Food Review: Carluccios

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The Oasis, Meadowhall, Sheffield, S9 1EP. Tel: 0114 251 6767. Opening times: Mon to Sat 8am to 11pm, Sunday 9am to 10pm.

It’s not every day that a dream comes true.

Not every day that three of life’s great pleasures come together to create something more than the sum of their considerable parts - steady missus, not those parts.

But it happened the other day. At Meadowhall, of all places.

I don’t share the commonly held view about our malls as shoppers’ paradises - though people flock to them at the slightest excuse as though they were.

And I don’t think they are the root of all consumer evil, and calling it ‘Meadowhell’ while arching an ironic eyebrow stopped being funny in October 1990. It’s just shops, get over it. You don’t have to go if you don’t want to.

Anyway Carluccio’s in the Oasis was where the pleasures of chocolate, coffee and cream came together in the form of a drink called Bicerin to produce more than their usual delight.

It came in three tiny pots on a small tray, one of cream, one with an espresso and one with a chocolate syrup so thick and delicious you want to clean the pot out with your finger. Eventually I did.

But first you combine the three in the proportion of your choosing - all of life’s dilemmas right there.

If you have more chocolate in your first taste you’ll have too much coffee or cream for subsequent tastings etc etc.

Sort of a create your own paradise but beware the dark side. So what about the food? Not bad, some very good, some good and a few disappointments.

The chain takes its name from Italian TV chef Antonio Carluccio and there are 45 of them all over Britain.

First the very good.

The calamari starter my daughter had was delicious. In a light crisp batter, the squid meat was tender rather than chewy as calamari can often be and the batter brought out the best of it.

Also very good was our side order of verdure fritta – fried vegetables which consisted of courgette (why not zucchini?), aubergine and peppers, again in a crispy batter.

Delightful. They know batter here and the intense heat of deep frying captures the sweetness of the vegetables. Lovely.

In the good category was the main course of pan fried sea bass fillets served with rosemary potatoes and a tasty tomato, olive and caper dressing.

The fish came with a crisp skin, soft and nicely cooked flesh and a tasty dressing.The rosemary new potatoes were roast with crisped edges and a nice herby flavor. All good, but not outstanding.

Likewise the giant Pugliese penne with courgette, chilli and fried spinach balls with Italian cheese and garlic.

The pasta was good and al dente with lots of garlic and shredded courgette and a nice hit of chilli here and there. The spinach balls actually were outstanding. Crisp on the outside and substantial in a middle and all held together with breadcrumbs and egg.

The restaurant itself is light and modern with a semi-open kitchen and plenty of attentive and knowledgeable staff.

The seating plan is fine and there is a good and busy atmosphere.Then it struck me.

Most of the tables were taken by women in pairs, groups or on their own. They were distinctly lacking in shopping bags as far as I could see but there were some earnest discussions going on at the 11 out of 16 occupied tables -95 covers in all - that were women only.I don’t know what that tells us, but it was noticeable.

The specials board included a white wine at £21.50 a bottle or £8 for a large glass; and £25 for red with a large glass at £8.75 – which seemed expensive for un-named wines.

On the not so good list was the bruschetta starter. It wasn’t bad but it promises ‘fresh ripe tomatoes, roasted peppers, basil and oregano on garlicky chargrilled ciabatta’.

Sounds ace but it lacked flavour and the great big handful of rocket seemed too much to balance the dish which shouldn’t be too difficult with a simple starter.

The toasted ciabatta was a bit soggy and neither of us could detect much garlic or basil in there.

For dessert we had a tangerine sorbet and a pear and frangipani tart with pear and ricotta ice cream.

The tart was good with slices of sweet pear and a good hit of almonds. The pastry base was a little disappointing though the ice cream was delicious, with subtle hints of pear and a rich creaminess.

The tangerine sorbet was fine and fruity but again not remarkable.

But all these were as nothing compared to the Bicerin.

The drink takes its name from the Caffe Bicerin in Turin where it was, according to legend, originally served in the early 1800s – a glass looking like a Berni Inn Irish coffee.

Sensational. So much so that I went back three days later for another to prove I hadn’t been dreaming.

I hadn’t.

With a cherry juice, an orange and one Bicerin our bill came to £55.80.