I once had the pleasure of meeting Mr Carluccio in a previous life. He was signing his latest book and my former employer was holding a dinner in his honour. I found him to be a thoroughly pleasant gentleman who had plenty of time to chat to everyone he met, paying guests and staff alike. The combination of Italian deli, food store and restaurant I had often thought was a good idea and I have been meaning to visit the one in Glasgow for a while. I really wanted to see if it lived up to the great man’s reputation.
I went in for lunch with a friend and first impressions were good. The selection of cakes and especially the meringue ( the wife would have loved it) was impressive and plenty of time was spent having a good nose about. The staff were friendly and when I said we would like a table in the quite empty restaurant we were promptly sat down and offered menus. Our drink choice was requested and delivered pronto, all was going quite well. There is, in my opinion, a cracking choice on the menu and with the specials as well, it shouldn't be difficult to find something to like. That said my pal actually did! Personal choice is a big thing and my friend likes simpler food, without spice (and some might say flavour.)
I ordered the savoury bread tin to keep me going whilst the protracted deliberation continued on the other-side of the table. Then the darnedest thing occurred, in an almost empty restaurant the couple who just arrived were sat at the table right next to us. Now my friend and I tend not to discuss official secrets, but when the next table is so close to ours that I could count my new dining partners pocket change against my thigh, it can be a bit of a conversation stopper. They must have thought so too as they barely spoke two words to each other for the whole meal, or perhaps they've just been married for a few years. It was just odd, when with so many free tables, the staff decided that on my lap was the best place to sit them. One of the friendly staff came over to take our order and after her truly epic contemplation of the menu my friend chose the Ravioli, I went for the Calves Liver as I fancied something a little different.
The savoury bread tin was just that, a great selection of bread, in a tin. The Grissini were wonderfully crispy with good flavour, as was the Ligurian Crisp bread ( I suppose the clue is in the name). The Focaccia especially, but also the other breads were fresh, soft and full of flavour, a great introduction to lunch. Before we had made a decent size dent in the bread our lunch arrived and not since MP Lembit Opik started dated a Cheeky Girl has there been such a contrast.
The liver looked amazing, the rosemary potatoes and red onion marmalade ablaze of colours on the plate. Then there was the smell, oh the smell, seared meat, rosemary, onion, it was like the greatest culinary aromas had joined together and were trying to climb inside my head, in a manner reminiscent of a Ceti Eel.
The Ravioli however looked like particularly lumpy custard, with a hairy green caterpillar doing breast stroke over the top of it. Without some imagination there is not a lot you can do to liven up the appearance of butter sauce and that is exactly what they did, not a lot.
Taste wise it was the same story, the liver was spongy under the fork and the knife slipped through it. It was beautifully cooked and melted in the mouth. The Red Onion Marmalade and sautéed potatoes were excellent companions, full of flavour, but complimentary to the headliner.
So how could the same kitchen send out the Ravioli? It was truly awful, the sauce was just a slick butter coating, there was no apparent taste of sage and it just made the otherwise average Spinach & Ricotta Ravioli almost inedible. I like my pasta al-dente, having a bit of chew is fine by me, but when enveloped in an insipid butter sauce I may have been chewing a rubber band.
After such a paradoxical display of food and service, I took a bit of a gamble wanting a desert. The waitress brought over a menu and left me to mull it over for a few minutes. I has particular drawn to the Bicerin, Espresso, Florentine Drinking Chocolate and cream served in three small jugs for me to mix myself. Sounded kind of cool. So I ordered one
“Sorry, Coffee Machine is broken, we're expecting an engineer tomorrow”
You didn't think that nugget of information may have been useful when you gave me the menu? Basics!!!
In total the bill came in just shy of £30 and I can't decide if that's good value or not. The liver at £13.95 was certainly the best I have tasted in a long, long time, whereas the Ravioli at £7.95 may well be the worst! I really can't fathom how a kitchen can do something so right and in the same meal get it so wrong. The problem is then that the fickleness of the kitchen isn't salvaged by decent service front of house, which is just as temperamental. So tragically despite my love of Italian food in general and Antonio's cooking in particular, I can't imagine I'll be back. Shame.