Located in smack bang in Hardman Square, Carluccio’s is a Spinningfields original – here for nearly as long as the buildings themselves; serving up a quick espresso for business breakfasters, a good value price fixe and something more leisurely in the evenings.
Floor to ceiling glass, white walls and splashes of the signature blue create an airy, light space that’s filled with the tinkle of cutlery and the burble of voices. Staff weave expertly between the windows whilst you peek in at the chef’s cooking up your food in the kitchen and eye up the goodies to tipsily buy on your way out.
We had emailed ahead to warn of my companion’s gluten free requirements and were surprised when she was given a menu nearly as long as mine. Usually she’s restricted to the barest minimum of dishes, so but here she could browse like an unrestricted eater to her heart’s content. Even most of the specials were gluten free.
A starter of pan fried mackerel was exceptionally light; it’s bed of fennel and onion salad lifted and complimented the fish – the onions having been soaked in lemon juice to slightly pickle them and take away a little of their pungency. The dish had been wonderfully executed and the balance of flavours was spot on. The salad of tomato and mozzarella was a hearty plate of rich, late season tomatoes with the creamiest mozzerrella, which was thankfully not some soggy or rubbery mess like those you get elsewhere. This was served with oatcakes – not made on site, but a very reputable brand – we found it heartening to find a restaurant not only understanding the idea of gluten free, but actually finding tasty alternatives to bolster dishes.
I couldn’t overlook a massive bowl of clams and mussels for my main – cooked till sweet and tender, they were presented with a spoon for all those garlicky juices at the end; however there was no bread served so we (well I, not being gluten free) ordered some springy, fresh focaccia which did the job perfectly.
We were surprised that, as well as the more obvious gluten free dishes such as risotto, fresh fish, veg and meat; Carluccio’s has a long list of pastas dishes using gluten free pasta – giving the gluten free diner the same experience as other guests. We chose the carbonara – a massive dish of well cooked pasta (from a good quality brand that didn’t have the mealy texture that some gluten free products do) and made with egg yolk (traditional) rather than swimming in a heavy cream sauce.
As with the mains we were surprised that the gluten free pudding list was massive and once more the Carluccio’s team have gone to the effort of making comparable dishes that actually taste similar to their gluten equivalents, rather than just a ghost of a nod of something similar. The chocolate fondant was made with ground almonds, which leant a subtle sweetness and perfume to the dish – I’d say I preferred this to any flour based fondant I’ve had before. Tiramisu was predictable and tasty, but totally outshone by that gluten free fondant.
Chatting to the staff they explained that Carluccio’s has a set of different utensils and pans that are used for allergen customers to ensure that there is no contamination – the kitchen is also warned as soon as a customer highlights their requirements to ensure they keep all food separate. It was really refreshing to eat at a restaurant that not only had a comprehensive and tasty gluten free menu, but which also had taken the time to train all their staff in this condition as everyone understood and respected our requirements.
The meal was good, but the service was excellent – the friendly, helpful, chatty staff making the experience exceptional.