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The Mall,
Cribbs Causeway,
BS34 5DG

(0117) 950 8760

The ViewBristol Review

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Review byZoe Hardie21/10/2009
This much-loved chain lives up to its mission to be a purveyor of authentic Italian food – but despite good efforts to mask the surroundings, its location in The Mall at Cribbs Causeway wrenches you back from having much of an Italian experience.

The Venue
Carluccios is in the heart of the Cribbs Causeway Mall – a colossal, characterless shopping centre which edges the motorway. If you don’t drive this isn’t the place for you as there is nothing to speak of in the area and will take you a good 45-minute bus ride from the centre.

Carluccios is in the foodie fork of The Mall and sits opposite a juice bar and underneath Nandos. It's cordoned off behind barriers which allow you to see it, and everyone inside, before you decide to enter. When you do, you'll find they've made an impressive attempt at hiding the fact it's in a shopping centre – there's a delicate edging of lavender plants, as well as warmly lit canopies to soften the surroundings and counter the garish strip lighting.

It's modest in size, unlike many shopping centre eateries which serve the masses like a production line. There's only a few tables and chairs around the middle, skirted by comfortable black leather booths.

If you the need the loo you have to walk out of Carluccios and use the general Mall toilets which, although clean and well maintained, serve as a bold reminder that your evening out in a ‘restaurant’ is slightly artificial.

The People
The atmosphere isn't bad but it’s difficult to escape that rushed feeling of eating out in a shopping centre and this is only emphasised by the fact that so many people around you are clutching shopping bags. However, the staff make an effort to calm down the mania and they are, to a point, successful.

Staff provide excellent service without the stilted formality and they are fundamental in helping to make the atmosphere relaxed and easygoing. They're warm, chatty and friendly but they're also attentive and quick and provide quality service.

There's a mix of customers but it's mostly couples from the over-30s side of the spectrum who have the pocket, and the preference, for quality, table-service meals as opposed to the pizza and burger joints popular with young families and teens.

The Food
For a light lunch you can have warm paninis with a side salad for £5.95, or you could select from the first-course menu which has soups, salads and antipasti. The insalata di mozzarella is a simple salad of chunky mozzarella with plump and flavoursome tomatoes and basil, or there's the bruschetta which is topped with roasted yellow peppers, tomatoes, herbs and oil. Both starters may seem fairly average dishes but the good quality ingredients put them a cut above the norm.

There's a fair few meat and fish dishes on the main menu but this restaurant is undoubtedly about the pasta. There's penne giardiniera, which is large tubes of penne pasta with courgette, chilli, garlic and deep fried spinach balls. Courgette is grated into the pasta which, although different, does inhibit the flavour. That aside, it's a fresh dish and is pleasantly spiced by the chilli. The deep fried spinach balls may seem incongruous but they succeed in giving the dish an imaginative kick and provide a scrumptious addition to a meal which may be too light without them.

There's also the gnocchi, a comforting dish of potato dumplings swimming in an indulgent gorgonzola sauce. This dish is hard to fault but extra points should be awarded for the generosity of the sauce, which is thankfully more soupy than gloopy, and is clearly made with a quality, potent gorgonzola cheese.

Those who don’t usually have pudding may find it hard to resist when they see the dessert menu. The list is positively mouthwatering, with plum tarts, tiramisu, and plenty of ice cream dishes to feast on, as well biscotti, fruit salad and an Italian cheese board.

The chocolate bread and butter pudding is served with warm vanilla cream (£4.95) and is an unexpectedly delicious dessert with rich molten chocolate in what was more gooey pastry than bread, paired with a pool of outstanding, subtle tasting cream dotted with vanilla seeds.

For the less sweet of palate there's the affogato - two scoops of vanilla ice cream in a glass with a shot of espresso (£4.25) or liqueur (£6.50) to pour over. These are laid out elegantly on a tray which turns the pudding-come-post-dinner coffee/liqueur into something a little closer to a ritual.

The Drink
Wine is the beverage of choice here and the list is cleverly chosen but perhaps a tad on the pricy side for a chain restaurant whose mission statement involves affordability. Still, the quality of the selection means that your house white, a Sicana Bianco (£12.95) will not be a vinegary brew, but a delicate, fresh and subtle wine which you could easily sip all evening.

Other white wines include a Pecorino (£20), a Sauvignon Bianco (£27.50) and a Pinot Grigio at the top of the price range (£30). The reds are an equally good selection and you'll find a dark and pleasingly complicated Sicano Rosso as the house wine (£12.95) and the most expensive bottle is the Amarone, or 'king of wine's, at £35. A handful of roses and sparkling wines are also available.

If beer is your brew you're slightly limited as there are just three beers on offer ranging from £3.20 for a standard Peroni to £3.95 for the Peroni Riserva which is a deceptive 6.6 per cent. Spirits come in large measures (500ml) and start from a rather whopping £5 but there is a fairly wide selection available.

Soft drinks are a-plenty, including Coke and fresh juices, but the real winner is the fresh lemonade (£2.30) which has the perfect homemade bitter-sweet taste and comes extra chilled on ice. The coffee is, as it should be, quite exceptional and there is a choice of blends to suit your taste. A cappuccino is £2.10 but if you want something a bit more interesting then try the bicerin (£2.60), consisting of espresso coffee, Florentine drinking chocolate and cream – all served in jugs for you to mix to your taste.

The Last Word
Carluccios is a fantastic chain restaurant serving quality Italian food and drink with flair and imagination. But, despite this, and despite the elegant decor and outstanding service, this branch is let down by its shopping centre-setting which is tacky, crowded and lacking the essential sophistication of an Italian restaurant.
Carluccios has been reviewed by 1 users

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