn’t moved at all. B seemed to plow through his lamb, although you could tell from his facial expression that he wasn’t impressed either. We sat through our mains without much banter; each forkful of fish and mouthful of lamb felt like an automated prompt response to our bellies crying for hunger. We stuffed ourselves silly thinking the sooner we finish, the sooner we leave. We couldn’t even be bothered to get dessert.

The service was so bad and our mains really put us off. It took us almost two hours to get through two courses. Not buying into the whole ‘It’s our busiest night of the week’ thing. They’ve been around long enough to expect busy Fridays, so surely this shouldn’t be an exception. Staff seemed to care more about cigarette breaks and their own visiting friends than people waving their hands to order. I’m definitely not coming back to dine, but I may go back to buy the only redeeming factor about the whole experience – the absolutely delicious focaccia. To go, of course.

In any restaurant I think service should be just as good as the food and sadly in this case, Carluccio’s Market Place miserably failed the scales.

Carluccio's Market Place: 7-8 Market Place, London, W1W 8AG
Dinner for 2, £40 (no wine or dessert)

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