The first time I ever ate at Carluccio’s, it was a bit of a disappointment. It was ok, but didn’t blow me away. One day a few months back, in need of sustenance and somewhere to do some blogging while in town, I found myself walking through the doors of Oxford’s second Carluccio’s, the first being at Oxford Castle which closed some time ago.
Had someone not told me recently that Carluccio’s had power sockets for laptops and free wifi I’d likely have walked straight past.
I have to give them their dues though, the staff were wonderful, clearly having undergone some serious customer service training, without hint of insincerity. Upon asking for wifi they immediately offered to sit me at a table with a plug socket, then later happily provided me with an amended version of one of their menu items – Spaghetti alle Vongole with tomato rather than bianco sauce (£10.95). Both quite small acts of good customer service, but seamlessly handled.
The food was well executed, with pasta the right side of al dente and ingredients fresh and well balanced. My simple caprese side salad (£3.95) let the ingredients shine through, with soft and milky buffalo mozarella leading the way. I meant to write a review up at the time, but for one reason or another never got round to it.
After a long walk into town then an amble around The Natural History Museum more recently, I yet again found myself at the doors of Carluccio’s, this time with an 18 month old and a 3 year old in tow. Could the Italian chain live up to previous standards, but for a more demanding clientele?
I’d only half opened the door by the time one of the restaurant staff had jumped to my aid, swinging the door wide open to allow the pushchair through. Someone then stayed on hand to help me to a table, clear grabable glassware, supply highchair and children’s goodie bag, then direct me to the baby changing facilities (which by the way are excellent – easily accessible, clean and in a huge disabled toilet with enough room for three buggies) while I quickly scanned the menu for a quick order. Those who have kids will understand the importance of minimised delays.
In a mad dash I placed exactly the same order for me – Spaghetti alle Vongole (with tomato sauce) and caprese salad, with an adult’s portion of penne bolognese for the children to share – also not on the menu and an oversight from me for assuming it would be – plus grissinni to occupy them while we awaited our mains.
Smiles and courteousness throughout.
On our return the grissini and soft drinks had been delivered and the boys busied themselves with the pencils and colouring in book provided in the goodie bag. I was almost ready to believe this could be a stress free meal out. With two children under the age of four that is a seriously big statement.
Mains arrived with a couple of sticking points, my spaghetti came with the wrong sauce and the bolognese one single child’s portion. When pointed out the issues were resolved with zero fuss and little delay. Big ticks.
Correct food in place, in we tucked. Everything was delicious. My spaghetti just as well executed as the last time. The boys ploughed through their bolognese, until the entire plate was demolished. More ticks.
As the three of us came to the end of our meal, I paid the bill and packed up before the peace and contentment descended into something more, well, feral.
So off we trotted, sanity preserved, tummies full of good food and smiles firmly in place.